Public Lending Right

– in the House of Commons at 10:48 pm on 9 March 1993.

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Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury 10:48, 9 March 1993

I beg to move, That the draft Public Lending Right (Increase of Limit) Order 1933, which was laid before this House on 17th February, be approved. As the House will know, the public lending right has always been broadly supported by hon. Members of all parties. It was introduced—following many years of campaigning by authors for some financial reward in recognition of the use made of their books by public libraries—by the Public Lending Right Act 1979, which had all-party support. The Act conferred on authors a new right of payment in respect of the loan of their books to the public, in accordance with a scheme to be designed.

The actual scheme, which was approved by Parliament in 1981, provides for authors who have registered their books under the Act to receive payments in proportion to the number of times their books are lent from public libraries. The payments to authors and the costs of administration are both met from the single PLR central fund, which currently stands at £4.75 million, having last been increased in 1991 from £3·5 million.

Under the Public Lending Right Act 1979, an increase in the fund requires an order in the form of a statutory instrument to be laid before the House of Commons and approved by resolution of the House before the start of the financial year in which it is to take place. The order before the House authorises an increase in the fund of more than 5 per cent., from £4.75 million in this financial year to £5 million from the financial year 1993–94.

The proposed increase recognises the costs of a new computer and seeks to maintain the real level of the rate per loan paid to authors. The rate per loan is calculated each year by the registrar. The aggregate sum available to authors is divided by an estimated national aggregate of loans. Both this aggregate and the estimated total loans for each book are derived by extrapolating the figures from a rotating sample of 30 libraries in the United Kingdom. The order in respect of this year's rate per loan was laid before Parliament in December, and increased the rate from 1.81p to 1·86p.

This sum may seem small, and most payments to authors are indeed modest. But it was never intended that PLR payments to authors should provide a main source of income. Nevertheless, 18,000 authors will receive a payment this year. Ninety-seven authors will qualify for the maximum payment of £6,000. However, the larger part of the fund continues to go to less well known and up-and-coming authors. We know from the number of letters sent to the registrar at this time of year when the payments are made that these payments are widely welcomed by authors.

The scheme is complex to administer, but it is efficiently managed by the registrar, Dr. Parker, and his valiant staff at Stockton-on-Tees. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage visited the PLR at Stockton-on-Tees on 11 February. I know how impressed he was by the dedication and professionalism of the staff and by the remarkable achievements.

Actual payments to authors this year account for 83 per cent. of the total PLR expenditure. As I mentioned earlier, some new expenditure on information technology is now needed. The operation is totally dependent on cornputerisation, and the new system will replace the original computer, installed in 1982. It will bring the benefits of additional storage capacity for issues data which are being received from a growing number of sample libraries. It will improve the registrar's ability to establish direct computer links with local authority systems, giving access for their staff to the PLR computer database through an office network providing faster and more sophisticated on-line search facilities.

This year's recent payment of just under £4 million to authors marks the 10th anniversary of the scheme's first payment. Over the 10-year period, the payments amount to almost £30 million. These payments are not an end in their own right. They are designed to ensure that authors receive recompense for the free provision of their books to the public by libraries. That free public library provision is crucial in fostering a literate, informed public, and with this my Department's overall aim of making more widely accessible the rich and varied cultural heritage of this nation can be achieved. Public libraries lend well over half a billion books a year—10 for every man, woman arid child in the United Kingdom.

The public lending right is a well established part of that crucial system, and I commend the order to the House.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 10:53, 9 March 1993

As the Minister made clear, the public lending right principle is supported in all parts of the House. The notion that an author should be rewarded for the frequency with which his or her books are borrowed is sensible. We welcome this modest increase in expenditure from £4.75 million to £5 million. We also welcome the improvements in efficiency that have occurred since the new computer system was installed. We trust that it will reduce the proportion of expenditure that is spent on administration and increase the amounts that go to authors. All hon. Members will, I believe, support that aim.

This small but positive increase in the public lending right cannot be allowed to obscure the negative consequences of the Government's policies towards public libraries over the past 14 years. The Minister would not expect me to pass over that issue in such a debate. The House has little opportunity to discuss libraries and it is only right and proper that the Minister should be made aware of the strength of public feeling on the issue.

I shall quote from The Guardian on 3 March—

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Yes, in a moment.

The quotation is from Councillor John Lock, of Newham council in London. He describes the dilemma in which many councils now find themselves: Councils with appalling financial problems can only balance their budgets by making cuts. Under the new system of local government finance, there is no other option.The severity of the impact comes about where budgets are reduced year after year. In some cases, the damage now exposed is the result of eight years of cutting.Nobody defends library cuts. Nobody, for that matter, defends cuts in the arts, museums, sports, music services, theatre, youth services…the list goes on, to the extent that no area is exempt from attempts to find "savings". It is far from just libraries.But cuts happen because local councils are trying to operate an impossible system which demands accountability to voters on one hand and Government on the other. And it is the central state which wins hands down.Even Conservative-controlled boroughs have begun to experience the effects of Whitehall's grip on their budgets. This is presumably why John Major has begun to make cooing noises about a more peaceful relationship with local councils. However, soft soap won't save a single library book until government undoes the system of local government finance it has painstakingly constructed.Local people want their councils to be the protectors and nurterers of cultural services they have been for a century or more, with a far better record than central government. But we now work under a regime which enforces an emphasis on vicious pruning. Any gardener could tell Mr. Major the only thing his methods are going to produce is a cultural desert. What we need is re-investment and the ability to respond to the demands of our voters.[Interruption.] If the hon. Member who is speaking from a sedentary position had been here from the beginning of the debate, he would have heard who wrote the letter. It was a local councillor who has to make the decisions that all our councillors have to make when they try to find out how to make the best deal they can for the people whom they represent, in the face of the cuts imposed on them by the Government.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

The debate is about public lending right, not library budgets, so I am not sure why the hon. Lady is holding forth about libraries. Is she perhaps assuming that the public lending right moneys in some way detract from the sum available for libraries? When the legislation was introduced, we were given categorical assurances from spokesmen on both sides of the House that public lending right funding would in no way take funds away from the library system.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman cannot see the correlation between the two subjects. If he looked at the draft statutory instrument he would see that the heading was "Libraries". If the hon. Gentleman cannot see the link, I am sorry but I cannot explain it more positively than that.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

No, I should like to develop what I have to say for a moment, but I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

We face a systematic rundown of a vital public service—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I am afraid that that subject is way off beam. The debate is about the order.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I listen to what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I would point out again that the order is headed, "Libraries".

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. The order is entitled "Public Lending Right", which is not the same thing as libraries.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I shall not argue, Madam Deputy Speaker, and of course I hear what you say.

The situation in public libraries is now so grave that the public lending right may well be seriously affected. Many local authorities are unable to offer the comprehensive and efficient library service that they are obliged to offer, under the public library—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I am sorry but that is definitely out of order. The hon. Lady must relate her remarks to the specific contents of the order.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The public lending right is obviously related to the books in libraries. To cater properly for the needs of communities, the books lent by them need to be available six days a week, both in the mornings and evenings. The decline in the number of libraries that open for 60 hours each week has been dramatic.

In 1974–75, 229 libraries were open for 60 hours a week.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I am sorry, but I have already explained to the hon. Lady that the line that she is taking is out of order. I must ask her to discontinue that aspect of her speech.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I find it difficult to understand your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I shall attempt to proceed with my argument. Clearly, the public lending right is closely related to the number of books lent from libraries, so I cannot see how I can talk about that right without referring to libraries.

During the past 13 years, book funds have failed to keep pace with inflation, while the number of titles has risen substantially. That has also occurred at a time when libraries are increasingly expected to stock non-print materials, such as cassettes, compact discs, videos and computer data bases.

Between 1980–81 and 1990–91, the real purchasing power of public library book funds declined by 16.5 per cent., compared to the bookseller's average price index. Obviously, that has considerable impact on the public lending right.

Opposition Members are also very concerned about the implications of compulsory competitive tendering for the public lending right and for libraries.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I am sorry, but this is intolerable. The hon. Lady must relate her speech to the order that we are considering, and as I understand it that relates to the sum of money paid out from a central fund —it has nothing to do with local authorities. The hon. Lady must have regard to whether she thinks that the extra sum that is being made available is adequate. That would be in order, but a general discussion of library provision is not.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

May I respectfully point out, Madam Deputy Speaker, that not all libraries are run by local authorities.

Soon after being appointed, the Secretary of State asserted: Public libraries should be open, as far as possible"— I assume that he also meant other libraries that are not run by local authorities— where and when the community wants them. Does not the Minister agree that these sentiments, laudible though they may be, are fanciful and will remain so while the Government fail to provide libraries and local authorities with proper funding? As in so many other areas of policy—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. Does not the hon. Lady understand the purport of what I have said to her? This is out of order, and I cannot allow it to continue.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

In that case, I shall draw my remarks to a close by saying that any further cuts in such services will be made in the face of united opposition from the Opposition and from millions of people up and down the country.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West 11:06, 9 March 1993

It is a very long time since I spoke about the public lending right. Indeed, I believe that my last speech on the subject was made in 1982, since when there have been very few debates about it. I was the Minister who introduced the order that finally led to the public lending right's coming into force. I do not claim much credit for that, as the work had all been done by my predecessors. Nevertheless, the purpose was a useful one. We had no opposition, although I occasionally suspected that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) was less keen on the proposal than were some others. However, I may be totally unjustified in saying so. My hon. Friend will be able, in due course, to explain his position.

The public lending right was bipartisan and, despite the speech of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), the principle remains bipartisan—tripartisan, in view of the magnificent attendance of Liberals. A high proportion of them are present and I congratulate them. This development represents a great step forward. However, the legislation, which was introduced by a Labour Government, was not the greatest piece of drafting known to man. Indeed, it was rushed through Parliament almost in the last 24 hours before the 1979 general election.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

There were a few things on our minds.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

Indeed, there were one or two things on the minds of people in the Labour and Conservative parties as the legislation was going through.

However, the Conservative Government of the day managed to use what was a very defective Act to get the vehicle on the road. I am delighted that it has stood the test of time and that its few critics have at least remained silent. Whether they are still critics I am not sure. The system has worked and authors have benefited.

I should like to put a few questions to the Minister. I want, first, to take up a point that my hon. Friend made in his introduction. My recollection is that the first samples were taken from about 16 libraries. We have heard that the number is now 30. That is very good. The greater the number of public libraries sampled, the more likely it is that we shall get a representative list. In this regard, is there rotation? There used to be, to the extent of one quarter annually, in order that the sample might be brought up to date. We should be able to assume that in Newcastle or Bromley, or wherever, the sample is wide enough to ensure that authors get a fair deal.

My next question—here I am glad that some of my hon. Friends are not present—concerns European residents in the United Kingdom. Do such people who are authors receive the benefits of public lending rights? If so, are there now reciprocal rights for British residents in the rest of the Communities? That is a matter on which we worked very hard. I believe that, very shortly after I left the Department, the system came into force between the United Kingdom and what was then West Germany. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say a word or two about that matter. I hope that I am not asking too many technical questions. If necessary, my hon. Friend can write to me. Do British authors who live elsewhere in the European Communities receive the same benefits as those who live in the United Kingdom?

I read with some surprise something about the aims of the registrar. I think that it is in my right hon. Friend's excellent booklet describing the annual report of the Department of National Heritage, which itself deserves to qualify for public lending right. One of the aims of these extra funds is to harmonise public lending right schemes throughout the European Communities. I cannot see why that should be done. Surely this falls squarely within the definition of subsidiarity, which the House debated at some length last night and will no doubt debate at even greater length on Thursday. If there is to be such harmonisation, perhaps my hon. Friend can tell us about the proposal, why we need harmonisation and what sort it will be. It may be a good thing, but I have my doubts.

Another question that was debated at the time of the introduction of the public lending right related to children's books, because many authors of those books felt that the qualifying number of pages was so high that their books would not always be eligible for PLR. Has that problem been resolved? Are the editors of reference books eligible for PLR? It would be interesting to know the answer. I read somewhere that the Department or the registrar aimed to do more about such books. Do illustrators and editors in general qualify for PLR? The scheme has now been running for about 11 years, and those questions should be reconsidered, if they have not been recently, to ensure that fairness is achieved.

I understand that a new computer has been installed and that, to some extent, it has reduced the proportion of money going to the authors. May we assume that that is a temporary arrangement and that the high proportion of money that had gone to authors will, once again, be paid to them? As part of the authors charter, perhaps my hon. Friend can try to get that proportion up to 90 per cent. of the total sum. It has reached the high 80s, but it has never struck 90 per cent. In the next few years, one of the aims of the scheme might be to ensure that the proportion paid to authors increases still more.

I welcome the increase in PLR. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on increasing it. I hope that that will benefit many authors. It would be interesting to learn from the Under-Secretary—I do not think that it is private information—which authors get the main benefits from the system. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), with his usual omniscience and his new contacts with the Treasury, will be able to tell us who they are. I shall listen to him with interest.

I congratulate the Government on increasing the PLR in a difficult public expenditure climate. I hope that the scheme will continue to do the good work that it has done for more than a decade.

Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Harwich 11:12, 9 March 1993

I am sorry that I feel compelled to enter a gently discordant note into the debate.

Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Harwich

Yes, I assure my right hon. Friend that it is very gentle.

I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) is in the Chamber and he will remember the ferocious debates that we had in the House back in the 1970s when, if I recall correctly, the Public Lending Right Bill was almost the only Government Bill that was defeated by Opposition Back Benchers. Perhaps my hon. Friend can clarify my memory on that.

I object to the principle of the PLR not because I wish to do hard-working authors out of money—I would be eligible for PLR, but I have declined to register on principle.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

How many books has the hon. Gentleman sold?

Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Harwich

One of my books has been selling for 10 years, with 10,000 copies sold a year.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

Has the hon. Gentleman written and sold a book on how to pick a winnable constituency?

Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Harwich

I am glad to say that, after much trying, I did manage to do so.

Can my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary tell me how many civil servants, including part-time ones, are involved in the scheme? I know that he said that 16 full-time civil servants were involved, but are any others? My hon. Friend proposes to give £5 million to the scheme, and a high percentage of that goes on administration. Does that sum include expenditure on advisory committees, expenses for members of those committees, of working groups and so on?

In the seventh year, to February 1990, the administrative costs involved in giving moneys to authors stood at 14 per cent. It is a pretty high percentage, and if a charity spent 14 per cent. of what it earned on its own administration, we should say that it was a little bit too much. The following year, 1991, it was 17 per cent. of the money disbursed, and last year it was 26 per cent. It seems to me that, if one sets up a quango and it spends 26 per cent. of the money disbursed on its own administration, that is a pretty high percentage.

I should make it clear to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I do not object to this right from any reasons of philistinism. I spend a great deal of money on books, have a fairly substantial library of my own and use my local public library, but I do not think that this is the best way to encourage authors. If one has £5 million to give, I am amazed that Opposition Members cannot think of a better way to spend it. If one decides to give away £5 million to encourage the arts, I do not think that it is a very sensible way to give it to people like my noble Friend Lord Archer, who is a very rich man already, and who gets £6,000 a year out of the pockets of taxpayers who are very much poorer than he is.

This quango managed to spend 26 per cent. of its money on itself and its equipment, and on giving money to people like Lord Archer, Barbara Cartland or Dick Francis, a wonderful author. I am very happy that he has made a lot of money, but he gets plenty of money out of the royalties that he gets on sales.

Not only that, but it seems to me that, when public lending right was originally set up, hon. Members did not fully understand some of the economics of the publishing company. When a sale is made to a library, the author gets a royalty on that already. There are many books that would not be published at all were it not for the economics of selling to libraries. So authors already get something out of public libraries.

This quango is spending 26 per cent. of money out of the pockets of the taxpayers on itself and its equipment, and it not only gives it to the Jeffrey Archers of this world, but 70 per cent. of authors get less than £100. I ask the House: if we want to encourage literature, is the best way to set up a quango with 16 full-time civil servants, and no doubt part-time civil servants, and all the rest of it, to give 70 per cent. of authors sums of less than £100? That does not seem to me a sensible way to spend the taxpayers' money.

Although I should very much like to see literature encouraged in this country, in a way the House has been taken in. We like to support the arts and literature, but saying that should not mean that we support any scheme that comes along; supporting rich authors who do not need it, while poor authors are getting less than £100 a year. It does not seem to me to be worth it.

Although this debate is not an occasion for a radical root-and-branch examination of public lending right, it seems to me to be based on a fallacious principle. I hope that Ministers will undertake to look again at the scheme and see whether £5 million of public lending right is the best way to encourage more writers in this country.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham 11:18, 9 March 1993

The situation is even worse than my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat) has just suggested. Of 16,800 authors who received payment, 9,260 received less than £49. That puts a slightly different complexion on the rather glossy presentation we received from my hon. Friend the Minister or from the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). I am so glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich reminded the House of the battles that were fought over the establishment of the so-called principle of the public lending right. I warmly welcome tonight's debate, the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the scheme, which gives us an opportunity to look again at this public lending right and at the expenditure of public money on a scheme that is based on a fallacy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich was right. I, too, have no objection to the Government or to other patrons dispensing funds to help needy authors; if that is the best use to which the £5 million can be put, so be it. I do object, however, to money being distributed under this scheme to those who do not need it and to giving tiny sums to the many who do need it. I also object to the continued existence of this quango after 10 years—at a time when we are supposed to be trying to eliminate such things. It seems to have become "a good thing", as if that were engraved on tablets of stone. It is not a good thing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) thought that the system had been set up with little opposition. It is worth recalling, then, that throughout the 1970s there were many attempts to put it on the statute book. In 1976 there was the first serious attempt, by the then Labour Government, to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich, Michael English, a former Labour Member, and I defeated the Bill— probably the only recorded occasion when Back Benchers have defeated Government legislation. Alas, just before the 1979 election, the measure returned to the House and, with co-operation between Government and Opposition Front Benchers, it became law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and I were assailed by many authors, who wrote to us in not very literary language, I am afraid to say. I was also attacked —verbally, not physically—by Ministers, who asked me why I had let the Bill go through, even though 1 had done everything I could to stop it. There was a widespread feeling that the Bill was not as good an idea as had been supposed.

The whole principle behind this expenditure of public money is wrong. The Minister has said that authors should be recompensed for the loan of their books from libraries. He also mentioned that there are 500 million such lendings a year. The point is, of course, that authors have benefited from the sale of their books to the public libraries. Without their purchasing them, many of these books would never have been published in the first place. At the time in question, the public library system disagreed with the argument that public lending was doing down the authors. The reverse is the truth: it is that system which has sustained authorship and helped and encouraged it

I would not mind these funds being disbursed to authors in some other way, but they have no right to the money on the grounds that the public libraries deprive them of their rightful entitlements. There are many other examples of people creating things, selling them and then not getting paid for them again every time others look at or use them. Artists sell their paintings to galleries; they do not get paid every time someone looks at them thereafter.

The European directive—the idea is apparently spreading across the continent; perhaps its inhabitants deserve it—refers to a rental and lending right. Thai is an interesting idea. Manufacturers make a product; profit is then made from it; the product is then rented out time and again. The creator of the product does not get paid every time it is used subsequently by someone else.

This false premise has a romantic history, going back to A. P. Herbert. People latched on to it, but that does not mean that it was right. Many of us strongly objected to the forceful arguments that poor authors were being deprived of their rights by the library system.

In addition, an extraordinary quango structure was to be created—a public lending right institution, which would take samples from all over the country and distribute very small sums of money to thousands of authors. For all those reasons, we found the concept seriously flawed and fought it hard. Three of us argued for about 26 hours in Committee, while nobody else said a word.

Nobody will speak at length tonight—we do not have the time—but I still believe we have a wrong principle and that it is the wrong way to distribute money, as a form of patronage, to help authorship. I regret that the fund has grown to £5 million. I shall not oppose the instrument tonight. I simply place on record my continuing dislike of the way in which the public purse is being used to support such a public lending right scheme.

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester 11:25, 9 March 1993

I shall be brief, because we are anxious to get home to our cocoa and bedside reading, our library books.

I must at the outset declare an interest. I am a recipient of public lending right and I have come to the House tonight to say thank you to hon. Members who were here in 1979, when the legislation was passed. I particularly salute my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) for the leadership that he showed then and has shown since. I say thank you also to the registrar and his team in Stockton-on-Tees. Mr. John Sumsion, the original registrar, did a wonderful job. He is the only man I know who led a quango in a successful way, the head of a lean, mean team which delivered the goods.

I say thank you to the Government for sustaining support for what is an excellent scheme. Most of all, I say thank you—[Interruption.] I anticipate the question that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) wants to ask. The list of my books is long and, as the Library is still open, he can go and check for himself.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

While the hon. Gentleman is listing the people he wishes to thank, he may care to head the list with the name of Mr. Michael Foot, who assured the Labour Whips Office in 1979 that the measure that he was about to introduce would be enormously popular. Alas, not only did it not win us the election, but I learn to my sorrow that it put money into the hon. Gentleman's pocket.

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

We authors should salute fellow authors, including Mr. Michael Foot, an author arid historian of note—and still wearing the same donkey jacket, as befits a distinguished author.

If the reading of books is the mark of a civilised society, we can draw comfort from the latest issue of "Cultural Trends," which suggests that book reading is on the increase and that more books are being borrowed from libraries. Indeed, whereas in 1977, 54 per cent. of the population gave the reading of books as one of their favourite pastimes, the figure is now 62 per cent. Consumer spending on books doubled in the last six years, and people are borrowing more books, by the million. Thanks to the public lending right and the registrar, 563 million loans took place in 1992, the 10th year of the scheme.

Given the doom and gloom that is paraded about our society—about the moral and cultural decline and the vacuum in which we live—it is interesting to note the sort of books that people borrow—[Interruption.]—from libraries registered in public lending right. The work of the registrar shows us the authors and books that are borrowed.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

Who came top of the poll?

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

At the top are many favourites, including Virginia Andrews, Agatha Christie, Catherine Cookson, Len Deighton, Dick Francis, Jack Higgins, Victoria Holt, Stephen King, Ed McBain, Ruth Rendell, Wilbur Smith and Danielle Steel, all with loans of over 1 million. Sadly, my noble Friend Lord Archer is not among those with overt million. He is in the over 500,000 list—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East scoffs. Whenever we in this country come across a successful person, we scoff. We love to take successful people and instead of, as people do in other countries, putting them on a pedestal and saying "Well done," we chip away at the statue. We mock the successful people who bring millions, if not billions, of pounds to this country. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, they are coming to life now, because they are at home when it comes to mocking success.

What is interesting is that the work of the registrar reveals to us not only what contemporary writers are receiving public lending rights, but what classic books are being read by people nowadays.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Far from attacking successful authors, we are rewarding them with £6,000 each. Is not that munificence? Do they also say thank you to the public for this largesse?

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

Indeed we do, although I am not one of the 97 out of 16,000 authors who receive the public lending right. The principle is that we should reward authorship.

The classic authors, those who are most borrowed—up to half a million borrowings a year—are Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Tolkein, Anthony Trollope—

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

Order. They cannot benefit from public lending right.

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

This is work produced by the public lending rights office in Stockton-on-Tees and taken from the annual report, and it is part of the funding that goes to the administration which produces this useful information. I did not think that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) was in the Chair.

In the second division, over 100,000, the list ranges from Charlotte Bronte to George Orwell—a socialist, but none the less he is here. This is an open opportunity scheme. Even William Shakespeare is being borrowed.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

May I remind my hon. Friend that his cocoa is getting cold?

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

My hon. Friend is quite right, and my children may well be up.

All that I want to say is that the English literary heritage is the glory of our civilisation. It is quite right that we should recognise the contribution that authors make to our cultural and literary life. We are right to reward the living ones with public lending rights. They play a very important part in our civilised life. Let us acknowledge with gratitude something wholly good that is emanating from the House tonight.

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South 11:31, 9 March 1993

May I briefly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) in his contention that this money should not be paid? I very much welcome tonight's order, not least because it will keep 16 of my constituents in work for another several years. I believe that, if an author sells a book to a public library which is then lent out, he is forgoing sales and therefore revenue which he would get from sales all over the country. In the light of that, it seems only right that some payment should be made and some record kept of which books are the most borrowed from our libraries.

I thank the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) for their congratulations to my constituents. We have an excellent leader in Dr. Parker, the present registrar for public lending right, as we had under his illustrious predecessor, John Sumsion, whom I knew very well.

I am pleased to see that, on the 10th anniversary, which unfortunately I was unable to attend, but which the Secretary of State did attend, in my constituency, the top-selling author, and thus the top-rewarded author, was a north-eastern one—Catherine Cookson—who I believe has led the polls for several years in the past.

The 16 people in Stockton-on-Tees work extremely hard. They have recently had a wonderful new computer, which should bring down their administration costs quite sharply, I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat). Therefore, he need not have too many worries about the percentage currently being taken in administration costs. It is a hard-working, efficient team, which has been given plaudits by people who know of the work that it does. I wish it every success in the future.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury 11:33, 9 March 1993

It is appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) rounded off this important debate. I know what interest he takes in the work of his constituents, who perform a service to all of us who love books, whether we write them, read them, borrow them or buy them. I am grateful to him for his interest and support, as I know his constituents are.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) is always a very hard act to follow. We are all grateful to him for enlivening the debate and giving that right sense of joy which should come from anyone who loves books. Books are about so much more than what is inside them. I recall a former Archbishop of Canterbury who insisted that, before he read a book, he always smelled it to check that it would be all right, so it takes all sorts.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), who opened the debate, addressed serious issues. I will seek to demonstrate that, far from the public lending right being gravely affected, as she argued, it is flourishing and will continue to expand. The profession of librarian is an honourable one. It is also a modern and up-to-date profession which is responding to the changing demands and expectations of those who use libraries.

It is not the case that a library could be regarded as successful, irrespective of what it does, if only it were open six days a week, morning and afternoon, for 60 hours. I have no power to intervene in the day-to-day management of the public library service. Library authorities are best placed to decide on service provision, including opening hours and library closures, taking into account local needs and resources.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to ensure that library authorities in England meet their duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service. He has no powers to interfere in the day-to-day management of the service. The hon. Lady was tempting us to stray down the path of a local government finance debate which I would have been glad to hold, considering the happy time I had in the Department of the Environment, but it would not be appropriate. I must not forget that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester's cocoa is getting steadily colder.

At this time of year, we would expect competing bids in local authorities. The example most widely quoted has been Manchester. I am delighted to hear that the libraries and theatres department has been required to make savings which mean that there will be no library closures, and that the department's savings will be less than those for some other departments.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) is to be congratulated on steering the legislation through some years ago, and on being the first Minister, I think, responsible for the implementation of the principle. When he was responsible, I know that he went to Stockton to ensure that the system was up and running.

My right hon. Friend asked important questions which I shall seek to answer concisely. Of the 30 library authorities—not libraries, incidentally; there will be libraries within the authorities—in the PLR sample, four this year supplied loans data from several branches. That enabled us to increase the sample size from last year's figure of 10.6 million to 16.1 million books. From the 16.1 million loans sampled, our computer estimates individual book issues to equal the total loans from United Kingdom public libraries. To recognise the fact that sampling strength varies between regions, the calculation is done in two stages; first, the computer takes the loans recorded in each region to arrive at a regional estimate, and then adds the regional totals to arrive at the national estimate.

My right hon. Friend asked whether community residents could receive money. The answer is yes. He asked about children's books; there is no qualifying minimum number of pages any more. Among the illustrious titles mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester, who will now be thinking about heating up his cocoa, we find not only Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell but Enid Blyton, who continues to be in the category of estimated loans of more than 1 million.

On reference books, a sub-committee of the Public Lending Right Advisory Committee is concluding its deliberations. I reassure my right hon. Friend that illustrators qualify, as do editors. Therefore, there has been progress since he was responsible for these matters.

The installation of the computer has led to a reduction in the funding that is available for distribution. The 90 per cent. target is not fanciful. The registrar is keen to establish a figure of 11 per cent. on which he can work for administrative expenses.

The European Commission has submitted a draft directive on rental and lending rights. That was submitted in January 1991 and advocates recognition in each member state of the right of authors to remuneration for the public lending of their books. At present the United Kingdom has a reciprocal public lending arrangement only with Germany. However, there was much opposition to the lending right provisions of the draft directive. As a result, a compromise has been agreed by the member states, allowing countries to continue to give priority to the cultural objectives of their national schemes and to exclude certain types of library institution from PLR calculations. Therefore, the principle of subsidiarity applies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat) objected to the principle of PLR. I assure him that 16 civil servants means 16: there are no part-time officials. There is one committee, the excellent Public Lending Right Advisory Committee, which has nine members who work extremely hard on behalf of us all. There is a £1 minimum limit and a £6,000 upper limit, and money for those who qualify above that figure is redistributed. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) still finds that a fallacious principle. I shall clearly not convince him otherwise, and I am ever mindful of the cocoa of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester.

It is important to recompense authors in this way. The sale of one book to a public library ensures that many readers will take advantage of that authorship. I appreciate that those readers might have purchased copies of the book if the library service had not provided it. There are other examples of regular payments for the product of a person's mind. For example, there are many patent payments. The principle of copyright is designed to assist in that area.

The scheme depends on computers, and the computer has been the cause of a considerable increase in this year's administrative expenses. An advisory group includes representatives from the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency and the Cabinet Office internal audit. A contract was awarded to BIS Information Systems to replace the computer. That was worth £580,000 and accounts for a great deal of the amount to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich referred. Staged payments for the contract are being made on the successful completion of each phase. The design was completed in March 1992 and testing began in May last year. The old and new systems have been running in parallel. One of the benefits of the new system will be additional storage capacity.

Public libraries added 11 million books to their stock in 1990–91. Many public libraries have increased book expenditure in real terms over the past decade, and for the first time in a decade, borrowing last year was up. Book issues are increasing, especially in the shire counties—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. I looked at the monitor before I took the Chair and I noticed that my predecessor brought the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to order. The Minister is straying down the same road and I urge him to return to the subject under debate.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

I am a lost sheep in this argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful to you for bringing me back to order. I sought to give the hon. Member for Cynon Valley the courtesy of a reply, but perhaps I should speak to her elsewhere to reassure her and allay her fears.

The expectations of the public in this respect have risen and, through our recognition of the public lending right, we have seen that libraries are not just repositories of our uniquely rich heritage but resource centres for our communities, important to the quality of our lives. It is a modest mark of our gratitude to those with gifts and skills of writing that we make this increase to the public lending right and I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Public Lending Right (Increase of Limit) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 17th February, be approved.