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Orders Of The Day

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 24 January 1979

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Public Lending Right Bill

Not amended ( in the Standing Committee), further considered.

New Clause 4

Annual Report

"The Secretary of State shall annually lay before each House of Parliament a report on the workings of the scheme in addition to such other papers as may be required to be laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General under Clause 2 of the Act.".—[ Mr. Moate.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Speaker has decided that it would be appropriate to discuss Government amendment No. 71 together with the new clause, instead of separately as shown on the provisional list of selection.

By way of introduction, I must say that it is with little sense of pleasure that I speak on this subject today. Personally, I feel that it is singularly inappropriate that Parliament should be discussing business of this kind at all. It contrasts starkly with those matters of much greater importance that are facing the nation. I really believe that Parliament could spend its time better than by discussing a Bill of this kind, or even the new clause, worthy though it be.

It seems that the sense of pleasure that I lack is the same sensation as that experienced by most hon. Members, because the House is virtually empty—emptier than it has been for the whole week. That is an indication of the feelings about this legislation; it has no support in the House. The absence of hon. Members today, except for those one or two stalwarts who have been present throughout the months and years of debate on this subject, is an indication of the total lack of interest by the House of Commons in the Bill.

It is worth emphasising that under the Bill at present there is an obligation on the Registrar to ensure that statements and annual accounts are laid before both Houses of Parliament. That is quite right and proper. But pure financial accounts will be totally inadequate and unsatisfactory. It is important that Parliament should receive from the Secretary of State, who in turn will have received it from the Registrar, an annual report describing the full workings of the scheme. The term "working" is deliberately as broad as possible so that Parliament can receive a greater amount of information about how the scheme might work in practice.

The Minister of State was courteous enough to write to me and tell me about his amendment No. 71, which seeks to achieve the same objective as my new clause. I am grateful to him for that. He told me in advance that he could accept my clause in principle, though he felt it would be better as the subject of a Government amendment. I am not quite sure why a Government amendment should have any greater intrinsic merit than a Back Bencher's amendment. Nevertheless, I shall not quarrel about that.

The Minister also said that the amendment would fit in most appropriately as a new subsection at the end of clause 3, and therefore hoped that I would withdraw my new clause and accept the amendment. I shall, of course, listen to debate on that point. I certainly accept the spirit of what the Minister said and I express my thanks for his courtesy, but I would still argue the case for a new clause because it adds greater emphasis to my point. Perhaps the matter can be decided later when we have heard the Minister's arguments advanced in favour of his amendment as opposed to my new clause.

It seems to me that the case for a new clause or amendment of this kind embodies many of the principal arguments about the Bill itself. What I seek to argue is that the report should enable Parliament each year to judge upon the merits of the many arguments that have been advanced over a long time about the Bill. We should be given a great deal of information on the kind of points that I shall suggest should be covered in an annual report.

In a nutshell, the Bill has been portrayed as an author's dream come true. We have been told that at long last it will give justice to authors, or will compensate them for the sales they have lost—or imagine they have lost—through the workings of our excellent library system. Against this, I and many others have argued that the Bill is something of a confidence trick on authors and the public alike. In my view, the scheme is nonsense. The Bill is nonsensical and is perpetrating something of a trick on Parliament, the public, the taxpayer and authors. An annual report will allow us to judge who is right and who is wrong.

In support of that, I remind the House that we have been told that about 113,000 authors might be eligible for benefit. To provide for them, the Registrar will have about £2 million at his disposal. We are talking about an increase in public expenditure of £2 million, which I regard as singularly inappropriate at present. I should have expected my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to oppose it in principle. It is a matter of regret that on this occasion we are actually supporting a yet further increase in public expenditure.

The sum of £2 million is to be disbursed by the Registrar—or, rather, he can disburse what is left after he has paid his own salary and the salaries of the 40 staff and all the other expenses that will be incurred by this quango—this quasi-autonomous national Government organisation. The Bill sets up a quango at a time when I thought my right hon. and hon. Friends were opposing the creation of such bodies. However, here we are supporting yet another. That in itself is regrettable.

We are told that this body might cost about £600,000 a year to administer, leaving £1,400,000 for 113,000 authors. It does not take much imagination to realise that that means that the average author, if there be such a person, will receive about £12 per annum if he or she is lucky. Therefore, we are setting up this whole bureaucratic machinery so that the average author can receive about £12 per annum, if he is lucky—and he would be lucky to get £12.

We know that a large amount of the pool will be scooped by the very successful authors who do not need the money anyway. Many of them will not be British authors but will be overseas authors. We shall return to that point when we deal with a later amendment. Those overseas authors could receive, we understand—although I do not think that this has been confirmed yet—up to a maximum of £1,000.

Therefore, a large number of authors will receive £1,000 and a large number of very worthy authors who are not particularly successful in the commercial sense will receive perhaps £1, £2 or £3 from this whole mighty, bureaucratic scheme which we shall be setting up by the Bill. Even those who favour public lending rights would concede that that is something of a nonsense, even if there were a fundamental case in favour of hand I would argue against that.

Even if the scheme attracts Government funds of much more than £2 million—if it doubles, trebles or quadruples—that average payment will increase to only £24, £36 or £48.

Taxable, indeed. Therefore the actual amount received would be much less.

The whole scheme is something of a nonsense. That is my argument, with which the House will have become familiar over the years.

My point is that an annual report will give all the information needed to allow us to judge whether the scheme is working out as I and my hon. Friends have argued, or whether it is an author's dream come true, as the Writers' Action Group and other enthusiastic supporters of the Bill have argued. We should be able to test these arguments, as well as some of those put forward by the Library Association and those advanced against the scheme by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils.

No one should have the idea that just because there is not a great deal of opposition in the House—certainly not in the voting Lobbies, though I hear a great deal of sotto voce opposition—the scheme has universal support. Many authoritative bodies outside the House regard the scheme as a bad one and do not like the Bill.

If we are to test the arguments, it follows that the annual report must be fairly substantial. I want it to be comprehensive, full and helpful so that if necessary we can examine in debate how the scheme is working and amend it or suggest to the Secretary of State that he should get the Registrar to change it, which presumably might be possible without actually amending the legislation.

I should like to suggest some of the items that I believe ought to be in the annual report. I hope that the Minister will tell me whether he agrees with my concept.

First, the House must know about the actual payments made to authors. I am not suggesting that the report would name the authors and tell us precisely how much each individual author had received. That would clearly be private information. But it is fundamentally important that we know just how much individual groups of authors are receiving, how much the average disbursement is, how many authors have received the £1,000 maximum—if there is to be a £1,000 cut-off—and how many authors have received between £1 and £5 and between £5 and £50. I hope that that information will be easily obtainable. It will allow us to judge whether the scheme is the nonsense that I suggest it will be or whether it is being helpful to authors.

That is very important, for more than one reason. One of the arguments in support of the Bill has been that it might help those worthy authors who represent minority groups. One example that has been given is the Welsh language writer. Unfortunately, according to the technical investigation group, the poor Welsh language writer of a non-fiction work might expect to receive £2 a year. He will not get rich on the scheme.

It will be important to know how the minority groups are benefiting, or failing to benefit, from the scheme. I hope that the annual report will tell us exactly how they are benefiting or not benefiting. That is the first area on which I hope the Minister of State will agree we are entitled to a great deal of detailed information from the Registrar.

I then suggest that the annual report should tell us just how much of the money will be paid abroad. There have been extensive debates about the desirability of introducing a scheme which really means that the British taxpayer will be supporting wealthy authors abroad without any reciprocal rights from the countries concerned for the benefit of British authors. There are complex and difficult arguments about whether one should pay overseas authors.

The House would like to know how much of our money will be paid out to help poor Harold Robbins and other authors abroad. They might be British residents abroad avoiding British taxation or they might be overseas authors who would never pay United Kingdom taxation only. They might be paying a high rate of tax in their own country, which would simply mean that our money was going to United States residents, for example, and the major beneficiary was the United States Treasury. Therefore, we are entitled to be told just how much of the money is paid abroad and how many £1,000 authors are included in that group.

We are also entitled to information about how much is paid to living authors and how much is paid to the estates of dead authors. This is another matter that we have debated before, and we shall return to it later today. The annual report will be one way of telling Parliament whether it has made nonsense or has done a good job in helping authors.

One of the fundamental arguments in favour of the Bill has been that somehow we must assist the poor author starving in a garret, that we must give authors more money. The fact that the money will be only £12 on average is carefully ignored. One Labour hon. Member gave a splendid example of the sort of thing we hear when he said "We must get to the point where every author has a living wage." The mind boggles at the prospect of the State laying down what is a living wage for every author.

The argument has been advanced that we are to help the living author, to give him a bigger income, an income of which he has been deprived by our library system. But the Bill does not simply do that. It allows the benefit of the public lending right to be paid to the estate of a dead author for 50 years after the author's death. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has often pointed out that the estate of Agatha Christie would benefit handsomely from the Bill.

No. Agatha Christie's estate would have benefited only if she were still alive when the Bill came into operation—if it ever does.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for correcting me. I had not realised that the estates of authors who have died recently will not benefit.

I should be happy if the Minister would confirm my understanding, which is that an author must be alive when his name is first placed upon the public lending right Register. The author might die the next day, and for 50 years thereafter the estate of an Agatha Christie would benefit from public funds.

5.15 p.m.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying that. I, too, look forward to hearing the Minister of State when we come to that matter. It seems to me an arbitrary and almost unfair distinction. It means that the widow of an author who dies before there is a chance to register will not benefit, whereas if the author were able to register just in time she would benefit. That is a little unfair. However, we shall return to the matter later. The point is that the House is entitled to know how much money is going to the estates of the dead and not to the living.

The Bill does not contain a definition of authors, so I do not know whether ghost writers come into that category. I suspect that they do not.

As the scheme remains longer and longer on the statute book, the amounts paid to the estates of the dead will become increasingly great. It would be helpful to be told each year just how much is being paid to help the living author, which I think is really what the Bill is all about, rather than going to help the families of dead authors.

We shall already know from the annual accounts the cost of running the quango. We have been told that it will be £600,000, but that figure has escalated considerably since we started talking about the Bill, and it is likely to be considerably more. I hope that the accounts will be very detailed. That is the only way in which Parliament can expect to keep a grip on the expenditure by such almost irresponsible—in the proper meaning of the word—bodies. I hope that the annual report will tell us a great deal about the number of staff, their functions and how the total expenditure breaks down in detail.

Another matter on which we are entitled to a great deal of information is how the scheme is working in the libraries themselves. I hope that the Minister will agree that the arguments put forward by the Library Association over the years have been very responsible. The libraries' concern is that they should not be burdened, and therefore that the public should not be burdened, with a bureaucratic scheme that imposes a great administrative load upon them. I have had a number of letters from librarians expressing their worries on this score.

Certainly in the initial years, as the scheme is bedding down, the Registrar should give us a clear picture of how the scheme is working. The scheme will be based on a small sample of libraries—I think 72. We must find 72 that have computer installations of one kind or another. The probability is that the Registrar will have to pay for the installation of a computer terminal at those libraries that lack such installations. That could involve considerable disruption of the libraries concerned. Everything will depend on securing the willing and friendly co-operation of the libraries that are to be burdened with all this administrative nonsense. We must know in the report how the scheme is working in practice.

If a librarian fails to co-operate, in the ultimate he can be penalised and pay a fine of £1,000. I am not sure that we want the Registrar to comment on that. We hope that it will not happen, but that sanction exists. I believe that the Registrar will receive great co-operation from the librarians if Parliament is misguided enough to pass the Bill.

Another item of information which we should expect involves complaints. No doubt, with 113,000 authors around, there will be quite a few registering complaints about the amount of money they receive or possibly about their exclusion from the list for one reason or another. As I said earlier, we have no definition of "author". Many people will feel aggrieved because they have been excluded from the scheme. Again we shall return to this subject later, because we were given to understand from our earlier discussions that many people who were engaged in the production of books would be excluded from the scheme. In passing, I refer to joint editors, joint writers, bearing in mind that we were told that multi-author works would not be covered, translators, photographers and so on.

Fairly recently, I have been involved as a part-producer of a book. There were authors, artists, editors and a whole team of people each dealing with his own speciality, and I was one of those specialists. I was delighted with the modest payment which I received—it seemed a perfectly adequate remuneration for the time that I spent doing the work—and, as far as I know, so were my colleagues. It seems to me that this scheme is nonsense. My lion. Friend is saying that it is bad luck on part-authors, but here is a part-author declaring his interest and saying that he is well content to be left out. I wish that full-time authors were left out, too.

I agree completely with my hon. Friend's concluding remark. I suspect that in practice a large number of people will waive any payment which might be due to them. Equally, for every person who is as generous and sensible as my hon. Friend, there will be some other person less so or even perhaps a bit difficult about this and asserting his entitlement to have his public lending right, only to find to his chagrin that he is excluded.

What would happen if someone claimed to be the sole author of a work and then someone else claimed that he had been a joint author and had helped the first person? In that case, the dispute would involve not only splitting the cake between the two but the first person losing his share of the cake. There is a tremendous amount of room for malicious intervention of this kind. How does my hon. Friend see such a dispute being resolved?

I think ultimately the Registrar would have to resolve it. It could be that he would have to engage in extensive legal investigation and possibly have the matter go to court before it was resolved. In such an event, a great deal of this £2 million would be taken up in legal expenses. The Registrar might engage the services of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee), and the cost would be very great. But it could be resolved only by the Registrar and by extensive investigation, I suspect.

The point is that a lot of people could complain. I put this forward seriously, because I believe that a great many people have been misled by the publicity surrounding the Bill. A number of people have written to me saying that they thought it was a good Bill because they thought they would benefit from it. I have had to write back saying "I am sorry. You are a photographer. You will not benefit from the Bill" or "You are an editor, or joint editor, and the Bill does not cover your work."

But more often the correction required has related to those writers of what are usually reference works. They are the people whom we should be trying to help. They write books which have little commercial sales potential. They do a great deal of research work and get very little financial reward. Although they do not realise it, the Bill excludes all reference works. All the major reference libraries and all these worthy books which are only seldom referred to and taken out of the libraries are excluded. All those people will feel aggrieved, and I should like the Registrar to tell us in his annual report how many aggrieved authors there are writing to him saying that I was right, that it is a confidence trick, that they thought it was justice, but that it is not. If they get anything, it will be a small amount. But very often they will not get even that.

Another important aspect of the Bill concerns the sample. It has worried me throughout our proceedings on the Bill that the whole exercise will be based on a sample. Out of 6,500 lending institutions in the country, the scheme will be based on 72 sampling points. Although that might work out fairly, it might prove to be grossly unfair. Certainly in the early years I think that the Registrar, has a duty to report to Parliament on just how this is working out in practice.

I am worried, for example, that if there are only 72 sampling points, they may exclude totally a given area and possibly a whole county. Any writer who specialises in the history of that county or who is writing worthy books which have required a great deal of time and research will have his books in libraries which will not be referred to in the sample. He, too, could be aggrieved. I think that we should have explained in this annual report exactly how the sample is working and whether it is suggested that the sample be changed frequently so that it becomes a little fairer in its operation.

That, too, is a matter on which the Registrar should report. But, equally, I hope that the Minister of State will have an opportunity on a later amendment or on Third Reading to tell us a little more about the sampling method. It seems to be an unsatisfactory way of trying to give justice in respect of the many millions of books which are lent and to the 113,000 authors who are expecting to receive some payment.

That is my essential case for having an annual report, and I argue that it should contain all those pieces of information and perhaps many others which other hon. Members may suggest. When the Minister of State argues in favour of his own amendment, I hope that he will agree with me about the importance of this report and its usefulness to Parliament.

One further advantage might be gained from such a report which perhaps could not be secured as the Bill stands at present. I am concerned about the answerability of Ministers to this House on this matter. When we appoint a Registrar and create a new quango to run away with the taxpayers' money, I am not clear whether we shall be allowed by the Table Office to put down questions to Ministers in respect of all the matters that I have raised. If a constituent has a complaint that he is not on the register, or that the amount is not enough, or that he does not like what the Registrar is doing, shall hon. Members be allowed to table questions about it? By setting up a quango, has the Secretary of State removed these matters from the area of Ministers' responsibility to this House?

I suggest that by having an annual report and the obligation on the Secretary of State to lay it before Parliament each year so that hon. Members may know the workings of the scheme, the Secretary of State accepts that he is answerable for the workings of the scheme and hon. Members will be allowed to ask whether in considering the annual report or the workings of the scheme he is satisfied with this or that aspect of the operation of the Bill. This is not an argument for or against public lending right. It is an argument about the responsibility of Ministers to this House when quangos are created.

As my new clause and the amendment are couched in the same phraseology, I hope that, whatever the House decides to accept, we are making it clear that Ministers are directly answerable to Parliament. On that score, because of the emphasis which I have given to the importance of this report, I should prefer to see the new clause in the Bill. However, if the Minister agrees with my emphasis, no doubt he will ensure that his amendment is regarded by his Department and the Registrar as being of equal significance.

5.30 p.m.

In earlier years we are talking about the non-working rather than the working of the scheme. It will take two or three years to set up this whole operation. We are talking not about an immediate benefit to authors but a benefit which will not start until perhaps 1982, 1983 or 1984. It will take a long time to set up this complicated scheme, even on the basis of statements by Ministers. That is not an assumption on my part.

In the two or three years before the scheme comes into operation there will be no benefit to authors, no payments out—simply an expenditure on bureaucracy. In that time we shall probably spend getting on for £1 million—£200,000 in the first year, £300,000 in the second year and £400,000 in the third year. That amount is likely to be wasted in the next three years on merely setting up the scheme.

In those years we shall still want an annual report. I hope that the Minister agrees that the Registrar will have to make an annual report for each year from the time that he is appointed, not after the scheme has come into operation. I shall be interested to know how much of our money is being wasted in the first, second and third years when not a penny will be going out to any author by way of benefit. Therefore, I hope that an annual report will be required from the Registrar from the day of his appointment, even though in those first few years—we do not know how long—we shall be dealing with the non-working rather than the working of the scheme.

As I have asserted, the benefit will be pitiful in any event. Many militant authors will no doubt he glad that this measure is on the statute book, merely for the sake of principle, but I suspect that the vast majority of authors will not notice the difference because the whole thing is something of a confidence trick and the benefit will be totally negligible.

I am delighted with the grouping which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, suggested at the commencement of our proceedings—namely, that with new clause 4 we may discuss Government amendment No. 71, in clause 3, page 4, line 27, at the end to insert:

'(8) The Secretary of State shall in each year prepare and lay before each House of Parliament a report on the working of the scheme.'.
I believe that it seeks to do precisely what the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is seeking to do in his new clause.

I think that the hon. Gentleman's opposition to the Bill is well known to the House and to the world. He feels that the House should be debating matters other than the Public Lending Right Bill. I believe that this House has a duty not only to debate great matters of state but to look after sections of the public that the House, by a large majority, has decided should have legislation in their favour.

The hon. Gentleman talked about time. I have risen early in the debate to try to save the time of the House. There are many amendments to be dealt with during this evening and tonight, tomorrow morning and afternoon and tomorrow night, or as long as they may take. The Conservative Opposition have a Supply day tomorrow. I imagine they consider it important because of the nature of the business which has been put down. It is a matter for the House, but it must get on with its business. Therefore, it will depend on the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends whether we debate those important and weighty considerations which have been put down on the Order Paper for consideration to-morrow. Let us see how we get on.

The Government accept the spirit of the new clause in the form of amendment No. 71 to which I have referred.

Is the Minister solemnly and seriously saying to his hon. Friends that, from this mess of pottage, he would deliberately talk out tomorrow's business on the great affairs of state and what really matters in place of this load of codswallop? If so, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should, with the Prime Minister, resign now.

I have no intention of talking out tomorrow's business. Opposition Members, not Ministers, are trying to talk out the Bill. Let us get on with the debate and not waste time.

It is not only Opposition Members, but Government supporters, who have strong views about the Bill and who have indicated their intention of coming into the Chamber later this evening. I suggest that, on reflection, the Minister might think that it would have been better had he not made some of his recent comments. We all recognise that this is an important Bill, that a decision has been made in principle that authors should be helped, and that the House wants to come to a conclusion on it. But it would be out of the question to allow this measure to get in the way of tomorrow's debate. The Government would have to find another day if we got to the stage where tomorrow's business was in any way in danger.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition Whips will act on the advice that has just been given to the House. It is a matter for them.

As I said, amendment No. 71 will do precisely what the hon. Member for Faversham is seeking in the new clause—namely, the provision of an annual report to the House. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be an annual report. It is not limited in time. It will go on each year.

I accept the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Faversham and his hon. Friends about the working of the measure in the initial years. Having listened to their arguments, I decided that on balance they were right and that the House should have the opportunity of debating how the Act was working, particularly in view of the controversy over this measure.

The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to know that I agree with what he said about the broad bandings of information that he said he would require. Clearly we would not want a huge, bulky annual report listing the names and addresses of all authors and the amounts they had each received. However, the hon. Gentleman is asking not for that but for the banding of receipts. He wants the House to be aware of the amounts received by authors in bandings of £5, £5 to £50 and £100 to £200, or whatever they may be. I think that kind of information could be accommodated in the kind of report which would be presented to the House.

The hon. Gentleman asked how much would be going to overseas authors. Again, that is a fairly reasonable request. However, when we come to discuss the series of amendments relating to overseas authors I may say something to the House that I cannot say at the moment because of the rules of order. I shall seek to meet some of the objections which have been made regarding overseas authors outside the EEC. I shall deal with that matter when we come to it. It may be that an amendment will have to be made in another place.

As the new Minister, as it were, in charge of this Bill, I am seeking to be as flexible as possible and to meet some of the points which have been made. I hope that, in a spirit of co-operation, we can get on and make the Bill work successfully, as is our duty.

The hon. Member for Faversham asked why the Government would not accept the new clause and why they should have put down their own amendment. Ministers of all Governments usually say We agree with and accept in principle what the hon. Gentleman is saying. "We shall look into the matter and at a later stage, on Report or in another place, we shall amend the Bill."I have sought to go much further than that by putting down an amendment to be debated with the new clause so that there can be no doubt about the Government's intent on the matter.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to the Government's amendment, because I do not know of any Act of Parliament which has a separate section dealing with the presentation of an annual report to the House. Where this can be done conveniently, as proposed in the Government amendment, I believe that that is the way it should be done by the draftsmen. I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman's drafting, but draftsmen are paid to do a job that he and I are not paid to do. Therefore, they can do it much more satisfactorily.

The hon. Gentleman places emphasis in his new clause on the words:
"in addition to such other reports as may be required to be laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General under Clause 2 of the Act."
I believe that those words are redundant. There is a duty to lay a report before the House, and that is in addition to anything sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Therefore, it is not necessary to include those words.

When the report is provided to the House, it will allow an hon. Member who may have an aggrieved constituent—an aggrieved author who is not on the list or who believes that he is not receiving his full share of the money available—to raise the matter in the House. It is a good democratic privilege and the Secretary of State would have to reply.

Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman to seek leave to withdraw his new clause in favour of the Government amendment, which will have precisely the same effect.

I do not believe that I am likely to be the subject of the Registrar's report as envisaged in the new clause. I cannot ever see myself writing a book and, if I did, I would, in all decency, have to covenant any payment due to me under this scheme to the Reference Room of the Commons Library or some such organisation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that the simple arithmetic to be covered by the annual report-12 million, less £600,000, divided by more than 100,000 people—does not make much sense. It provides only £11 to £14 per person. As my hon. Friend said, that will not make any difference to any author, however penniless, by tradition, authors usually are.

I believe that, well before the first annual report is made, there will be major agitation for more money to be put into the scheme so that more realistic payments can be made. I expect that the first annual report will contain a plea that the Bill should be brought back to Parliament in order that the payments can be inflation-proofed. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) will be here to oppose such a move. However, without such a move the payments will become derisory as time goes by.

In his able opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham did not deal with the point that the Minister should instruct the Registrar in his report to include a section on taxation of authors. Not every author will be so well advised as some hon. Members have been in adjusting their affairs in order to mitigate the impact of taxation on any royalties and profits they make from their works.

I entirely support any author who devises a way of legally beating the tax system. After all, just about the most honourable profession that any of us can follow is to mitigate legally the impact of taxation on our efforts. I believe that a section of the report should be devoted to dealing with the problem of the effect of taxation on authors.

I suggest that, as well as showing the groups into which authors fall for receiving payments under the scheme, there should be another column in the report showing, within bands of about £1,000, the taxation brackets into which authors fall. That will help us to judge whether the scheme is assisting poor authors or, as has been surmised, topping up the already successful authors.

5.45 p.m.

I hope that the annual report will deal with the problem of the author who first has his story published as a 12-part serial in one of the quality magazines, such as "Blackwood's Magazine". What will happen if the magazines are bound by libraries and, instead of borrowing the book in one of the sampling libraries, people continue to borrow the beautifully bound copies? Will the computer system differentiate between the borrowing of a book and the borrowing of a story contained in a bound volume of 12 issues of a quality magazine? I hope that the computer will be able to digest that and that it will be covered in the annual report.

As I understand the scheme, no difference will be made between children's books and adult books. The more I think about the problem, the more I hope that we shall see in the annual report a list of the 72 sampling centres. I am concerned about the problem of children's books that have local appeal. I should have thought that every child in the countryside of Northumberland—the home county of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury and Cirencester—would want to be brought up on the lovely story "The Shadow on the Moor". Unless there is a sampling centre covering Northumberland, how are we to know how much borrowing there is of a particular book? Equally, many children in the West Country are brought up on the story of "The Red Deer". Will there be a sampling centre to cover the borrowings of that marvellous local children's story?

I should like an assurance that the sampling centres will cover such famous local books and that this aspect will also appear in the annual report of the Registrar.

What will be done in the annual report about the position of the Ombudsman? I am proud of the fact that on behalf of the Gainsborough constituency I have not broken my duck with the Ombudsman. Therefore, I view the Bill with suspicion because it will probably cause many of my literary constituents to feel that they have been badly treated. That will be a point of maladministration of an Act. I fear that we shall be forced to refer to the Ombudsman the complaints of authors excluded under the scheme. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the report will list the number of complaints of maladministration which have been referred to the Ombudsman.

I view the scheme with great disappointment. So much could be done in so many other sensible and practical ways without achieving such a bad buy for the taxpayers' money. I hope that the annual report will place a duty on the person making the report to show the percentage of expenditure on administration as against the percentage of expenditure on productive effort.

The statistic that we have at present is a pretty shaming one. More than one-quarter of the taxpayers' money is going towards administration. If any of us was running a voluntary society and appeared at the end of the year before the subscribers to that society to tell them that we had spent more than one-quarter of their subscriptions on administration and created no benefit for subscribers, we would probably be sacked at the first annual general meeting. No voluntary society would dare to present the sort of report that the Bill envisages. It is an extremely disappointing operation. I hope that we shall spend many hours on it and succeed in getting the Bill into a better form and a more useful shape so that it will have a constructive benefit.

I should hate to have to write the first annual report. It will be a most dismal document and I do not know whether we shall get anyone who is prepared to put his name to it.

We are being asked to set up an organisation which will probably be headed by a £15,000 to £20,000-a-year man—not an impoverished author—and I think that that sort of salary will tempt people, even though the annual report is likely to be a dismal document.

The Registrar could always hire one of the aggrieved authors to write the report for him. There would be nothing to stop the Registrar from helping a penniless and aggrieved author, and thereby getting him off his back, by giving him some of his own large salary to write the difficult annual report. That would bring some benefit to at least one aggrieved author.

Would such an author qualify for PLR if the annual report were borrowed from public libraries?

I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will develop that theme later. He poses an interesting problem. It is important that we should look at the ways of reducing the unhappiness that the Bill will create. The new clause would at least provide that we must have someone to prepare the report and we may also find that someone else is employed to write the report. I do not like the Bill as a whole, but I support the inclusion of the new clause.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) used considerable ingenuity to spin out his speech to some length. It is obvious that some of his hon. Friends intend to keep us here for quite a while. I do not propose to assist them, unless the discussion goes on to such an extent that there is a hope of endangering the Opposition's Supply day tomorrow.

I was one of those who assisted in wrecking a Supply day before Christmas over the mere matter of £2 billion of extra expenditure which the guardians of the public purse on the Conservative Benches did not think merited debate. It included £284 million of extra expenditure on what is comically called defence, and I was not in the least sorry to have engaged in that escapade.

This Bill involves expenditure of £2 million. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the old maxim should be updated to say "Look after the millions, and the billions will look after themselves"?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on that matter any more than I agree with almost anything else he says.

Many spurious points have been raised by Conservative Members, but they have also raised some matters that command attention. The Minister has told us that he is in favour of the scheme proposed in the new clause. He put forward the Government amendment not for tactical reasons but because he believes in it and wants to improve the Bill.

The narrowness of the proposed sampling troubles me. Whether or not too much of an argument can be built on the importance of authors with a limited regional appeal, the proposed sample seems extraordinarily small for us to be able to glean accurate data. I am concerned that there has not been much comment about that fact.

When the Secretary of State spoke on Second Reading, she said that the orginal scheme involved administration expenses of £400,000 out of a total sum of £1 million. Under the present scheme, my right hon. Friend expects the maximum cost of administration to be £600,000 out of a total of £2 million. That is, without question, an extraordinarily large amount to be spent on administration.

Those of us who support the Bill will not be content until the sum set aside to filter through to the authors is a great deal more than is proposed. I support the Bill because it establishes in principle the right to remuneration in relation to lending, but it is pock-marked with shortcomings. I make no bones about that. I do not want to hold up its progress, but we are entitled to know why such an extra-ordinarily large proportion of the total amount provided for in the Bill is to be set aside for administration.

We shall be discussing later the amendment of the hon. Member for Aberdeen. South (Mr. Sproat) to exclude the estates of dead authors from the scope of the Bill and I shall support that, not because I want to damage the Bill or to assist the hon. Gentleman in his exercise of ridiculing aspects of it but because, with so little money to go round, the amendment will at least ensure that those who are alive to enjoy the money will get a little more.

I know that the projection of estimates is always difficult, but if the sums proposed in the Bill should increase, say, ten-fold in the next few years, I hope that the administration costs will not rise at the same alarming rate as has been indicated by the last two estimates.

I know that, to some extent, I am being a little inconsistent with my strictures about the limited amount of sampling and the data that will be forthcoming, but I do not know why so much needs to be spent on administration. I suppose that administration is bound to take a disproportionate amount of money at the start of any scheme, but there must come a time when the proportion of administrative expenditure will diminish drastically.

The situation is rather worse than the hon. Gentleman thinks. The expenses could be even more disproportionate because the figure of £600,000 is an estimate based on current figures while the total provision of £2 million is fixed. The scheme will not come into operation for perhaps another four years and, at the present rate of inflation, that £600,000 could be more than £1 million and that would have to come out of the fixed figure of £2 million.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman's prognostications are wrong, but he is quite correct in saying that we are setting a statutory upper limit on the total amount available for the scheme but no statutory limit on the amount to be spent on administration. That is bound to lead to fears that the amount spent on administration will grow and that the amount available to authors will be diminished still further to derisory amounts.

I have every good will towards the Bill and the intentions behind it. But it is not surprising that some opponents are able to make points against a measure dealing with such modest sums. The Bill exposes itself to a certain amount of ridicule. I hope the Minister agrees that, when the report is forthcoming, many hon. Members will be anxious to see that the amount spent on administration is worth while, even allowing for the fact that a great deal of money of a non-recurrent kind has been spent initially. Otherwise, a lot of people will feel disappointed.

6 p.m.

Can I make clear to the House that the percentage spent on the administration of the scheme and the percentage going to authors will be one of the most important elements in the annual report? I can assure hon. Members that those sort of figures will be contained in the report.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) came to give help and aid in our debate, claiming that he was one of the custodians and guardians of public spending. He witnessed his actions just before Christmas, which led to the abandonment of a Supply day, when £2 billion was being voted. Whether that is a contribution to curtailing public expenditure is less clear. But it is important to get into perspective the figures which will be the subject of these reports.

It might help the House if I put it in a semi-fictional way. I am not an author and have no interest to declare. I had not intended ever to write a book, but, suddenly, I have thought of a marvellous scenario for a novel. There could be a nation in crisis, gripped by industrial strikes, with a dwindling standard of living and exacerbated industrial relations, caused by some rigid, doctrinaire incomes policy, resulting in large numbers of people going on strike. There could be a shortage of food supplies and lack of transport, with freight held up, the docks clogged, and, if I may take a little artistic licence, snowfall following suowfall, ice building up, railway points frozen, and a population gripped in fear of death and starvation. Into this appalling—

Can I just finish my book? I will give way at the end of the first chapter. Into this appalling situation one would inject the action-gripped drama of the Parliament, which, on a crucial day—

Order. I am afraid that, like many prefaces to many books, that is rather wide of what we are discussing.

I am coming to the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the crucial day, we would find ourselves discussing the allocation of £2 million of Government money and reports on how that is doled out to authors. Anything so trivial would be hard to justify even in fiction. Although we are talking about an average figure of £12 per author per year, the lorry drivers are demanding £12 per lorry driver per week. That puts the futility of the whole exercise into some sort of perspective.

The hon. Member for Handsworth shares the alarm over the lack of profligacy contained in the Bill and the futility of reports which can deal only with £2 million. His conclusion—the opposite to mine—is that there should be much more money in it. The claim upon which he entered our debate, as the custodian of public money, looked torn and tattered by the end of his speech.

The way to improve the ratio of expenditure on the bureaucracy and quangos to expenditure on authors has never been considered in terms of reducing the share of the quango. Hon. Members on the Government Benches see only a means of increasing the total and providing a big form of leverage for higher public spending. All the difficulties which my hon. Friends have suggested are involved in the report are accentuated in terms of the sum of money we are talking about. I would like to mention some of the difficulties and put them in context.

The question of taxation was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). Is it yet generally known that the public lending right will be treated as earned income for those living authors who receive it but that, if they die, their inheritors or heirs will have it treated as investment income with investment income surcharge chargeable upon it? It seems very strange that a form of income can start off as earned and end up unearned without the form of income changing in any way. Only the recipient has changed. It would be like a dividend or a rent, earned until the person died and unearned when it went to his heirs, which brings it perilously close to the ghost workers' syndrome—

When my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) makes over the rights of his book to the team in the Reference Room of the House of Comomns Library, would the 12 of them have to pay unearned income surcharge on their £12 a year, divided between them?

Order. I must remind the House that we are discussing the annual report proposed in new clause 4 and Government amendment No. 71.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back to the report. It should state how much of public lending right has been subject to investment income surcharge. This could and should be in the report. The last thing that we want to do is to pay the money to rich authors. I understand that the purpose of the scheme is to help poor authors. If we find that they are paying investment income surcharge on their public lending rights, we are doing the reverse of what we set out to do. A strange parallel is the Arts Council, which pays much larger amounts than £2 million. On the whole, the Arts Council pays its grants to people who cannot earn their living by selling their artistic products. They are the failures.

In this case, we will be paying public lending right to those who are most able to earn their living by selling their books—the most successful authors—in greater measure than to the least successful. If this Bill was a true measure to help impoverished authors, the scheme and the report should contain the proposals for paying authors in inverse proportion to the number of books which they sell or which are borrowed from libraries. The man who never has books borrowed at all should receive the maximum of £1,000 and Agatha Christie, or her like, whose books are continually sold and borrowed should get nothing. It would be easy to turn each figure of borrowing upside down and put a figure one on top of it. By that device, one would achieve the social objective which this Bill seeks to bring about. I hope that the Registrar, in his first annual report, will be encouraged to consider that scheme.

One comes back to the question of why we are discussing this Bill in the middle of an acute crisis. The only reason is that it has to be rushed on to the statute book in case there should be an early election without this particular piece of electoral bribery having become law.

I am trying to help the Minister. He would find it a much more effective piece of electoral bribery if he accepted my solution of giving nothing to successful authors, whose books are often borrowed, and a great deal to those whose books are never borrowed. That would bring many more people within the scope of the Bill and perform a much greater measure of social justice. If social justice is the order of the day, this is the way to do it.

There is one other matter that I should like to see dealt with in the annual report, and that is the question of sampling. I am worried about what will happen in Wales. If there is to be one sample library there, those who write only in Welsh will find it difficult to get their proper recognition under the sampling techniques. On the other hand, if there are to be six sample libraries in Wales, those who write books only in Welsh will be over-represented in the sample.

Without having much more information about the libraries, the populations they serve and the reading habits of the whole of the country, it will be difficult for us to eradicate the unfairnesses. The Minister, however, will say that it does not flatter very much if there are unfairnesses because, since we are discussing payments of only about £12 or £14 a year on average, the fact that someone may get £1 or £2 too much or too little is not worth bothering about.

That brings me back to my opening remarks, which are that it is nonsense to proceed with this scheme now. It does not hold water. As the hon. Member for Handsworth said, the sum involved will either have to be £20 million, in which case the House would condemn it as too expensive, or it has to be nothing. To have all these problems, anomalies and contentious points, plus a quango costing £600,000 a year, plus the need to go through the procedure of the report and to send for the Registrar to appear before Select Committees, and to have the creation of this administrative bureaucratic burden for the sake of £12 a year for each author, would be to get the priorities wrong.

I prefer the Government amendment to the new clause. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has the disadvantage of being unable to call on Government draftsmen, but I like the succinct way in which the Minister has phrased his suggestion. I am not clear on a couple of the Minister's points, how-ever. He assured the House that there would be greater parliamentary control and the opportunity to table questions. In the outline of the novel of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) the frozen state of the railways was referred to. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham represent commuter constituencies. However, we are unable to put questions about the day-to-day problems of our commuter constituents, and that leads me to ask whether we shall be able to put questions about the day-to-day problems of our author constituents. The Minister seemed to indicate that we would be able to.

I said that I did not envisage that questions of that sort could be put to the Secretary of State. The advantage of the proposals we are discussing, however, is that complaints of individual constituents could be raised in the context of that report, and the Secretary of State would have to answer them.

That will occur on a half day or in the middle of the night. It is almost impossible to raise the problems that trouble our constituents when nationalised industry annual reports are debated. The House is fond of the Minister of State. He is a nice chap and he means well, but I am not sure that he is not putting forward honeyed words rather than just looking at the beastly practicalities.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has asked for an annual report to Parliament. My amend-mend seeks to provide that. More than that I cannot do.

6.15 p.m.

That reply is much more satisfactory. We know that the debate on the annual report will be as useless as all debates on all annual reports. If this matter conies to a vote, I shall support the Minister rather than my hon. Friend, because I prefer the Minister's words.

The point that has worried so many of us is the proportion of expenditure that will be incurred in building up the quango that is at the basis of this scheme. It seems that the whole of this pyramid is just waiting for the £2 million to be topped up. I therefore deplore the fact that on page 2 the Bill ties the figure down to £2 million. We all know that we are being tied to nothing like £2 million, and that it is humbug to put that figure in. It would have been much better to have inserted the words "in the first year" or something like them. The Minister, like the rest of us, knows that this sum will escalate and represent a burden on the taxpayer, while providing very little advantage to the author.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury made great play of the need for social justice, of helping the authors of bad books and of not rewarding the authors of good books, which is the sort of thing that the Labour Party's social justice is so much concerned with. This Bill is totally inadequate for its real purpose and is a bit of sloppy electoral bribery.

I offer my respectful congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). We would never have seen amendment No. 71 had it not been for my hon. Friend's suggestion in new clause 4. It is perfectly clear that but for my hon. Friend's assiduity and his dedication to the whole concept of the sovereignty of this House and to the scrutiny of public expenditure, and had the policies of the former IMF hero Johannes Witteveen not carried so much weight with my hon. Friend, the Minister of State would not have proposed amendment No. 71.

If I have to choose between my hon. Friend's new clause and the Minister of State's amendment, it will come as no great surprise to the House to find that the lot falls upon Faversham. If I have one criticism, it is that I do not like the location of the word "annually" in line 1 of the new clause. I do not like a word appearing between "shall" and "lay". My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham was a scholar of English. Perhaps he obtained a first-class honours degree, but I think that the words should read "shall lay annually" rather than "shall annually lay".

The new clause will go a long way to establishing something which I believe we have lost increasingly in the last 15 years. That is a convenient period at which to look, because 15 years ago was the start of what I consider to be 11 years of Socialism.

One of the consequences of that is that we have handed over more and more power to those outside the House. The principle behind my hon. Friend's amendment is that the House should receive each year a report on the workings of the scheme.

There is a strong case for saying that the House should receive an annual report upon the expenditure of £2 million of public money. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) was right to point out to the Minister of State that the £2 million is capable of being increased. All hon. Members know that when a figure of £2 million is given the sum will be increased. Everybody knows that we shall have to increase that figure. We all know that we shall not spend £2 million in the first or second year. It is estimated that when the Bill becomes law—and I hope that it never does—the sum will be increased. The reason why the Government have not proposed a sum of more than £2 million is that they know full well that the indignation of the House, which is sufficiently great against the Bill anyway, would be even greater.

The case for an annual report is even stronger because we know that before many years are out the House will be invited to agree to the limit being raised above £2 million.

Annual reports on public expenditure should be debated not less frequently but more frequently than they are. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and the Minister of State on another achievement. Both the new clause and the amendment would provide that the report must be made to each House. I welcome that, particularly since it is proposed by one of Her Majesty's Ministers.

The Lord President of the Council, who is not in his place, and the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedge-more), who, as always, is in his place, are not enthuseasts for another place. I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Luton, West if he feels that I am misrepresenting his view. It is fair to say that the reverence which is felt for another place by my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is shared neither by the hon. Member for Luton, West nor the Lord President. For the Government to move an amendment which actually proposes that a report should be laid before another place annually gives great satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. I have no doubt that it creates rather less happy reactions in the mind of the hon. Member for Luton, West.

Page 8 of the Bill shows that it is supported by the Lord President. When the Bill was published, amendment No. 71 and new clause 4 were not included. One might have expected to see amendment No. 71 in the names of not only the Minister of State but of the Leader of the House. But that is not so. As the learned Clerk will confirm, it would be in order for the name of the Lord President and, indeed, of the hon. Member for Luton, West to appear in support of the amendment. However, those names are missing.

Would it be in order for the name of an author, who might expect to receive something out of the kitty, to be attached to the amendment? I am sure that the Leader of the House, as a distinguished author, would want to declare an interest, but he could not do that in those circumstances.

I agree that the Leader of the House is a most distinguished author. I have read with great admiration—not once but several times—his massive, two-volume biography of his predecessor as Member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale. I commend the book to my hon. Friend. The Leader of the House is also the literary executor of the late Mr. Richard Crossman, against whom my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) contested an election in 1959. It was a great loss to the House that my hon. Friend was not successful in Coventry, South-West in 1959 because he would have come to the House a little earlier. If he had come here, the right hon. Gentleman who used to represent Coventry, South-West—

Order. The hon. Member is straying a long way from the question of the report on the workings of the scheme, as proposed in new clause 4 and amendment No. 71.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let us consider what might be in the annual report which is to be laid before each House. We can see the intrinsic merit of the joint proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and the Minister of State. I intend to discourtesy to my hon. Friend when I say that only infrequently does he find himself in happy accord with the Minister of State. My hon. Friend has said that he is worried about his own new clause because it seems to reflect at least the same purpose as the Minister of State's amendment. The Bill is also supported by the Leader of the House.

I notice that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has entered the Chamber. I find it a particular pleasure to look at the right hon. Lady from this side of the House. She might turn out to be a distinguished author.

New clause 4 includes the phrase
"the workings of the scheme in addition to such other papers as may be required".
That is a very broad definition, and that is why we could have included in this report a list of the most popular authors. That would be a very interesting item of information indeed, because I believe that the report would bear out what I said a moment ago, that the works of the Leader of the House, who will shortly have more time to be a little more prolific in his literary activities, would prove very popular since he is a very fine author. Perhaps the Secretary of State might be able to spend more time as an author. I do not think that she has many works to her credit so far, but perhaps she will have more time for literary activity. These are matters which might be included in the report, though we need not stop there.

6.30 p.m.

One of the most extraordinary features of this Bill is that the scheme does not appear in it. I hope that when the Minister of State replies he will tell us why it was not possible to include the scheme. It is not too late to submit to the learned Clerk a manuscript amendment incorporating the entire scheme, and, if that were done, the House could have a much fuller debate on the scheme than is likely to be held otherwise. One of the reasons why there ought to be an annual report laid before this House, and before another place, is that we cannot make any judgment now as to how the scheme will operate

New clause 4 refers specifically to the workings of the scheme. It is directed precisely at this point and I think that it is wrong that the whole of the guts of this Bill, which will be provided in the scheme, are not published at the same time as Parliament is debating the scheme.

I hope that if this Bill should ever reach another place it will be possible for one of the noble Lords on the Government Benches—possibly the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and now Lord Privy Seal, Lord Peart—to pilot this scheme. The noble Lord might be the right person to draft the scheme since he has very few responsibilities. He would be the ideal person to introduce it in another place. I hope that this suggestion will be listened to with very great care by the Minister of State.

As I look at clause 1(2) I find it very difficult to understand. I do not know whether the Minister of State or the Secretary of State was responsible for the drafting, but for the benefit of the Minister I ought to read a part of it. It reads:
"The classes, descriptions and categories of books in respect of which public lending right subsists".
That passage describes the matters in the scheme. Yet we are not told, on the Floor of the House of Commons, what is to be the central feature of the Bill. That is all the more reason why we should have an annual report. I look forward very much, as I know the Minister of State does, to debating these annual reports should this Bill ever reach the statute book.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) would make a series of glittering speeches on the annual reports. The hon. Member for Luton, West would, I am sure, make a number of worthwhile contributions. I shall come to the more important reasons later on, but one of the most attractive reasons for voting in favour of new clause 4 or for voting in favour of amendment No. 71 is the pleasure we shall derive from listening to the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend. It may seem a vicarious reason for voting for a new clause or an amendment, but I do not think that it is without its importance.

Subsection (3) gives further powers of patronage to the Secretary of State. We are constantly seeing further powers conferred on Ministers. The Registrar of Public Lending Right will not work for nothing, although I believe that there are two Ministers in the Administration who work for nothing. It would be perfectly possible to appoint either the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster or the Minister of Agriculture—he might do it very nicely—to this post as the Registrar of Public Lending Right. But, if either was appointed to that important office, I think that he would not be able to remain a member of the Administration. It is possible that he might not even be able to remain a Member of this House. The report which will be presented to Parliament each year could and should refer to the way in which the person who has been appointed Registrar carries out his duties. It should also say whether it is a part-time or full-time appointment and deal with the staff of the Registrar.

All those matters ought to be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. That is why my hon. Friend should be congratulated on his new clause. Very surprisingly, the Opposition—and I see the look of consternation upon the face of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South—offer our incredulous congratulations to her Majesty's Ministers. For the first time since the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) formed his Administration in March 1974, we have the Treasury Bench proposing an increase in parliamentary scrutiny over what it is doing with public expenditure. That is a very unusual event—so unusual that it calls for praise from the Opposition.

I move from subsection (3) of clause I to subsection (4). This is another matter which could be included in the report to which my hon. Friend has referred in his new clause. What are the burdens of the Registrar? I do not think that it would be in order to speculate on whether the Registrar should be the Minister of Agriculture or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. We could all think of other candidates, and, I suppose, depending upon what happens, there may be a number of applicants for the post, if, as I predict, it has not been filled by the time the Prime Minister has his own appointment with an election.

Let us look at the duties laid upon the Registrar in subsection (4). He is charged with the duty of:
"establishing and maintaining … a register showing the books in respect of which public lending right subsists".
If we are to say that all the guts of the Bill are to be contained in the scheme but that we are not to debate the scheme now, the case for an annual report is overwhelming. I do not know whether my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have spoken against new clause 4. I do not know whether there are any Government supporters who have opposed amendment No. 71.

The Minister of State is right to rebuke me for not being present earlier. I am a member of a Select Committee which has been sitting, and the Minister of State knows that it is not possible to be in two places at once.

Seated behind the Minister is his distinguished hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson)—another hon. Member from Luton. We have had the two hon. Members representing Luton present in the Chamber tonight. The hon. Member for Luton, East and I are on the same Select Committee. The Minister must not rebuke me for not being here earlier without rebuking his hon. Friend. What is sauce for Eastbourne is also sauce for Luton, East. The House should be grateful in that it has had both hon. Members representing Luton in the Chamber. It may be that those two hon. Members who now represent Luton could be considered for the post of Registrar or deputy Registrar. When they are not in the House we shall have the pleasure, through these annual reports—not only here but in another place—of considering how they are discharging the duties laid upon them by the House. I do not think that it was quite fair of the Minister of State to rebuke me. He ought to be glad that we came down as soon as we could rather than be complaining that we were not here earlier.

I turn now to subsection (5). This is a strange subsection. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone found some difficulty in understanding it. It provides that the Registrar shall determine
"the sums … due by way of public lending right".
Consequently this Registrar—this was certainly the point in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton)—will have great power. That is all the more reason why these wide powers conferred upon him should be subject to annual scrutiny in this House.

It would not have been out of order to have said that Parliament should debate the report. I notice that the new clause does not say that. New clause 4 does not say that the report will be debated in Parliament. It says that the report shall be laid before each House of Parliament. I suppose that it would be difficult to say, in an Act of Parliament, that Parliament shall debate something each year. That might be thought to be fettering the discretion of the Leader of the House. I suppose that that was why my hon. Friend did not include such a provision. He has done the next best thing. Although my hon. Friend has concluded that it would not be possible to provide that there shall be a debate upon the report, he has said that a report must be laid before each House.

We were considering clause 1(5), before I was interrupted. I was pointing out the considerable powers which the Registrar will have. I suppose that there are hon. Members who can be found to advance almost any proposition. I suppose that there will be some who will be uneasy about the annual report containing a comment upon the activities of the Registrar, as laid down in subsection (5). I have no such doubts. I see that we have the presence in the Chamber of the deputy Patronage Secretary. We do not often hear from the right hon. Gentleman. At least he has joined us, and it would be agreeable if we could have a contribution from him about new clause 4.

6.45 p.m.

We have just had an interesting contribution from one of the Government Whips. We do not often get such contributions. When my hon. Friend suggested that we might hear from the deputy Patronage Secretary, the other Government Whip on the Government Front Bench, the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates), suggested "You will." That is a most significant suggestion. I am not sure whether it was a threat or a promise. We would be interested to know.

My hon. Friend has slightly diverted me from the main thrust of my argument. I hope that I shall not be too long before I get back into my stride again.

I direct the attention of the Minister of State to subsection (7) of clause 1. All of these matters could and should be included in the annual report. The subsection speaks of details of the "assignment or assignation". What do those words mean? What is the difference? I see the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) entering the Chamber. Perhaps he can help us. I do not understand the difference between those words. That could be something which could be dealt with in this annual report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said that included in the annual report could be details of those who had died. My hon. Friend is a prolific author of extremely erudite articles upon almost every topic. If I have one regret about not being a keen supporter of this Bill, it is that I shall deprive my hon. Friend of any revenue which he may gain as an author from its provisions.

I come now to the central fund. The words "central fund" could have been devised only by a Labour Government. We should certainly have an annual report made to Parliament upon the operation of this fund. Words such as "central fund" are the sort of words which fall readily from the lips of commissars. We should certainly have the opportunity of a report being made to us dealing with what has happened to the central fund.

The central fund is central to the workings of the scheme laid down in new clause 4. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury about the investment income surcharge and the incidence of taxation upon moneys paid out of this fund is immensely relevant. The doubts of my hon. Friend, which I share, about the wisdom of increasing the public expenditure borrowing requirement this year—when in my view it will work out at more than £8,000 million for the year ending 5 April 1979—are justified. It must be remembered that we are without the benefit of the good will of Dr. Johannes Witteveen, who is no longer managing director of the International Monetary Fund. His departure adds to the case for having an annual report.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), who is a prolific author, may wish to reinforce my point. Subsection (1) says that the central fund—

Order. I have no doubt that the report should be comprehensive, but it seems that the hon. Gentleman is making a good Second Reading speech. It is not necessary for him to make a tour of the whole horizon.

I wish to try to get my hon. Friend back to the point that he was making so admirably earlier. Will he consider whether the details of the liability of authors to capital transfer tax on public lending right should be included in the report? I gather that the right will be grossed up and that it will have to be included as a capital asset on transfer on death, which could embarrass the heirs. The heirs will also have to pay investment income surcharge on the income. The crippling burden of taxation on the heirs could make the position worse. Surely the Registrar should consider these matters with a view to ensuring that no hardship falls on the heirs.

My hon. Friend has made an extremely helpful suggestion. The answer is not entirely clear. It would be useful to have the benefit of the guidance of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who will be familiar with capital transfer tax.

It is right that the report envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham could and should deal with the incidence of taxation. If Her Majesty's present Ministers are in office for much longer, the levels of taxation will be so hight that no author will want to receive any public lending right.

If taxation is more than 100 per cent.—it is 98 per cent. now—no author will want to get anything out of the scheme. That will be a legitimate matter to be recorded in the report that is laid before each House of Parliament.

Nor do we need only to deal with taxation. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham has wisely referred to the Comptroller and Auditor General. The difference in substance between my hon. Friend's clause and the Government's amendment is that the Government make no reference to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

What sort of matters are envisaged by my hon. Friend in
"a report on the workings of the scheme in addition to such other papers as may be required to be laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General"?
He has envisaged a report upon a completely new area of public expenditure. The Government recognise that we are embarking upon something that is entirely new. As it is entirely new to us—we are having a new central fund, a new Registrar and an entirely new scheme that is not even included in the Bill—my hon. Friend is saying that we need an annual report.

Nor has any restriction been imposed upon the contents of the annual report. That is why it is legitimate for my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury to say that the report could and should deal with matters of taxation, which are of greatly increasing concern to the British people. There will be involved capital transfer tax, income tax and the capital transfer tax that arises upon death.

The sidenote to clause 3 is
"The scheme and its administration".
In a way, I find the clause insulting to the House. We are told that the Secretary of State will prepare a draft of the scheme and that the draft will be laid before the House. The Secretary of State will adopt the affirmative resolution procedure. What will happen? I assume that each House of Parliament will have only one and a half hours to debate the scheme. The scheme should be included in the Bill. That is one of the reasons why my hon. Friends and I say that we need to have an annual report on a scheme that the House will never have an opportunity of debating fully. We shall be allowed one and a half hours in this place and there shall be allowed one and a half hours in another place.

I suggested that Lord Peart should be in charge of the Bill in another place. If the noble Lord were to introduce the scheme under the affirmative resolution procedure, it could be that their Lordships would not be very much the wiser. That could be the position in this place, but that depends on who introduces the scheme.

If my hon. Friend's clause is accepted, we shall have the opportunity of reading a report. It is to be hoped that we shall have an opportunity of debating that report. If you study clause 3(1), Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will ask yourself the question that my hon. Friend asked himself—namely, "Why can we not have the scheme in the Bill?" If the scheme had been in the Bill, part of my hon. Friend's case would have been destroyed. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) agrees with that.

We are to have only one and a half hours to debate the scheme. There is no limit to the amount of time that we could spend each year debating the annual report so wisely proposed both by the Minister of State and by my hon. Friend. However, I hope that we shall have a clear explanation from the Minister of State why the Comptroller and Auditor General has been omitted from amendment No. 71.

The report to the House is in addition to the report to the Comptroller and Auditor General under clause 2(6). It is an addition.

Yes, but has the Minister understood fully the wording that was chosen after prolonged and anxious thought by my hon. Friend?

Throughout the lifetime of the Government, the Executive has taken power from the House. If there is one supreme duty of hon. Members, it is to scrutinise the expenditure of public money. That is the purpose of the new clause. As that purpose is one that commends itself so warmly to our constituents, I hope that the House will agree to accept the new clause or, if we cannot have that, amendment No. 71.

(Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:

Division No. 49]


[6.59 p.m.

Abse, LeoGraham, TedMurray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Adley, RobertGrant, George (Morpeth)Newens, Stanley
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGrant, John (Islington C)Noble, Mike
Armstrong, ErnestGray, HamishOakes, Gordon
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Griffiths, EldonOrbach, Maurice
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Grocott, BruceOvenden, John
Bates, AlfHamilton, James (Bothwell)Palmar, Arthur
Beith, A. J.Hampson, Dr KeithPardoe, John
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Hannam, JohnPark, George
Berry, Hon AnthonyHardy, PeterParker, John
Bidwell, SydneyHarrison, Rt Hon WalterParry, Robert
Bishop, Rt Hon EdwardHayhoe, BarneyPenhaligon, David
Boardman, H.Healey, Rt Hon DenisPerry, Ernest
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHome Robertson, JohnRadice, Giles
Bottomley, PeterHooson, EmlynRaison, Timothy
Bray, Dr JeremyHowells, Geraint (Cardigan)Rathbone, Tim
Brooke, Hon PeterHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Rees-Davles, W. R.
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Hunter, AdamRichardson, Miss Jo
Buchanan, RichardIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Callagham, Jim (Middleton & P)Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Cant, R. B.Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Roderick, Caerwyn
Carmichael, NeilJay, Rt Hon DouglasRodgers, George (Chorley)
Cartwright, JohnJeger, Mrs LenaRoper, John
Clemitson, IvorJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)John, BrynmorSainsbury, Tim
Cohen, StanleyJohnson, James (Hull West)St. John-Stevas, Norman
Coleman, DonaldJohnston, Russell (Inverness)Sedgemore, Brian
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenJones, Alec (Rhondda)Selby, Harry
Conlan, BernardJones, Barry (East Flint)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Judd, FrankSkeet, T. H. H.
Corbett, RobinKerr, RussellSkinner, Dennis
Cowans, HarryLambie, DavidSnape, Peter
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lamborn, HarrySpriggs, Leslie
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)Lamond, JamesStallard, A. W.
Crawshaw, RichardLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Stallard, A. W.
Crouch, DavidLawrence, IvanSteel, Rt Hon David
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lee, JohnStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Cryer, BobLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Stott, Roger
Davidson, ArthurLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Litterick, TomTemple-Morris, Peter
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Loyden, EddieThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Luard, EvanTilley, John
Deakins, EricLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Tomilnson, John
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)McCartney, HughVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Dempsey, JamesMacFarquhar, RoderickWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Doig, PeterMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dormand, J. D.Mckay, Allen (Penistone)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Douglas-Mann, BruceMackenzie, Rt Hon GregorWard, Michael
Dunn, James A.Maclennan, RobertWarren, Kenneth
Dunnett, JackMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Watkins, David
Dykes, HughMcNamara, KevinWatkinson, John
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Madden, MaxWeatherill, Bernard
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidMagee, BryanWeetch, Ken
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Mahon, SimonWhite, James (Pollok)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Mallalieu, J. P. W.Whitehead, Phillip
Fairgrieve, RussellMarks, KennethWhitlock, William
Farr, JohnMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Wigley, Dafydd
Faulds, AndrewMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Mather, CarolWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Flannery, MartinMayhew, PatrickWilliams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Maynard, Miss JoanWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Fookes, Miss JanetMikardo, IanWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMillan, Rt Hon BruceWise, Mrs Audrey
Forrester, JohnMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbridge)Woodall, Alec
Fox, MarcusMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Woof, Robert
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchem)Wrigglesworth, Ian
George, BruceMolloy, WilliamYoung, David (Bolton E)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)Morton, George
Glyn, Dr AlanMoyle, Rt Hon RolandTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Golding, JohnMudd, DavidMr. John Evans and
Gould, BryanMr. James Tinn.


Body, RichardClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Brotherton, MichaelEnglish, MchaelGrimond, Rt Hon J.
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Goodhew, VictorHolland, Philip

The House divided: Ayes 214, Noes 19.

Jessel, TobyMackay, Andrew (Stechford)
Kilfedder, JamesMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
King, Evelyn (South Dorset)Monro, HectorMr. Ian Sproat and
Kinght, Mrs JillRidley, Hon NicholasMr. Roger Moate.
Lloyd, IanViggers, Peter

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question, That the clause be read a Second time, put accordingly and negatived.

Clause 1

Establishment Of Public Lending Right

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, after 'on', insert 'live'.

With this we are to take the following amendments:

No. 21, in page 2, line 4, leave out from 'subsists' to end of line 5.

No. 24, in page 2, line 16, leave out from 'until' to end of line 17 and insert the author's death'.

No. 25, in page 2, line 16, leave out '50 years have elapsed since the end of'.

No. 26, in page 2, line 16, leave out '50' and insert '20'.

No. 27, in page 2, line 16, leave out '50 years have elapsed since'.

No. 28, in page 2, line 17, at end insert:
'or his surviving spouse has died or his youngest surviving child has become 18, whichever is the later'.
No. 29, in page 2, line 17, at end insert:
'payment shall not be made to the estate of any author who has died until the central fund has reached £10 million'.
No. 30, in page 2, line 20, leave out from '(b)' to 'property' in line 22.

No. 31, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'by assignment or assignation'.

No. 32, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'by testamentary disposition'.

Had I been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before the closure was moved, I had intended to say, and will do so now, that I appreciated the spirit in which the Minister of State spoke to amendment No. 71. If the debate goes on through the night, I hope that this pleasant atmosphere will continue.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that dead authors cannot have passed on to their heirs the benefit which their works should receive from public lending right. When opposing a Bill in principle, it is always a problem to move an amendment which intends to improve that Bill. Given that that is the hypothesis on which I have to work, I would certainly prefer the Bill to apply only to live authors rather than to the heirs of authors who may have died after their names have been placed on the register.

I wonder whether the Under-Secretary would clear up a small point which arose during the debate on the new clause prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). This is simply a point of information. He was under the impression that any author whose works were on the library shelves could be eligible for public lending right were they removed from those shelves. On the other hand, my view was that only authors who happened to be alive when the Bill became an Act, and whose names were placed on the register when they were still alive, could be eligible for public lending right, even though they might die 24 hours after their names are placed on the register.

7.15 p.m.

I am happy to clarify that for the hon. Gentleman. In order to obtain public lending right it would be necessary to register, and only those who were alive would be expected or permitted to register.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for clarifying that point, since her hon. Friend did not do so at the time.

However, given that I am opposed to the principle of public lending right, it would be a considerable improvement on the Bill were we to insert the word "live". I am slightly torn in advocating this step. Without being too invidious, one can think of a number of elderly authors who have given a great deal of pleasure and instruction down the years. I hope, and imagine, that were the Bill to reach the statute book, they would be alive to have their names placed on the register. Authors such as Graham Greene and Anthony Powell, who are now over 70, would have public lending right on their works until the year 2025 or 2030, even were they to die later this year, which I hope they will not. The proposition that the Government are putting before the House is extraordinary.

Even if there are authors whom one commends as having given great pleasure, and who would rank high in literary status, there are others whose books sell by the hundreds of thousands and who are at the same stage of life. Barbara Cartland is such an example. I understand that she made a record the other day and sang half a dozen songs on either side of it. It is amazing. She is over 70, but she sings very well. I imagine that her books are taken from library shelves hundreds of thousands of times. She will certainly be one of the chief beneficiaries from the Bill as drafted, and it will not only be Barbara Cartland but her heirs and successors who will benefit for 50 years after she is dead.

Barbara Cartland is an author who makes no literary pretensions, as far as I know, although I recommend to the House the only book of hers that I have ever read called "Vote for Love". It was a rather touching story about a pretty little girl who falls in love with an MP, and it might commend itself to many of my hon. Friends. I do not think that she has many literary pretensions, yet we are proposing to spend considerable sums of public money, not just 50 years after somebody has died but for books of which the highest, most complimentary description can be "mere entertainment".

The public's money should not be spent in that way. Certainly the British taxpayer should not have to continue to pay out on the author's behalf after he has been dead for 50 years. Were it on behalf of some great and good author like the late P. G. Wodehouse, for example, I should be happy to contribute my little bit of taxpayers' money. Had the original Bill reached the statute book, we would have been paying out the maximum amount to P. G. Wodehouse's heirs through the years. I object to the fact that a lot of the benefit will go to authors about whom one can say nothing more kind than that they entertained their generation. That is as far as it goes.

The hon. Gentleman is getting excited about the comparative merits of various authors, and I have as low an opinion of Barbara Cartland as the hon. Gentleman appears to have, but does not he realise that this is an attempt to tap the main body of the law of copyright, which subsists for 50 years after the death of an author? I happen to agree with the hon. Gentleman on this matter, but I believe that the record should be put right. That is the rationale behind this proposal, imperfect and wrong-headed though I happen to think it is.

I am aware of what the hon. Gentleman says about the law of copyright. I had certainly deduced that the 50-year clause in the Bill was an attempt to parallel the length of copyright. I fully understood that. But what I object to is the difference between extending coypright for 50 years, when that copyright is paid out of funds from individual members of the public who happen to want to read the books, and extending copyright for 50 years when the funds will be paid by the British taxpayers, many of whom may never read a book by P. G. Wodehouse, Anthony Powell, Barbara Cartland or anyone else. Yet they will be made to pay. Therefore, the difference is between public funds and private funds.

Had we had an extensive Committee stage on the Bill, and if the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) had been a member of the Committee, that is exactly the sort of point that we could have hammered out. It is a tremendous restriction when we know that the deputy Patronage Secretary will be bounding to his feet like a lion as soon as this debate has been going for two or three hours, because one feels that one cannot discuss the matter in the way that it should be discussed. Frankly, that is a travesty of the way in which the House conducts itself. We have not had an opportunity of having a proper Committee stage on the Bill. Therefore, within the rules of order, we are absolutely compelled to try to do on Report what we should have done in Committee.

The hon. Member for Handsworth said that copyright lasted for 50 years, therefore he could see why it applied to public funds. We could have had a very interesting discussion about the essential difference between copyright being paid by individuals who buy books and being paid out of public funds. The hon. Gentleman may agree or disagree, but where we cannot fail to agree is that a great difference must be drawn between funds coming from these two totally different sources.

As well as wondering whether public lending right is the best use of public funds, there is the converse of the argument that authors such as Harold Robbins, who are rich and non-British taxpayers, will also receive these moneys both while they are alive and after their death. We shall deal with this in more detail on a later amendment, but I must say that it is absolutely ludicrous. Even if one grants the principle of PLR, it is ridiculous to propose to give it to the heirs of authors such as Harold Robbins who live abroad. It is ridiculous that we should drain our balance of payments in that way. That cannot be the way to run our affairs.

All the hon. Gentleman has said is perfectly true. Does not he agree that an even worse possibility opens before us, because it is quite conceivable that the heirs of authors who never received PLR, because they died before the Bill had been passed, may receive the results? For example, Agatha Christie is now dead. Yet, if the Bill ever gets passed, her nephew, the inheritor of her estate under her will, could presumably acquire a certain measure of income as a result of something with which he had nothing to do.

I did not hear the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks because his hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth was coughing. But, as I understand it, and as I believe I have now verified from the Minister, Agatha Christie herself does not come into it because she died before the Bill will reach the statute book. None the less, although that specific example does not follow, the principle does. I take as an example Dick Francis, who is a thriller writer that I far prefer to Agatha Christie. He is still alive. I hope that he will go on living for many years and produce a novel every Christmas. It is absolutely ludicrous that the heirs of Dick Francis, who presumably will already be extremely rich from the royalties which Mr. Francis accrues from the retail sales of his books, will, by the generosity of the British taxpayer, have another £1,000 a year or so added to their income. That seems a totally absurd principle.

I am not criticising the concept of passing on wealth from father to son, or whoever it is, but as a principle that must take second place to rewarding the person who actually creates it, even the rather minor wealth involved in public lending right.

We are told that the Bill aims to provide justice for authors—not justice for authors' heirs and successors. The Bill has been paraded before us as a way of helping the arts. I do not think that it is, but it cannot be said to be helping the arts if a considerable amount of the money available goes to the heirs of writers, most of whom, I imagine, will have nothing whatever to do with the arts. Therefore, in no way at all can it be said that any of the money which goes to the heirs of authors will help the arts.

Furthermore, the more money that goes to dead authors, the less there will be for those who are alive, and the less there will be to stimulate the arts. Therefore, this clause alone completely vitiates the main purpose of the Bill as the Government see it, which is to get justice for authors and to encourage the arts thereby.

One diminishes the sum available by handing it to people who are once removed from the authors. In addition, the whole concept of passing on money is perfectly reputable in its own place, but I do not believe that that concept is one into which public funds should enter. A case can be made—no doubt the Under-Secretary of State will make it—that since one allows royalties to be inherited one should allow PLR to be inherited. That was the point which, by implication, the hon. Member for Handsworth made when he asked whether I realised the parallels between copyright lasting for 50 years and the words in the Bill.

7.30 p.m.

Before I say what I take to be the Government's case on this point, let me revert to the phrase "justice for authors", words which are frequently used by proponents of the Bill. "Justice" is presumably here related to value and worth. It is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said—jokingly, of course—a means of social justice.

There is all the difference in the world between justice and social justice. Either the Bill exists to provide the most popular authors with more money or it does not. If it does not, it is not giving justice.

If we are talking about a branch of social welfare, we ought to have the Secretary of State for Social Services at the Dispatch Box. But we are not talking about social welfare. We are talking about justice.

The Bill cannot be an exercise in the redistribution of wealth, so the only possible defence of the Bill is that those authors whom the public think highly of should receive even more money than they do now out of public funds. That is a ridiculous principle. For any Labour Member to propose that rich people should be made even richer out of public funds is ludicrous. If we tell them that taxes should be reduced so that people might become richer as a result of their own efforts, they baulk at that. The idea that Mr. Alistair Maclean—to take one author who lives abroad—should get more money as a result of the Bill seems about as unsocialist an attitude as it is possible to adopt.

We have to face the fact that we are talking either about justice for all authors, which includes rich authors, or about a kind of social welfare. We have heard from those on the Government Benches that they are seeking justice for authors. If that is so, it must be justice for people who are alive and not for their heirs.

We may hear the hon. Lady say that she has been persuaded by our arguments, but if the Government are about to deny my case I imagine that it will be on the ground that, since royalties are inherited, public lending right should be inherited. The great difference between the two propositions is that royalties accrue from sales through the retail trade and public lending right is public money. Royalties are usually 10 per cent. of the retail price. So let none of us think that authors are not already doing pretty well.

If a book is selling at £5 in the shops, for as long as the books sells the author receives 50p a volume, which is not bad. That 50p comes out of the pockets of the general public who wish to buy the book, who have a specific reason for rewarding the author, whereas the public lending right comes from public funds. Many of the public who contribute to public funds are given no choice. They may be people who detest the author and never buy his books. The Government decide that they will give authors this extra bit of money, even though the public have not specifically indicated that they want to do so.

We must have priorities in these matters. Even if we grant that PLR is a correct principle and we should like to do something for authors from public funds, we must then say "We are proposing to give £2 million to public lending right. Is that the best way of stimulating interest in literature?" It might be thought better that the money should go into other spheres such as hospitals or provision for old-age pensioners. I shall not discuss that, but it might be thought that the cause of literature in this country would be better advanced if the £2 million were spent on improving public libraries and seeing that they were better stocked and more comfortable places. We have had no chance to examine any of this in detail.

However, let us presume that we overcome that first sense of priorities and decide that we have £2 million to spend to stimulate literature and do not think that the best way of doing that is to pay librarians more, or to make libraries more attractive and comfortable places, with more facilities. Even if we had decided that none of those was our priority, we should come up against a further obstacle. We should have said "We have agreed to spend £2 million for the stimulation of literature on the public lending right—giving the money to authors, anyway." That is how the Bill describes it. One must then ask "Is the best way to assist authors really to give the money to the heirs of dead authors?"

That is the point on which we are in total disagreement. I hope that the hon. Member for Handsworth, who has indicated that he opposes the idea of giving the money to heirs, will continue to pursue that point and do his best to persuade his hon. Friend that, even within the absurd bounds of the principle of public lending right, she is even more absurdly wasting the very little money that is available.

Without considering how inflation will reduce the value of the £2 million, and without considering the fact—although it is relevant—that the bureaucracy will grow and therefore reduce the amount available, one must remember that the longer the scheme is in being the higher will be the percentage of heirs of dead people who will benefit from it.

I have not worked out the figures. I do not suppose that anyone could do so with complete accuracy. But it does not require much mathematical skill to see that after 25 or 30 years the larger part of the money being disbursed under the scheme, apart from that being disbursed to the Civil Service, would be going to the heirs of dead authors. If that were so, would the Government still persist with the scheme? Does the Minister really think that the British public will agree that over half the amount of money—the £2 million minus the £600,000 for the bureaucracy—should go to the heirs of dead authors?

I do not see how anybody who defends the scheme can defend that. It cannot be defended on the argument of justice for authors, because they will not receive the money. It cannot be defended on the grounds of redistribution of income, because it will be going to people who there is no reason to suppose are not well off. They simply happen to be the heirs of people who were authors. We cannot justify it in terms of stimulation of the arts, because we have no reason to suppose that writers' heirs would have any particular interest in the arts. They might or might not, but it seems an extraordinary, blanket way to chuck money about in thinking that we should be stimulating and helping the arts.

Therefore, I see no grounds on which this part of the Bill can be defended. There is only the totally spurious argument that there is a kind of parallel with the 50 years of copyright on which royalties are based. But there is all the difference in the world between public and private money, and for the most part royalties are based on private money. At least, if it is not private money it is the money of local authorities going to the public libraries which have purchased the books, and the authors receive a royalty on those books.

The following point is often omitted when consideration is given to the libraries' role. Authors benefit in many ways from the existence of public libraries. They receive a royalty on every copy that the library purchases. I think that I talked earlier about the difference between the purchase price and the discount to the retailer. In fact, that is not true. Authors nearly always receive their royalty on the retail price, but the libraries receive a special discount.

To illustrate the absurdity of the scheme, I shall not take an author who is still alive because that would be invidious; instead, I take an author whom I have already mentioned, who might very well have come under the scheme had it been set up when my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) was in favour of it back in 1973–74. I refer to the late P. G. Wodehouse, who was born in 1881. I think that his first book was "The Pothunters", which he wrote when he was about 22. He wrote his last book, "Sunset at Blandings", at the age of 90 or 91. He would have benefited tremendously at the public expense, though he was very rich, as he deserved to be. He held joint British and American nationality and lived in New York for the last 30-odd years of his life. Under the Bill, his heirs and successors would receive public lending right on a book written at the turn of the century after the turn of the next century. On the works of a man born in 1881 royalties would accrue in 2025.

It is ludicrous that a period of almost 150 years can be covered by the Bill. It is insane that at a time of severe public disquiet about the way in which we spend our money we should not only agree to spend another £2 million but throw away what could be half the amount left for authors on people who were not authors. It must be a contradiction in terms that from a fund set up to help authors just under one-third should go on the civil servants who are supposed to disburse the money another third should go to the heirs of people who are already dead and only one-third should go to authors who are alive. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Handsworth nodding agreement.

7.45 p.m.

Hon. Members such as myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham who have followed this debate for many years are irritated by what happens. There is a serious case to be made. I have worked in the publishing business and have written various books. I know what the publishing business is about. The case, of which certain authors are in favour, has been given endless publicity in the House. But the fact that the librarians and the retail trade are, by and large, opposed to the measure is never acknowledged in the House.

I have described as ludicrous the proposal that after some years only one-third of the fund would go to live authors. There is no response from the Government, so far. Perhaps our eloquence tonight will persuade the hon. Lady. People say "The money must go to the heirs of dead authors, amongst other people, because this is all enmeshed in the rest of the Bill. We believe that the Bill embodies a fine principle and therefore you must take it or leave it." We are not prepared to take it or leave it.

I particularly welcome the hon. Member for Handsworth to our ranks because I did not know previously that he was interested in this subject. I know that au fond he is, as he indicated earlier, among the backers of the Bill. I beseech him to believe that the absurdities that we are pointing out here and in the next group of amendments, about people who live abroad, are among many with which the Bill is riddled.

The heirs of dead authors would continue to benefit from the library system even if there were no public lending right. They would do so for ever and a day because they already receive, through the copyright provisions, the advantages of drawing royalties. If libraries buy new copies of popular books, which they have to do because popular books become dog-eared and worn, more royalties go to the heirs.

A publisher may decide to bring out a fresh edition of an old work, perhaps of a book by Dick Francis, P. G. Wode-house or Anthony Powell. Anthony Powell will presumably be on the register when it comes into being, but as he was born in 1905 one must think ahead a little, disagreeable though that may be. There might be a memorial edition of his works. That is a series of books that I should like to see.

In the case of a memorial edition, the public libraries might be the prime source of income for the heirs of any dead author. The publishers know that they wilt sell, say, 1,500 sets of the 12 volumes of the "Music of Time" series by Anthony Powell, half a dozen others and a couple of volumes of autobiography, in the case of Anthony Powell. That is a fairly substantial prospect for any private individual, especially if each volume costs about £5. It means that the heirs of dead authors will benefit already, without the help of this public lending right, because the publishers will say to themselves "We would like to do this for prestige reasons and because we believe these works are worth keeping alive and are worth publishing in a fine edition."

Publishers are not activated simply by the thought of making more money. They are activated very much by the thought of keeping before the public the works of an author whom they respect and admire But, of course, they must have regard to the economics of doing it, and it is precisely that regard to economics which benefits the heirs of the dead authors, because the publishers say "We know that we shall be able to sell 1,000 copies of a set of 20 volumes", and that is good publishing if the economics and the price are right. In such a case, the publishers are selling 20,000 volumes which they publish at £5 each. That means that we are talking about a gross turnover of £100,000 on the library sales alone.

It is almost certain that the royalties will be well above 10 per cent. by this time. Royalties on a hardback tend to start at 10 per cent. and, although every publisher, every author and every agent has a different grading, and although obviously the grading depends on the book, I should be very surprised if any novel by Anthony Powell published in hardback fetched a royalty of less than 15 per cent. If it did, I would say that Mr. Powell needed to change his agent.

Therefore, there is a gross turnover at £100,000 in respect of sales to the public libraries alone at a royalty of 15 per cent. That is £15,000 in one year. No one can say that any heir of an author who is getting £15,000 just out of library sales is doing badly.

I do not object to successful authors and authors whom I admire—alas, there is a distinction—doing well out of such a sale. But since Mr. Powell is not dead—and long may be live—he himself would gain the benefit of the sale which I am hypothesising of 1,000 sets of 20 volumes. If he got £15,000 out of it and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) was saying, had been smart enough to get an accountant so that he did not have to pay the tax on it, that would be pretty good.

I speak from memory. Mr. Powell started writing in about 1930, with "Afternon Men". It is a wonderful book, and he deserves to be making money out of it after 48 years. It is not bad going if, say, it took him three months to write and 48 years afterwards he still gets £15,000. But at least it is fair, and I am happy that he should do so.

What is not fair, especially in the context of having only £2 million to spend on public lending right—and I am not begging for an increase in it; far from it—is that that money should go to the heirs of dead authors. We must draw a distinction between that which it is fair that a living author should get from the fruits of his labours and the fruits to the heirs of dead authors, especially when it is public money.

My hon. Friend was good enough to refer to my remark about good taxation advice. As he knows, the racket is for an author to sell his notes to his publisher so that it is a capital payment. In equity, in this scheme we ought to differentiate between those who have a substantial capital payment by selling their notes in addition to their royalties, and those who survive purely on royalties, because that is the dodge.

My hon. Friend should ask the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson).

Perhaps my hon. Friend will expand on that in a moment. Let me see whether I have him right. Is he referring to the selling of notes?

May I encourage the hon. Member not to go down that road? It is not in order.

I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not know whether it was in order, and I was attempting to discover the relevance of it. As I understood it, in practice it was a dodge by which a living author could keep more money from his works and pass it on to his heirs. Perhaps I ought to describe it as "a method" by which that could be done.

It is very wrong to use the word "dodge". Every citizen is entitled to the greatest mitigation of his tax affairs.

It is equally wrong, when a ruling has been given, that it is not accepted.

I hope you did not think that I was not accepting your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to explain why I was speaking as I was, because I did not follow my hon. Friend's point and had not come across the method to which he referred.

Although I accept that what my hon. Friend has just been discussing is not within the purview of the amendment, we are also discussing amendments Nos. 30 and 31, and they refer specifically to the possibility of assignment. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will direct his thoughts to that aspect. It seems to me to be undesirable that the taxpayers' money should be used, in effect, simply to benefit perhaps the publishers or even a public company because the author has been persuaded to sell or to assign his public lending right together with copyright to a public company in exchange for a substantial sum of money. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that that comes specifically within the scope of one of his amendments.

Indeed, it does. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider developing that argument himself.

I object to public money being given to authors and then being assigned to publishers. We all know that one of the reasons why certain publishers are in favour of this measure, apart from wanting to curry favour with their authors, is that it represents a financial benefit to their companies. They can say to an author "You will be getting an additional £1,000 a year in public lending right; therefore, you will not try to press us too hard in respect of royalties and will be prepared to take 121 per cent. instead of 15 per cent. after the first 15,000 copies."

My hon. Friend is right to point this out, but that in itself is objectionable. I cannot understand how, of all Governments, a Labour Government cannot see that they are putting money into the hands not only of people who are rich already but of private industry. It is a kind of NEB operation by the back door. They do not realise that much of this money which is to be taken out of the pockets of poor taxpayers will go to comparatively wealthy publishers.

8 p.m.

I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), who is a member of the distinguished Macmillan publishing company, what he felt about this matter. Speaking as a publisher, he said that he felt that it was an absolute load of rubbish. I am only sorry that other duties have prevented him from coming here this evening. Although he takes a rather idealistic view, which he should, unfortunately, certainly other publishers do not.

Therefore, it appears that dead authors will be able to assign their rights not only to their heirs and successors but to publishers. Of course, we accept the general principle of people being able to pass on these rights in their wills, but that principle becomes even further watered down if the heir is not a dead author's wife, for whom there is a good case, his son, for whom there is a less good case, his nephew, for whom there is an even less good case—for example, Agatha Christie's nephew—but his publisher. It really is a kind of incestuous business. Publishers spur authors to start lobbying the Government, the Government scratch their head and, after five years, say they will do something about the matter and legislate to provide the money, but at the end of the day the money finds it ways back to the publishers, and in some of those cases the sums could be very large.

Had I a pocket calculator, I might be able to work out how long it would take before that part of this fund which is available for authors—I repeat, at the moment it is only £2 million minus £600,000, so it is a comparatively small amount; say, two-thirds—would become owing to dead people. My common sense tells me that after the fund has been going for 50 years, almost half the people concerned will be dead authors.

If those dead authors, as in law they are entitled to do, can assign their rights to whomsoever they please, we shall have the ludicrous situation that the British taxpayer is having to cough up, to pay money, to publishers who are already making money from the sales of those dead authors' books through the retail trade. That must be wrong.

I have already indicated that it is bad enough that the money should be passed on at all. Even if a much larger sum were available, I still think that it would be wrong. But it seems absolutely indefensible when only £2 million, minus the cost of the bureaucracy, is available at any one time.

I very much hope that the Under-Secretary of State will consider this whole raft of objections which we have put forward so far. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham intends to speak on this matter, because he has tabled an amendment on it. The hon. Member for Handsworth has also indicated that he intends to speak in this debate. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has not so far been able to speak in the debate because the closure was moved. However, I hope that he will speak on this interesting point.

I want a series of answers from the Government. Are they still claiming that the Bill's prime aim is justice for authors? If so, how can they justify giving such a large proportion to authors who are rich while they are alive? Even worse, how can they justify giving substantial sums of public money to the rich heirs of authors who were rich when they were alive? Do the Government accept that that is an abuse of public funds? Or are they prepared to accept at this time that, if we are to try to make this bad Bill a little better, one way of doing that is to insert the word "live" and, on a later group of amendments, the words
"who are resident in the United Kingdom"
or "authors paying British taxes" or whatever phrase might come to mind? On 4 November 1976 we had a debate on how we should define "authors". There were some problems. Indeed, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West suggested some interesting forms of words for getting round that problem.

I do not propose to argue over the word "live". I heard the criticism made of the drafting of the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. I thought that a somewhat semantic attitude was taken to the placing of the word "annually". However, let us not quibble over the drafting of this simple amendment. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will now make clear from the Dispatch Box that we shall not give anything out of this £2 million to the heirs of dead authors. If she accepts that principle, we shall not press the matter to a Division. I hope that she will be able to give that assurance.

I hope to be able to give some assistance to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), although perhaps not as much as he was seeking. He indicated that, if I were able to give the assurance that he sought, he would welcome it. But the welcome that he and his hon. Friends extend is so lengthy and florid that I fear it might not greatly assist us in making progress on the Bill. Normally it would be a great temptation, but in this instance the temptation is seriously diminished. That is a factor that hon. Gentlemen might bear in mind when dealing with later amendments.

Amendment No. 1 was almost cleared up early on when the hon. Gentleman asked me to intervene and clarify the point. However, lest there should remain any shred of doubt in the mind of any hon. Member who may wish to return to the point, I reiterate that it will be necessary for an author himself to register for public lending right and that the Registrar will not consider the presence of a dead body and someone else speaking to cover registering in person. The person concerned will have to be alive to register for public lending right.

Furthermore, such a person will have to be alive to attempt to assign public lending right. I hope that we can clarify this question of people being alive, that it will not cause hon. Members any further confusion, and that we shall not need to elucidate it further in the debate.

Does "alive" in this context mean like Members of Parliament? In other words, does the author on his last gasp have to be driven in by ambulance to sign on so that his heirs can benefit?

We do not envisage writing in any kind of "nodding through" procedure. We merely argue that it is necessary for an author to have his soul still within his body in order to register.

The hon. Lady has just said that an author must be alive to register. Most of us understand what that means, but she went on to say that the author must be alive to attempt to assign. She used a word between the words "to" and "assign" and I shall be grateful if she can clear up that matter.

I referred to the point mentioned in passing by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South that it will not be possible for a dead person to make a fresh assignment. During his speech, the hon. Gentleman seemed to stray into the realms of thinking that, if one were dead, one might be able to assign the right to a publisher. Let me make it clear that it will be possible to assign a right only while one is still alive. If I inserted words that caused the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) confusion, I regret that and withdraw them.

I do not believe that I said anything peculiar when I referred to assignment. Is the hon. Lady saying that, for example, if an author dies and specifically assigns the benefit from public lending right to his son, that son may further assign the benefits, assuming that that assignation is within 50 years? If that is correct, what the hon. Lady said about assignations—that they cannot be made after an author is dead—is false. The person to whom it was originally assigned can presumably assign it further.

I was seeking to draw a distinction between an assignation and a bequest. I was making the point that it is necessary for the author to assign the right while he is alive. I do not believe that we need to dwell on that aspect any further.

The other amendments that are grouped with this one all have a common aim—to restrict or remove the power of an author either to assign public lending right to someone else in his lifetime or to make a bequest.

The essential difference between the Government and the proponents of the amendments is that we look upon public lending right as property. That is what authors have always requested that we should do. Therefore, we see public lending right as being treated in the same way as one treats property. Conservative Members may say that that is not very Socialistic, but I find it so bizarre and entertaining to listen to them arguing vehemently against inheritance that I propose to store up my reply on that point for future benefit.

Amendment No. 21 seeks to remove from the list in the possession of the Registrar persons to whom the right belongs, leaving the list as a list of books.

Amendments Nos. 24, 25, 27, 30 and part of 32 attempt to remove the right to bequeath public lending right. Those amendments would restrict its duration either to the author's lifetime or to the end of the year in which the author dies. Amendment No. 28 would restrict the duration of the bequest to the lifetime of the surviving spouse or the attainment of the age of majority by the youngest child.

We shall not be accepting any of those amendments. We realise that Conservative Members and some of my hon. Friends feel that it is not right that public lending right should continue after an author's death. I point out to those hon. Members that it is not automatic—the right continues only if the books are still being borrowed. As we see public lending right as property, we feel that it is an author's right, and the right of those he nominates, to benefit from it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) accedes in amendment No. 12 to the right of bequest, but he restricts the bequest to the wife and children of the author. That means that the Registrar would have to ascertain whether the author is in possession of a wife and children and keep track of them.

If my hon. Friend wishes to debate the correct attitude to marriage, perhaps we can do that at another time and another place. Unless the Registrar were notified by the author, he would have to discover in each case whether there was a wife and/or children to inherit. He would have to keep track of them to make sure they continued to be in a position to inherit.

We feel that it is simpler to have a cut-off date rather than to link the right of bequest to an author's lifetime or to the age of others.

8.15 p.m.

Amendment No. 29 provides that payments should be made only to living authors and those who are assigned the right until the fund reaches the level of £10 million. I presumed on first reading the amendment, and my impression has been confirmed by the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, that the object of the amendment was to protect living authors against the heirs of dead authors. We come back again to the fundamental question whether the right is a property to be disposed of as the author wishes. We accept that principle, and the hon. Members who support the amendment do not.

I accept that the amendment does not seek to delete the 50-year provision, but it places an arbitrary limit of extremely uncertain duration on when the scheme comes fully into force. We do not know when the fund will reach £10 million, and I think that any hon. Member would hesitate to predict that date. We think that such a provision would introduce uncertainty into the Bill without offering any advantage—and certainly no advantage that authors have sought.

We recognise the case for limiting the period after an author's death in which the right is paid and we are prepared to accept the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham. West that has that effect.

Amendment No. 31 and the rest of amendment No. 32 would prevent an author from assigning his right to others while he is alive. It has been suggested in many of our debates that some publishers will press authors to assign the right to them. I think that that suggestion is stretching the argument a little far.

If we dealt with the matter as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South suggests, we should be interfering with an author's right to dispose of what we regard as his property as he sees fit. We see it as property and believe that an author should be able to assign or bequeath it, but we accept the argument for restricting the duration of the bequest.

It has been suggested that the period of 50 years was a convenient link with copyright legislation, and that is, indeed, the reason why the period was used. However, we are not totally wedded to it. It was a marriage of convenience and we are content to accept the eloquent arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West. He was told that his representations would be treated seriously. They have been and we accept amendment No. 26, which deletes the 50-year provision and substitutes a period of 20 years. The principle that we adopt is not shared by Conservative Members, but we are prepared to accept some restriction.

The rationale of the link between what is proposed in the Bill and copyright legislation is obvious, but, bearing in mind that the purpose of the Bill, which I support, is to do justice to people who benefit from their work, what conceivable justification can there be for dissipating a substantial portion of the very modest sum earmarked for that purpose to an author's heirs and successors? I find that a very unsocialistic principle.

I understand my hon. Friend's argument. He approves of the principle of the public lending right but has strong views about the right being bequeathed. I am, however, a little amazed to hear Conservative Members approving of my hon. Friend's views.

It would be of greater benefit to living authors if we restricted the fund to them, but we are not prepared, having taken so long to make even a start on giving authors the right, to place restrictions on them so that they are not able to use it in the way that they may use copyright and bequeath or assign it. We believe that that would be giving authors only half measure. Therefore, although we are prepared to accept some restriction on the time involved, we stand by the original contention that has been discussed at length, on this occasion and others, to retain this in the Bill.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister. I am sure that she realises that I would not wish to be churlish by discussing her remarks at great length, but I should like to raise one or two points.

I heard the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) say, sotto voce, that it would be a terribly bad principle to accept amendment No. 26 that if one reduced 50 to 20 the law of copyright would be altered next. I can reassure him. I have discussed this matter with the eminent judge who recently chaired a committee on copyright law. His committee had considered examining the issue but realised that copyright law is not just a small portion of the law of England. It results from an international convention. The international convention, in my view, is out of date. But the relevant conventions stem from the beginning of this century and sometimes before.

It is impossible for anyone in this country to change suddenly the law of copyright. A change would require an international conference, the agreement of about 100 different States and the ratification of those States. Part of the agreement might mean a change in the law of England. But it would be impossible, in international law, unless we acted in total breach of our international obligations, for us to make any unilateral change in copyright law.

As the hon. Member has mentioned me, perhaps I might make a brief intervention. There may not be that much significance in the possibility of a change from 50 years to 20 years, arbitrarily chosen here to suit one hon. Member because the Government find it convenient, having an effect on copyright law. But it could conceivably do so. The Government, by accepting the hon. Member's amendment, as they have said they will, have removed some of the property that an author would have in life. If an author in life had, 50 years after death, to assign or sell, he has that much property. We are now told that the Government are to reduce that to 20 years, so taking away the benefit a living author would have had.

That was not the hon. Gentleman's first reaction. With great respect, I take exception to an innuendo that he raised when he used the words "to suit one hon. Member." This House has been in existence for 700 years in order that its individual Members might be satisfied by the Executive, of whatever party. The fact that the hon. Gentleman intends, or is likely, to retire from membership of this House is irrelevant. Those who remain are here to make our points of view prevail. Why are we here if not for that reason?

I am grateful to the Minister. She quoted my remarks in Committee. I presume she meant my words in the Committee on the previous Bill two years ago, or possibly she meant my recent remarks in an otherwise unmentionable institution, the Parliamentary Labour Party. Either way, I am grateful.

I do not believe that it is beyond the power of the Registrar to determine whether someone has a surviving spouse or a surviving child. There is a simple process. It just means ringing up or sending a note to the Newcastle social security computer centre, which will have a record because the surviving spouse or the surviving children often receive money directly from the State as a result of having been married or having been the children of particular people.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) entering because he may not realise that the Government have just accepted an amendment which he hoped, as he said in his speech on Second Reading, where I was not allowed to speak, would not be accepted.

I had not realised that the hon. Member for Chelmsford was what I might call a negative ally of mine. I had not realised that he supported my amendments from that famous position in the background which has been referred to in many quotations. I do not believe that it is impossible for the Registrar to determine by way of the social security computer in Newcastle that people have surviving wives or children.

The Minister seemed to imply that the Registrar will never speak to any other Government Department, since in a later schedule it is specifically stated that he must never be described as a civil servant. If the schedule were not pressed in the form in which it is drafted, he would be a civil servant. I hope at a later stage to suggest that he should not be a civil servant for superannuation Act purposes either, which would perhaps reduce the competition for the job.

It seems that the Minister has been convinced that public lending right is a form of property. There is no dispute about that in the House. I should have thought that the dispute was between her advisers who briefed her and hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) and myself who believe that property should not necessarily be hereditary.

I have never heard my hon. Friend or any Conservative Member say that people should not be entitled to the just rewards of their work. Several Labour Members would join the Conservatives in saying that individuals are entitled perhaps to more of the just proceeds of their work than they currently get under our present taxation system. The Minister will be well aware that at present under our taxation system people who benefit most are those, like the Earl of Warwick or Lord Brooke, who neither work nor even live in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Bristol, West seems to be amused at my remarks, but I would think that his hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford has often defended the British heritage and could not therefore wish to see a tax system which actually encouraged non-resident inheritors to sell it off, thus depriving everyone of it and ensuring that even the Revenue did not benefit since the non-resident pays neither income nor capital gains tax.

If the Minister's brief had been more specific we should have got further. The real question is not whether the public lending right is property but whether it should be heritable property, whether it should be inherited by people who may not even be literate. There is no reason why the heir of an author should be capable of writing a single line. It may be that one would wish, as a matter of charity, to give him some money because, by reason of disability, he was incapable of doing so.

That, however, has nothing to do with whether one should give public money to an heir or, even worse, to an assignee. I say that that is worse because an heir can be of some blood relationship to the author, but the assignee may be merely the man's moneylender. The hon. Member for Bristol, West said that by this contraction from 50 to 20 years the Government were depriving an author of a right that he could assign. Presumably the hon. Member meant that the author could give it to his money-lender and thus borrow more on the strength of 50 years than 20 years.

That is nonsense. The whole argument for the Bill is that an author deserves something for his work. The argument is that an author should receive something for his work by way of royalties on sales and that he does not receive enough from the borrowings of his works from public libraries. It is the only argument in favour of the Bill. The theory is that there is a tremendous injustice to authors. But there is no mention in the Bill of the possible injustice to public library authorities because of the net book agreement which keeps up the price of books to public libraries.

Having done his work, perhaps on his last legs, an author might gallop in an ambulance to the Registrar—like some hon. Members come to vote when the Whips on both sides fall out—to register his interest a moment before he dies. The result would be that 50 years later people who have nothing to do with whether that author was good or bad will collect money.

8.30 p.m.

That is my argument for tabling amendment No. 28. I can see why one might argue that a widow or a child under the age of 18 should receive income from an author who was that person's husband or father. I do not agree with the hon. Lady that wives are possessions, but one could consider that a widow or child was the responsibility of such an author. However, one cannot argue that those who are not widows or the children of the author but who are adult and capable of earning their own living should be paid by public money because a particular person wrote the world's best novel, for instance. That is nonsense. I do not know where the Government got that idea from.

The Government did not invent this proposition. Many of my hon. Friends have suggested that there should be a public lending right. There is a measure of justice in such a provision. Some rather vicious statements have been written about me by authors, but I have never voted against the Second Reading of any Public Lending Right Bill, although I have reservations about details such as those that we are now discussing.

It is no secret that after the former Bill disappeared two years ago I had discussions with many people who had been involved in its production. I made suggestions, but they were not taken up. I do not blame anybody for that. I do not know why people such as Lord Donaldson, who claims to be a member of a Social Party, advocates hereditary wealth. Perhaps he is influenced by his surroundings. Perhaps he is influenced because about 70 per cent. of his colleagues are hereditary peers.

I should prefer the Government to accept amendment No. 28, but I should be churlish if I spoke longer. I appreciate that the Government have accepted amendment No. 26. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, West will not carp any longer about copyright law. There was never any connection between public lending right and copyright. If there had been a connection, we should have had a public lending right long ago. If hon. Gentlemen want to hear the history of copyright, I could go on for another hour explaining how, in this country at least, some part of it began in the arguments about monopolies in the reign of James I. That would be straining the patience of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth refers to the reign of Richard III, whose reign was brief, though I assume that he managed to pass some legislation during it.

There has never been any connection between public lending right and copyright. Nor should there be. Copyright is quite different and was founded upon an international convention. I am sure that many people who advocate public lending right would wish to see the principle which we might be passing into law now eventually becoming an international principle. They might hope for an international convention on public lending right and that 100 countries would agree to it. Meanwhile, there is no such thing.

In my view, it is quite wrong to try to tie this relatively new principle—though there are two or three countries which subscribe to such a principle now—of public lending right to the old principle of copyright, which applies in many countries.

There are arguments for and against the principle, and I do not need to go into them. I am sure that the Chair would forbid me if I tried. For example, one argument might be that copyright and patent law to some extent inhibit the use of new knowledge and invention. There are arguments against copyright and patent law as well as those in favour of them which say that people should get the product of their enterprise. There is no argument at all for tying public lending right, which is new, to such ancient principles as copyright and patent law.

I should have thought that it would be rather better if we did not attempt to do that, because if we seek to tie new legislation to old we tempt courts into following precedents which apply to other circumstances. It would be much better if any court considering public lending right considered it as such and did not attempt to tie it to copyright or patent law.

I am grateful to the Minister for accepting my amendment, though I am sorry that the Government did not see their way to accepting it two years ago. It is rather like the decisions on the audit. Eighteen months ago a committee which I chaired suggested a reform of our system of audit. Ten months ago the Government turned it down. Last Thursday the Secretary of State for Industry said that the Treasury agreed to it. In a similar way, the Government are now accepting something which I suggested two years ago. One can only be grateful for these small mercies. I wish, however, that the system of government, under any party, worked more quickly.

May I attempt to clear up any difference of opinion which there may be between myself and other hon. Members on the subject of the Government's proposal to reduce to 20 years the 50-year "after death" benefit which is in the Bill?

We take the view that this move potentially takes away benefits which could accrue in life. An author with the prospect of leaving a widow an income of £12 a year from the public lending right fund might well take the view that he would rather sell the right before his death. The family would get more for the assignment if it was a 50-year continuing income rather than a 20-year continuing income.

I suggest to my hon. Friends that perhaps we should not vote against the Government this evening but that we should reserve the right to return to the matter in another place when, no doubt, the Bill will be further explored.

That is a direct threat that the hereditary House will be used to protect hereditary property.

Supporters of legislation tend to be abstemious in speaking at this stage in the progress of a Bill to compensate for the verbal incontinence of opponents. I shall not take long, but I am bound to make a few observations. It would be churlish of me not to thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for agreeing to accept the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). The amendment does two things. First, it emphasises the difference between the two concepts of law—of a public lending right as we are now inventing it, and the older, different, concept of copyright.

The amendment also serves to move a little away from an aspect of this Bill which has received a fair measure of criticism and ridicule from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), namely, that we have a Labour Government zealously protecting and enlarging the concept of heritable wealth. The hon. Member is right, in a sense, in that if someone has a right which he knows will endure for a long time he has something which is assignable, which is, in one way or another, merchantable. I can understand why the hon. Member, as a Conservative, would be minded to protect such a right. That is in conformity with the general philosophy of the Conservative Party. I find it bizarre that the Government should have accepted, even in this modified form, this extended principle of heritability.

My main objection to any extension of this right beyond the life of the author is purely practical. I have already remarked twice this evening that the funds being set aside are extremely modest. It has been calculated, goodness knows how many times, that most authors will receive modest, almost derisory, amounts by way of remuneration. To dissipate a substantial portion of that upon dead persons, their successors in title and assignees—who may be strangers to them, having no relationship with the original author—is the most extraordinary principle.

I have already criticised, perhaps in extravagant language, the amounts of money being spent upon the administration of this scheme. It may be that this is an irreducible factor. It may be that the mere setting up of this scheme is such that it is bound to involve a disproportionately large outlay. Perhaps that is something which we cannot avoid. What we can avoid is a further diminution of the long-promised remuneration for living authors. For that reason, whatever the motives of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, who objects to this Bill, as is his right, I believe that it would be no bad thing if my hon. Friend were to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West.

8.45 p.m.

The debate so far has emphasised the point that this group of amendments goes to the heart of the Bill. The Under-Secretary said that the Government saw that what they were doing was creating a new property right. It is the first time that that has been stated in such clear and precise terms. The debates we have had about the ability and scope to assign and the right to pass on this right have clearly emphasised that we are reaching the central part of the Bill.

I find it difficult to decide on the rights or wrongs of many of the amendments in the group. It is difficult to know whether we should say "Let us assume that this is a property right and that we must protect the interests of the authors to manage that property right", or "The Bill is intended to help living authors and, therefore, the property right factor should be restricted and limited to ensure the maximum benefit for living authors." It is a difficult decision. The dilemma that I and others find ourselves in is a reflection on the nature of the Bill, which is confused in its principles.

It is difficult categorically to say what should or should not be the right approach. I am tempted by both propositions. The ability to pass on the property right to one's heirs is an attractive proposition. Equally, one is tempted by the argument that the £2 million should be used to the maximum possible advantage of living authors. Both propositions are acceptable and sensible. Unfortunately, the nature of the Bill places us in a dilemma.

If we had adopted a sensible approach throughout the whole measure, we could have avoided the decision that I have set out. The sensible approach would have been to give the money that is available for disbursement direct to authors who are deemed to be in need by a body such as the Arts Council. The council could have distributed the money to living authors in need of help. That would have avoided the legalistic and bureaucratic structure that is evolving all the more as we consider the Bill.

When the Under-Secretary of State accepted the amendment of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) she said that, if she had agreed to limit the benefit to living authors, that would be giving only half measure to others. I presume that the hon. Lady regarded the right to pass on for 50 years as being full measure, so she decided to give three-quarter measure. In effect, she says that we shall throw away 50 years and have 20 years.

I shall not argue the mathematics. We are talking about justice and principles, and suddenly we start bargaining. It is said that 50 years is too long, nil is not acceptable, so we shall settle on 20 years. At least the propositon of 50 years had a logical basis. That was comparable to copyright, although I accept the argument of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West that the proposition before us is not directly comparable to copyright. I accept that copyright has been established for a long time and is bound up by international conventions.

We have before us an innovation. There are few countries in the world that have legislated in this way. It is fairly unusual. However, it is comparable in many ways to copyright. Surely it would have been more logical to go for 50 years or to say that the benefit cannot be passed on. I feel that the Minister of State will come to regret having made the concession. I am sure that he sees it as a concession.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his reasonable attitude. The hon. Gentleman is genuinely trying to assist the House in a manner that has not been apparent in previous proceedings.

I can see no indissoluble tie between copyright and the Bill. The amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) involved no collusion. It was the nearest way in which we could achieve what a number of hon. Members want.

I certainly see why the hon. Gentleman did what he has done. I think that he will find that it is a solution which will not find favour in other quarters. He may find that in another place or outside—

I know that the hon. Gentleman would not want to inspire it, but we must take up this threat by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) that the primarily hereditary House which lives along the corridor would wish to defend a hereditary right. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who was momentarily out of the Chamber, may not realise that the hon. Member for Bristol, West suggested that the Government's acceptance of the amendment should be destroyed in another place. I remarked that this was a direct threat that a primarily hereditary institution should be used to defend hereditary property rights. That is clearly what it is. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and I might differ on the virtues of hereditary property, but I doubt whether we would differ on the virtues of a decision of this House in this sort of matter.

I am glad to learn from the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that this is an intervention and not a speceh.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as you realise, my passions were aroused by the threat that a lot of hereditary individuals next door should be entitled to prevent the House of Commons from restricting a property right to those who earned it.

I often agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West but on this matter I disagree with him totally. We have a bicameral system, and the other House has its rights and will not be dictated to by this House or by my hon. Friends. I was not asserting that the other place would be in any way influenced by my hon. Friends, or that any threat could be held up. That is not the situation. What I believe is that the other House, which has perhaps rather more independent voices than this House, will look at this formula on its merits and find it unsatisfactory.

All I said from this Dispatch Box was that we would reserve our position in another place. That in no way suggests that the members of my party or any other party in another place would take any particular course of action. That is all I said. It is a harmless thing to say. Whilst I am on my feet, I must acknowledge the notable contribution of noble Lords in another place, notably the Minister, Lord Donaldson, and Lord Willis, to this subject, and neither of those gentlemen is what is called a hereditary peer.

On the merits, it seems to me that the argument raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) was that this proposal would reduce the benefit of the living, and I think that that is a sound point. When we come to the question of the assignment of public lending right, one is talking about a capital sum—or what could be a capital sum, or the disposal of a capital sum—and I would have thought that it would probably be substantially reduced because the benefit would expire after 20 years and not 50 years after death. So that would reduce the benefit to the living. Although there is no fundamental link between public lending right and copyright, nevertheless they presented a tidy comparison, with copyright at 50 years and PLR at 50. I have a feeling that many people would see that as a persuasive point.

I appreciate the Minister's flexibility. In a way, we are now seeing what should have happened in Committee. For whatever reason—it is not my business to go into that now—the Committee stage was brief, and for a variety of reasons we always find ourselves in confrontation on this Bill, which means that we do not get the proper debate, concessions and agreements, and so on, which are desirable on a complex matter of this kind.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene a second time. He and I and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) were present at the most recent Committee, and I am sure he will agree that it was different from the previous one. Previously, the opponents of the Bill let it out of Committee, when they need not have done, in time for it to reach the Floor of the House, whereas, on this occasion, the Whips of both parties kept most of the Bill's opponents off the Committee.

It would not be in order for me to pursue that very far, but may I add this further point? On that Committee we agreed not to delay the proceedings after they had reached a certain point. If we were now able to enter into a similar arrangement, we would have a more reasonable atmosphere for debate on the amendments. That is desirable. One often tables amendments for reasons of opposition. But, although one might be opposed to a Bill in principle one eventually becomes interested in getting the Bill right. If it has to go through, one would like to see it changed. On such occasions the pressure by Whips is considerable, and when Front Benchers agree it is hard for Back Benchers to influence such a Bill.

One would rather finish the proceedings at an early hour and have short speeches. But few options are presented to hon. Members who wish to change a Bill.

The Under-Secretary said that this is a property right. She also said that the heirs of an author could not assign that right. I do not see how that follows from the logic of what was said, nor do I see it in the Bill. If it is a property right that can be bequeathed by the author to his heirs, I fail to understand why the heirs should not be able further to assign that right if they wish. This is a technical point, but it is one of the few opportunities to make technical details public.

Clause 1 (7)(b), states that
"Provision shall be made by the scheme for the right … (b) to be transmissible by assignment",
and subsection (7)(c) says that the right has
"to be claimed by or on behalf of the person for the time being entitled".
In other words, the claim has to be made initially by that person, but it does not say that the assignment must be made by the person. It does not limit that. Nowhere in the Bill does it state that that which the Government are now asserting to be a property right cannot be assigned by the heirs and successors. It seems that the Government might be wrong, and I should have thought they would like to make it clear.

The Bill gets to the fundamentals of the argument. I have already discussed the question of live authors. We have had the argument about 50 years or 20 years or nil.

I should like to clear up this point. I gather that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary did not say what the hon. Gentleman is claiming. I apologise for being out of the Chamber for a short time at another meeting, connected with the Education Bill. The Under-Secretary said that the author had to be alive to bequeath or assign the right. She did not say that it could not be further assigned by the first assignee. It can be so further assigned.

I am glad that that is cleared up and that it can be further assigned. I am not sure whether that was the message which came through before, but I am glad that it is now clear.

9.0 p.m.

I should like to deal with this question of assignment in relation to the principle of the scheme. Again, it seems to me that, while the Government have asserted that this is a property right, nevertheless they are still limiting that right in so many ways that it becomes rather a mangled principle. For example, I understand that it is a property right which will be limited, in an almost arbitrary fashion, by the Government deciding that there will be a cut-off point of £1,000. But if it is a property right, why should an arbitrary decision by Government, the Registrar or the whim of the moment mean a cut-off point of £1,000? I cannot understand why that should be.

It reminds me that on 12 May 1976 a leading article on the PLR Bill appeared in The Times under the heading "Authors Equalization Grant". It stated:
"The 'public lending right', in the course of being knocked into statutory shape in the House of Lords, is beginning to look less like the translation into hard cash of a right which common justice warrants, and more like yet another state hand-out—in the form this time of an authors equalization grant.
The advocates of a public lending right (PLR) have established, with surprising completeness in the quarters which matter, the proposition that authors retain a property interest in copies of their books which have been sold to libraries, and that they are entitled to further payment related to the lendings of each book. But having established the propostion they immediately undermined it by proposing a cut-off point to the disadvantage of best-selling authors".
The point I am making is that, if this is a property right, it must be absolute and not subject to these arbitrary decisions of Government. We have not recently had confirmed that this cut-off point will exist, but I believe it to be a pretty established part of the proposed scheme. Confirmation on that point would be helpful. But that property right has been so mangled that we as a House are entitled to question the right of assignment and, indeed, the right of inheritance. That is why on balance I would have preferred to restrict the Bill to live authors.

I find that a difficult decision. I was torn by the argument put by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West on the question of welfare. He wanted to help the widows and children of dead authors. That is a very strong welfare argument, and one can see the sentiments in favour of it. Against that, one can argue that the main effort should be directed towards helping live authors. On balance, I do not think that this should be a property interest. I believe that this small sum of money, taking into account the 113,000 authors that it will have to help, should be directed to helping live authors. That being so, the other property aspects of the argument should also be excluded. These relate to the question of inheritance, bequests and assignments.

The hon. Lady said that she thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) stretched the argument too far by suggesting that authors would assign this right to their publishers. I would have thought that a fairly obvious thing to do. If an author negotiates with his publisher—I have never been in that position, and do not know how it works—I would imagine that he would be very keen to get the maximum percentage in royalties. I would have thought that the publisher instinctively would say "We shall take over the PLR aspect and handle that side of it for you. We shall do all the registration and save you from all the paperwork. In exchange, instead of giving you 7½ per cent. royalties, we shall give you 8 per cent. or 9 per cent." It will become a bargaining factor.

That seems to be quite a sensible thing to do. Indeed, if the author was very successful, he might also say "I want capital now. I shall assign my PLR rights to one of the big public companies which specialise in this sort of thing". I believe that Booker McConnell does this on a substantial scale, and that David Frost's company is engaged in that sort of business.

I do not think it is far-fetched to suggest that many authors will find it advantageous to sell their PLR rights immediately to some company or other, or assign them to their publishers. But I do not believe that that is particularly desirable. As I understand it, the one thing that this Bill is not designed to do is to help publishers.

For a long time I have thought that, if extra help is to be given to authors—I accept that there is a strong argument for trying to help them obtain extra income—the taxpayer is not the person who ought to be footing the bill. He already pays nearly half the United Kingdom turnover of the publishing houses in one form or another. The help should come from the paying public or the publishers themselves, but certainly not the taxpayer.

This Bill is not designed to help the publisher, yet, once the PLR becomes a bargaining factor, the publishing house could say "We shall take over your PLR as part of the package", or "Because you are getting PLR we do not need to pay you 10 per cent. or 7½ per cent. in royalties. We will pay you only 6½ per cent. or 5 per cent." The publishers will squeeze the author, particularly the new author who has not had a great deal of experience.

I would argue very strongly in favour of the proposition that we should delete the right to transmit this benefit by assignment. I hope that the Minister of State will accept that I am putting my case sincerely and that he might later consider an amendment along those lines. I accept that it is an odd position for someone on the Opposition Benches to take. It is the Labour Government who are creating the property right and making it assignable and inheritable. The Labour Party has become the party of property and inheritance. If we have a limited fund, let us use it in the best possible way. I should like to see it used as a grant payable through the Arts Council to worthy authors.

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument very carefully and find myself in great sympathy with the points he is making. Does he agree that the people the Bill should assist are those unknown authors entering literature for the first time and that any assessment of contribution should be based upon the need to encourage them? Many of them are good authors who would not be recognised under the Bill, particularly in relation to the hon. Gentleman's point about inheritance. There is a need to encourage writers in this country. We ought to be directing our minds to those whose books may not yet be in the libraries but who are making a great contribution to our literature. That ought to be a major factor in our consideration of the Bill.

That is a very helpful and wise intervention. It has saddened me all along, and it is one of my reasons for disliking the Bill, that it is a misuse of money. Now is not the time to be spending £2 million on this kind of thing, anyway, but, if we have £2 million to spend, the money ought to be distributed by the Arts Council. It could help more directly the sort of author mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—the author who is struggling, the new author, the author who will have very little chance of selling his books or even seeing them in great numbers on library shelves.

If we divided that £2 million between the 630 constituencies, each constituency would receive about £3,000. That money, could help approximately half a dozen authors in every constituency with a grant of £500 each. It would allow new authors to do research work. Every year half a dozen constituents in every constituency in this country could benefit significantly. Instead, what will happen? The man or woman mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South will receive £2, £3 or £12 if he is lucky out of the scheme. That is the difference.

The Minister of State probably thinks that our opposition is unreasonable, but I emphasise that this is what motivates me. This is a nonsense, and it will become more of a nonsense if we allow this benefit, paid by the taxpayer, to be misused, as I suspect it could be if it becomes an assignable right.

Having changed the property nature of the right, having reduced the period to 20 years, and having a cut-off point which emphasises that it is really a State benefit and not an absolute property right like copyright, the Minister should go a little further down that road and restrict the nature of the benefit so that it is payable only to live authors.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need to encourage new authors, yet much of the money will go to the estates of the dead. We cannot encourage dead authors. Someone talked about a living wage for authors. We cannot pay a living wage to dead authors. What is proposed is misuse of the limited sums available.

We have been talking about matters that are fundamental to the principles of the Bill. Subsection (6) begins:
"Subject to any provision made by the scheme, the duration of public lending right in respect of a book shall be from the date of the book's first publication".
The 50-year period is subject to those opening words. It seems to me wrong that matters of fundamental importance should be able to be varied, perhaps by the Registrar or by the Secretary of State, without reference to the House. It should not be possible to vary the scheme in a way which affects the matters of which we have been talking. I shall be glad if the Minister will study those words to see whether they should be deleted. It would be wrong if the scheme could be varied in a way that affected questions of inheritance, assignability and so on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) has tabled an amendment that suggests that payment of the benefits to the estates of dead authors should not begin until the fund has reached £10 million. I am sure that his motives are worthy and are along the lines that I have just described. But it is appalling to think of the fund reaching £10 million through an annual payment by the taxpayer. It is money that should be paid out by the publishers, or perhaps as a subsidy to publishers. It would be an appalling misuse of public funds if we reached that sort of figure.

I hope that the House will not accept the idea mooted by one of my hon. Friends who said that we all knew that the £2 million limit would be raised very quickly. We should not assume anything of the sort. The £2 million limit can be raised only with the approval of the House. I hope that we shall allow the scheme to run for some years so that we have a number of annual reports before us and can consider the scheme's

Division No. 50]


[9.16 p.m.

Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)Lee, JohnTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kilfedder, JamesLoyden, EddieMr. Iain Sproat and
Kimball, MarcusViggers, PeterMr. Roger Moater.
Knight, Mrs Jill

merits before the House spends a penny more than that £2 million on this dubious scheme, which is riddled with so many anomalies and contradictions.

I hope that it is generally assumed that the £2 million is the limit. I think that it was the Minister's predecessor handling the Bill, now the Secretary of State for Trade, who said that if we thought that the £2 million would be rapidly increased we did not know the Treasury. I hope that I was right to take that as a reassuring comment and that the £2 million will remain the limit for quite a few years.

If under a new Conservative Government we are creating wealth much faster and have more funds to disburse, I would much rather leave the PLR scheme as it is, foolish though it is, and see the extra funds diverted in the way I have suggested—disbursed by the Arts Council selectively. I am not suggesting that I have any great love or admiration for the Arts Council, but it could make the sort of judgments, which are not difficult to make, about helping worthy authors with a substantial sum instead of handing out pathetically small amounts to all authors regardless of need.

9.15 p.m.

I revert to what I regard as the fundamental question. Is this a property right or is it a welfare benefit—and I do not use the word "welfare" in any derogatory sense? It seems to me that, with limited funds, we should concentrate on helping the living, that we should not pursue what the Minister emphasised about its being a property right, and that we should remember that it will be looked at again in another place. I suggest that the Government should take a much bolder look at the problems of assignability and inheritance and accept in principle this amendment and the others grouped with it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 163.


Archer, Rt Hon PeterFoot, Rt Hon MichaelOvenden, John
Armstrong, ErnestForrester, JohnPark, George
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Parker, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)George, BruceParry, Robert
Bates, AlfGolding, JohnPenhaligon, David
Belth, A. J.Gould, BryanPerry, Ernest
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Grant, George (Morpeth)Rathbone, Tim
Berry, Hon AnthonyGrant, John (Islington C)Rees, Rt Hon Meriyn (Leeds S)
Bishop, Rt Hon EdwardHarrison, Rt Hon WalterRees-Davies, W. R.
Boardman, H.Home Robertson, JohnRichardson, Miss Jo
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHowells, Geraint (Cardigan)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHunter, AdamRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Brooke, Hon PeterJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Roderick, Caerwyn
Brotherton, MichaelJames, DavidRodgers, George (Chorley)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRoper, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Jeger, Mrs LenaRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kllmarnock)
Buchan, NormanJohnson, James (Hull West)Sedgemore, Brian
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Campbell, IanJones, Alec (Rhondda)Skinner, Dennis
Cant, R. B.Jones, Barry (East Flint)Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
Carmichael, NeilJones, Dan (Burnley)Snape, Peter
Carter-Jones, LewisJudd, FrankSpriggs, Leslie
Clemitson, IvorKerr, RussellStallard, A. W.
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Lambie, DavidStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Cohen, StanleyLamond, JamesStott, Roger
Coleman, DonaldLawrence, IvanStrang, Gavin
Conlan, BernardLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Thompson, George
Cowans, HarryLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Tierney, Sydney
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)McGuire, Michael (Ince)Tinn, James
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Tomlinson, John
Crawshaw, RichardMacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorTorney, Tom
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Maclennan, RobertWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Cryer, BobMadden, MaxWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Davidson, ArthurMagee, BryanWard, Michael
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Mahon, SimonWatkinson, John
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Mallalieu, J. P. W.Weatherill, Bernard
Deakins, EricMarks, KennethWeetch, ken
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)White, James (Pollok)
Dempsey, JamesMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)Whitehead, Phillip
Dewar, DonaldMayhew, PatrickWhitlock, William
Dormand, J. D.Maynrd, Miss JoanWigley, Dafydd
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMikardo, IanWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Duffy, A. E. P.Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Dunn, James A.Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Dunnett, JackMorton, GeorgeWise, Mrs Audrey
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Moyle, Rt Hon RolandWoodall, Alec
English, MichaelMudd, DavidWoof, Robert
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald KingYoung, David (Bolton E)
Evans, John (Newton)Newens, Stanley
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Noble, MikeTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Flannery, MartinOakes, GordonMr. Ted Graham and
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Orbach, MauriceMr. James Hamilton.
Fookes, Miss JanetOrme, Rt Hon Stanley

Question accordingly negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 7, after 'authors', insert

'who are resident in the United Kingdom'.

With this, we may take the following amendments:

No. 49, in clause 4, page 4, line 44, at end insert—
'(4A) No payment shall be made to an author normally resident abroad whether or not retaining citizenship of the United Kingdom'.
No. 58, in clause 5, page 5, line 41 leave out from '(b)' to 'and' in line 42.

No. 60, in clause 5, page 6, line 9, at end add—
'(5) This Act shall not apply to any libraries that may be responsible to the Scottish Assembly'.

I should like to say how much my hon. Friends and I appreciate the concessions that the Government are continuing to make. We are pleased that they have brought in the concession to allow the report to be laid before the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems that we have commenced the debate on this amendment without a Minister present to answer the debate. May we await his arrival?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will see that the position is not as the hon. Gentleman states.

9.30 p.m.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It certainly was the position when the Patronage Secretary raised his ample presence to the Dispatch Box. We are glad to see the Minister back and we have no complaint. We are only sorry that we heard no speech from the Patronage Secretary.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was not complaining about the absence of the Minister. He has been most helpful. I thought it desirable, in view of the intimations given earlier of his intentions concerning this amendment, that he should hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat).

I was paying compliments to the Minister in the hope that it would give him time to grace our assembly once more.

My hon. Friends and I are glad that, as a result of our arguments, there has been a concession on the first series of amendments. The Government have promised, quite properly, that they will lay before Parliament a report on the workings of public lending right if the Bill reaches the statute book.

We do not regard the reduction from 50 years to 20 years as satisfactory, but we are grateful for the reduction because it shows that the Government are accepting the principle, even though they are not going all the way. The Government accepted the spirit, if not the entire wording, of our previous amendments and we hope that they will accept the spirit and the words of these amendments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) will agree that it is significant that we have had interventions from two hon. Members who have not previously taken part in our debates—the hon. Members for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) and Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). It is interesting that when Labour Members, most of whom would be expected to support the Government, stay in the Chamber for half an hour or so to listen to the arguments, they agree that those of us who oppose the Bill have a point. That has happened with the hon. Members for Handsworth and Garston, and it demonstrates again what a great pity it was that we were not able to go through the Bill in more detail in Committee. However, we are grateful that the Minister of State is bringing to our debates some of the sympathy and understanding that could have been offered earlier.

I believe that this is a bad Bill, based on false principles, but we are trying to improve it. We have already discovered that the £2 million provided for in the Bill is gradually being eroded. When the Bill was produced, the Secretary of State said that its aim was to bring justice for authors. But the £2 million that was originally allocated for that purpose is being eroded at every stage of the Bill.

I see that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) is in the Chamber. He is my constituent and I can sometimes persuade him with my arguments. I know that he is a good Socialist, so what I have to say should appeal to him. We are setting aside £2 million for "justice for authors", but before one penny of that is disbursed we have £600,000 knocked off for the bureaucracy. That leaves only £1·4 million. Then we have money to be given to dead authors. It was proposed that such sums should be paid for 50 years after an author's death. That period has been reduced to 20 years, but justice for living authors is being eroded again.

We know that the amount that can go to dead authors depends on how long the public lending right runs. The longer it runs, the greater will be the percentage of the £2 million going to dead authors.

In this group of amendments, we are dealing with another erosion—payments to foreign authors. Bureaucrats will get their slice, dead authors will get their slice, and, if our amendments are not accepted, foreign authors will get their slice.

Another erosion has just occurred to me—and I am surprised that no one has thought of it before. Agents' commission will have to come out of the payments to authors. If £1·4 million is all that is available to authors of every sort, 10 per cent. of that will go to agents. Agents receive 10 per cent. of whatever income an author gets on books, assuming that he uses an agent. Most authors do. So the sum will be decreased by another £140,000.

Foreign authors, such as Harold Robbins living in California, elaborate the case that I am making. The hon. Member for Oldham, East is a good Socialist. Is he really going into the Lobby to vote for giving taxpayers' money to an American millionaire living in California and to that American millionaire's heirs and successors? That cannot be the aim of the Minister of State. This is not a party political point.

Let us assume that the principle is right and it is correct to give £2 million. Is it right, having granted the principle of £2 million for the stimulation of literature in this country, that we should erode that money by £600,000 through bureacracy, by £140,000 in agents' commission, by money to dead authors, which could easily approach half of what remains, and by payments to foreign authors? I cannot believe that that is the right way to stimulate literature in this country.

I recognise the principles which the Minister of State espouses. I know he has been thrown into this debate at the deep end after many years of discussion in the House. But he must surely realise that this is a crazy way to implement the principle. It must be wrong.

The hon. Member for Garston was opposed to giving money to dead authors. But the case applies equally to foreign authors. Instead of giving money to people like Harold Robbins, why not give it to young authors in this country to encourage them to start writing? Why not allow the Arts Council to give it to people which it considers worthy authors? Why not give it to libraries so they can buy more books? There are 100 ways in which £2 million can be spent, without all these erosions, which would actually benefit authors and the people of this country.

In this amendment, which calls for authors to be resident in the United Kingdom, I should like to make two divisions. The first group of authors I should like to rule out—I should have thought this would gain some support on the Government Benches—are those of British nationality who choose to live abroad for tax or other reasons. I am glad to see that I have at last the agreement of my constituent the hon. Member for Oldham, East. He is a Scotsman, like myself. He will know that there is a millionaire Scottish author called Mr. Alistair Maclean who writes fine adventure stories and who, I understand, lives in Switzerland. Can it be right that the hon. Gentleman's neighbours and my constituents should pay money through this public lending right to make this rich man even richer?

The hon. Gentleman says "No". I hope that he will join me in the Lobby if the Government oppose these amendments. There are many others apart from Alistair Maclean. It is their right to go abroad. I am not blaming them. I congratulate these people for writing so well that they can make so much money. But it is no duty of this House to give them public money.

Authors who live abroad are almost certainly rich. This contravenes a Socialist prejudice not to give money to people who already have a lot. I recognise that there are difficulties. Some authors go abroad for reasons other than to evade tax. I think for instance, of the author Dornford Yates—I believe William Mercer was his real name—who was wounded in the First World War. He wrote a series of 30 or 40 popular novels under the pseudonym Dornford Yates. Because he was so badly wounded, he had to live in France due to the weather in this country. It would be unfair not to allow someone who, for health reasons, was not able to live in this country to benefit. Therefore, extreme cases apart, if a British national wants to live abroad for tax reasons, that is his right, but the House of Commons, and particularly the Labour Government, who complain of being short of funds for hospitals, housing, roads, education and everything else, should not be giving all this money to him.

I mentioned Alistair Maclean, but there is a whole string of such authors. Nicholas Monsarrat is also very rich. If he lived off the earnings of "The Cruel Sea" alone he would not have to do another day's work in his life. The idea that we should give him public money passes my comprehension. Even less should his heirs, living abroad after his death, receive it.

British nationals resident abroad are not the most offensive cases. There is at least some argument, although I do not agree with it, for saying that British authors who once lived and worked here might be entitled to payment, because at least at some time they paid their taxes here. It could not be argued, however, that someone like Harold Robbins, a man who aspires to no higher a title than "entertainer", who is already a millionaire, lives in the United States and has never paid a penny in British tax, should get substantial sums from the British tax-payer.

Harold Robbins lives in California. So popular are his books that I should be surprised if his royalties are less than 20 per cent. of the cover price. I guess that one of his books in hardback form would sell for £5, or perhaps a little less. If he sold 20,000 copies, that would represent a turnover of £100,000, earning him £15,000 to £20,000 on that print run alone. To say that that man is not getting a fair deal out of his books is ludicrous, and it shows why this Bill is madness. It is wrong to say to such an author that in addition to the royalties he shall receive public money to compensate him for every time one of his books is taken out of a public library.

Each person who takes out one of Harold Robbins' books from a public library will probably buy a paperback version of another of his novels and he will receive a royalty. This man is doing extremely well. Good luck to him—I do not complain—but the idea that all the wealth that he makes from the sale of his books in this country should be topped up by the British taxpayer is absurd. It is wrong that the British taxpayer should give money to an American millionaire. That is the central argument.

9.45 p.m.

There is a long list of successful American authors whose books sell here. I believe that Ed McBain's thrillers are excellent. I do not mind paying 75p to buy a thriller by that author. However, not only will Ed McBain make money out of royalties but it is proposed that he should receive money from the British taxpayer. The average British author will receive £12 a year, minus agent's commission of £1·20 and income tax. But Mr. McBain and Mr. Robbins will receive £1,000, or whatever the top cut-off is. To give such authors anything is wrong. But we are proposing to give them the maximum amount, and that cannot be right.

Perhaps we have a kick-back from the Americans. The other day I read that Ed McBain was here and, I have no doubt, spending money in our shops. But what happens to royalties due to authors such as Sholokhov or Yevtushenko? How do the Government propose to pay money for public lending rights to authors who are resident in the Soviet Union? I know that the Soviet Union has signed various copyright treaties, but I do not know whether British authors whose books are sold in the Soviet Union receive royalties, let alone a public lending right. This is an extraordinary drain on our balance of payments. It is a one-way street.

I hope that my hon. Friend can enlighten me. If a Soviet author finds that a local authority in the Clyde valley or South Wales, for instance, particularly likes to buy his books to stock up the local library, is it not possible that books could be purchased from ratepayers' funds by local authorities whose political views are aligned to those of certain authors in the Soviet Union? Could not there be a cosy arrangement which could bring benefit to the author and to members of those local authorities which shared his views?

That is a possibility, but it is not particularly likely. A number of conditions would have to be fulfilled. A batty local authority would have to be in charge of one of the sample libraries on which the public lending right was based. Someone would have to go in and out of the library every day, taking out books and returning them so that every time a Russian author's book was taken out it was registered on a computer.

None the less, it is true that the whole system is open to fraud. After all, when it becomes known which are the 70 libraries, there will be nothing to stop Mr. Harold Robbins from going to my hon. Friend and saying "For you, pal, there is 5 per cent. on everything I get for your going into these libraries and taking the books off the shelves." There is no way in which that could be stopped. I do not say that that is particularly likely, but, just as normal authors urge their friends to buy books from the shops so that they get a royalty on the retail price, no doubt foreign authors could do exactly the same thing. Although the precise example regarding foreign authors which my hon. Friend cited is not likely, none the less it points out the way in which the door can be opened to fraud.

The interesting feature here is reciprocity. It seems that the only conceivable circumstance in which it would be justifiable for British taxpayers, through public lending right, to give money to Harold Robbins would be if British authors' works on the shelves of public libraries in California were to get dollars just as Mr. Robbins's works get pounds. Otherwise it will be a one-way drain on our balance of payments, with endless amounts of money going out and nothing coming back.

The Soviet Union presents us with an opportunity. Ever since the Helsinki agreement was signed on 1 August 1975 there has been an odd situation. Although the number of British books available in the Soviet Union is not very large, the number of titles of British books available there is very much greater than the number of Soviet titles available in this country. I think that the hon. Member for Oldham, East will confirm that, because apart from being one of my constituents he also knows a great deal about the Helsinki agreement. One of the results of basket 3 of the Helsinki agreement was that both sides agreed to an increase in the free flow of ideas and information. One of the ways in which the Soviet Union has undoubtedly implemented this agreement is by buying more British titles. There may be only two of each British title in Russia, but as they have thousands of public libraries there are many British titles there.

If the Minister of State can assure me that the Soviet Union has agreed to a reciprocal public lending right, so that any British author whose books are on the shelves of the public libraries of Omsk, Tomsk, Leningrad or Moscow will receive a payment as a result of a Soviet public lending right, similar to that which Yevtushenko or Sholokhov receive when their books are taken from public library shelves in Britain, I might say that reciprocity at least went some of the way down the road.

The trouble with reciprocity, however, even if it is granted by certain countries, is that it does not work all the way, because there are many countries which do not have such a right. An interesting fact is that one of the progenitors of this Bill is the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins)—he is not in the Chamber at the moment though I make no complaint about that. He is always telling us that we should support this Bill because it is a sign of our cultural awareness. He says that if we want to be regarded seriously as a country of culture we should give this public lending right to authors, as if authors were our only visible cultural symbol, and because this way of rewarding them is a way of proving that we are cultured.

We do not have public lending right, but let us take the two countries in Europe which cannot, whatever else may be said about them, be called uncultured, namely, France and Italy. Whatever else may be said about France and Italy, they both have culture coming out of their ears. That is for sure. But they do not have a public lending right.

Even if the Minister were to agree that reciprocity was a good principle, and that without it foreign authors should not be rewarded, he would be unable to do what he would like to do because there is no public lending system in France. The provisions of the Bill would not be able to operate.

Let us suppose that Francoise Sagan were to write a book and that it were taken out by hundreds of her admirers in this country. Certainly she had many admirers in this country, and for all I know she still has them. The pounds would flow to her across the Channel. If, however, Dick Francis or Barbara Cartland—if that is not too unfair a comparison to make with Francoise Sagan—were to write a book which was popular in France, there would be no money coming for them across the Channel.

Although we may agree that reciprocity is a good route to follow so as to get us out of this dilemma, it is not one which we can pursue because so few countries have a lending right. Perhaps the Minister of State can tell us which countries have that right. I know that it operates in certain Scandinavian countries. However, bearing in mind the number of Scandinavian books taken from the shelves of our libraries, I do not believe that reciprocity would be much use to us. I believe that West Germany has a system. I am not sure whether it is in operation, because on 4 November 1976 the Under-Secretary told us that West Germany had a system but that it was not then in operation. Australia has such a right. I do not know how many great Australian authors there are. There are Patrick White and one or two others—

The hon. Gentleman will recall that on Second Reading I mentioned the Swedish public lending right and reported that Swedish authors had descended on libraries, taken their books from the shelves, acted like present-day strikers, and sought to put up the public lending right.

I recall that and I had hoped to hear the hon. Member deal with it further in Committee. However, he did not serve on the Committee. That serves to show the type of path down which we can progress without meaning to, once we embark upon a Bill which is essentially based upon false principles. A book, once bought by a public library, becomes the property of that library, just as when I buy a book, whether by a foreign or a British author, living or dead, it becomes my property. When it is said that an author retains a right of property in such a book we shall, sooner or later, go down the path described by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springbum (Mr. Buchanan) when authors seek to hold the public to ransom.

The essential maxim of this amendment is that no money should be paid to foreign authors unless there is reciprocity. Since France does not have a public lending right, no French authors with books on British shelves should receive any money as a result of this Bill. When the report which the Minister has said he intends should be brought before the House annually is produced, it will be interesting to see whether the reciprocal arrangements with other countries—for example, Australia—are resulting in cash flowing to this country as well as flowing from it.

I was interested in something my hon. Friend said, to the effect that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) had suggested that in some way the Bill would be regarded as a symbol of the extent to which we were a cultured country. Is it suggested that it is symbolic of this country's culture that we should pay £1,000 a year to Mr. Robbins, for example? If that is seriously suggested by the hon. Gentleman, does my hon. Friend support that theory?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I should not want it to be thought that I was quoting directly the hon. Member for Putney. In no sentence did he say—

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.


That the Public Lending Right Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

Bill, as amended ( in the Standing Committee), further considered.

I do not want to give the impression that I have quoted the exact words of the hon. Gentleman. However, my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), who sat through many debates in Committee, will agree that if ever I or any other hon. Member advanced an argument of substance—for example, "Surely it is madness to pay Harold Robbins £1,000"—the hon. Gentleman fell back on the defence "The Bill will improve the cultural climate of our country." There is no doubt that he regards the Bill as a sort of cultural virility symbol. If someone is in favour of the Bill, he considers him cultured. If someone is against it, he considers him a philistine. That is the division that he has been making. I am amazed that he is not in the Chamber tonight. He used to claim to be the father of the Bill.

The judgment of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) has always been in grave doubt. He it was who said that Concorde would never fly and that, if it did, no one would ever want to fly in it.

I know, Mr. Speaker, that you would not allow me to use that example, vivid as it is.

I remind the House that when talking about culture the hon. Member for Putney stated in a memorable memorandum that any work of 800 pages must be worth more than a mere essay. In that one remark he must stand damned for ever as a philistine of the deepest hue. That was the man who dared to criticise us—

Order. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) is resident in the United Kingdom.

I apologise Mr. Speaker.

I turn to a subject that will prove even less fascinating to hon. Members. Some exceptions may be the hon. Members for Springburn and for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter). Rather curiously, the Scottish Assembly has been linked with authors living abroad. I appreciate the link, although I had not thought about it until this moment. Amendment No. 60 seeks to remove from the Bill any libraries that may come under any future possible control by a Scottish Assembly. I find myself in a curious position, as the House will know that I consider the idea of a Scottish Assembly to be a load of rubbish. If the Minister of State will adjourn the House now and delay the Bill until after 1 March, when the referendum takes place, I shall willingly withdraw the amendment. Let us assume that it is just possible that there will be a "Yes" vote in the Scottish referendum. I should say that there is a 50–50 chance at present. Let us assume that there was—

The hon. Gentleman is right; I should have used the subjunctive. The Scottish Assembly always throws me off balance, it being such an appalling idea.

If there is a Scottish Assembly, under the Act the Assembly will have power over all libraries in Scotland. It follows that the power to require libraries to take part in the sampling procedures to assess public lending right will leave the House and go to the Assembly. In logic it is surely correct, much as I abhor the idea, that in the Bill we must make a small amendment to the Scotland Act.

What would the result be of passing over to a Scottish Assembly the power to run public lending right in Scotland? Before I answer my own question, I ask what would be the result of not passing it over. If the Government reject the amendment to remove from the Bill the libraries which would come under the control of an Assembly, we shall immediately have a conflict between this House and a Scottish Assembly, if there is one, over what should be done over public lending right. I agree that that would be amongst the most trifling and piffling of all the confrontations that would happen if a Scottish Assembly were to be set up. But undoubtedly, just as setting up a Scottish Assembly would be a recipe for constitutional chaos, so the mere existence of the words "libraries in Scotland" in this Bill would provide exactly such a small cause of conflict between this House and such an Assembly. Therefore, if we do not remove those words we shall be building into the Bill, and, at one remove, into the Scotland Act, a cause of conflict.

What would be the result if we were to remove all libraries which would come under the control of a Scottish Assembly from the Bill, as I propose? First, if a Scottish Assembly had as much sense on this matter as I and other hon. Members have, no doubt it would be able to say "We will not operate a public lending right in Scotland", and it would be able to remove Scotland, as it were, from the whole PLR system. To the people of Scotland, no doubt that would be a benefit, but I am not parading it as an advantage or a disadvantage at this stage. I am merely saying that that is what would happen.

If the Secretary of State for Trade, who pushed through the Scotland Act—a load of rubbish—and was earlier in charge of this Bill—another load of rubbish—had still been responsible for the Bill, he might have tried to harmonise the two. But he is not, so we have this essential element of disharmony right in the middle of the Bill. One hopes that if there is a Scottish Assembly it will instruct its libraries not to co-operate. But it could decide to conduct a public lending right of its own. That would be building horror on horror. To have a Scottish Assembly and then a Scottish Assembly with its own PLR system would be a nightmare. But it is a situation that we will have to face if the Scottish people are foolish enough to have an Assembly and the Government do not accept my amendment.

I apologise for interrupeting my hon. Friend again, but, if his amendment on the Scottish Assembly were to be accepted by the Government, and assuming that the Assembly came into being and were to go against PLR, thereby not having PLR in Scotland although England went ahead—presumably Wales will make its own decision—how does that square with amendment No. 2 concerning authors resident in the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend was speaking about reciprocal rights with regard to France and Germany. If PLR were different in Scotland from the arrangements in England, presumably reciprocal rights ought to apply as well between the two countries. It would not be fair if Scottish authors living in Scotland were to be paid by the English taxpayer and vice versa. Would my hon. Friend not have been better advised to express amendment No. 2 in the words "authors resident in England" if the assumptions that he has made about the Scottish referendum were to prove correct?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but I thought that if the Government were to accept both my amendments we could amend the Bill in another place later, so that the words "United Kingdom" should have substituted for them "England", and possibly "Wales" and "Ulster".

The hon. Gentleman says "Not Ulster", but I notice that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is one of the sponsors of the Bill. I therefore presume that it operates there.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who represents a Scottish constituency, realises that Ulster comprises eight counties and Northern Ireland six, and that there are those who say that even those six may or may not be in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman complains about my use of the word "Ulster" rather than the idea behind the use of that word. Very well, for "Ulster" I substitute "Northern Ireland". The point which my hon. Friend made was a very good one. I would have thought that if a Scottish Assembly declined to go ahead with PLR, as it might well do since it will only exist on a block grant from Westminster, this House might still feel it right to pay money to authors resident in the Scottish part of the United Kingdom on the ground that those authors contribute taxes to the United Kingdom Treasury. That would be one way of harmonisation.

However, it was pointed out that if only one of the 72 sample libraries to be in Scotland or Wales, it would mean that particularly Scottish authors—by that I mean authors such as Nigel Tranter who are particularly popular in Scotland—would not be registered on the 72 sample. The same would apply in Wales. If one were to have more than one sample library in Scotland or Wales, one would then detract from the ability of those sample libraries to be sensitive to readership habits in the rest of the United Kingdom. In that respect one is faced with an almost insoluble dilemma.

A related issue to the main problem of regional selection concerns the Gaelic and Welsh languages. Unless one wants to put one's sample library on the Isle of Skye, I do not suppose that many Gaelic books would be withdrawn. I do not know which part of Wales speaks Welsh, but, unless one had a sample library there, one would not be aware of the sensitivity of Welsh literature which would be desirable if all authors are to be given a fair crack of the whip.

Therefore, the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) about West Country and Yorkshire books really arises out of the question of a Scottish Assembly. The one advantage that I can see of a Scottish Assembly which went ahead with PLR is that at least Scottish authors whose books were withdrawn from Scottish libraries at a very high frequency would be able to get a just amount of PLR vis-à-vis their British or foreign counterparts. That would be one general advantage of a Scottish Assembly which decided to go ahead with PLR.

I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State missed the first part of my argument, because I am sure she must be just as fed up with a Scottish Assembly as I am. But, out of kindness to her, I must point out that the point at issue is that a Scottish Assembly will be given powers over Scottish libraries, and the Bill says that PLR is dependent upon Scottish libraries being included in the sample. But if the Scottish Assembly instructs its libraries not to co-operate in PLR, the whole scheme will be vitiated. For that reason, I suggest that all libraries under the control of a Scottish Assembly should be removed from the Bill so that the Scottish Assembly can itself decide exactly what is wants to do.

10.15 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman, almost from the opposite point of view to one who believes in devolution, has got the truth of the matter. One can hardly believe that a matter as small and inessential as a PLR should be decided centrally and not devolved to Scotland. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this matter could be solved if my hon. Friend the Minister gave us an assurance that in the event of a certain referendum taking place on 1 March, and of the people of Scotland expressing their wish for an Assembly, they should have power over these minor matters?

Yes, up to a point. In a sense, the decision is not up to the hon. Lady, although no doubt she will explain it. In one sense the matter has already been decided, because the Scotland Act states that any Scottish Assembly will have power over the libraries. Therefore, there is an inherent contradiction between the two measures.

Instead of making a great fuss about the matter in regard to the Scotland Act, I suggest that we can correct this error by getting the Government to agree to amendment No. 60, that the libraries covered by the Scotland Act should be removed. I know that the hon. Member for Springburn is a great expert in these matters, and no doubt he will give us his views.

Summing up, I reiterate that there should be no money for foreign authors. If the Government will not accept that, there should be no money for foreign authors where there is no reciprocity. It is ludicrous to include Scottish libraries in the Bill when the Scotland Act already says that they come under the Assembly. I hope that the hon. Lady will address her mind to these two propositions.

I shall not be led astray by the hon. Member for Aberdene, South (Mr. Sproat) into talking about what Scottish librarians think of the Bill. I think I made that clear on Second Reading. Librarians as an official body do not think very much of the Bill, anxious though they are to assist authors. They wish to assist them in a practical way.

I was reluctant to speak earlier in the debate. At this late time in the evening I find myself hoping that the radio is turned off and that the Scottish journalists have gone home. The front pages of the newspapers tomorrow—and even the radio and television—will be full of the crises which Britain faces. There is a crisis in the road transport industry and there is crisis on the railways, and Government are in constant session. The railway trade unionists are meeting Len Murray. Constituents will turn to the middle pages of the newspapers and discover that their elected representatives are discussing a public lending right.

Our councillor friends had to face a barrage of criticism two years ago when they had to cut back public expenditure. Now they will read, from their rather enlightened position, that we propose to spend £2 million rewarding people who have scuttled into tax exile, who have scuttled out of this country to avoid paying tax. They will read that we are to pay those people out of a sum of £2 million less the £600,000 administrative charges. The hon. Gentleman forgot the cost of printing the annual report. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for seeing fit to give way on that. I hope that he will give way on the Bill.

There should be no place in the Bill for paying money out of a somewhat restricted fund to authors who take themselves off to Jersey, the Isle of Man and foreign parts to dodge taxes. I think that I carry more of my colleagues into the Lobby against such a proposal to pay those tax exiles.

As far as I recall, I did not take part in the devolution debates. I shall resist the temptation to compensate for that by making a long speech now on the devolution aspects of the amendments.

However, it seems to me that the amendments on the question of Scottish libraries touch on the fundamentals of devolution. I have added my name to the names of my hon. Friends on the amendments which would have the effect of excluding Scottish libraries, but I am not sure that I was right to do so, for the simple reason that I should find it utterly deplorable if we had to segregate the library system of our country in that way.

I am a great believer in the United Kingdom. I trust that on 1 March the Scottish people will ensure that the United Kingdom remains intact and that the unity of the kingdom will in no way be jeopardised by the creation of the Assembly. While there might be a certain logic to our amendment in the light of the Scottish Assembly legislation, it adds emphasis to the possible break-up of the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, if a separate Scottish library arrangement resulted in a second Public Lending Right Bill, a second Registrar, a second quango in the United Kingdom and—heaven forbid!—perhaps even a third one in Wales—not just horror upon horror but horror upon horror upon horror—we should be inflicting upon all the British people something of which I can only say "Perish the thought!"

Although in many ways the amendment is logical, the principle is undesirable, but we are entitled to know from the Minister what the precise position will be if enough Scottish people—40 per cent.—vote in the referendum to have devolution. If they do so, and the measure remains on the statute book with Scottish libraries as a separate authority, some tidying up of the legislation might be needed.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) pointed out, if the Scottish libraries were directed not to co-operate, or if the Assembly decided that it wanted a different sort of PLR scheme, there could be a conflict. As the sampling arrangement depends upon a number of Scottish libraries being within the sample, we should be clear whether an amendment is necessary if Scottish devolution proceeds.

However, my main concern is about foreign authors. I readily concede two points. First, it is a difficult and complex matter. Secondly, what I shall say now probably conflicts very much with what I said on a previous occasion. But if I am inconsistent on this I have a suspicion that my inconsistency will be matched again—it has already been matched—by the Government. I gathered from an earlier remark by the Minister of State that the Government were likely to propose an alteration to the Bill. Therefore they too will go back on what they said previously. I do not criticise them for that. Indeed, I go to the other extreme and compliment the Minister of State on being much more flexible and open-minded than any Minister has been previously on this legislation. That might be get him into trouble later.

It is better to stick one's neck out and try, as the hon. Gentleman is certainly doing, to improve this legislation.

Let me go back to 1976. Then, the Bill originally provided that there should be no restriction on the benefit payable to foreign authors. In another place, their Lordships introduced an amendment into the Bill requiring that there should be reciprocity before benefits were paid to overseas authors. That was the form in which the Bill came to this House.

Then the Government introduced their own amendment seeking to delete that reciprocity requirement put into the Bill by their Lordships. They argued that it was improper, wrong or impractical to try to restrict these rights to United Kingdom citizens or residents. Initially, their argument was that to do so would be in breach of our international commitments in terms of copyright law and, therefore, that we could not introduce such a restriction.

By the time the Bill was considered in Committee, the Government changed their mind and admitted that they were wrong. They agreed that there was no obligation under copyright law imposing such a requirement on the Government. Nevertheless, they said that we still had international obligations. They quoted the Treaty of Rome and said that, under it, it would be wrong to restrict this right to British nationals.

Originally my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) had been very keen on this restriction remaining in the Bill. But he was so bowled over by the Treaty of Rome argument that he accepted that position immediately, and that is how the matter ended. The Government had their way and the Bill reverted to its original wording about payments to foreign authors. Presumably the Government were satisfied about their argument then, because that is how they introduced the Bill two years later.

However, I suspect that the Minister will tell us now that he intends to introduce an amendment to restrict the provisions of the Bill, not as I believe it should be restricted, to United Kingdom citizens, but to United Kingdom citizens and EEC nationals. If that is so, I argue that that will introduce yet another form of discrimination which in itself is un-desirable.

I do not accept that the Treaty of Rome requires us to pay this public lending right benefit to EEC citizens whose books are lent in this country. Presumably, the Treaty of Rome requires us to allow authors who are citizens of other EEC countries to reside here and to sell their books here. But I do not accept that that means, therefore, that we must discriminate in their favour and against authors who happen to be citizens of other countries. I regard it as an unreasonable form of discrimination if we have to benefit the EEC whose nationals are already doing well out of this country.

It would be rubbing salt in the wound to say that we had to pay more money to Common Market nationals when we are already paying £800 million a year into the EEC budget. I do not see the argument in law for that. In any sense, it would be offensive to do that. But in this area it would be even more offensive. Surely we do not intend to discriminate in favour of an author who happens to be a citizen of, say, Luxembourg, and against writers in other parts of the English-speaking world whose books normally are published and much more freely available in this country. Do we really intend to discriminate against authors who are citizens of Canada, the United States, New Zealand or Australia but say that we must pay this benefit to Common Market nationalists? I hope that the Minister will tell me that I am wrong and that that is not proposed. Having said that, I argue very much in favour of the amendment to which I have put my name.

10.30 p.m.

On the last occasion on which we debated this matter, I was persuaded by the Government's argument about their international obligations. It seemed to me that if that was the situation, we should honour the spirit and the letter of our international obligations. I was also influenced by the leader in The Times, which I quoted earlier, about restricting this property right in such a way as to say that justice ends at Dover. The idea was that it should be restricted to United Kingdom nationals and should not apply to foreign nationals.

That property right has now become so mangled that I think we should forget about it and try to use the £2 million—a large sum, but a small fund in terms of 30,000 authors—for the maximum benefit of live authors. Indeed, I suggest that it should be restricted to live authors in this country.

It seems fundamentally wrong to ask taxpayers in this country to foot the bill for helping not only Harold Robbins, who has been mentioned on many occasions, but innumerable overseas authors to boost their incomes. That is an untenable situation, particularly when the fund is so small and British authors will benefit so little. It is not right to say to the pensioners of Faversham or of any other constituency "We are going to take taxes from you to help pay foreign authors".

I do not believe that there could be much outcry from any foreign author, national or Government if we restricted this right in the way that I have suggested. Unless other countries have a public lending right and can reciprocate, they can hardly complain if we do not confer this benefit upon their citizens. There could not be much objection. This is an innovation for this country. Therefore, I submit that there could be very little complaint.

Who would be the first to take action if, in somebody's eyes, we were in breach of our international obligations? Would it be Mr. Harold Robbins? It would be pretty offensive if an author of his calibre were to sue the British Government for payment of money to help boost his position. Such a situation is most unlikely. Therefore, I maintain that the Government would not be in much danger of being challenged if they restricted this benefit to British nationals only—and I emphasise British nationals only.

I accept my hon. Friend's correction. I accept the implication that the amendment probably begs many questions about the definition of who is or is not to benefit under the clause. We discussed this matter in previous proceedings. We sought to restrict this right to United Kingdom citizens, but there is no satisfactory definition of a United Kingdom citizen. At least, by restricting the right to those who are resident in this country, we shall ensure that it is restricted to people who pay taxes here.

I have a great deal of sympathy with British citizens who go abroad to avoid paying our penal taxes, but, having taken that decision, they must abide by it. It is wrong that they should benefit under a scheme of this kind if they are avoiding paying British taxation, which they are entitled to do. Of course, in those happy days when a Conservative Government reduce the massive penal burden of direct taxation, they will return and be able to claim public lending right. I believe that public lending right should be restricted to people living in this country and paying British taxation.

The situation is more complex than I have described. However we restrict payment of the right, what will be the position of foreign authors' books that are published and lent in this country? If a Soviet author has a book published here and lent extensively through the library system, will he benefit? Could his publisher put in a claim on his behalf? Could the translator make a claim? It could be argued that extensive sales in this country would entitle that author to benefit. I suspect that there are complications in such cases, whatever formula we adopt.

The Government have, correctly, not gone along with the EEC requirement that we should have introduced tachographs. I do not think that we should tamely accept that every interpretation of the Treaty of Rome should be embodied in legislation here and that we should meekly agree with it. There are many occasions when we need to challenge some of those assertions. The Minister of State will be in good company if he says that, no matter what advice he has received about the Treaty, he does not regard it as an overriding factor in influencing this legislation.

Let us decide what is best for Britain and British authors and state categorically that, if the public lending right benefit is to be paid, it will go to British authors living in this country.

The hon. Gentleman has made a commendable case on other matters and it is sad to see him adopting an insular position in regard to literary works. Does he not agree that such works, wherever they come from, ought to be judged on the basis of their literary value?

There is an absence of international agreement on these matters and it may be that we should be working for that. The hon. Gentleman's suggestions would create a degree of insularity in British authors. The views in Europe and other parts of the world of our way of life and political system are invaluable to us and it would be wrong of us to limit the Bill, in an insular way, to British authors.

I see a great deal in the hon. Gentleman's arguments. In a sense, literature is international and we do not want to be insular about it. But that is not what we are talking about. I understand that we are discussing a positive endeavour to assist and encourage literature in this country, to encourage people to write more books or to reward them when books are lent. The method chosen is a fund which, when spread among authors, will provide very limited benefit.

How is that sum of money to be used to maximum advantage? If one were to pursue the logic of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), one would bestow it across the world and benefit all authors, whether they lived in the Soviet Union, Australia, the United States or the United Kingdom. That cannot be done with limited resources. Given those resources, I suggest that British authors should benefit. Other countries are not trying to emulate us and I do not believe we should try to encourage them to do so. This is the silliest way to encourage authors.

If the Government were sensible, they would use the available funds to help authors through something like the Arts Council. The money would go direct, as a grant, to the individual author, who would be a British author. There would be no question of paying Harold Robbins, Alistair Maclean or a Soviet Union author. Such a policy would be positive and clear and directed to the worthy person in need of support and assistance.

Instead, we are becoming involved in a complex, legal international argument. Why cannot we agree that it is a scheme to help British authors? The principles have been so muddied and flawed that we should forget them and limit the money to British authors or to authors living in the United Kingdom and paying United Kingdom taxation. That makes sense. There is an argument in favour of each option, but the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South, restricting the scheme to authors resident in the United Kingdom, makes a lot of sense. I hope that the Minister will not introduce another halfway house, limiting the benefit to Europe or the European Economic Community. I would prefer the Bill to remain as it is rather than see that new discrimination introduced. My preference is that the Bill should be limited as my hon. Friend has proposed and so ably argued.

I intend to ask the House to reject the amendments as they stand. This has been a most interesting debate. This House is a peculiar place. It is rather like wine; it improves with time. In the course of this debate, many interesting arguments have been put forward. Indeed, they were put forward in Committee in a rather extreme way by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), and I said I disagreed with them. I have considered what the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and other members of the Committee have said, and some of the remarks gave me a little unease. I have listened carefully to the debate tonight, and I shall go further in reciprocity than I intended.

I would like to examine the three main aspects of the debate. First, there is the question of the United Kingdom national and his residence. The second strand of the debate has been the question of reciprocity and whether a foreign author should receive rights under the Bill. The third question relates to Scotland. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) asked whether the Bill would apply to Scotland if, as a result of the referendum on 1 March, devolution takes place.

I take first the question of the United Kingdom resident. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South argues that the wording should be those
"who are resident in the United Kingdom."
He is specific that one must live here to benefit from the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) says that no payment should be made to persons normally resident abroad whether or not they retain citizenship of the United Kingdom. I still resist that approach for reasons that I think my hon. Friend and other hon. Members may accept. I know that it is emotive and in some ways fair to say that if a United Kingdom author goes abroad for tax reasons it is entirely wrong that the British taxpayer should pay him money. The problem is, who decides the motive of a person going to live abroad? We are looking at the question of authors' rights. We say in the Bill that an author whose books go through the public libraries has a right to a certain amount of income.

10.45 p.m.

I find it difficult to accept that the Registrar or someone else should determine that that right should be infringed because that author goes to live abroad. Some authors live abroad but pay United Kingdom tax on their earnings. They may have gone abroad not to avoid British taxes but for health reasons or in the course of their profession. Many authors, including many of my favourite authors, locate their stories in the wild regions of the world. An author will spend much time there in order to get the feel of the location and thereby improve his literary efforts. Or he may have married someone from abroad and goes abroad for that reason.

I am surprised at the attitude of some Conservative Members. They continually talk about fundamental human rights and about tax inspectors and others interfering with those rights. But how do we in legislation decide upon the reason for a person going abroad? Who has the right to make that determination?

Inspectors of taxes make a distinction between three classes of United Kingdom citizens. There are citizens who are resident here, those who are, in the technical phrase, ordinarily resident here, although they may be abroad temporarily, and those who are domiciled here. These are three distinct classes. Sometimes the inspectors go to a little effort to determine the classification of an individual. All United Kingdom citizens fall into one of those three classes. Would the Minister accept an amendment along the lines of amendment No. 2 if it said "domiciled in the United Kingdom" instead of

"resident in the United Kingdom"?

I would not, and not because I am being awkward, as hon. Members will discover from my next point.

Under the terms of the Bill we are dealing with a right. Further, it would transpose the Inland Revenue and the Treasury in determination of matters involving the Registrar under the scheme. It would be costly to determine the matters that the hon. Gentleman suggests. Secondly, it involves the Registrar being in cahoots with the Inland Revenue on the matter. This is a right. My blood curdles at the idea of giving a United Kingdom citizen a right of which he is deprived if he goes abroad. Some countries which have been mentioned today do that, but we, thank goodness, do not.

I turn to the question of reciprocity. My comments might be acceptable to hon. Members. I have examined the matter carefully. The hon. Member for Faversham is right. The issue bristles with difficulties. The hon. Member mentioned our obligations under the Treaty of Rome. I have been advised that to exclude an author who is a citizen of the EEC from such a right would, without doubt, breach the Treaty of Rome.

I still think that, despite that, we must examine the matter. West Germany, for example, has a public lending right scheme which, on the face of it, is reciprocal. In practice it is exceedingly difficult for a non-West German author to participate in that scheme. France, Italy, Ireland and other European countries do not operate such a scheme.

I cannot fly in the face of the Treaty of Rome, but I shall look at the question of reciprocity. Within Europe it is perhaps a matter for negotiation between officials in the Foreign Office and the European Parliament. Perhaps they could ensure that there is genuine reciprocity within Europe. I cannot say that we can exclude all foreign authors from the scheme, but I shall examine the matter.

The issue is clearer when one examines the situation in the rest of the world. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South mentioned Australia. I understand that Australia has a public lending right system but that it is applied only to foreigners who are resident in Australia and to Australian citizens. New Zealand also applies its scheme only to residents.

I can see the force of the arguments of the hon. Members for Faversham and for Aberdeen, South. They say that if a country has no reciprocal system it is grossly unfair that resident citizens of that country should benefit from our scheme. I cannot put the matter right today. But I shall consider the possibility of amendments being tabled in another place on the lines of what I have said about reciprocity. Hon. Members have made a fair point.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not confine his remarks. I put to my hon. Friend a hypothetical question; I expect that he will give me a hypothetical answer. Suppose that an author was expelled from the United Kingdom but that a book of his was published in this country. I believe that it would be wrong that the support in this measure should not apply to him. I accept that there is a need for international agreement, but I hope that my hon. Friend will not draw the issue too tightly.

I see my hon. Friend's point. Fortunately, we expel very few people, and I have not exercised my mind on this point. If America introduced a system whereby British authors could benefit from a public lending right, it would be fair for us to give reciprocity to American authors. If a country did not extend reciprocity, we should look closely at the position. The whole subject bristles with difficulties. I am not a Foreign Office Minister, but there are all sorts of problems regarding international treaties, and so on.

I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Faversham, to his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South and to my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn. I believe that there is some force in their case. I cannot put it right on Report, but I shall endeavour to see whether, in another place, we can meet the spirit of their speeches.

Amendments Nos. 58 and 60 restrict the position, if Scottish devolution comes about, by providing that the measure shall not apply to any library which is responsible to the Scottish Assembly. I hope that the House will reject the amendments. Their effect would be that, if a Scottish library is not included in the scheme, a Scottish author, even though he be registered under the United Kingdom scheme, would be deprived of benefiting from the scheme because the Scottish library was not included in it. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South would want that to happen. It would be grossly unfair to Scottish authors. On Second Reading hon. Members representing the Scottish and Welsh National Parties, and Ulster Unionist Members, welcomed the intention to apply the right on a United Kingdom basis.

For those reasons, I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment. The Scottish amendment would have a detrimental effect upon Scottish authors. I assure hon. Members that I shall try to meet the points which they have raised on the other amendments by action in another place.

I hope, particularly after hearing the Minister's reply, that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) will not withdraw his amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) got to the kernel of this matter by referring to the problem of domicile. We are not naive enough to believe that a Government Department will pay lending rights gross. They will be paid less the standard rate of income tax. Will the Minister tell us whether the rights will be paid gross or net? That is of great importance when we consider authors' domicile or residence.

Presumably the rights will be paid less the standard rate of income tax. If the author is impoverished, presumably he will be able to claim back the tax that has been deducted at source that he should not have paid. If the author is domiciled abroad and is drawing his money from sources in Britain, the simplest approach is to tax his rights at the top rate. It may be said "If he has gone abroad and he no longer wishes to pay United Kingdom taxation, it must be that his earnings in the United Kingdom are such that the level of our taxation is unacceptable."

11 p.m.

That which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South has injected into the argument is, I believe, the solution to the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has posed. The Minister of State talks gaily about a reciprocal arrangement, but other than authors in some dreadful countries, like Sweden, which have a higher rate of tax than the United Kingdom, surely no author will want to come to write a book here, let alone have it printed and published here, and subject his royalties to our level of taxation. There are only about three countries in the world other than Sweden where taxation considerations would make it advantageous for an author to come to the United Kingdom.

The Minister has not dealt with the problem of authors who have to go abroad to research their work. The top-selling book at Christmas was on Captain Cook. The author had to go to the South Pacific for a considerable time to research that work. I am certain that during the time that he was there he did not suffer penal rates of United Kingdom taxation. That is another category of author that is not covered by the amendment. To produce books that we all enjoy, some authors have to live outside the United Kingdom for a period.

It is all very well at this time of night for the Minister to say that he is slightly sympathetic and that he will give the matter consideration. Before we let the amendment go, I want him to produce a constructive answer. Let him tell us how he will deal with the problem. If we do not take that approach, we shall find that the whole Bill becomes enacted because the Minister is a charming person who is liked by everyone in the House. There is the danger that it will pass through the House on the agreement that everything will be considered later. In that way we shall lose the opportunity to receive a firm undertaking from the Government on what they intend to do.

If only the whole scheme could be dropped. The object of the exercise is to help authors. There is only one way to help them, namely, to give public libraries more money to buy books to allow those who use public libraries to borrow and enjoy those books. The more we hear in the debate and the longer we go on into the night, the more we realise what an expensive, useless and futile scheme it is and how complicated it is becoming. There is talk about reciprocal arrangements with other countries. We have heard that they will not exist.

The best course would be to adjourn the debate and not continue with the scheme. It may be that we shall hear the plans of both Front Benches.

It seems late in the day for the Minister to bring forward the suggestion of reciprocity, to say that he might agree to it and that he will consider the matter with care. The Bill has been knocking around for a long time. The principle has been knocking around since at least before the war. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends have practically taken the Bill through the House. However, in the last few hours of discussion of the Bill in this place the Minister says that there is a possibility that he will introduce reciprocity. It is late in the day, to say the least, to make such a statement.

After all, I do not see that the principle that underlies it differs much from, for example, social security benefits. Over the years, we have had a great deal of discussion about reciprocity of social security benefits and the way British citizens are treated overseas and the way overseas citizens are treated when they come here, fall ill or become unemployed or in some other way qualify for benefit. It does not seem to me that this scheme to benefit authors differs in principle from such social security schemes.

I want to develop what I said in an intervention in the Minister's speech. I did not agree with what he said in reply to me. The point concerns the tax position of authors as affected by the Bill. An author who lives in this country, writes a book and gets money under the Bill, if it is passed in its present form, will have it taxed as earned income; after he dies, his heirs will have it taxed as investment income.

But for foreign authors the position is not quite as easy as that. I should be grateful if the Minister would explain what the tax position is for foreign authors. I do not think that it is quite as easy as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). These authors may well never have been to Britain; they may not have earned the money in Britain—they may have written the books in America, Switzerland or elsewhere. The money may accrue to them from the British taxpayer without their ever having visited Britain.

In any case, any income which they have which arises in this country and which then becomes payable to someone overseas is subject to a double taxation agreement, if one exists, between this country and the other country concerned. We have many double taxation agreements, and I am not sure how the income under this Bill will be treated under those agreements. The agreements differ in detail, but they mostly follow the OECD model agreement. I should be interested to hear how this income will be treated under double taxation agreements for foreign authors who have never been to this country and have done all their work abroad.

As the Minister is unable to tell us, does my hon. Friend, with his great experience of the taxation system, expect these rights to be paid gross or net?

I am afraid that I am unable to say whether they will be paid gross or net. It is clearly the assumption of whoever wrote the explanatory and financial memorandum that they will be paid gross and presumably not taxed, because it says that the charge on the public funds will be £2 million. There are various allowances for expenses and so on, but basically it is £2 million.

It is assumed in the Government's calculations that the authors will actually receive £2 million, and that implies that it will be paid gross, otherwise the net amount of money that the Treasury will have to expend will be considerably less than £2 million. Some of it, of course, will be over the exchanges in terms of being paid out overseas, and some will be paid in this country, but the net effect on the Treasury will be considerably less than £2 million. That seems to me to imply that it will be paid gross. I may be wrong; perhaps it will be paid net. Perhaps we shall see something about it in the Finance Bill this year, when we get to it, depending on who introduces it.

I should like to develop the point about residence and domicile which I raised in my intervention. Residence, ordinary residence and domicile are three different things. They are differentiated in the tax statutes. The Revenue and taxpayers go to a great deal of trouble to agree between themselves who is resident, who is ordinarily resident and who is domiciled in this country, and who is in each of those categories overseas.

Even though those domiciled overseas may remain United Kingdom citizens, even though they may earlier have lived here, and even though they may have written their books while living here, for the purposes of United Kingdom taxation they are out of the net and gone. They are considered to have cut off their intention ever to live in the United Kingdom again. They have uplifted their roots and gone abroad. They have no residence or house here, nor have they a bank account.

The Revenue goes to a lot of trouble to make sure that these people have upped sticks and gone. They are perfectly entitled to pull up their roots and go overseas. I respect not only their right to do so, but I understand why they do so. From their point of view, I believe that they are quite right in doing so rather than staying here and paying our rates of tax. But if they choose to do so, I do not see why the British taxpayer, who will not benefit at all from any future efforts which they may make, should be expected to cough up money under this Bill.

I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us what the tax position is of authors who are domiciled overseas. Can he also say what will happen to the income received from the Bill?

With his considerable knowledge of taxation, can my hon. Friend tell me whether I am right in believing that authors in Eire are in a particularly advantageous position? As I understand it, as a deliberate act of encouraging literature, authors pay no income tax whatever. Does my hon. Friend know whether that is the case? Would that affect the reciprocal position, and would not that be a more advantageous way of encouraging authors to stay in this country?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am not an expert on the Irish tax system, but it is my understanding that authors in the Republic of Ireland enjoy considerable direct tax privileges which are such as to encourage authors of British and other nationalities to go and live in Ireland. If they choose to do so, and particularly if they become domiciled in Ireland, I see no reason why we should support them.

Of course, the converse applies. We might well learn from the Irish in this respect as, indeed, in some others, because Ireland's tax system has other advantages with regard to close companies and so on that I would welcome. However, I see no reason why we should not copy Ireland in respect of authors.

I should like to make a brief point about expelled citizens arising from something said earlier by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). Of course, these people are very few. By definition they are all foreigners. They are all people who have no right of residence in this country, otherwise the Home Secretary and the courts would not be able to expel them. Yet they may be in a position to make a great deal of money from books about their experiences. A good deal of the benefit and notoriety attaching to those books would arise from the very fact that they had been expelled.

11.15 p.m.

That being so, it is even less desirable that, if the Home Secretary takes the view that such people are not fit to live here and should be expelled, they should be able to go overseas and benefit from a subsidy by the British taxpayer, partly as a result of the very fact that the Home Secretary has declared them unsuitable to live among us, for his own proper reasons.

One can think of various names, but I do not wish to inflame any Labour Member by mentioning anyone who has been expelled recently. Some people might put pen to paper or typewriter to ribbon to benefit from their being thrown out. They, even more than people who have given up their United Kingdom domicile, do not deserve to benefit from the Bill.

However, my main point is to ask the Minister to clear up the matter with which he seemed unable to deal just now, to clear up the tax position and tell us whether authors overseas would benefit in full or only in part from the benefits apparently conferred on them by the Bill.

As we have the advantage of my hon. Friend's great tax knowledge, can he deal with the question of authors who are in prison? What is the tax position of prisoners? Will they get their rights if they sell their story of, say, a train robbery?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is speaking of people in prison in this country or overseas.

If a man is in prison in this country, he is resident in this country—both resident and ordinarily resident. I have three prisons in my constituency, and I can assure my hon. Friend that prisoners are resident there. They have little opportunity to write books in prison, but some of them may have written books before going into prison. If so, or if they have other income which arises while they are in prison, their tax position is exactly the same as my hon. Friend's and mine, depending on how successful the books are.

The fact of being imprisoned by a foreign regime may affect one's residence, or where one is ordinarily resident, depending on the length of sentence. If a sentence takes a person into more than one tax year he will become non-resident and not ordinarily resident. But I think that the assumption would be—I speak without notice of the question—that a British subject who was imprisoned overseas retained a British domicile if it was clearly his intention to return. Certainly, if he took any action such as asking for the British consul to visit him, that would tend to reinforce the assumption that his intention was eventually to return to the United Kingdom, and his domicile would remain here.

I suppose that there could be a difference if the prisoner were under sentence of death and it was thought that he was not likely to return anywhere. But I think on the whole that his domicile, as long as he remained in gaol, would still be held to be the United Kingdom. Therefore, from the Revenue's point of view, he would remain in the position of being not resident or ordinarily resident but still domiciled in the United Kingdom. His tax position would follow from that.

The House is very grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), Faversham (Mr. Moate), Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) and Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr Buchanan) for having ventilated a matter that was raised in Committee and is of profound concern. The House is also grateful to the Minister for the manner in which he has responded to the debate, particularly for his commitment that the matter will be reviewed again by the Government, with a view to the possibility of amendments being tabled in another place.

The amendment struck me as being extremely limited, because it could have included Mr Harold Robbins, if he were so foolish as to become a resident of the United Kingdom. In the circumstances, the House having had a very good debate, I think that the Minister's statement should satisfy my hon. Friends, and I hope that I can persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South to withdraw his amendment in view of the Minister's commitment.

I am happy to yield to the beguiling persuasion of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) and, perhaps more importantly, to the Minister's constructive and helpful words. We look forward to seeing the amendment when it is introduced in the other place, and, on that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.