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Establishment Of Public Lending Right

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 30 January 1979

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.6 p.m.

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'local library authorities' and insert 'libraries'.

With this we may also take the following amendments: No. 13, in page 1, line 10, leave out local'.

No. 15, in page 1, line 10, at end insert
'and by such other libraries as may from time to time be stipulated by the Secretary of State'.
No. 16, in page 1, line 10, at end add
'and by such other libraries as may be stipulated from time to time by the Secretary of State'.
No. 43, in clause 3, page 3, line 46, leave out 'and' and insert
'or (b) any collection of books held by any other library which the Secretary of State may stipulate under this Act and'.
No. 54, in clause 5, page 5, leave out lines 38 to 45.

I cannot imagine that any member of Her Majesty's Government would wish to impose a tax solely on local authority libraries. My amendment simply suggests deleting the words "local library authorities" and inserting the word "libraries". It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable, and I leave the matter there.

The remarkable brevity of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is very commendable, but I do not feel that he did justice to his case. Although I shall not speak for too long on this group of amendments, I feel that there is a strong case to be advanced. It is a sincere case, and I hope that the Minister of State will listen to it.

I feel strongly that either on this occasion or in another place the Bill should be amended to broaden its scope. This group of amendments seeks to delete the word "local" in order to include possibly all libraries. The other amendments seek to broaden the scope of the Bill in the same way. I wish to mention particularly the amendment that allows the Secretary of State to designate
"any collections of books held by any other library."
We are asking the Secretary of State to take a discretionary power so that at some time in future he may, if he so wishes, stipulate other libraries or other collections of books held by other libraries. I am not in my amendments saying that at present the scheme should be broadened to include other libraries. All I am saying is that perhaps in future the Registrar and those involved in administering the public lending right will be able to come forward with a better scheme, or a scheme which allows the inclusion of reference works. I submit that is a reasonable proposition. I hope that it will be accepted by both Front Benches.

I would stray outside the rules of order if I were to discuss the nature of works at this stage. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is an elitist and genuinely believes that only ordinary local authority libraries should be taxed rather than university or private libraries. That is the whole point of my amendment.

That might be the point of the hon. Gentleman's amendment, but it is not the point of mine. I do not view the matter in that way. If one were pursuing the elitist line, one would not exclude the magnificent collection of libraries which are now excluded from the Bill. As the Bill stands, the elite of our libraries is excluded.

The point that I wish to develop, fairly briefly, is this. We have been told that this Bill is designed to give justice to authors.

However, I do not think that the Minister can really dispute the point that the Bill does not give justice to all authors. It excludes all reference works. I hope that it is clearly understood by the House and the public that the Bill is limited to local authority libraries and excludes all reference libraries. It excludes reference works in local authority libraries. It excludes all the great national libraries. It excludes the British Library. It excludes a vast percentage of books written by British authors.

That is inequitable. I can appreciate that if one is proceeding on a loan-based scheme it is inconvenient to have a reference system built in. However, it seems that as soon as inconvenience creeps in justice flies out of the window. The scheme is unjust as it stands.

I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment, and the speech that I am now making, in the right spirit. All that I am suggesting is that he takes on board a discretionary power. Such a power was supported by the words in the report of the technical investigation group, because the report seems to be striving throughout to find some way of including reference libraries. I shall not quote it at length; it is all there. I am sure that the Minister has read it. It seemed to me quite reasonable and sensible to suggest that alongside a loan-based scheme, the scheme as proposed by the Government, one could have some sort of purchase-based scheme or stock or other scheme taking into account reference works.

I should hope that the Minister would be urging the Registrar and the staff to be striving very hard to produce such a scheme so that reference work authors—although clearly that is a term which conveys a great deal of inaccuracy—should at some stage be included. As the Bill stands, they cannot be included. The other libraries cannot be included. However, if the Minister were to accept one or two of these amendments or table his own amendments to meet this point, at some future date justice could be done to all those other authors.

I conclude by emphasising again that the authors that we have been told we ought to be helping are the very authors who are likely to be excluded by the Bill as it stands. The author who writes the sort of book that is more likely to go on the reference shelves is unlikely to get a substantial commercial return. I appreciate that these are generalisations, but I think that the point is valid. The person who has to do more research than perhaps the novelist has to do—although, again, that is a generalisation—is the person whose work will go on the reference shelves and the person who is likely to get nothing from the Bill. Surely we should be trying to improve the scheme so that such a person will get some return from it.

The scheme is very much biased in favour of the novelist and the biographer. I am not saying anything against novels and biographies. We all enjoy them, and they all deserve the commercial success that they receive. However, the scheme is biased against the writer of the serious work. I do not believe that that can be the desire of the Minister of State. Therefore, I hope that he will take the opportunity, after many years of discussion, to say that he accepts the spirit of what we are trying to achieve with this group of amendments. I also hope that my hon. Friends will give their support to the principle of trying to include reference works and of trying to find some way of including the whole range of libraries, with their millions and millions of volumes, which are to be excluded by the Bill.

I hope that the Minister will respond in a co-operative manner.

I support in principle what my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has said. I hope that tonight the Minister will give an assurance that he will look again at the possibility of including other libraries, particularly in order to include works of reference. It cannot be right that the compiler of a work of reference that takes 10 years to complete should be given nothing whereas a romantic novel that takes three weeks to write should entitle a successful author to £1,000. That is not justice whatever else it is.

11.15 p.m.

One problem is how to judge the equivalent time that a reference book is used in a library with the number of times that a romantic novel is taken off the shelves. I hope that when the Bill goes to another place their Lordships will direct their attention to that problem. I look forward to having a more profound debate on the subject when the Bill returns to this place.

If we solve the problem of how to reward authors of works of reference at the library end, there is no problem about how to distribute the benefit that becomes due under public lending right. All that is necessary is to say that the benefit attaches to the volume. The amount that becomes payable on the volume is paid to the publisher. The distribution of the money that is available under PLR is distributed by the publisher to the agent on exactly the basis on which it is written into the contract.

There may be three or four compilers of a dictionary. In the drawing up of the contract all the benefits of the book, all the normal royalties—after all, there would be some retail sales from which royalties would accrue—including those from sales to libraries, a fact that is often forgotten, would be divided on a basis agreed in the contract. If the basis of ordinary royalties can be agreed in a contract, there is no reason for the basis of PLR not being set out in a clause in a contract. There is no problem in deciding how PLR is to be distributed. I do not want the Government to say that the problem cannot be solved, that they do not know how to distribute PLR and that the system should be narrowed down to local libraries and to novelists, biographers and autobiographers.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. I do not like the Bill. I think that it is a load of rubbish. In later amendments I shall say why I think so. If it means justice for authors, it must mean justice for compilers of serious works of reference as much as justice for Barbara Cartland or the writer of a serious or not so serious novel. If the Minister is able to give us an assurance, that will be splendid. If he is not able to do so, I hope that their Lordships in another place will insert "works of reference" or "other libraries". If that is done, we shall be able to have a more profound debate when the Bill returns to this place.

I support the amendment. I said on Second Reading that the public libraries do not lend 50 per cent. of their books. That was very true some years ago. However, there are now abounding school libraries, university libraries and college libraries.

As was said by so many hon. Members on Second Reading, the foundation of the Bill is not even fair to authors. If we are to be fair to authors, we should include all the books that the libraries lend. We should not discriminate by means of the chosen 72 librarians who will be asked to take note of what is passing through their libraries. Indeed, as we shall hear later, they will leave themselves open to criminal prosecution. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will make some concession.

I think that the House will agree that whenever possible during the passage of the Bill I have attempted to meet arguments that have been advanced or promised to ensure that they were met in another place. On this occasion I am unable to do so for a number of reasons.

First, it has been said on two occasions that we are attempting to tax public libraries and not other libraries. There is no element of taxation. One of the difficulties of the scheme that has been criticised is the cost of administration. A considerable part of that cost will be the reimbursement to public libraries of the costs that they have sustained in administering the scheme. So in no way will the money come from the revenue of public libraries in a way that means that they are being discriminated against. There will be a reimbursement of costs.

The amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) seek to delete the words "local libraries" in an endeavour to open this scheme out to other libraries. The amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) are more specific. They say that they want the Secretary of State to have the power to add to the list and go outside the public library sector.

I think that my hon. Friend will agree that I do not just want to add to a list. I wish to ensure that justice is done. If we think that authors are being treated justly by their receiving money in respect of a public lending right, surely that should apply to authors whose books are borrowed through any library—a university library, an engineering institute or even the House of Commons Library—as distinct from merely a public local authority library.

I shall seek to deal with that point in a moment.

The hon. Members for Faversham and Aberdeen, South seek to extend the scheme, at the discretion of the Secretary of State. On these amendments hon. Members have attempted to deal with the question of a public lending right for reference books. Their amendments on that topic were not selected, however. This is a public lending right Bill. If a reference work were borrowed and if its author chose to register under the scheme, he would be paid like any other author. But the scheme is not extended to reference works because the cost of supervision and policing of the exercise would be enormous. An assistant in a reference library would have to take details of all the reference books consulted.

Many non-fiction books are borrowed and I am certain that the authors of those books, if they have any sense, will register under the scheme.

The Minister has been much more open-minded about this scheme than have many of his hon. Friends. We welcome that. But his approach to the point is too narrow. First, the amendments refer to the power of the Secretary of State to stipulate any book collections, which would include reference works. But the report of the technical investigation group contained suggestions for a purchase-based scheme alongside the public lending right and covered by it. So the term "public lending" does not exclude the possibility of a reference work scheme of some kind. The report suggests one possible system at an estimated annual cost of £20,000. These costs could be quite modest compared with the cost of administering the scheme. I urge the Minister to think again about this matter.

As the hon. Gentleman admitted, the scheme would cost more money to administer, but I must deal with these amendments. I will come to the point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. To allow the Secretary of State to extend the scheme to other libraries flies in the face of what hon. Members have been correctly saying about the fairness of the scheme.

The idea of the scheme, as hon. Gentlemen know, is that certain points in public libraries should be the samples. They will have to be chosen carefully in order to ensure fairness for authors. I do not want the present Secretary of State, or any other Secretary of State, to be able to alter a recording system in public libraries that may not be in operation in private collections or collections of books held by other bodies such as university libraries and totally upset the sample in those 72 points. That would be done if some of these other libraries were included. The type of book borrowed from only one university library could be very different from the representative sample in other libraries.

If one considers private collections, the position becomes much more acute. One would disturb the whole balance of the scheme. I do not want to give Secretaries of State the power, at their discretion, to upset the balanced scheme proposed in the Bill. That is why I oppose the amendments.

There is no element of taxation. My hon. Friend keeps using that word, but no element of taxation is involved. The public pay money to the authors and the administration costs of the libraries concerned in the scheme.

Anyone can dispute the word "taxation". Will my hon. Friend accept that he is attempting to pass an Act of Parliament through the House of Commons and the House of Lords and that, as a result, certain financial consequences will follow? Will he accept that those consequences will follow only to the borrowers of books from local authority libraries as distinct from those from university libraries, institutes of research or education or any of the elitist libraries that are excepted?

My hon. Friend has gone on to another point. I was seeking to make clear—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is the amendment we are discussing.

I misunderstood my hon. Friend. I thought he believed that public authority libraries would be prejudiced in that they would have to pay for the administration of this scheme. He now appears to believe that the borrower will have some payment to make.

That is not the position. The borrower does not pay anything. The scheme itself will be funded from moneys provided by central Government. The local authority will not suffer, nor will the borrower have to pay any money. I can assure my hon. Friend—

Order. I must warn the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that he must not make interjections from a sedentary posi- tion. It is very difficult to follow an argument which another hon. Gentleman is making if an hon. Member is interjecting at the same time.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think you can understand that one gets irritated when one is told that one's constituents will not have to pay for this scheme. After all, they are taxpayers. The whole object of this exercise is that taxpayers should pay for private persons.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that on consideration of a Bill he is enabled to make his points when the Minister sits down if he so wishes.

11.30 p.m.

Of course, my hon. Friend's constituents, with every other constituent, are paying £2 million. But he seemed to be implying that either the authority would be discriminated against because it was a public authority and under the scheme—in fact, I have tried to disabuse him of that idea—or that the borrower of the book, because he went to one of these libraries, would have some money to pay. That again would be an incorrect assumption.

Although on other matters I have tried to be as helpful as I can, I feel that it would totally distort the scheme if I were to accept these amendments. Therefore, I must ask the House to reject them.

I do not want to keep the House long, but common justice demands that at least serious further consideration should be given to finding a way better to reward serious literary work. That is really what my hon. Friends are on about—better reward for really serious, long, arduous literary work.

We would all agree that the Bill is not absolutely perfect in this respect. I hope that this matter can be looked at seriously again in another place. Were another place to express its view in the shape of an amendment to the Bill, I am sure that this House would want to consider it seriously. The Bill is far from perfect in its aim to deal with people who often give their whole life to one particular project and who will get absolutely nothing under the Bill as it is now constructed.

What another place does is up to another place. So far as this House is concerned, I ask it to reject these amendments.

The Question is, That the amendment be made. As many as are of that opinion say "Aye".

Order. When I collected the voices, the hon. Gentleman clearly said "No". I accept that "No" it is.

Amendment negatived.