Not amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
Establishment Of Public Lending Right
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
No. 16, in page 1, line 10, at end add'and by such other libraries as may from time to time be stipulated by the Secretary of State'.
No. 43, in clause 3, page 3, line 46, leave out 'and' and insert'and by such other libraries as may be stipulated from time to time by the Secretary of State'.
No. 54, in clause 5, page 5, leave out lines 38 to 45.'or (b) any collection of books held by any other library which the Secretary of State may stipulate under this Act and'.
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
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."any collections of books held by any other library."
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.
Why? Because they did not deserve it.
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.
It is taxation.
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 think that the Minister may give his explanation as he wishes.
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—
Especially not as a taxpayer.
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.
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".
To the contrary, "No".
I think that the Noes have it.
The Noes have it.
You must be getting deaf.
Order. When I collected the voices, the hon. Gentleman clearly said "No". I accept that "No" it is.
The Central Fund
I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 2, line 36 leave out '£2 million' and insert £1 million'.
With this we may take amendment No. 35, in page 2, line 40 leave out subsection (3)
I regard this evening as a pleasant, light-hearted interlude in the serious business of discussing the Bill. From the very brief speech by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), and, indeed, the uncharacteristically brief speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), it is quite clear that we shall not be detained too long on this occasion. But no doubt on future occasions we shall have the opportunity to go into this at greater length. Certainly I do not intend to take a great deal of time on the amendments that we are now considering before the other place has a chance to consider, and I hope insert, further amendments, particularly with regard to such matters as works of reference.However, this amendment has within it potentially the nub of our objections to the Bill. It is because we object to the Bill in gross and in detail that we wish to minimise the effects of public expenditure waste by cutting the amount from £2 million to £1 million. Let me itemise and get on the record some of the reasons why we object to this Bill. It is an extraordinary fact that as the Bill has progressed through the House on this occasion almost every hon. Member who comes in with a casual interest stays to listen for 15 or 20 minutes and suddenly begins to realise that the Bill is much more objectionable than he had realised. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is present. He is a dedicated author and I shall be interested to see whether he is tempted to rise to his feet on his occasion.
The hon. Gentleman is indicating "No". Perhaps he will intervene on a future occasion. I know that he is an honest man. I hope that he will study the arguments and that he, like so many others, will come to echo the words of, I think it is, Hilaire Belloc's little poem in which he says:
"Dear Mr. X, does it ever strike you,
I am not applying that to the hon. Member. I am applying it to the Bill, because the more anybody studies the Bill the more objectionable he discovers it to be. The first reason why I object to the expenditure of £2 million and prefer the expenditure of £1 million, if there is to be any expenditure, is that, in these straitened times, it is a waste of money. If I were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and had £2 million to spare, I should not give it to comparatively rich authors. This very afternoon an interesting argument was put forward at the Dispatch Box by the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security. A powerful argument was advanced by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), saying that the death grant had gone up by only £10 since 1947. It was then worth £20 and is now worth £30, and he asked why it should not be moved up in parallel with other social security benefits. The Minister of State said that it could not be done because it would cost £96 million to do it and there was not enough money for that, although he accepted the principle of the argument. What irritates me is that, accepting that statement by the Minister of State, here we have a Bill providing what is admittedly a modest amount which we are told we can expend on authors, many of whom, as we have discovered on previous amendments, are not only comparatively rich but are millionaires. If I had the money to spend, that is the first reason why I would not spend it on this proposal. If I were to take the argument further, I would put it in two parts. The first is that the way in which we are to spend this £2 million is in itself a waste. The second part of the argument, which I should have thought would appeal particularly to Government Members, is that if we decided to spend £2 million to stimulate literature in this country, this would not be the way to do it. There are better ways of doing it, even granted that we want to spend £2 million. The first point, which must be got on the record again—I shall not labour it on this occasion, although we shall perhaps return to it later—is that authors do very well out of public libraries. We have a wonderful library system in this country which benefits not only the general community but authors. They get a royalty from the books which libraries buy. They get their 10 per cent.—or whatever the deal is with the library—on the cover price. Secondly, publishers know that there are certain volumes which they would not be able to publish were they not confident that the libraries would buy 1,000 volumes, or whatever the figure is, and thus guarantee to the publishers—so far as anything in publishing life can be guaranteed—that they will break the back of the publishing economics. They know that however few copies they may sell to the retail trade, by guaranteeing that 1,000 or 1,500 copies are sold to libraries they will not lose on the book. And therefore some authors who would not be published at all are published because of the public library system. My third argument, which proves beyond doubt that authors do well out of public libraries, that they would do worse were public libraries not to exist, is this. Public libraries provide for authors a showcase for their works; there can be no question of that. A person goes to a public library, sees a book, takes it out, saying "I have never read this author before", and then goes out and buys a book by him. I shall not go into this point at great length, but I have received a letter from a bookseller who had written to The Times on this subject saying that he was totally opposed to public lending right. I shall paraphrase his letter to me, but I will gladly read it to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) later in the debate if he wishes. The bookseller said that his shop puts inside every copy of its books a little tab with the name and address of the shop. He said that last year between 50 and 60 persons had come to his bookshop to buy books, saying "We came to your shop because we found inside a book we got from the library a little sticker saying 'Bought from May & May'" He pointed out that that was 60 books sold by his shop alone as a result of people borrowing a book from a public library. But, of course, these people buy more than one book. They come to the shop, he said, and see others that they would like to buy. That is the experience of just one bookseller. There is no doubt—there is certainly none in the retail trade—that public libraries generate interest in books, thus benefiting the authors because the books are then bought through the retail trade, with royalties of 10 per cent. on the cover price.The more we see of you, the less we like you?"
I wonder whether my hon. Friend has that letter in his possession and can give further details.
I do not have it in my immediate possession, but when this matter comes back to the House—I do not want to speak at great length tonight—I will gladly read the second paragraph, which makes the point in great detail and from the personal experience of that bookseller.Why should we spend £2 million rather than £1 million on these authors? They are already doing well out of public libraries. That is my first objection. My second objection, which needs to be hammered home, is that out of the £2 million to be spent on the whole scheme, £600,000 is to go on the Civil Service. Surely that is indefensible. About 30 per cent. of the entire amount is to go to civil servants to dish out the other two-thirds. If anyone thinks that one-third to be spent on bureaucracy is reasonable, I ask him to look at the case of the Performing Right Society. The proportion spent on administration by the society is only 13·5 per cent. The £600,000 proposed is a ludicrous amount to spend on the bureaucracy under this Bill, even if one grants the principle of the Bill, which I do not. The bureaucracy must be cut. Thirdly, I cannot understand how any Labour Member in particular can accept that, under the Bill, those who do best are those who are already doing best. This is a Bill to make rich authors richer. If the idea were "We have some poor budding authors who need encouraging, so let us give them some money so that they can write their masterpieces in garrets because at the moment they have no time", there might be a reason for this scheme. But to say that the books plucked most often from the shelves of 72 public libraries will be the books by Mr. Alistair Maclean, a millionaire living in Switzerland, and that therefore he is to get the maximum amount is indefensible. The Minister of State has proved very reasonable, and we are grateful for the concessions he has made and for the amendment he intends to move in another place, but surely he can see that the Bill is crazy. If we want to stimulate writing in this country, we do not stimulate it by giving money to people who are already making a million out of it. That must be wrong. 11.45 p.m. Without going into the different shades of literary opinion about who is a good author and who is not so good an author, I remind the House that we heard earlier this evening about the proportion of books in public libraries which are works of reference. What we do know—in addition to the 50 per cent. to which, I think, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Spring-burn (Mr. Buchanan) referred—is that up to 70 per cent. of books taken off the shelves are in any case just light novels. I cannot understand why, at a time when we need every penny that we can lay our hands on, this Government should bring forward a scheme to reward light novelists when we already know that they will give no such reward to the compilers of serious works of reference. There can be £1,000 to Barbara Cartland and to her heirs after her death, but nothing for the compilers of works of reference. It must be wrong. It is crazy. Even given the principles of PLR, it is a mad and wasteful way to spend money.
I agree with almost everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, but I had a slight pause when he seemed to imply that Her Majesty's Government had some deleterious motive in this respect. Surely he knows that nobody is proposing the Bill in order to assist the poor author. The Bill is proposed, and supported by his own Front Bench, merely in order to assist members of both Front Benches and other people who are already prosperous authors.
It is certainly true that never has so much money been screwed out of a Government by so few people to so little purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge groans—
He is an author, and a very good one, too.
Is my hon. Friend seriously saying that for £12 a year we should go through this whole rigmarole of expending £2 million? That is what is insane about it. As I say, if the purpose were to stimulate literature in this country, and if it would make the difference between my hon. Friend writing another book and not writing another book, there might be something to be said for it. But to spend £2 million merely to give an average of £12 a year, which is what it is—no one denies that £12 is the average—must be a misuse of public funds at this time.Without expatiating at length, may I turn next to the question of dead authors. The Minister of State has accepted an amendment to reduce from 50 to 20 the number of years after the death of an author during which his beneficiaries may expect public lending right. That is an improvement of 30 years, but even so it seems to me absurd. The Bill is supposed to be a measure of justice for authors, not for dead authors, and if the object is to stimulate literature in this country—that should be its purpose if it has any at all—it cannot be a stimulus to literature to give the heirs of dead authors £1,000 a year, or whatever the cut-off figure is, especially since they are likely to be people who have already benefited substantially from the inheritance from the dead author through the royalties earned during his lifetime. Next, there is the question of foreign authors. Why should we spend £2 million of taxpayers' money in order that Mr. Harold Robbins, living in California, may be even richer than he is now? I know that the Minister of State, as I understand him, has said that he will introduce an amendment in the other place to limit that to some extent, but that is the way the Bill will leave this House. That is what we are now considering—that dead authors' heirs will benefit, that foreign authors will benefit and that trivial authors will benefit. Can that be the best way of spending our money? I see that another author, the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedge-more), has joined us. I was looking at his book only yesterday—£4·95 as the cover price, and I hope that he gets 49p for every volume sold. Good luck to him. But I should be interested if he would confirm that he has an agent to whom he will have to pay 10 per cent. Out of the £2 million, we have to take £600,000 for the bureaucracy. Of the remaining £1,400,000, 10 per cent. will go to the agents. Is it the Minister's purpose to put £140,000 into the pockets of agents? It is insanity? It cannot be the way to spend money. On Second reading the Secretary of State said that the purpose of the Bill was to stimulate the cause of literature in this country. The aim was good although the means was bad. From the £2 million, or the £1 million to which I seek to reduce the figure, the Civil Service gets one-third. There is then the money given to the dead authors, which will increase as years go by as there will be more dead authors on the roll. We have to give the money to rich authors, millionaire authors, trivial authors, foreign authors and their agents. We have said that it is incredible to spend £2 million in order to give an author £12 a year. But it will be more like £5 a year to authors living in this country once the money has had the little erosions taken off it. Do the Government seriously maintain that giving an author £5 a year, with taxes and other deductions, is the best way to spend £2 million? That cannot be so. I believe that parts of the Bill need destroying, but I am not being totally destructive. If this amendment reduces the £2 million to £1 million, there are better ways of spending the money in the cause of literature. Many people might say that there are other more deserving areas. But even in an endeavour to spread literature, it would be preferable and cheaper to give £1 million to the Arts Council to hand out to authors whom it believed most needed it.
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that, without any accountability, £1 million or £2 million should be handed by the Government to the Arts Council? Can he reconcile that with his Conservative principles and the control of public expenditure?
I reconcile it with the greatest of ease. Under the present scheme, the £2 million, amongst other financial erosions, has £600,000 taken off it for the bureaucracy. It is not ideal to give it to the Arts Council, but in that event that £600,000 would be available for authors. The Minister's purpose, to help the cause of literature, would be further advanced, because there would be more money to give the authors.A second way of spending the money would be to give a series of prizes for literature. We do not have many such prizes in this country. We have the Booker prize, the W.H. Smith prize and one or two others. In France, for example, there is the Prix Goncourt which offers two or three times as much as the Booker prize. Surely it would stimulate literature far more if we gave each county council in England and Wales and each region in Scotland an amount of money to award a prize in its own area. Certainly a series of prizes awarded in that way, or through the Arts Council, would do far more to help literature, if that is the Government's aim. There could be prizes for the best romantic novel of the year, the best biography of the year—which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge would win year after year—and so on. At least that would be justice for authors and a better way of spending the money. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister, in replying to this debate, says that it is his solemn belief that this scheme, with all its financial erosions, would help literature more, stimulate writers more and encourage young writers more than a system of prizes. If the Minister wants a better way to spend the £1 million which I propose to cut off the £2 million, why not buy more books for public libraries? In that way the general public would benefit because more books would be available. Also, the authors would benefit because they would get the royalties on the books bought by the libraries. Everyone would benefit. Alternatively, the Minister could consider improving library facilities, or having more specialist libraries. I want to cut the £2 million to £1 million because the money is at present ill spent and because there are so many better ways of spending it. I have already outlined the different ways in which the money could be spent. I hope that when another place considers this Bill it will not be blinded by the sort of glib euphoria which was spread over this House, emanating from a small tightly-knit group of literary-motivated authors who want to get more money for themselves. This is particularly so with novelists. Why should this small group of novelists have swayed the Government and the House? I hope that the other place will recognise that, if justice for authors is the cry, it should be justice for all authors. Let that justice be more wisely dispensed financially than is proposed in the Bill.
In 1975–76 the education authorities, using taxpayers' money, spent £53 million on books. The public library authorities spent £28 million, also of taxpayers' money. The national libraries spent £1 million, once again taxpayers' money. There are no figures for universities. The total, excluding the uni- versities, is £82 million, which represented 45 per cent. of the total turnover by United Kingdom publishers. Therefore, the taxpayer is already supporting United Kingdom publishers to the tune of 45 per cent. of their turnover.
I hope that the hon. Member will remember that in the excellent Resale Prices Act brought in by a former leader of the Conservative Party when he was only President of the Board of Trade, there was one exception to the question of resale price maintenance, namely, the net book agreement. When the hon. Member quotes these figures, I hope that he will remind the House that books are the only things that are allowed to be charged to places like libraries at above their market value.
I take note of that point. Unfortunately, it rather conflicts with a point I intended to make. Far from resenting the activities of the libraries, the publishers and authors actually encourage the libraries to buy their books by offering them a very substantial discount.
Only 10 per cent.
Often it is more than that.The taxpayer spent £82 million in 1976. I have often accepted the argument that many authors are perhaps hard done by in terms of the return they receive. However, if the author today is in need of more financial support, I do not believe that the taxpayer should be called upon to pay more money to support him. That is my case for saying that it is better to spend £1 million than £2 million. The Bill calls for £2 million. I do not think that anything should be paid, but £1 million is better than £2 million. If the amount were reduced to £1 million, the pressure would be greater to reduce the administrative costs. The expenses would be so disproportionate to the total funds available that this scheme would probably have to be scrapped and a more sensible scheme introduced. That more sensible scheme would be on the lines proposed, or mentioned as a possibility, by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). I am no great fan of the Arts Council. However, State patronage is not new. It has been accepted throughout the centuries. I would much rather see patronage by the State through the Arts Council handing out significant sums of money to worthy authors than the height of folly which this Bill has reached of providing £2 million, of which £600,000 will go to civil servants and its administration. The rest will be distributed. On average it will pay about £12 to each of 113,000 authors. I do not believe that the Minister of State, left to his own devices, would have produced a Bill of this kind. I do not believe that he thinks it is sensible. Not many hon. Members think that it is sensible. However, the Bill has three or four friends. I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) is a new-found friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am encouraged. However, the Bill has two or three friends. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) has been a staunch friend of this Bill. It also has two special friends. One is the Leader of the House. The other is the Shadow Leader of the House. With supporters such as those, it makes it pretty certain that the Bill will be passed. However, I emphasise that neither Ministers, if left to their own devices, nor Parliament would have produced a Bill of this kind now. They would not suggest that we spend £2 million on helping authors. It is certain that at the time of the next Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether Labour or Conservative, will face a crisis in public expenditure and will be looking for major cuts. I shall not go too far down that road. There are now many greater priorities demanding public expenditure support than this Bill, when one-third of the money provided under it will be devoted to setting up a new bureaucracy.
Will the hon. Member explain why the Opposition Front Bench is in favour of increasing public expenditure for this object?
I find it hard to understand why anybody should support this Bill and why the Opposition Front Bench—which is normally so wise and shrewd and the repository of great wisdom and consistency—has, on this occasion, I am sad to say, been deflected in its judgment.I hope that the Minister will understand that we are being fairly brief. We hope that he will respond with a helpful approach as he did on previous amendments—although not on those to the previous Bill. My amendment seeks to delete clause 2 (3), which provides for the power in future to increase the limit on the sums to be paid under subsection (2)—in other words, the power subsequently to increase the sum of £2 million by statutory instrument. I suggest that we delete that. This is not a destructive blow aimed at the Bill. If in future there is extra money available for distribution to authors, it would be far better to use it through a scheme handled by the Arts Council to help authors in need. Therefore we would be better without this proposition.
I am astonished by my hon. Friend's sudden enthusiasm—I agree with much of what has been said—for the Arts Council.
It is a choice of evils, I emphasise to my hon. Friend. I mentioned the Arts Council, but I would much rather it were the Minister of State or my hon. Friend who was making the judgment. It is not difficult to find struggling authors, who are producing perhaps their first work, who need financial support, and who would be grateful for and find it helpful to have a few hundred pounds given to them by the Arts Council, instead of the prospect of £2, £3 or £4 coming through public lending right.Rather than have this provision allowing for future increases in the sums of money, if £2 million were made available to help authors it would be possible in every constituency for about £3,000 to be allocated so that five or six authors could receive a grant of £500 each every year. That is how substantial it is. Worthy causes could be helped. But the provision made in the Bill is a total waste of money and it would be far better to delete it. If we are to have a £2 million scheme, so be it. Let us leave it there and let the Registrar administer that scheme. But let us have no further increases in the future. Let any money that becomes available in future be used much more sensibly by a future Government.
I shall speak very briefly and hope that the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and the House will not consider it a discourtesy. I understand that undertakings were given as to the time and the timing of the debate and I do not want to presume upon hon. Members' time. I know that there are several other amendments that hon. Members wish to discuss.Both hon. Gentlemen have expressed again to the House their opposition to the principles of the Bill. Although Conservative Members have said that very few people are in favour of the Bill, I remind the House that this Bill has been moved by the Government, it has not been opposed by the Opposition Front Bench, and it has passed through Committee. It has now returned to the House. The amendment seeks to reduce the amount of money from £2 million to £1 million. I remind the House that £1 million was the sum proposed two or three years ago when the first Bill came before the House. Of that £1 million, there would, at that stage, have been administrative expenditure of £400,000—nearly half. Because of rising costs, because of inflation, and because it will be a further two years before the measure begins to be implemented, £600,000 of the £2 million is likely to go in administrative costs. The hon. Member for Faversham is correct when he says that if the figure were reduced to £1 million the administrative expenditure would still be not far short of £600,000, so that we get to an absurd position.
The Minister must surely realise that what he said earlier was a little specious. He is well aware that this House was not allowed an opportunity to divide on Second Reading, and that the Whips on each side appointed to the Committee only one opponent of the Bill. Does he really think that that is a fair way of dealing with a measure which is not approved of by the majority of people in the United Kingdom?
I shall not pursue the second point, because Committees of the House are appointed not by the Whips but by Mr. Speaker.
You are joking.
They are appointed by Mr. Speaker. I do not want to pursue that matter, because I should be out of order.I repeat that to reduce the amount to £1 million would be counter-productive. I re-emphasise that it will be two years or so before the scheme is likely to be in operation.
I raised a matter on the last occasion with which the Minister did not then deal. Is the £1 million or the £2 million the net cost to the Government allowing for the income tax and so on that the Government will presumably recover when the money is paid to authors?
It is the gross cost. We could not administer it by way of net cost, because we do not know what the income tax would be on the authors receiving the money. It would depend on their circumstances.Amendment No. 35 seeks to provide that, if there is to be an increase in the amount in future—which may be necessary—there shall be primary, not subordinate, legislation. That would waste the time of the House considerably. We have spent a great deal of time on the Bill. It would not be desirable for the house to bring in a separate Bill, not on the principle but to increase the amount in line with inflation at that time. Although the Goverment have done very well indeed over the last three or four years with regard to inflation, there is still an element of inflation in the economy. Therefore, we must make provision in the Bill for that element to be taken care of without the necessity for further primary legislation. Most of the arguments put forward by the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South and for Faversham have been based on their opposition to a public lending right. The House has approved the Bill. I suggest that the minimum viable sum should be £2 million based on the scheme now before the House. Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
In the sure knowledge that we shall have another chance to discuss these matters later, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 39, in page 3, line 12, at end insert—
I appeal to my hon. Friend to accept the principle behind the amendment. There is no doubt that, in theory, it is open to an author to seek to claim, through the courts, that the sales of his books are being hindered by the discriminatory policy of one of the chosen 72 librarians. Before the public lending right was proposed and before the Bill was introduced, it was possible for a librarian to exercise his professional judgment whether to put on a display of books by an author or authors. Should the Bill become an Act, the librarian will be in a somewhat exposed position, because an author will be able to take him to court. Therefore, this extra responsibility will have been assumed by librarians. The professional integrity of the librarian will be interfered with in several ways. There is the danger, first, of his being taken to court and, secondly, of being reported to the Registrar, and he may interfere. The librarian decides whether to buy or not to buy—that is the question—a single copy or multiple copies of a particular book, whether to put it in the reference section or the lending section or whether to put on display books by one author as against another. Another part of the librarian's job is to advise on reading matter for study, and so on. If the author does not sue in court and reports to the Registrar, what action can the Registrar take? Will he interfere in the policy of the librarian because an author has complained that his books are not getting a fair display? If the amendment is not accepted, the freedom of choice exercised by the professional librarian to purchase material to meet the needs of the community could be severely restricted. I appeal to my hon. Friend to accept the principle behind my amendment and to try to do something to meet my point in another place or when the Bill returns to this House.'(4A) It shall not be lawful for any author in any proceedings whatsoever to claim that a library or any member of its staff has discriminated against him in any way his book or books have been or are made available to the public'.
I know the deep concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) in this matter. He has been good enough on a number of occasions to discuss it with me privately and to give me instances of the evil which he feels would emanate if his amendment were not carried. I shall ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment, although I accept the principle behind it.The difficulty lies in the words in his amendment:
The amendment seeks to use the vehicle of the Bill to create a massive immunity to librarians from actions by authors and goes way beyond the provisions of the Bill. There is no provision in the Bill under which an author could bring proceedings for discrimination. If he wished to take such proceedings, he would have to do so under the appropriate part of the criminal or common law. An aggrieved author would have that right. As a lawyer, I must admit I cannot think of one case in which an author has ever taken such proceedings. He would have some difficulty in doing so under the criminal law unless he could prove that the librarian was committing a criminal offence. The amendment would remove from authors all those rights. It is not the Government's intention, and it is not the intention of the Bill, to interfere with the proper running of a library. That job lies wholly with the librarian. It is for the librarian to decide which books he will purchase and which books he will put on special display. That rule will apply equally in the sample libraries. There will be no interference by the Registrar in the running of the library. Indeed, the whole idea of the scheme is that that library should be a sample library. In some instances the librarian may choose to highlight a particular book, author or style of novel to attract readers. He may try to change the habits of readers in that way. Some of the best books I have ever read have been books I have never intended to pick up in the library. I have chosen them either because they have been on display or because I have been in a hurry. In that way I have discovered some gems of books which in the ordinary way I would never have chosen by just browsing through the shelves. The author concerned will now, under these provisions, receive some remuneration because I have chosen that book in that way. It would be extremely difficult for any author to take this matter to court and win under the existing common law. That would certainly be impossible under the criminal law, unless he could prove a criminal offence. On a clear understanding that I grasp the principle that concerns my hon. Friend, perhaps he will be prepared to withdraw the amendment."It shall not be lawful for any author in any proceedings whatsoever".
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Scheme And Its Administration
Amendment made: No. 71, in page 4, line 27, at end 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.'.—[Mr. Oakes.]
I beg to move, amendment No. 53, in page 5, leave out lines 13 to 31.
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:No. 55, in page 5, line 19, leave out '£1,000' and insert '£100'. No. 70, in page 5, line 19, leave out '£1,000' and insert '£500'. No. 56, in page 5, line 31, at end insert—
'Provided that no library or any employee thereof shall be guilty of any offence under this Act.'.
This group of amendments relates to the penalty provisions in the Bill. I notice that the Minister of State is busy conferring with the Under-Secretary on a point of great principle. I hope that he is discussing with his hon. Friend the possibility of accepting at least the spirit of this group of amendments.I hope that from all these discussions we have had about the Bill it has become clear to everyone that we are not talking about an area of public life in which we may expect a great deal of criminal activity. The whole scheme is designed to help authors and requires the co-operation of librarians. We are talking about librarians and authors. I find it hard to envisage circumstances in which the criminal law will have to be invoked to deal with recalcitrant librarians or recalcitrant authors. I ask the Minister of State seriously to think about deleting altogether these penalty provisions. I do not know the authority, the details of the statutes, or whatever, under which the Performing Right Society operates. Perhaps other hon. Members are better informed than I am on that score. However, I suspect that that society, which seems to operate extremely successfully, operates without the benefit of any legal sanctions of the kind proposed in the Bill. I do not suppose that that society, even if it has such powers or is backed up by such statutory powers, has actually ever had to invoke penalty provisions of this kind to produce the rights for musicians. I suggest that were these penalty provisions not to be in the Bill at all it would be no weaker for that. I hope that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) and other hon. Members who passionately believe in the Bill will accept that this point is no argument against the Bill but is a genuine point. Hon. Members know that these penalty provision have given great cause for concern to librarians. It seems that there is the possibility of librarians suffering some sort of penalty, or at least living under the threat of these penalty provisions. There is the possibility of being
It would create a great deal of good will if the Government were prepared to take what would be the tiniest of risks and accept that the penalty provisions should be removed. I do not expect the Minister to say "Yes" tonight. I should like him to do so, but I do not think that he will. I hope that he will at least give the matter serious thought and that in another place it will be agreed to take the risk—a trivial risk—and remove the penalty provisions. I wrote to the Minister of State and he was kind enough to reply. He set out the reasons that led him to believe that the provisions could not be removed. I suggest that his reasons are not strong. First, he wrote:"liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than £1,000."
Therefore, the hon. Gentleman believes that there would be the power to take action against anybody who, in effect, committed fraud. The hon. Gentleman continued:"The purpose of the so-called penalty clauses is…if anyone supplies false information knowingly or recklessly to the Registrar…he could no doubt be tried on indictment under criminal or common law."
I agree that it may be difficult, but it is so remote a circumstance that it would not be much of a risk to remove the penalty provisions. The second reason that the hon. Gentleman submitted—I am grateful to him for setting out his arguments—was that the provisions"This would entail a search through that legislation to establish in each case which would be the most appropriate part."
Again, I suggest that the likelihood of an individual acting in that way is extremely remote. If there were some foolish person who submitted a large number of silly claims, all that the Registrar need do would be to send a standard reply denying him the right to register. Presumably the individual would go to court to challenge that denial and would be rejected. There would be no need for penalty provisions in those circumstances. Surely the penalty provisions are not needed on that basis. Finally, the Minister wrote that the clauses would allow cases to be tried at the magistrates' court rather than on indictment at the Crown court. I do not think that the circumstances will arise, so I do not think that that is necessary. On the other hand, if we are trying to make an example of somebody, it may be better to take the case to the Crown court. The penalty clauses are serious for librarians. The Minister wrote:"give the Registrar the opportunity of instigating an exemplary prosecution if anyone deliberately supplied a large number of stupid claims, not in order to obtain material benefit but to try to gum up the system. Naturally we would hope that such a prosecution would never be necessary."
The hon. Gentleman hoped that by that simple statement he could remove most of the librarians' fears. He continued:"As to whether these clauses will apply to librarians, my advice is that they will not apply to information on loans supplied under Clause 3(5)(a) because that information is not connected with the entry of any matter in the register."
The hon. Gentleman argues that the penalty clauses do not apply to librarians, only to suggest that in certain circumstances they could. I do not believe that the Minister made a strong case. I accept that it is often reasonable to find penalty clauses in Bills of this sort but I suggest that in this instance the penalty provisions are not necessary. I ask the hon. Gentleman again to consider carefully the arguments that he has advanced. I ask him especially to take into account the good will that he could generate among librarians if he were to remove the penalty provisions. Their removal would do a great deal of good and help public lending right. If the Bill is to go on to the statute book, the removal of the clauses would help it on its way considerably. If there is a risk of somebody breaking the law or trying to wreck PLR, the risk is so tiny, so trivial and so remote that it is one that the hon. Gentleman should take. I hope that he will give serious consideration to a genuine plea to remove the penalty provisions."I am advised that the clauses could apply to any coding work done under Clause 3(5)(b) because the words there 'with a view to facilitating the maintenance of the register' provide a specific link with clause 4(7)."
I entreat my hon. Friend the Minister to make some concession here. If this Bill becomes law, and if it is to have any prospect of success, it must have the good will of librarians. To insert the penalty provisions is no way to obtain that good will. They mean so little. The possibility of their having to be used is so remote. Therefore, why not delete them?On Second Reading, on 10 November, at columns 1380 to 1383, I am reported as having said that the Library Association was very much against these penalty clauses. My hon. Friend the Minister gave certain assurances in Committee and faithfully kept his word. There was consultation with the association. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) intimated to me in an informal conversation that the association was quite happy with the penalty clauses and had accepted the explanation. I was astonished. I had no knowledge of the association changing its point of view. I therefore telephoned the association this morning. The deputy secretary was at a meeting and I spoke to his assistant, who told me that as far as he knew the association had not changed its view. Subsequently the deputy secretary came to see me tonight. He asked also to see my hon. Friend the Minister. I was sorry for my hon. Friend. He was confronted at 9.30 this evening with the deputy secretary of the association, who informed him that the association had not changed its view. I do not blame anyone for the misunderstanding. I imagine that there has been a breakdown in communications. I imagine that the association may have been satisfied with the explanation which was given by my noble Friend Lord Donaldson
Did the hon. Gentleman suggest that I had told him that the Library Association was satisfied? I should not like that impression to be given.
No. I intended to say that the hon. Member had been made aware that the association had dropped its objections.
I presume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the statement in the Minister's letter. The Minister was under that impression.
I have probably been acquainted with more librarians than most hon. Members, and I know that they are still deeply dissatisfied with the penalty provisions and would wish for their removal.This Bill demands the fullest co-operation from the librarians and their assistants at the 72 sample points. There will be a special demand on the librarians and I suppose that they may be asking for special payment. They are entitled to it if they are to take on the special responsibilities. That is the practice nowadays. NALGO, which is the librarians' trade union, is very much behind the librarians in this instance. It should not be necessary for matters to be taken to the Crown court or the magistrates' court. If the Registrar is to be a man of substance, if he is to receive the salary that is proposed, he should be able to take decisions and spot any funny business coming from any of the 72 points—not necessairly taking the matter to court, but perhaps reporting it to the Library Association, which would take the necessary action. The court sanction is not the way to win the support and co-operation of librarians. They have an additional task and responsibility for recording the issue of the books. It is something of a paradox that for assuming this extra responsibility the librarian is to be subjected to possible penalties at law. It was asked in Committee why no objection was taken to the matter in the first Bill. No one expected the first or second Bills to make any progress; they came far too late in the Session. This is the Bill that is being taken seriously. I hope that my hon. Friend will do something to lessen the antagonism that is bound to develop if these clauses are left in the Bill.
I think that I may be able to assist the House. That is why I am seeking to intervene at this stage. I have listened carefully to the arguments of both the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan). Although I am not giving any undertaking that these penalty clauses will be removed, I think I must look at the matter in view of what both Members have said and the misunderstanding that has occurred with the Library Association.I was under the impression that the Library Association had accepted these penalty clauses. They were carefully explained to it. There was a meeting between my noble Friend Lord Donaldson and the Library Association, and he understood that the clauses had been accepted. A letter was sent by officials of my Department over two months ago setting out reasons for these clauses and stressing particularly that the information on loans under clause 3(5)(a) would not be affected. We thought that this would satisfy the Library Association. From what I heard at 9.30 p.m. tonight, and from what I have been told by both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Faversham, it is only fair that discussions should continue. I do not undertake that the provisions will be withdrawn, for the three reasons I set out in the letter to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall look at the matter again so that, if necessary, steps can be taken in another place.
The House will be grateful for the Minister's undertaking. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and myself take the view that this matter requires further consideration.One must have sanctions against those who might perpetrate a fraud against any piece of legislation, but compelling arguments have been deployed by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the eminent Chairman of the House of Commons Library Committee, who can surely be said to have no vested interest in but merely immense experience of this matter. It is not seriously suggested by anyone, or by the Government for that matter, that librarians could be guilty of fraud. That is a most unlikely event. Conscientious people are never deliberately negligent. The point about frivolous attempts to register by some individual wanting to wreck the scheme or concerted action by a group would possibly be covered by the ordinary law without having to write penalties into the Bill. The Minister has, however, given an undertaking. We are grateful to him and would certainly want to return to this matter in another place.
I am amazed that the Minister of State has not looked at this matter before now. The three reasons advanced in a letter to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) seem inadequate to justify the penalty provisions. As I understand the letter, the first reason is that anyone who obtained money by fraud would obviously be liable to face a fraud charge. The Minister's reason is that it would be difficult to find the apropriate section under which to charge such a person. That is absolute nonsense. Any competent lawyer would find it in five minutes, because he would have to look at only one Act. There would be no difficulty in finding the appropriate section.The second reason given is the fear of a large number of stupid claims. I remind the Minister that there has been registration of common land for a number of years. Many so-called stupid claims have been made, but never was it suggested that it should be a criminal offence to do so. The third reason given is that the clause allows cases to be tried at a magistrates' court rather than on indictment at a Crown court. If that is so, the penalty seems to be excessive. As the Minister knows very well, the link between the maximum penalty provided for by an Act and the actual penalty imposed is a real one. Magistrates would think that Parliament thought an offence under this Bill was much more serious than other offences for which the maximum penalty is £100, whereas to the lawyer or the layman the other offence might be regarded as much more serious. If there is to be a penalty clause, the fine should be considerably reduced.
I rise only to welcome the Minister's statement and to emphasise the need to reconsider the provisions of the penalty clause.The librarian community is among the most responsible in the country. I do not think that it is being caught up by any runaway trade union antagonism to responsible attitudes in our State. I am firmly behind the spirit of the Bill. I think that the librarians are as well. I only hope that the Minister will do more than simply undertake to review this matter. These penalty provisions should be withdrawn, and if I thought for one moment that the Minister was not genuine in his undertaking to review this matter I would be tempted to test the amendment in a Division. However, I respect him for what he has said, and I hope that in the end it will prove fruitful.
I feel sure that the Minister is very genuine in his undertaking. It is his own willingness to consider all these matters in a most open-minded way that has helped the Bill progress at is has done and in a way that we have not experienced on previous occasions. I am most appreciative of his readiness to look at all these matters, and I am sure it has been most helpful to the House and to the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Registrar Of Public Lending Right
Amendment made: No. 61, in page 7, leave out lines 30 and 31 and insert—
'5.—(1) The Registrar of Public Lending Right shall be by that name a corporation sole, with a corporate seal.'.—[Mr. Oakes.]
I beg to move amendment No. 62, in page 7, leave out line 32.This amendment seeks to delete the strange words in the schedule which state that the Registrar
My object again is to ask the Minister for an explanation. I say "again" because we have asked this before but have never had a satisfactory answer. One of the principal objections to the Bill has been that it sets up a quango—a body of some 40 civil servants who will absorb about £600,000 of the funds available. The schedule clearly provides that the Registrar is to be appointed by the Secretary of State. We know that the Secretary of State will be able to direct the Registrar with regard to all the appointments of staff. The Secretary of State will dictate the numbers of staff and the terms and conditions of service, and we know that he will determine their pensions, allowances and gratuities. We are told that"is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown".
and so on. 12.45 a.m. It is clear that the Registrar and his staff are totally under the control and direction of the Secretary of State, so why does this strange phrase appear—that the Registrar"The approval of the Minister for the Civil Service shall be required for any directions or determination by the Secretary of State",
The only explanation that we have been able to come up with is that the Government are trying to find any way they can of reducing the apparent number of civil servants. If these people are civil servants, the Government have to add another 40 to the declared number of civil servants when all Governments like to pretend that they are trying to keep the number under control. This is a quango. It seems to me that these are civil servants, and by inserting this strange phrase the Government are trying to dodge the truth. I hope that the Minister will either accept the amendment, which I think is logical, or explain the motive behind the inclusion of the words."is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown"?
I think that there is a small point here. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) made it basically. The point at issue is really quite simple. Why does anybody wish to conceal who are actually servants of the Crown? It is suggested in the Bill that the Registrar and all his employees, servants, minions, call them what one will, shall be treated as civil servants within the meaning of the superannuation Act but they shall not be regarded as civil servants for other purposes. That is roughly what the Bill says.I shall be interested to know why the Bill says in line 32 on page 7 that the Registrar
when the superannuation Act says that civil servants are civil servants within the meaning of that Act. I think I am right in saying that the effect of this provision is to contradict the superannuation Act, which provides these people—whom we have not yet appointed—with their pensions. The real question, as the hon. Member for Faversham says, is, why does anybody want to do such a stupid thing? We all know that there are far more civil servants than any Government will admit. The only point on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Faversham is that he says "the Government", as if it was this Government. I think that in his heart of hearts he will agree that the last four Governments, of both parties, have had this stupid idea of trying to conceal the number of civil servants by saying that people are not civil servants. The classic example is the Manpower Services Commission. I do not know what to call them, because at one point the members were in the Civil Service, at another they were out of it, and at yet another point they were back in it. The result was that at one stage 20,000 people suddently disappeared from the Civil Service statistics. Purely as a matter of interest, 22,000 reappeared. In the intervening period, while they had not been there, they had increased by about 10 per cent. What a stupid system this is. How can anybody believe in a system that says, literally, in an Act of Parliament, this great heavy-handed thing, this thing passed by both Houses, on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading, in Commons and Lords, that the Registrar is not to be regarded as a servant or agent of the Crown? Why? Because, of course, he is a civil servant. If this sentence was not included, he would be in the Civil Service statistics. The Registrar and all his employees would be in the Civil Service statistics. The only reason for saying in an Act of Parliament that it is not so is that in law an Act of Parliament is absolute. If it were not so, he would be a servant or agent of the Crown. He would have been appointed, but, in accordance with the Bill, he would not officially be a civil servant by a fraud, if I might say so, by a combination of both Front Benches trying to con the taxpayers into believing that they should support a minority—the authors—in the United Kingdom. However, that is perhaps a majority opinion, expressed in a circumstance where it ought not to be expressed. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), who is representing the Opposition Front Bench, frowns, but quite clearly, in the present circumstances, a majority opinion should not be expressed because we all know that only the minority opinion, only the expression of desire of the minority of prosperous authors, is to be obeyed in the House at this moment. The majority, who happen to be taxpayers, are not to be supported. That is an irrelevancy at this moment—it should not be, but it is. The schedule, whose amendment I support, says of the Registrar:"is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown"
There is only one reason for putting such a statement in an Act of Parliament—that if it did not exist he would be a servant or agent of the Crown. In other words, not even the Civil Service of the United Kingdom believes in the existence of this Registrar—this Registrar of supposed public lending rights, but in fact private lending rights of a small minority. Not even the Civil Service wishes to tolerate the existence in its midst of a person collecting money from the taxpayers in order to pay it to a few private persons. We understand that. But the fact is that not only these people but all the members of all the quangos—of which there are very many—have escaped from the control of the House of Commons. They have escaped for a very simple reason—because we as a House have tolerated that escape. We have accepted the disappearance of people who are, in their hundreds of thousands, working on behalf of the State but are not described in various Acts as civil servants. Here we are creating a group of, in reality, civil servants, but in order to make sure that they are not civil servants by description within the meaning of the statistics, the schedule says, unless it is amended, that the Registrar"He is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown."
In other words, we are sitting here, in this House of Commons, saying "We know perfectly well what we are doing, but we must not allow anybody to believe it, we must not allow anybody to suspect it." Is it any wonder—and this is the really serious point about the amendment—that people outside have a few reservations about their system of government? Is it any wonder that there are people outside who say "Just because you do not count the servants of quangos amongst civil servants it does not follow that they are not paid by us, the taxpayers"? Is it any wonder that people have a view that the majority of this House, under any Government, may conceivably be hypocritical? I cannot see anything more hypocritical than creating a group of civil servants and proposing at the same time by law that they shall not be so described."is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown."
I rise with enthusiasm to support the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I am very anti-quango. I think that all Members of this House should be equally anti-quango. The hon. Gentleman has made a powerful case for the Minister of State to reconsider this proposition.I rise to demonstrate to the House that it is not just members of the two main parties but Members in all quarters of the House who resent this special creation of civil servants who are not to be regarded as civil servants. I ask the Minister of State to have second thoughts on the matter. It is most important for parliamentary democracy that he should do so.
I shall resist the amendment, and I disagree with the amount of drama about parliamentary democracy and so on which has been imported into the debate.First, I should make clear that this is not just an attempt by the Government to suppress information about Civil Service numbers or to reduce Civil Service numbers. Indeed, as regards the staff employed by the Registrar, although they would not count as civil servants their number would still be subject to scrutiny by the Civil Service Department. The reason behind the Government's proposal here is that the functions of this body are almost exclusively executive functions. The Registrar will have to establish and maintain the register. He will have to pay out money to authors who are eligible. He will have to reimburse libraries for their expenses. Moreover, the work itself will require some specialist staff—computer systems analysts, in particular, and statisticians—and some casual labour for peak periods. Clearly this is the kind of work, in the Government's opinion, which it would be cost-effective to hive off from a Government Department. That is the simple reason behind this line in the Bill. I should make one further point. I am not sure—I ask the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) to reflect on this—that it is desirable for a body of staff distributing money according to a set of rules to be civil servants themselves. Is it not better that they should do it at arm's length from Ministers?
Would the Minister suggest, then, that the staff of the Department of Health and Social Security should cease to be civil servants? They distribute money, too.
I shall seek leave to withdraw the amendment, but I must say that the Minister's answer was totally inadequate. If he examines it, he will, I believe, find that the points he made were quite contradictory, and the examples given by his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) about the executive activities of so many Departments really disprove his case.Nevertheless, although the Minister did not answer the point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Objection is taken. The amendment cannot be withdrawn. I shall therefore put the Question.
With the leave of the House, I propose to put the remaining five Government amendments together in one question.Amendments made: No. 63, in page 7, line 40, leave out from "to" to "under" in line 2 on page 8, and insert
"the approval of the Secretary of State as to their numbers; and their terms and conditions of service, and the remuneration and allowances payable to them, shall be such as the Registrar may determine.
No. 65, in page 8, line 9, at end insert "of". No. 66, in page 8, line 16, after second "the", insert(2) The Registrar may direct, in the case of persons appointed by him".
No. 67, in page 8, line 17, leave out "Secretary of State" and insert "Registrar". No. 68, in page 8, line 19, after "Act", insert"Secretary of State and the".
"(execpt paragraph 7 of this Schedule)"— [Mr. Oakes.]
Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.