§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
I beg to move,That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to bring their examination of public lending rights to an early conclusion.In calling attention to the lending of books by libraries without payment to their authors, I should like immediately to pay a tribute to the late A. P. Herbert, who died on 11th November after 20 years of vigorous and devoted campaigning to bring about this rectification of an injustice. He was a man of outstanding humour, integrity and independence of thought, and his death at the age of 81 will be a great loss not only to his profession but also to the nation which he served so admirably.
In the 20 years during which he campaigned he was assisted by many organisations and individuals, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James), who has shown great 798 tenacity and perseverance. The Society of Authors and the Publishers Association have played an immensely important part, as well as the Arts Council under the diligent direction of Lord Goodman, and Lord Eccles has given considerable encouragement in his recent pronouncements on the subject.
I will explain why I believe it is timely to discuss this matter. Lord Eccles last April set up a working party to consider this subject. The best information I have been able to obtain is that it is likely to report early in the New Year, perhaps as early as next January. Its terms of reference were to consider how any amendment of the Copyright Act, 1956, to add lending to the public to the acts restricted by copyright might be implemented.
The conclusions of the working party are to be embodied in a report to the Minister to help him decide whether amendment would be a practical and worthwhile step. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State when he intervenes, as I hope he will, will find it difficult to be precise, since he is, clearly, anxious to obtain the results of the working party before being specific. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is desirable for the Government to have Parliament's latest views on this subject as a necessary part of the backdrop against which they will come to their conclusions.
What is important and essential in discussing this subject is to make it clear that we are airing an injustice. It is very much to the credit and indeed to the glory of this House of Commons that we find time, albeit on a Friday morning, to discuss matters of injustice affecting on some occasions mere dozens of people and on others many millions. Nevertheless, whether the injustice be large or small, it is an injustice and we should concern ourselves with it in the first instance and primarily.
I emphasise that it is not merely an injustice and an unfairness—indeed, a wrong—but a matter which has been with us, and certainly has been in the consciousness of this House, for many years. There can be argument about how to administer and pay for the rectification which I hope we shall be making in the near future; but if we accept that there 799 is an unfairness, it follows that acceptance of the ends obliges us to will the means to achieve the rectification of that injustice.
Let me turn to the details and to the question of P.L.R., as it has come to be known; that is to say, the public lending right. What we are discussing is the right to payment for repeated use of an author's work either on the spot in a public lending library or on loan from such a library. In short, it is the right of an author to copyright protection. Lord Haldane once described copyright in the following wordsCopyright does not bestow a privilege on anyone. It provides protection for property.Today, we are dealing with the protection of literary property.
The case for a public lending right is not that authors are hard-up, which indeed many of them are. The case is not that musicians and composers have performing rights, or that actors get repeat fees, which indeed they do.
§ Mr. Gorst
Sometimes—if they are good enough. The case is that authors are entitled to be remunerated for public lending of copyright work.
So much for the background to public lending right over the last 20 years. Action on this matter becomes more necessary year by year because there is, as the late A. P. Herbert said, an "elephantiasis of borrowing", and it is accelerating. He added in the last work he wrote before his death:Works of art are by their very nature especially vulnerable to the thief".No one is more vulnerable to this form of theft than authors. It may be argued that they are to blame because they are so individualistic in their garrets that they do not know how to combine in a trade union to fight for their rights. But this is completely irrelevant.
Lord Goodman, in an introduction to a recently published work on the subject, wrote:Public lending right should be bestowed on authors as an act of simple justice. It is not an act of kindliness or generosity.Indeed, books give a living to everyone involved in their production and sale 800 except the authors. Surely something must be wrong if this is the case.
Let me give the House an idea of the scale on which this anomaly is operating. There is obviously unfairness when hundreds of thousands of borrowers—indeed, millions over a period of years—read books whose royalties are based on sales which very often are numbered merely in hundreds. Mr. Jack Dove, the Borough Librarian of Hove, has estimated that in 1969 about 550 million borrowings took place in this country. No doubt these figures have escalated in the intervening period, but at that time only £11 million was spent on buying books.
Another estimate suggests that for each copy bought privately by an individual buyer there may be two or perhaps three readers. Yet for each copy bought by a lending library some 50 or 60 readers exist; and then after a period of time the book may have to be rebound and perhaps a further 50 or 60 readers will have the opportunity of reading it. Therefore, between 50 and 150 readers may well have enjoyed one book from which one author will have received only one royalty payment.
May I give an example which has been brought to my attention in a letter sent to me earlier this week by an author in Surrey? He wrote to me at great length. I will not delay the House with the whole of his letter, but the significant points that he makes are these:I have published 15 books of various types since 1953, including an anthology, a book about university life, three career books for boys, a book about broadcasting, five detective stories, a school textbook and three social histories.… My most recent book … took four years to write and involved collecting the reminiscences of 1,200 people, so the expenses were very high.He goes on:The book has had 'rave' notices in every major newspaper and magazine and has, for a book of this price, £4.50, sold remarkably well.… One correspondent today said it took four months for her name to reach the top of the waiting list.… Yet on a copy read perhaps 50 times, of the one really major book I shall be able to write in my lifetime, I receive only one royalty.That cannot be right.
Regrettably, there are some ignorant and deplorable attitudes to be found among ill-informed members of the public on the subject. For example, it 801 is sometimes said that the more of the garret that a writer gets, the better it does him. It is also said that anyone can write if he tries: and, anyway, authors do not have to be authors; they can find another living if they want to. But I doubt whether there is anything to beat the letter written to the Evening Standard and quoted by A. P. Herbert in his memoirs. The lady wrote:Writers need to be kept hungry to write more. What good book was ever written on a full stomach?I am no expert on writing books, and certainly I do not know whether they have been written on full or empty stomachs, but one wonders, regardless of whether the writer of a book had a full stomach, whether his wife and children were expected to have empty stomachs as well.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
My hon. Friend may remember that it was Sir Alan who, in one of his musicals, wrote the little quatrain:As my poor father used to sayIn 1863,Once people start on all this ArtGoodbye, moralitee!
§ Mr. Gorst
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising my point.
If we grant, as I believe reasonable people do today, that there is a right which should be respected, if we grant that it is a question not any longer of "whether" but of "how" and "when", we must address ourselves to a further question. Who is to pay the money which is to find its way back to the author and perhaps the publisher as well? Should it go on being the author? Should it be the borrower? Should it be the ratepayer who supports the municipal library? Should it be the taxpayer, through a grant from the Government?
Again I quote Lord Goodman, who makes this point extremely effectively:… concern that the 'free library' should be maintained is a viewpoint worthy of respect. … But if the cost of the libraries requires a fee it will not be because of the Public Lending Right, which is merely a proper expense to be met out of the libraries' budget in exactly the same way as the cost of clearing or repairs to the roof. If a cleaner or a workman repairing the roof were asked to provide services free of charge in order to preserve free lending, it would be interesting to observe the reactions when this proposal was made.Clearly, it is anomalous and unjust that the authors of books should be expected 802 to bear the cost of the free library service.
I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of the various options which are open. Obviously, it is on that, among other matters, that the working party will advise the Minister. Perhaps it would be desirable to wait until its report is available. But surely an author's entitlement to recompense is unaffected by who it is decided should pay for it.
As I say, I do not intend to rehearse the merits or demerits of how this matter should be administered. Nevertheless, whatever system is introduced must show concern for certain interested parties. First, I should hate to see any system which denied the elderly and old-age pensioners the opportunity to go into libraries and make free use of the works there. Secondly, whatever the system is, I should hate anything to be arranged which deprived genuine students of the opportunity to have total access to works of reference for learning purposes. Thirdly, whatever the system is, I hope very much that proper consideration will be given to the fact that older authors and those who are newly launched are the most vulnerable and the most in need of any royalties which may be available.
When we are considering a right, I do not believe that we should make any distinction between fiction and serious writing. On the other hand, when the Government come to decide who should pay and how the payment should be made, it may be arguable that the Government might be required to make such a distinction, assuming always that it is feasible to do so.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
The hon. Gentleman says that we should not make a distinction between fiction and serious writing. Does he not consider fiction to be serious writing? Will he recall Shakespeare and Thackeray and perhaps reconsider what he has just said?
§ Mr. Gorst
The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) will recall that I said that no distinction should be made between fiction and serious writing when it comes to paying a right. On the other hand, when the Government 803 come to consider this, I am not sure that "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" is to be put on the same level as the works of Shakespeare, though it may be that they have certain features in common at some stages of the writing.
I concede fully that the problems of definition and the difficulty of drawing a dividing line may rule out the possibility. However, I understand that about 70 per cent. of the usage of books in libraries is what might loosely be described as borrowings of fiction rather than of works of reference or serious books. I concede that there is a problem of distinction, which may mean that we should try to avoid it altogether.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
Before my hon. Friend leaves this interesting point, will he consider the technical problems of book production in discussing the reward that an author should receive? The price of a hard-back book is contributed to largely by the cost of production. Since my hon. Friend raises an interesting distinction between serious and non-serious works, does not the non-serious inevitably end up in a soft-back edition? Therefore, should not any assistance be limited to hard-back books?
§ Mr. Gorst
That is an interesting point, but I shall not follow my hon. Friend down that path. I am not a publishing expert. I believe that this is a serious problem which is being considered by the working party. I should much sooner hear and read what the working party has to say about it.
Apart from the interests and views of the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, there are views coming from the librarians themselves which are important to bear in mind. In fairness to the Library Association, perhaps I might quote its reservations on the subject. Writing to the Librarian of the House of Commons on 25th November, the Library Association referred to the Government's policy to make changes to the Copyright Act, and said:… the inevitable effect will be that libraries will be required to pay more for their books, probably because of the imposition of a lending surcharge. The effect will certainly be a reduction in the number of books bought, and a consequent worsening of the services which 804 libraries are required to provide… the simplest and fairest solution is for publishers to make a small increase in the price of all books for the benefit of authors.… The publishers suggest that this solution would be unfair to the private buyer, but there are two answers to this.The association goes on:First of all, it is incorrect to suggest that readers are divided into two separate segments—borrowers of books and buyers of books. In fact, most people who borrow also buy and most people who buy also borrow. So it is only a question out of which pocket the reader has to pay.I do not agree. I seldom borrow, and, if I borrow, I seldom return. I hate lending, because I never get back what I lend. I am acquisitive by nature concerning books and I buy and hoard them. Where books are concerned, I believe that Shakespeare, to whom reference was made earlier, was absolutely right when he wrote,Neither a borrower nor a lender be.My advice to the librarians would be to promote the idea that everybody should be buyers and keepers.
I pass to my final point, which is: when will this public lending right be implemented? The report of the working party is expected early in the new year. I think it perfectly reasonable that the Minister will want to consider representations from different interested parties and have further consultations. Since the working party will have been in existence for nine months, I think it reasonable that the Minister may want nine months as well. After he has had his consultations with the Society of Authors, the Publishers Association, the Library Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Arts Council and all the other interested bodies, I hope that he will feel it possible, at the end of the next year, to give the authors a Christmas present for 1972 which will at least concede their right.
I recognise that there are many obstacles, difficulties and problems which have to be solved. They are both financial and legal. No doubt they require a definition of what a library is. Are we talking about public libraries only, or will school libraries and any other kind of library be involved? There are administrative problems to be considered as well. However, I think that after 20 years enough has been said to expect an early decision on the matter.
805 I earnestly hope that when the Under-Secretary intervenes he will feel able, on behalf of the Government, to accept this Motion. Public lending right is a good and just cause. Let it not be bedevilled by arguments, disputes or doubts over finance or how it will be administered.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has given us an opportunity once again of airing this real problem in this Chamber.
The wisdom of Lord Goodman has been much invoked, in some quarters at least, during the past week or so. I remind hon. Members, as did the hon. Gentleman, of some of the less publicised but certainly more valuable wisdom of the noble Lord on more domestic matters and of less ambiguous principle than in the case of Southern Rhodesia. These wise words were written by Lord Goodman in an introduction to a book on public lending right which was published earlier this year:It seems to me as plain as the nose on my face that it is a social wrong to allow a book still in copyright to be borrowed from a public library either free or on payment without any payment of any kind to the living author. A great deal of sophistry has been wasted in obscuring this simple situation.That sophistry, as Lord Goodman termed it, has been going on for years, and it is not difficult to see that if some people have their way it will continue and that this social wrong, as he termed it, will go on being tolerated.
There really must be no more excuses and delays. This injustice to the nation's authors has got to be corrected. Lord Eccles must act at once when the working party reports. I am not very happy about the period of gestation of nine months which has been suggested. It may be the natural term, but I think that Lord Eccles should be forced to gestate a little quicker.
§ Mr. Faulds
I assume that that is not in the morality of the Member of the Upper House whom we are discussing.
The question of public lending right has been debated for more than 20 years both in and out of Parliament. As the hon. Member for Hendon, North said, it was that great author, A.P.H., who 806 helped most of all to push this matter into the limelight. I came across a verse of Sir Alan's the other day, written in the early 1950s, which ended with the line:You read a book a hundred times, and pay the writer once.That is a good way of summing up the scandal. Because it is a scandal, let us make no mistake about that. During the two decades since it was first widely ventilated, its correction has become even more important for the independence and welfare of our authors and, indeed, for the freedom and vitality of our natural literature.
The pattern of publishing has changed at an accelerating pace—from hard-back to paper-back, from home sales to export sales. Public libraries have expanded at an astonishing rate. The old commercial libraries have virtually disappeared. Yet we have to go on reminding ourselves of this unpalatable fact which still exists—
§ Mr. Faulds
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman should have made that point. Of the many points which I shall mention in a fairly brief speech, that was not one I had intended to raise. It is true, but I should like to return to my argument.
It is an unpalatable fact with which we still live—I do not know that most hon. Members even realise it—that most authors earn from their books less than half of the average national wage. Most authors are exploited, in effect, by the community. Most authors subsidise the public library system, and most people, both in and out of this House, still take that for granted.
It is not for lack of effort by a determined minority, especially by the Society of Authors with support from the Publishers Association, that P.L.R. is still not recognised. Certainly there has been a good deal of lobbying and debate in Parliament. You, Mr. Speaker, will remember, I am sure, that there was a Private Member's Bill in 1956 which 807 sought to amend the Public Libraries Act, 1892. Ten years ago—you had the privilege of being in the House then; I did not: I joined you a little later-140 hon. Members on both sides of the House signed a Motion urging the Government to wake up on the question of P.L.R. Attempts were made—unsuccesfully, unfortunately—to do something in 1964 during the passage of the Public Libraries and Museums Bill.
In recent years, when Baroness Lee was in the Paymaster-General's Office, with Lord Goodman at the Arts Council, things at last began to move in the Ministries. Four years ago, in October, 1967, the Department of Education and Science accepted a report from an Arts Council working party which advocated the annual payment by the Government of a lending royalty based on the stock of books in copyright held by the libraries. There were delays, there were protests, there were counter protests, deputations, conferences, and so on.
In 1969 the Department of Education and Science proposed another scheme because of the opposition to its former one, this time based on library purchases. For every book bought, the library would pay a second public lending rights fee for use; but the money would come, as in the first Arts Council scheme, from the Government, not from the rates, nor from the borrowers themselves.
That scheme, too, was stonewalled. The librarians would not wear it, so the Arts Council's working party last year put up yet another scheme leaving out the librarians, who would not join in. This time it proposed a lending royalty of 15 per cent. on all in-copyright books, calculated at the point of sale to libraries. As before, the money would come from a central Government fund—probably about £2 million a year—and not from the rates or from the borrowers.
That scheme was produced last October. Meanwhile, the Paymaster-General had taken over from Baroness Lee.
§ Mr. Faulds
We would not all, I think, echo that sentiment, but the hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion. As I am 808 sure the House will remember, Lord Eccles said about P.L.R. when he took overGive me three months, and we will do something.That was in the days of governmental action "at a stroke". We have since seen that it is governmental action which causes the nation to have a stroke. It was at his first Press conference that Lord Eccles called P.L.R. a hot potato. Perhaps that is why he dropped it pretty smartly.
It was not until seven months later, after the publication of a crusading book on P.L.R. edited by Richard Findlater, that doughty champion, and the notice of a Private Member's Motion on the subject by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James), that Lord Eccles actually did something. He invited a delegation to call on him, in a friendly tea-party sort of arrangement, three days before the Motion tabled by the hon. Member for Dorset, North was due to be debated in the House.
Over the tiny tinkle of teacups what he told the delegation, which was led by Lord Goodman, was that the Government would not put up any money for a central P.L.R. fund, but what they would do would be to consider the possibility of changing the law, changing, to be precise, the Copyright Act, 1956, by an Amendment adding lending to the public to the acts restricted by copyright—not a great job to carry out in a matter as fundamental as this to the livelihood of authors. So another working party was assembled, and that is the one whose report we are awaiting. The waiting game goes on. If it goes on for long enough, perhaps it will not be Lord Eccles who will be around to do anything about anything.
Meanwhile this national scandal continues at the nation's libraries. An author is paid once, and once only, a royalty of a few shillings for a book which up to a hundred or more of his fellow citizens may use before it eventually falls apart and is then rebound for further use.
Why is it taking so long to stop this obvious injustice? One main reason is that this injustice, like other injustices, survives because people are used to it. Readers brought up on the public library system cannot imagine what it would be like without books free, on the rates, as 809 a community service. There is a natural assumption that authors are getting a fair whack. In fact, I suspect that in many people's minds, in spite of recent publicity to the contrary, the image of an author lingers on as a member of the leisured classes "coining money from a hobby", somebody who can afford to let people read his books for nothing.
Most trade unionists would threaten an immediate strike if they were offered the kind of pay which most professional authors—best sellers apart—get for the amount of work they put into their books. But professional book-writers are only a tiny handful of individualists. They have their own professional association, the Society of Authors, but they cannot take "industrial action". They cannot withdraw their labour collectively, they cannot strike, for if they did it would be a very long strike indeed, probably of years, before the librarians would take much notice.
Another reason why this injustice remains is that, as with any other injustice, to remove it demands time and money. The money has to come from the Government, and I hope that the Minister is keeping his ears very perky. The Government have to be interested in the welfare of the nation's authors—I hope that the Minister will remember that—and in the vitality of the nation's literature, and I hope that the Minister will remember that, too.
But the Government also have to get a workable scheme going, and here I come to another main reason for the long delay in the implementation of P.L.R. That reason is the attitude of the librarians. We should remember that throughout the last two decades librarians have resisted the whole idea of P.L.R.—not individual librarians, many of whom are firm supporters of the principle, but librarians as a body, collectively. They have set their face, stony hard, against it. They have persistently refused even to discuss it with authors and publishers until recently. The climate has apparently changed, and we are all delighted that it has. Librarians are now on the working party, but when the public debate begins in 1972 it is important that their embattled resistance should be remembered, a resistance on which many librarians look back, I hope, with some regret and shame.
810 Why did the Library Association oppose the idea of P.L.R. for so long? One way of explaining it is that they were scared that any concession to this claim, the slightest nod to the authors, would cut the money available for expansion or rebuilding, developing auxiliary services, improving salaries and working conditions, let alone the buying of books. Nobody disputes that they need more money. One may sympathise with their natural concern to protect the library service, to improve and expand it, but not, surely, any longer at the expense of the authors, the primary producers, the people on whose labour the whole system ultimately depends?
Yet it does not need too much expertise with the crystal ball to foresee that one main attack on the P.L.R. proposals in a few weeks, whatever they are, will be based on the suggestion that they are bound to endanger the best library service in the world. That is absurd. The service must not be damaged, and there is no reason why it should be, if the Government have a proper concern for the country's authors and literature, as well as for its libraries.
There is no reason why the Government should be allowed to put forward such a possibility as the excuse for doing nothing, for continuing to ignore the elementary right of British authors. The Government should take the necessary action to safeguard the public library service from the consequences of their own ill-advised economic policies. They should make clear to local authorities, at the earliest possible opportunity, that whatever scheme is approved the principle of P.L.R. will be accepted by the Government, but not at the expense of the library service—that cash for authors will be extra.
From where is the money to come? How is P.L.R. to be paid for? For a start, we must reaffirm one essential point, that the money is not to come from borrowers. Our public library system is a great system, and one of the greatest things about it is that it is, in effect, free. The borrower may pay fines and reservation fees, but the ratepayer helps to meet the bills. Fundamentally, public library reading is free, and that is the way it must stay. To start charging for admission to our libraries as well as our museums and public galleries would be 811 an act of folly conspicuous even by the standards of this Government.
Clearlyx2014;I am sorry to have to say this—it is an act to which Lord Eccles must be sorely tempted. It would fit in with his whole doctrinaire approach, with the doctrinaire approach of the Government, indeed, of making the people pay on principle—not the principle of public lending rights but the principle simply of Tory bloody-mindedness. "Stop free reading, stop free milk, stop pampering them, they are getting away with too much"—we all know that line of thought only too well.
It would be a monstrous injustice, because it is the elderly, the housebound, the widowed and the old-age pensioners who probably make most use of our public library service. It is that low income group who would have to pay for the privilege of reading. This applies also to the student, of whatever age. Most of us go on being students for most of our lives, and that is just as well.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am glad to have that agreement, which I notice came only from this side of the House. Students of all ages would have to pay for their studies.
It would not do to be too apprehensive about any such nonsense, because there appeared in recent years to be a bipartisan policy in this matter. The Tories have appeared to agree with us in the past that the principle of the free library service should not be broken and that the borrower should not be charged directly.
But, in view of Lord Eccles' battering of our museums and galleries, there is, clearly, a danger that he will try to persuade Parliament that it should treat our public libraries in the same way, that the precedent has been established, that one wrong should compound another. I am sure that the House knows better.
Certainly, on this side we are firmly and passionately opposed to any manipulation of this issue to extend still further the wrong-headed, mean-spirited Government policy in those fields. It is not in this way that the justice of the authors' case, undeniable but long denied, can at last be satisfied. The community must 812 give the author a proper reward for the use of his books, a rightful return. This could be done locally and centrally.
One obvious way is that the Exchequer should make available for distribution to authors through some lending right authority an annual fund of, say, a couple of million pounds. This was ruled out by Lord Eccles last February, but the fact that he ruled it out then does not mean that he would rule it out now or, of course, that it will be ruled out for ever. Indeed, it must not be ruled out in February next year. Surely we cannot go on pretending, at this stage in our development, that this country cannot afford the cost of a couple of miles of motorway to restore justice to our authors.
This central fund seems in our view a simpler and more equitable method than to put the costs on the local rates. That way, I think, invites much greater dangers of bureaucratic complexities—and none of us wants those. It invites inflating costs, municipal cheeseparing—and, my God, with Tory councillors, we can guarantee that that will happen—and ministerial pressures on local freedoms. Public funds must provide for the public service which authors provide; the funds must come from the Government. The Government must meet that extra bill.
Our late, great Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Laughter.]—he is still with us, thank God—my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) is on record as having told the Publishers Association that he would have been a willing party to Treasury subvention in this matter in an easier economic climate. Granted that this is a big "if"—that the economy is not once again wrecked by hon. Members opposite—I have no doubt that a future Labour Chancellor will sympathetically appraise his purse, untie the strings and provide the central funding needed.
This is not the time and place, and I do not intend to use it as such, to discuss how the money must be distributed. We must await the working party report. Of course there will be difficulties of definition, procedure, collection and administration, but the difficulties are there only to be overcome. They have been canvassed frequently enough in the last 20 years. Others will undoubtedly be 813 discovered, even invented, in the coming weeks. What is essential is that the hypothesis of difficulty, as well as the complexity of the facts, should no longer be the excuse for inaction, apathy and further, yet further, delay.
I should like to quote two expert witnesses. First, Lord Goodman said that he wasamply satisfied from a careful study of this matter over the years"—no one has given it a more careful study—that a scheme can be devised which will involve no unfair burden on librarians, and will restore justice to writers.My other witness is the librarian mentioned by the hon. Member for Hendon, North, Mr. Jack Dove, a Fellow of the Library Association. He said earlier this year that he hadnever accepted the argument that any proposal would be too difficult to administer. There is always the procedure to fit any scheme.I understand that the working party report is expected to land in Lord Eccles' lap very shortly. I hope that, when he has read it, he will not push it under his cushion. I hope that he will treat it as a matter of public concern and considerable urgency. I hope, particularly, that he will not pigeon-hole it for months to come. That is where I am not happy about the mention of nine months. It is important that it should be made available right away to the Society of Authors, the Publishers Association, the Library Association and all the other bodies concerned, for immediate and open discussion—not least, this House.
One very important thing should be remembered. We are talking not about subsidies, hand-outs or a dole for authors, but about a right. It is important to remember this when Lord Eccles releases the new report and the discussion begins all over again.
What is needed now is recognition that the principle of public lending rights has been accepted. Methods and mechanisms have been carefully debated in the past and will be debated in the future, but there should be no debate any longer about the principle. Lord Eccles, to be fair to him, has done some good by directing the librarians and local authorities to sit down at the same table with the publishers and the authors, but that directive was unfortunately 814 limited to considering an amendment—that is all—to the Copyright Act, 1956. What we on this side would like to see is a clear and unambiguous acknowledgment by the Government of the justice of the authors' cause and an indication that the principle will be put into practice within the coming year.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) for raising a matter which is not only urgent but overdue and, as was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Andrew Faulds), an act of major social justice.
The hon. Member asked why we treat this matter differently from other questions of social justice on which both the law and the public are quick to act. It is perhaps because we have a somewhat strange ambivalent attitude in this country towards books. This came out subconsciously in the speech of my hob Friend when he said at one stage that if he borrowed them, he kept them. This is very much the attitude of all of us, that books are not like other chattels and once one has one's hands on them, they stay.
In the same way, as what we would all be swift to see as theft if it involved the borrowing of a £1 note or a motorcar does not apply to books, so it appears that for a long time in public we have had a totally different attitude towards what is, in effect, the theft of ideas, the propagating of ideas on which no royalty has been paid to the author save the original royalty.
There is an interesting and perhaps illuminating story in the circumstances that used to be told of the late Sir W. S. Gilbert, who was frequently approached by charitable bodies asking whether he would waive the normal copyright fee when they were putting on a charitable performance of one of the Savoy operas. His invariable answer in the circumstances was, "If you tell me that the maker of the costumes, the maker of the scenery and the cast are giving their services free, you can have my words; but if not, I do not see why I should not be paid like all the other tradesmen". It is against that background that the problem has to be faced.
815 How in fact is it to be rectified? I should like to proceed from the point at which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North, stopped by addressing myself to three questions. First, how is the money to be raised? Secondly, how is it to be collected? Thirdly, how is it to be distributed? It is important that we should accept once and for all the principle that this arrangement is not in any way a Prix Goncourt, or a donation to needy authors or anything of that sort. This is simply money to which they are entitled. Equally, we must accept that the money must be distributed right across the board irrespective of the merit or talent of the works involved.
Three possibilities as to how the money should be raised have been canvassed and considered so far. Although not accepting the complicated baroque mythology that lies behind so much of his deep labyrinthine relationship towards my noble Friend the Paymaster-General, I fully agree with the hon. Member for Smethwick that it would be a totally wrong approach if charges on the individual were involved. I agree with him both on the moral ground and on what I regard as the secondary ground, that the individuals have already paid for the books in the first place, because it is out of their rates that the books have been bought. It would be totally wrong, as the hon. Member said, for the cost to fall simply on those sectors of the population who could not only not afford to buy books but who are often the elderly and the lonely, who most often need books.
However, I do not agree with the hon. Member's preference for it to be done by Government subvention rather than through the rates. Weighing up the pros and cons of those two courses and accepting the figure he quoted—£2 million spread over all authorities, which seems probably a fair figure—I think it would be pointless to dip into the existing amounts of public money available for the arts when, as he and I know, that is difficult when there are other claims by so many needy causes on such sums as are available, thereby reducing the total available for other forms of artistic enterprise. There is a feeling throughout the country that Government subvention 816 as such is not necessarily a good thing in itself and that it is becoming too much of a be-all and end-all answer to all our problems when we do not know how to deal with a situation.
The rates seem admirably suited to the purpose for two reasons. First, it is the local authorities who in any case are charged with providing libraries, and it is they who buy the books in the first place. Why should not local authorities not only pay for the books, but pay the extra money to which we believe the author is entitled?
Secondly, if the sum of £2 million is spread over the complex of local authorities—I have no doubt that I shall get many letters from Ipswich telling me that anything which puts up the rates in any way is bad—there is practically no effect on the rates and the amount involved would not go nearly as far. Some local authorities now do not use their existing right to spend some of the rates on the arts. The effect on the individual ratepayer would be comparatively small if not unnoticeable. At the same time, if we dip into the Exchequer for £2 million, some other forms of art, with which some of us are deeply concerned, may have to suffer.
This leaves the difficulty of how such a sum would be collected. This problem could be approached on a double basis. The first is by a system of capitation on the number of lendings per year. These figures are already available to public libraries throughout the country. It would have to be remembered that a number of reference books are maintained in the appropriate section of a library and I should like there to be a capitation levy, the money being paid into a central fund administered by the Society of Authors or some other body representative of authors as a whole.
The second part of the problem is how such sums are to be distributed. We already have a rough and ready but useful type of example in the way in which lists of best-selling books are already prepared for the Press, or the way in which the top 20 pop records are chosen. The system of categorising books which I suggest as a basis would be to have four categories which would automatically carry with them a certain amount of the money raised by the capitation, and that could be done very 817 easily by using a series of libraries as typical examples of how many borrowings occur. They could be periodically changed as bookshops are now changed when choosing best sellers, or gramophone and music shops are changed when preparing lists for the top 20.
There is enormous will in the House and in the country as a whole that something should be done about this matter. One turns with interest and regret to the number of debates over the last 20 years, the number of Motions and the number of Questions on the subject. They have met with tremendous good will from both sides of the House. As the two hon. Members who have preceded me have said, it seems that good will is not enough because, with our curious morality on books, books can always be left to end of the queue.
Unlike the hon. Member for Smethwick, I believe that the Paymaster-General, who was one of the first people to have done anything about this in recent years in Parliament, will see this through. I hope that when it goes through, a scheme will be evolved which will not only be fair to the authors but will fall on the public in the way that will be most fair to them in honouring their obligations.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), who has made a constructive speech. I think that this reference to the idea of a capitation fee, which I shall refer to later, and which is very significant in the computer age, is likely to disarm a lot of the hostility from librarians who, originally, were opposed to public lending right to the extent that they themselves might have to implement its administration because of the amount of detailed work involved.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst)—he is not in his place but I congratulate him in his absence—first of all on having introduced this important subject, a subject with which he dealt with insight and sympathy. He will have the gratitude not only of the House and of the authors themselves, but of a vastly greater number of people. The question of public lending right touches not only a small group of interested authors, among whom I include 818 myself, but a vastly greater number of people—those who read and borrow books. When we consider that last year there were 400 million borrowings from libraries, we can realise how vast is the circumference of those touched by this subject and whose interests are involved. I say, right at the outset, that this is not simply a professional interest that we are debating today but a consumer interest, the interest of the public at large.
I have, like my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds), some considerable reservations about Lord Eccles' attitude to the arts, and any proposals which come from him, while being treated with appropriate objectivity, must I feel, be examined with a certain amount of reserve. It was, after all, Lord Eccles who introduced museum charges, and I cannot help feeling that in the case of the Minister for Culture—paradoxically, when he hears the word "culture" he reaches for his turnstile—we must look closely at any ultimate proposal that he will make in order as he has sometimes put it, to assist authors.
§ Mr. Edelman
I do not want to engage in an outright denunciation of the noble Lord, whom I have known for many years and whose interest in the arts I respect. What I object to is his approach to the public concern with the arts; his approach has always been on the one hand élitist and on the other mercenary. It is because of these two conflicting attitudes that I feel that anything that he is concerned with in this matter must be viewed with a certain reserve.
My hon. Friend, at the opening of the debate, very properly said that we are today concerned with justice for the author. We want to secure not charity, not what the Foreign Secretary once called a donation, but that those who work in the craft of letters are entitled to have the benefit of the use of their intellectual property. This is neither more nor less than the author seeks.
819 I am glad that in the course of this debate the idea has been exploded that somehow or other the fact that the author has the distinction of having his work published in itself should be his reward and he should not seek further and remoter rewards, or that if he does he is somehow greedy. My hon. Friend referred properly to the fact that the average earnings of those who live by writing books—and I am not here referring to journalism—are about half the average national wage. There are very few people who write books who earn in any given year much more than £500. The glamorous idea of an author as being a person with a yacht in the south of France and a villa in Bermuda, or somewhere else, is a completely false, heightened picture of the rewards of authorship. Publishers are very hardheaded men. They are not benefactors, they are not patrons; they are businessmen, concerned with what the author will earn for them, and rightly so. Authorship is a craft but publishing is a trade. It may be, as it has sometimes been described in the past, a trade for gentlemen, but the gentlemen in the publishing trade are concerned with earning profits for their company, if it be a public company, and there is no sentiment involved; they want to get the maximum they can out of the author.
The author faces another barrier to his prosperity—his agent. The agent claims his 10 per cent. or, if there is a foreign sale, sometimes 20 per cent., and gradually the rewards of writing are whittled away.
There are those who have honourably championed the cause of P.L.R.—the Publishers Association, the Society of Authors, and various individuals like John Brophy, in particular, are authors who have not been mentioned, but he was one of the first to put forward the idea of P.L.R. in the form of Brophy's Penny. These are the people who are championing the cause of authors who, being individualists, have in the past been unable adequately to concert their action to claim the right which they have to the use of that which they have created.
I mentioned that last year there were 400 million borrowings. I thought that the hon. Member for Hendon, North somewhat underestimated in his excellent 820 speech the average number of borrowings per book of an individual author. Here I give one example, which I took not at random but as representative of the average moderately selling author whose book is taken into the public library. I am obliged to the librarian of the Marylebone public library for giving me this information. I asked him for details of the borrowings last year of the author I have mentioned. He said that at present 107 books of this author were held by the Marylebone public library. On 30th November, a few days ago, 69 were on loan and the remaining 38 had been on loan 433 times in the last 12 months; that is, about once a month each. All the 107 copies of this author are, therefore, on loan about 1,250 times each year.
It is a remarkable fact that, despite that extremely large figure—there are about 11,000 public libraries in the country; I am not, of course, saying that it should be multiplied 11,000 times, though it should certainly be multiplied many times in terms of borrowings—the author receives absolutely no benefit whatever from his intellectual effort. Moreover, after having, perhaps, exhausted himself on producing such a constellation of books, he may not be able to repeat the effort, since authors, like everyone else, tend to have less dynamism in production as they grow older.
Here are people who, having given up or, rather, had taken from them their copyright in a way which has been denounced today, are left without any pension, without any rights in their property for the future, for it may well be that a book will never be reprinted, and without any reserves from all the intellectual effort which they put into their work of writing books which continue to be borrowed and read, perhaps, tens of thousands of times.
I believe that that is a typical example of those about whom we are concerned today. Above all, in our general attitude to the problem we should concern ourselves with the young author and the older author. A young author comes on the scene and writes a book, but he, like any other, may not repeat his initial success. Although that book is borrowed countless times, he has no benefit from it. This is a question, therefore, of elementary justice for the author, and the public lending right principle should be applied in one way or the other.
§ Mr. Gorst
Perhaps it will both interest and fascinate the hon. Gentleman to know that only the day before yesterday in the House of Commons Library I could not help seeing one of his own hon. Friends reading a book, which he was halfway through, on the front cover of which the name of the author appeared—Maurice Edelman.
§ Mr. Edelman
—but it was not my purpose to advertise them today. I wish merely to illustrate the general problem, though I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) kindly suggest that people should buy them. In parenthesis, perhaps I may say that for me personally one great merit of today's debate is that perhaps for the first time in the House for a very long time, both in the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, North and in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick, not so much the merit of the author but the merit of the book as such has been put in proper perspective and accorded proper respect. Anyone who walks through the streets of London nowadays knows that if he sees a sign "Books" it means dirty books and if he sees a shop which is blazing with light and professing to sell the works of authors it is probably an insalubrious place and certainly nothing to the credit of either literature or publishing.
I welcome, therefore, the way in which this debate has elevated the merit and status of the book as such. I regard this as something which must be considered as going hand-in-hand with the status of the author.
I am glad that it has been emphasised time and again that authors are not asking for charity. They are asking for a right. This right has hitherto been frustrated, partly on administrative grounds. Very properly protecting their own interests, librarians have said, "We will not have this extra work foisted on us. If the author has his rights, it should not be at the expense of the rights of librarians." That argument was advanced at the opening of this general discussion—not today but 20 years or so ago—by 822 the librarians in a context, as I said before, in which all the information would have to be collated by the librarians, by library clerks and so on. Now, however, with the computer it should be possible to run a capitation system such as the hon. Member for Ipswich suggested.
I believe that a capitation system relating payment to the author to the number of borrowings which he has would be much better than any sort of system which put patronage in the hands of the Government. One of my reasons for resisting the idea of the Government having responsibility for an Exchequer donation to a fund from which authors would be paid is that it would smack excessively of Government discrimination. There has in the past been criticism, sometimes unfair, of the Arts Council for the way in which it has exerted its patronage. I would not want to see any system by which the Government of the day, whichever Government it might be, had the power of discrimination, power to withhold supplies from authors whom, through the fund, they would be able in some measure to dominate and control.
§ Mr. Edelman
Indeed, it would. It is of the same order, and I am glad to agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons why I have in the past been openly opposed to the idea of a Government subsidy to newspapers is that it would give the Government of the day the opportunity to manipulate news and information. Equally, I do not want to see any kind of State system or State control of authors such as one sees in the totalitarian countries. As we all know, the most powerful means of controlling anyone engaged in any kind of public service is to hold power over the purse. Therefore, I should much prefer a system by which authors receive the benefits to which they are entitled through the rating system, where a form of local democracy is in operation, rather than through an Exchequer grant.
True, there are local authorities in which the philistines dominate and in which spending on reading or on the plastic arts is always right at the bottom of the list of priorities in expenditure. Nevertheless, I feel that the general sense 823 of the local library, so to speak, the sense of the local public who use the library, for whom it is an affectionately regarded focal point, should be enough to stimulate local authorities and encourage them to provide adequate resources from which the author can obtain by capitation related to the number of borrowings the fee to which he is entitled.
I have touched on the question of patronage. I want to say something now about the timing of what we hope to receive from the Government. Nine months ahead is far too long. In this connection, perhaps I may quote from what Dr. Johnson wrote to Lord Chesterfield on the subject of patronage. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State knows it well. Lord Eccles is today's great patron of the arts, as Lord Chesterfield was in his own day. Doctor Johnson wrote to Lord Chesterfield:Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern at a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it till I am known, and do not want it.I am sure that what Dr. Johnson said to Lord Chesterfield many thousands of silent authors would like to say to Lord Eccles. Young and old, they would say that they are asking for the rights for which they have been clamouring over many years. But the time factor is of the greatest importance.
There are today many authors who are destitute, many authors who were—and, indeed, to some extent are—household names but are dependent on grants from literary funds. These men could be saved not only from poverty but from the humiliation of the position in which they find themselves today if only their properties and the rights in those properties were attributed to them as they should be. I hope that it is in that sense, in the sense that authors are asking for their rights and not for philanthropy, that the Minister will give a sympathetic reply today.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I am particularly glad to follow the hon. 824 Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) in debate because his novels have given me more pleasure than I can easily say. Before I became a Member of the House, my entire knowledge of this place was gleaned—I do not know how accurately—from what he wrote. Without embarrassing him, perhaps I can say that almost every day I sit in this Chamber I think of one of his novels in which one of the characters points out that the words used in the House at about half-past three—"The Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day"—can be sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body".
I should like, with diffidence, to declare a certain interest in this matter, because I have knocked together one or two books and, if the Motion is accepted by the Government, it will possibly help me to earn a few more honest pennies. However, that is not my reason for intervening in the debate. Also I was in the publishing business for a few years before becoming a Member.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) on moving his Motion which, I think we all agree, advocates something which is long overdue. Perhaps the only point of difference between my hon. Friend and myself is this. He talked about the distinction between "fiction and serious writing". For myself I think that "Anna Karenina" is worth every volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
I do not wish to go into the methods of imbursement of authors. Many excellent ways have been suggested. Cornputerisation raises possibilities of showing just what can be done, but I do not wish to go into them now. However, it might be helpful if I were to give one or two figures relating to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill author of a novel—not an author like the hon. Member for Coventry, North but someone who adds to the gaiety of nations and perhaps does not get a lot of money from it.
If 700 copies of a novel were sold to public libraries, I think that the publisher would be reasonably gratified. Let us suppose that the novel is priced at £2, for the sake of mathematical simplicity, giving a gross figure of £1,400 generated by the sale of the book to the public libraries. The usual method of paying an author on a royalty basis is to give 825 him about 10 per cent. of the published price. Of course it varies from deal to deal, but basically 10 per cent. on a hard-back book is normal. Therefore, the author would get £140 from the sale of 700 copies of his book to the libraries. If he gets another £140 from sales to the general public, he is in my opinion pretty lucky. Therefore, if he grosses £250 from the sale of his novel he should not be altogether disappointed.
Let us compare that £140 with what I might call the potential sum of which an author is deprived because of the sales of his book to public libraries. The 700 library copies might, in each case, be read by 20 people in a year. Some interesting figures have been mentioned today showing the number of people who borrow books from public libraries which vary between fiction and works of reference. But if in the first year of publication a book is taken out once a fortnight from public libraries the author might be gratified, if not by the reward, by the interest in his work.
Of those 20 readers in 700 public libraries, 25 per cent. would perhaps say that if they had to buy the book themselves they would not have put down £2 for it. We might equally say that another 25 per cent. of those readers would say, "I will wait for it to come out in paper-back form." This is one reason why I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science will not accept the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) who spoke about paper-backs. Paper-back rights are one of the bonuses for an author of which he must not be deprived if legislation on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend is passed.
On the basis therefore that a further 25 per cent. of the people would not have bought the book because they would wait for it to come out in paper-back form, 700 books at £2 in public libraries read by 10 people comes to £14,000, and 10 per cent. of this is £1,400. The difference between £1,400 and £140 is the difference between total penury and the ability to earn a reasonable living. Of course there would be further royalties, but they would diminish year after year. This illustrates very well the gap between what happens now and what could happen.
§ Mr. Sproat
That is a fair point, although I read last week about an author who reckoned to churn out a book a week. Tolstoy took five years to write "War and Peace". On that basis, my hon. Friend has perhaps made a fair point.
Another point, although not large, should not be forgotten. The price of books in Great Britain is very much lower than the price in almost any other country. I should not be surprised to find that the price of an American edition of a hard-back book was 75 per cent. higher than the price in this country. As an author gets his royalty on the published price, he is getting a percentage of a very much lower price in this country. We must also remember that in America there is a much vaster market. For a number of reasons outwith their control, authors in this country tend to get a slightly worse deal than authors in other countries.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North said that publishers, who are hardheaded businessmen, must get a reasonable return. I agree. It must also be remembered, however, that of the published price of a book some 40 per cent., and sometimes 50 per cent. in the case of paper-backs, goes to the bookseller. Therefore, the publisher must make his profit, if profit there be, from only half the price that the public pays.
The vast amounts of money which publishers spend on parties supposedly promoting a book but, very often, in order to give themselves and their friends a good time raise a serious point. The sort of parties that we read about in the gossip columns probably cost about £200 or £300. When I was the sort of hungry author to whom reference has been made today, I could have done with a large percentage of that £300 instead of seeing my publisher "knocking it back" at parties.
I agree with what has been said on both sides about the need to keep the public library system as free as possible. 827 When I was a boy living in a village on the Scottish Border I used to pay 2d. for a card and I could take out a book per card and as many as I wanted. Since I was getting only 3d. a week in pocket money, this was a great boon. Indeed, I am able to make this speech because completely arbitrarily I plucked a book from a shelf in a public library about a great Conservative politician. It was reading that book which set me on the path to becoming a Member of Parliament. I therefore owe public libraries a great deal. Whatever system is devised to put into effect the admirable sentiments which have been expressed, I hope that our public library system will remain free so that young people in particular may go in whenever they wish and glean the wisdom of the golden ages of literature.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
Following the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) of what a Tory politician in 1850 said about public libraries. "Public libraries", he said, "will keep the poor from the alehouse and Socialism." It did not work—at least, in the second thing—because there is no doubt at all that the early Socialists gained their knowledge and their education very largely from the public libraries, and I think of many of the very distinguished people who have sat in this House on the Labour side who owed their education entirely to being able to borrow books from public libraries, which is why I very much support those speakers who in the debate have stated that nothing should be done to inhibit people from borrowing books, and certainly that charges should not be imposed at the point of use.
I very much support what the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has said and I want later to deal more with some of the points he made, but I should like to return to a point which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South made, and that was about how much an author gets for a book.
The hon. Gentleman cited the case of a writer who would, out of a single novel which sold between 1,400 and 1,500 828 copies, get something like £240. It is a ridiculous reward. That is true. I wonder, then, what the hon. Gentleman would think of a man like Maynard Keynes who did not write one novel or two in one year but devoted his life—not just a year, but his life—in writing things like "A Treatise on Money", which was only the prelude to his major work on the general theory of employment, interest and money. I wonder how much he got for that. I wonder how many students, not only in this country but throughout the world, have benefited from that book. When one thinks how that book not only gave pleasure to the reader but gave instruction, particularly to Governments, one feels that that is a book which has dominated the thinking of the Western world for a generation. I wonder how much Maynard Keynes made out of it. When one thinks of all the mistakes which he prevented Governments from making through his wisdom, he was never paid even a tithe of the value of that book.
It is particularly bearing this sort of contrast in mind that I want to raise some questions. Everyone in this House who has spoken in this debate, and, I am sure, other hon. Members who will read it, will agree with the hon. Gentleman's proposition that authors should receive something in this way, that there is an injustice to authors in that people read their books and no contribution is made for the copyright which is, as it were, exploited in this way.
Who will benefit, however? I can see so many snags about this. Will only hungry authors benefit? I think, perhaps, of people like Jacquelline Susann who wrote "The Valley of the Dolls", which is absolute tripe but sells hundreds of thousands of copies. If we are simply to think in terms of helping struggling authors, do we think of her as one? She does not need any help. I think of James Hadley Chase and" No Orchids for Miss Blandish "I do not know how many thousands of copies that has sold. I think of "Ten Chinks and a Woman". Those of us who are ex-members of the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines may remember that it was in very many ships' libraries during the war. Books like that must have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Is the purpose of this debate 829 concerned with helping that author? He used to be a bank clerk, I am told. He has found his way into the vaults. He does not need our help in that.
Or one thinks of Dennis Wheatley, who writes the most awful tripe—at least, that is my opinion; I think he writes absolute drivel. Yet his books sell in thousands, and one finds rows of them on the shelves in our public libraries. I think of Ian Fleming, an ex-Royal Marine, who, again, managed to exploit a rich vein of gold dust by a certain type of novel. Yet the simple application of the mechanics suggested in this debate would give those people great benefits.
I do not think that Maynard Keynes would have gained as much benefit, because his books are perhaps not borrowed quite as often as those of other authors. The books of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North are borrowed frequently from my local library but I cannot say that the works of Maynard Keynes or Roy Harrod's "The Life of John Maynard Keynes", are borrowed very often from my local library.
I think of some lesser novelists—Edward Hyams, a man of great talent; Marguerite Duras, a French author; Samuel Beckett. These are not authors whose books sell in millions. Their books are not borrowed twice a week or every week. Some of these other authors need money. I wonder, in thinking how to apply the mechanics of this proposition, where we shall find the authors who need most help. I think of lesser novelists like Robert Gaines, known to most of us here as Rowland Summerscales, a distinguished Daily Telegraph Lobby correspondent, whose books are not often sold, and most of them are out of print. These are authors I particularly have in mind in supporting the hon. Gentleman's Motion. These are the hungry authors, or, at least, are not very well off.
Or I think even more of the poets, because poets do not sell awfully well. I know that Penguin has done an immense service to poets with the new poets series and all that. Penguin has done an immense service to poets, but one will find volumes of poetry on the shelves of public libraries, university libraries, school libraries, and there they sit. There is a group of writers who certainly need help 830 in the way which the hon. Gentleman has described.
How are we to do it? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North, I am very suspicious of patronage, and very suspicious even of the patronage of the Arts Council, and I hope at some stage in the future to return to that particular topic in another debate and to talk of the misdeeds of the Arts Council in another regard.
I have mentioned certain authors and I have spoken of the difficulties of authors, and my hon. Friend has talked about patronage. I was talking to somebody yesterday who is connected with publishing. I understand that Routledge and Kegan Paul would like to publish a collected edition of the works of Havelock Ellis, that most distinguished scholar, most of whose books are now out of print, although they may be available in university libraries. I was brought up on them in my university. A trust fund of £25,000 is needed to publish the collected works, and the publishers are thinking of approaching an American university to find the money. I do not know how many people borrow the works of Havelock Ellis from the library these days, but scholars use them.
An important question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) was how this was to be done. How are we to deal with the people with no money who borrow books? Most of us here have our own personal libraries. Middle class people tend to have personal libraries. We may borrow a book but if we wish to read it again we buy a copy so as to have it at our disposal. Those with personal libraries, having bought a book 35 or 40 years ago, will continue to re-read the book, but the author gets nothing out of that. Many years ago I bought a copy of Max Beer's "History of British Socialism". As a teacher I have used it in my classes for many years, and I have re-read it many times. The author gets nothing for that.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
The hon. Gentleman has a remedy in his own hands. A piggy bank at the side of the book would solve all those problems.
§ Mr. Hamling
Max Beer is dead, unfortunately, and in the place to which he has gone I do not think coins of the 831 realm are used any more, even decimal currency.
I think of my local library in Plum-stead which is regularly used by about 50 students. It has a reading room, and many sixth form students from local comprehensive schools and others from the Thames Polytechnic regularly use the library and borrow books. That is the purpose of a public library. If we are thinking of the mechanics of giving the authors benefit from the copyright which is being infringed, are we to get it from these students? The students do not borrow the novels we have been talking about; they borrow scientific books—that is what the Thames Polytechnic is famous for—literary works, history books and so on.
One thinks of the University of the Air, which surely presages an enormous extension of the borrowing of books from public libraries. One thinks of university extra-mural classes and Workers' Educational Association classes, some of which I taught before coming here. Students of these classes borrow books from the public libraries. They are probably the most eclectic and inveterate borrowers of books. How would this provision for copyright extend to the specialised libraries sometimes set up by these classes?
One thinks of the library in Malet Street from which many of us here have borrowed books for our classes. How are we to deal with copyright in university libraries? Some books published now are bought almost exclusively by universities. American universities are omniferous purchasers of academic textbooks in this country, not only new ones but secondhand ones. Any secondhand standard textbooks on sale in this country are snapped up by American university libraries. How are university libraries and school libraries to be involved in this operation? I am coming to the conclusion that we must not think in terms of extracting a payment at the time of use. We must not think in terms of how much per book.
My hon. Friend talked about John Brophy's Penny. Is a penny for "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" to be compared with a penny for Lipsey's textbooks on economics? There is no comparison. There can be on relationship 832 between a penny paid for some of the rubbishy books that are regularly borrowed and a penny paid for more scholarly works.
It has been asked whether the ratepayers should pay. The trouble about that is that there are so many obscurantist local authorities. I think of Wandsworth Borough Council, which, when it was run by the Tories, closed down a local library in an underprivileged area because the council said it was not much used for the borrowing of books. It was extensively used by the local, largely immigrant, population for reading and studying, but this obscurantist borough council said, "It is not used; close it." That is what I fear if this is left to some local councils.
Certainly all of us here today are against the borrower having to pay, and we come back to the suggestion which has been made of a central fund administered by the Government. This is by far the best way of doing it. I have in mind the reference sections of university and public libraries where the books are never borrowed. They are available and are extensively used. Those books are sometives very expensive to produce, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South would know from his business experience. They sometimes take a great deal of time to produce. Yet these books are not borrowed. So how can this provision for copyright operate there?
I am worried about what my hon. Friend referred to as the thin end of the wedge. To impose a charge on the borrower would introduce the thin end of the wedge of library charges, and we should become involved in the most bureaucratic nonsense we have ever known. There is enough bureaucratic nonsense already involved in the museum charges. I speak as a trustee of the National Maritime Museum, which is faced with the most idiotic bureaucracy, to the extent of having to put railings round the museum because it abuts on a public park. How daft can we get? I am frightened that similar bureaucratic nonsense will result if we lightly rush into charging for the borrowing of books from libraries.
I support what the hon. Member for Hendon, North has said. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to tell the House that the Government 833 will take to heart some of the points which have been made in the debate. I hope the Government will take a liberal and humane approach to this complicated question—and it is complicated, as the debate has brought out—on which this side of the House is against individual charges and in favour of a central fund.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
I hope the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) will forgive me if I do not follow his fascinating peregrination from Keynes to Havelock Ellis via the "Valley of the Dolls". He obviously is a voracious reader of catholic taste, and he brought a great deal of interest to the debate. I hope the House will forgive me if I have to leave shortly after I have spoken since I have a constituency appointment later this afternoon. I mean no discourtesy to the House.
I have tabled a number of Questions on this matter over the last year or so. Indeed, within a few weeks of arriving in the House I put down such a Question, because this subject interests me greatly. I speak not as an author but as somebody who feels that authors suffer from a short-sighted and somewhat chaotic system and I have a fellow feeling as somebody who frequents public libraries and who has derived enormous pleasure and benefit from the books I have borrowed there.
I was very much encouraged earlier in the year to see a splendid editorial in The Guardian on 19th February with the wonderful heading,Eccles Cake in Grub Street".A lot of us hoped at that time that the cake was in the oven and was shortly to be produced. It has certainly been long a-baking.
The phrase "Grub Street" is interesting. Perhaps it is not altogether appropriate in this connection that my best quotation was pinched from me by the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) because I had come armed with Doctor Johnson and Lord Chesterfield. The very name Grub Street tends to symbolise the way in which authors have been looked on, not for generations but for centuries. The author often appears as a person who is an inferior member of society. He is looked upon as a hack to whom those who derive enormous 834 pleasure and benefit from his works often pay scant regard. This is not new. It was not new in Johnson's day.
In wondering what I should say that would perhaps be different, I went to the House of Commons Library and found there a quotation from the will of a famous Elizabethan author which was as follows:Three legacies I bequeath: patience to my creditors, melancholy without measure to my friends, and beggary without shame to my family".And there one has it.
The decline of private patronage, the advent of the mass circulation library, brought a new dimension to this problem and it is that context in which we are having this debate.
Ruskin was quoted in The Guardian editorial to which I referred as saying:We call ourselves a rich nation and we are foolish enough to thumb through each other's books out of circulating libraries.I would not endorse all those sentiments but it is regrettable that some of the men and women who have enriched the fabric of our civilisation have died in penury, and even in this enlightened or so-called enlightened age some are still living a hand-to-mouth existence.
I disagree to some extent with what was said by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, who claimed that nobody in the House would support the idea of the borrower paying. I am not suggesting we should charge for books from public libraries, but one idea that has often occurred to me is this. If we go to a library and take out a book which we particularly enjoy, we often keep it beyond its allotted span and when we take it back we have to pay a fine. Would it not be appropriate for the proceeds of such fines to find their way to the authors? This might be something my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would like to consider and which might also be pondered by his noble Friend. I am not suggesting this would be a complete answer but it might provide some of the finances necessary in the sort of scheme we would all like to see implemented.
§ Mr. Cormack
One could argue these matters from a variety of standpoints. One could say in reply to that interesting intervention that the person who has the book and who has enjoyed it so much that he keeps it beyond the proper time should pay a little forfeit which should go to the author who has detained that reader and given him pleasure. However, I do not think we should follow that happy and interesting avenue this afternoon.
It has always seemed to me to be regrettable that the artist, be he painter, musician or author, should be almost despised by society. We all know this is true. It has been true for centuries and it is still to some extent true today. I hope that the present Government will to some extent redeem themselves because I feel that they are in need of some redemption in this context, and that they will really try to produce the cake which we are told is in the oven.
There are many things we might consider. We all know—and Members of Parliament know this more than anybody—that at present we are in danger of becoming submerged in a sea of paper. It is very likely that the day of the book that sells even 10,000 copies—and not many books sell that number—is possibly coming to an end. I like to buy books, but I do not think I shall be able to buy many more books since I now have so many of the bound volumes of HANSARD sent to me every month that my library is full to overflowing. So I have to go to the Library of the House and to other libraries to borrow books to enliven the few leisure moments I might be able to enjoy. Because of the existence of this great mass of paper, it might not be a bad thing if authors sold fewer copies of their books, but it would be dastardly if, because of this situation, they were not to receive adequate recompense or reward.
Another matter that often springs to mind is the fact that students, who are probably the most regular borrowers of books, borrow them because they cannot afford to buy them. We all know that the scholarly work is now at a price 836 which is beyond the reach of most people, and even though the firms which produce paper books perform an enormous service to scholarship and literature there are some books which cannot adequately be presented in paper-back form. They are beyond the price of the student and are thumbed through from year to year by generations of students numbering hundreds, yet the poor author has sold one copy. Perhaps if it is an important work, he might have sold half a dozen to a university library. Hundreds of students will be derived benefit from his wisdom and experience. Is there not a moral here somewhere?
I appeal to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is a man of great learning and wide reading, to have immediate consultation with his noble Friend the Paymaster-General. Nobody can call in question his credentials in this matter. Let them have this consultation and let them produce something very soon. Do not let us say that the Eccles cake was like Alfred's when it came out of the oven.
We are all extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) for initiating this debate. May it act as the necessary spur to action.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)
The whole House agrees at least on one point. It is that this debate clearly has been of enormous value. It has shown what a very wide range of opinions there are about the execution, at least, of the problems in which we are interested this morning. The House is very much indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) for initiating the debate. If anyone ever had any doubts about the value of what generally we call private Members' Fridays, those doubts are frequently dispelled by the opportunity that the House has for a reflective discussion on a matter which cannot find a place in the crowded programme of our everyday proceedings. I join with those who have congratulated my hon. Friend both upon his choice of subject and on the manner in which he has introduced it.
837 My hon. Friend the Member for Can-nock (Mr. Cormack) explained courteously that he would not be able to stay for very long. I do not share my hon. Friend's view about the derogatory way in which he feels that society looks upon authors and artists. Whenever I go to gatherings of people, I find that it is Members of Parliament who are regarded as the lowest of the low. When I am in any kind of artistic or other circle, I always try to live up to those by whom I am surrounded. I think that this House shows a much greater appreciation of those who delight in the visual, written or other arts—
§ Mr. Cormack
Perhaps I overstressed it. However, the distinguished company with whom my hon. Friend mixes is not composed of those who look with disdain upon authors. But it is true even today that the footballer is held up as an ideal among the general public. The author is not looked upon with the high regard that we have tried to display this morning.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
My hon. Friend has a false view of the company I generally keep. However, perhaps I should not go into that too far.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
No, and I am sure that that applies especially to footballers in Ipswich.
To come to the Motion, let me make it clear first that the Government hope that the House will accept it. We welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter, and I shall take a moment or two to deal with some of the points which have been raised in the debate.
I am not altogether sure that I am the right person to do this. I know that we all have different ideas about what we should like to do if ever we became immensely rich. Of all the things that I should like to do if I had limitless money at my disposal, one would be never again to borrow a book but always to buy it and preferably to have it bound 838 exquisitely. I get immense pleasure out of beautifully bound books. It is one of my sadnesses that because of increasing costs, they are not very often to be found. I do not feel that they will be passed on to generations ahead, as some of us have been fortunate enough to have them passed on from generations behind us.
In that sense, I am the wrong person. But, like so many other hon. Members who have spoken, I get immense, continuing and, I hope, endless pleasure from reading. I get enormous pleasure from reading the books of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman).
As I have said, I hope that the House will accept the Motion. It urges the Government to bring "to an early conclusion" their examination of public lending rights. Hon. Members on both sides, with greater knowledge of the subject than have talked about the campaign for a public lending right for authors. With a wealth of experience, they have shown its long history. We have heard examples of the many schemes that exist for enabling authors to receive remuneration many of which have been propounded for a number of years.
I do not pretend to have the detailed knowledge of this long history that other hon. Members have but I have been interested to note that in a number of the speeches to which we have listened and in a considerable amount of the controversy and discussion outside, the approach to this matter once again is, as it was 10 years or so ago, in copyright terms and in terms of securing a change in the law of copyright.
I am aware that public lending right schemes founded on different approaches have been put forward from time to time. But I think that the copyright emphasis is the correct one. Certainly that is the view of the Government.
What essentially is taking place when the works of an author are lent is that use is being made of an article containing material in which he has the copyright, and the copyright is the right of property. Therefore, if a scheme for authors' lending rights were to be constructed and implemented, in the Government's view it should rest in an amendment of the copyright law to add public lending to the acts 839 already restricted by that law. It is partially for that reason that I do not propose to comment at length on the arguments for and against a public lending right. They have been stated many times and they have been stated very eloquently today.
The Government's position was made clear in February of this year by my noble Friend the Paymaster-General. He said that the Government thought that there was some justice in the authors' claim that their rights were not sufficiently secured in law. He said that the Government were prepared to consider amending the law of copyright in the sense that I have just mentioned. He added that there were a number of very awkward problems to be considered in the practical implementation of this kind of amendment and, therefore, that the first step was to have them studied carefully.
Perhaps I might make a few remarks about some of the matters which arise when one starts an examination of what would be involved in establishing and operating a scheme for a public lending right. However, before coming to that perhaps I might respond to the request of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) by making it clear that there has never been any Government suggestion that legislation to amend the Copyright Act to create a public lending right need be linked with or need include charges for admission to libraries. We are discussing a quite separate matter.
I will explore, in the spirit of the debate as it has developed, some of the problems we have to overcome. First, who should benefit under a scheme? The debate has brought out clearly that the proponents of a public lending right have been the authors of books, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North refers in his Motion. But the House will be aware obvious a point—that works are lent in many forms—for example, sheet music, gramophone records, maps and paintings—and not only by libraries in the accepted sense of the word. I shall return to this point.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) will agree that large numbers of people get immense pleasure from borrowing reproductions of works of art. There are increasing 840 numbers of people who borrow gramophone records with great profit and joy to themselves.
I am advised that the lending of maps is increasing. This development is partially a reflection of the increased interest in travel and foreign languages. The House will know that one of the strains on the public library system is the increased borrowing of books dealing with foreign language in the vernacular. Therefore, there is the problem of works which are lent in forms other than books.
Within the sphere of books and printed matter there are also different forms—periodicals, compilations which are the work of several different authors, and translations. If a public lending right is given to further the copyright interests of authors, does its scope stop there or should the interests of, for example, composers and artists be similarly protected? If not, if we are to exclude the artist and the composer, on what grounds of principle or with an eye to what practical consideration should a distinction be made? I make these various points not to stonewall, but to illustrate the problems which we have to resolve. A debate of this kind is the ideal occasion for discussing these problems.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that musicians and painters are in the same boat as authors here.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I am not prejudging the matter this afternoon, partially for the reason that there is this inquiry into the matter. I shall say something on that point later. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that this is a matter which the House must resolve. I am not sure that all authors would necessarily accept what he has just said.
What definition of the word "libraries" should we adopt? Obviously any list of libraries which is reasonably complete is likely to contain many different categories, and clearly there will be great variations between the size of individual libraries within the various categories. Unless the House were to take a very narrow view of the term "library"—I do the number involved is many thousands. Public libraries provided by the county not think that it would wish to do so—and municipal authorities, commercial 841 lending libraries, the parliamentary libraries and the great national libraries obviously spring immediately to mind.
But libraries, or at least collections of books, are also to be found in individual firms and other enterprises, in hospitals and in prisons, to take a few examples. Lending is not confined to libraries in the usual meaning of the word. There are, for example, clubs which lend gramophone records. It seems, therefore, that we should be quite clear what is meant by the term and that if some libraries or other bodies which lend copyright material are to be exempted—this is the reason why I raise the matter—we should be able to define clearly the grounds for exempting them.
I have not mentioned, for example, the libraries of universities, colleges and other educational institutions, including schools. However, they have been mentioned in the debate. Here again, it will obviously be necessary to have a very careful examination and arrive at a clear decision about their inclusion in, or exclusion from, a scheme for authors' lending rights. Again, I do not make the point to stonewall; I make it to show that the problem must be resolved.
We must be clear what is meant by the term "lending" in speaking of a lending right. Is this to be confined to the lending of books and, perhaps, other copyright material which the borrower takes away from a library, or is it also to include the use which is made of the material when the reader simply takes the book down from the library shelf and consults it on the premises of the library?
Obviously many books are written with one or other of these purposes wholly or mainly in mind, while others may be used in both ways. Some of the material which may be used for reference in one library is likely to be used by another library for lending out. Is it right, therefore, or practicable to try to make a distinction and adopt a narrow definition—that would be one course—or should lending be defined in the wider sense to cover use of material in libraries as well as material borrowed and taken away? This point was specially made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North and clearly we have to resolve it.
I plead a personal interest. I have a fascination—I dare say that other hon. 842 Members share it—for books of reference. I often enjoy browsing for a quarter of an hour in some abstruse book of reference of one form or another. It is often time spent very profitably.
§ Mr. Hamling
On this special point about reference libraries, the one where I studied for many years, the Liverpool Reference Library, consisted of many thousands of books which were not normal reference works. They were ordinary books which students were allowed to borrow and return. They were rather different from what we normally think of as reference books.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Indeed. My personal point was directed purely to what we would all understand by the term "reference book". It was precisely that kind of library which I had in mind when talking about a book which would be designed for lending in one kind of library but for reference in another. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that point. It makes clear the infinite variety with which we have to deal.
At some time the House will have to resolve whether the right should be an absolute right or merely one to claim remuneration when a copy of a work is lent. Should the creator of the work have the power to forbid the lending of copies altogether if he does not like the terms offered? This question is of the greatest interest and concern to both authors and lenders and it is obviously one which will have to be carefully considered.
There are other problems of a more practical kind. It is clear that if a scheme for lending rights were established on a widespread scale, the method of recognising the right in money terms would need to be one which was able to deal with a large number of separate transactions for collecting payments from the lending institutions and transmitting them to the owners of the copyright works. I understand that some previous schemes for a public lending right have run into practical difficulties because of labour and cost of basing the mechanics on any system involving the recording of individual loans by libraries and using these to arrive at the payments to be made. Obviously the consideration of this problem must include an examination of 843 whether some more practical methods can be found.
It was in referring to the practical problems of implementation that my noble Friend the Paymaster-General said that he would call together a group including authors, publishers, local authorities and the Government Departments concerned and ask them to examine the problems. I must make it clear that any copyright legislation arising from that would be the concern of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
My noble Friend set up a working party on these lines in March under the chairmanship of an official from the Department and, as the House was informed in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock, who rightly said that he had a great interest in this matter, its report is expected shortly. The working party has not been required to make recommendations, but I know that it has been working very hard to analyse the intricate questions of what would be involved, in practical terms, if a decision were taken to amend the Copyright Act. I had hoped that it might be of some assistance to indicate what some of the practical considerations were.
I end, as I began, by referring to the terms of the Motion. I am clearly not in a position this afternoon—and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House understand this—to make an announcement about what action will be taken to follow a report which has still to be completed and forwarded to my noble Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North will, I think, agree that this Government is the first to have announced an intention to give serious consideration to the possibility of establishing a scheme for authors' lending rights through an amendment to the Copyright Act. The fact that I have been able to go into the matter in some detail will, perhaps, give my hon. Friend an earnest of the importance which the Government attach to the matter.
I assure my hon. Friend that particularly if the House agrees to his Motion, the Government will press forward with the examination of what the next steps should be after the working party's report is received. Meanwhile, the comments 844 from both sides of the House will contribute very materially to that work.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to bring their examination of public lending rights to an early conclusion.