§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this we are to take the following amendments:
No. 21, in page 2, line 4, leave out from 'subsists' to end of line 5.
No. 24, in page 2, line 16, leave out from 'until' to end of line 17 and insert the author's death'.
No. 25, in page 2, line 16, leave out '50 years have elapsed since the end of'.
No. 26, in page 2, line 16, leave out '50' and insert '20'.
No. 27, in page 2, line 16, leave out '50 years have elapsed since'.
No. 28, in page 2, line 17, at end insert:'or his surviving spouse has died or his youngest surviving child has become 18, whichever is the later'.No. 29, in page 2, line 17, at end insert:'payment shall not be made to the estate of any author who has died until the central fund has reached £10 million'.No. 30, in page 2, line 20, leave out from '(b)' to 'property' in line 22.
No. 31, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'by assignment or assignation'.
No. 32, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'by testamentary disposition'.
§ Mr. Sproat
Had I been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before the closure was moved, I had intended to say, and will do so now, that I appreciated the spirit in which the Minister of State spoke to amendment No. 71. If the debate goes on through the night, I hope that this pleasant atmosphere will continue.
500 The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that dead authors cannot have passed on to their heirs the benefit which their works should receive from public lending right. When opposing a Bill in principle, it is always a problem to move an amendment which intends to improve that Bill. Given that that is the hypothesis on which I have to work, I would certainly prefer the Bill to apply only to live authors rather than to the heirs of authors who may have died after their names have been placed on the register.
I wonder whether the Under-Secretary would clear up a small point which arose during the debate on the new clause prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). This is simply a point of information. He was under the impression that any author whose works were on the library shelves could be eligible for public lending right were they removed from those shelves. On the other hand, my view was that only authors who happened to be alive when the Bill became an Act, and whose names were placed on the register when they were still alive, could be eligible for public lending right, even though they might die 24 hours after their names are placed on the register.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)
I am happy to clarify that for the hon. Gentleman. In order to obtain public lending right it would be necessary to register, and only those who were alive would be expected or permitted to register.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for clarifying that point, since her hon. Friend did not do so at the time.
However, given that I am opposed to the principle of public lending right, it would be a considerable improvement on the Bill were we to insert the word "live". I am slightly torn in advocating this step. Without being too invidious, one can think of a number of elderly authors who have given a great deal of pleasure and instruction down the years. 501 I hope, and imagine, that were the Bill to reach the statute book, they would be alive to have their names placed on the register. Authors such as Graham Greene and Anthony Powell, who are now over 70, would have public lending right on their works until the year 2025 or 2030, even were they to die later this year, which I hope they will not. The proposition that the Government are putting before the House is extraordinary.
Even if there are authors whom one commends as having given great pleasure, and who would rank high in literary status, there are others whose books sell by the hundreds of thousands and who are at the same stage of life. Barbara Cartland is such an example. I understand that she made a record the other day and sang half a dozen songs on either side of it. It is amazing. She is over 70, but she sings very well. I imagine that her books are taken from library shelves hundreds of thousands of times. She will certainly be one of the chief beneficiaries from the Bill as drafted, and it will not only be Barbara Cartland but her heirs and successors who will benefit for 50 years after she is dead.
Barbara Cartland is an author who makes no literary pretensions, as far as I know, although I recommend to the House the only book of hers that I have ever read called "Vote for Love". It was a rather touching story about a pretty little girl who falls in love with an MP, and it might commend itself to many of my hon. Friends. I do not think that she has many literary pretensions, yet we are proposing to spend considerable sums of public money, not just 50 years after somebody has died but for books of which the highest, most complimentary description can be "mere entertainment".
The public's money should not be spent in that way. Certainly the British taxpayer should not have to continue to pay out on the author's behalf after he has been dead for 50 years. Were it on behalf of some great and good author like the late P. G. Wodehouse, for example, I should be happy to contribute my little bit of taxpayers' money. Had the original Bill reached the statute book, we would have been paying out the maximum amount to P. G. Wodehouse's heirs through the years. I object to the fact 502 that a lot of the benefit will go to authors about whom one can say nothing more kind than that they entertained their generation. That is as far as it goes.
§ Mr. Lee
The hon. Gentleman is getting excited about the comparative merits of various authors, and I have as low an opinion of Barbara Cartland as the hon. Gentleman appears to have, but does not he realise that this is an attempt to tap the main body of the law of copyright, which subsists for 50 years after the death of an author? I happen to agree with the hon. Gentleman on this matter, but I believe that the record should be put right. That is the rationale behind this proposal, imperfect and wrong-headed though I happen to think it is.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am aware of what the hon. Gentleman says about the law of copyright. I had certainly deduced that the 50-year clause in the Bill was an attempt to parallel the length of copyright. I fully understood that. But what I object to is the difference between extending coypright for 50 years, when that copyright is paid out of funds from individual members of the public who happen to want to read the books, and extending copyright for 50 years when the funds will be paid by the British taxpayers, many of whom may never read a book by P. G. Wodehouse, Anthony Powell, Barbara Cartland or anyone else. Yet they will be made to pay. Therefore, the difference is between public funds and private funds.
Had we had an extensive Committee stage on the Bill, and if the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) had been a member of the Committee, that is exactly the sort of point that we could have hammered out. It is a tremendous restriction when we know that the deputy Patronage Secretary will be bounding to his feet like a lion as soon as this debate has been going for two or three hours, because one feels that one cannot discuss the matter in the way that it should be discussed. Frankly, that is a travesty of the way in which the House conducts itself. We have not had an opportunity of having a proper Committee stage on the Bill. Therefore, within 503 the rules of order, we are absolutely compelled to try to do on Report what we should have done in Committee.
The hon. Member for Handsworth said that copyright lasted for 50 years, therefore he could see why it applied to public funds. We could have had a very interesting discussion about the essential difference between copyright being paid by individuals who buy books and being paid out of public funds. The hon. Gentleman may agree or disagree, but where we cannot fail to agree is that a great difference must be drawn between funds coming from these two totally different sources.
As well as wondering whether public lending right is the best use of public funds, there is the converse of the argument that authors such as Harold Robbins, who are rich and non-British taxpayers, will also receive these moneys both while they are alive and after their death. We shall deal with this in more detail on a later amendment, but I must say that it is absolutely ludicrous. Even if one grants the principle of PLR, it is ridiculous to propose to give it to the heirs of authors such as Harold Robbins who live abroad. It is ridiculous that we should drain our balance of payments in that way. That cannot be the way to run our affairs.
§ Mr. English
All the hon. Gentleman has said is perfectly true. Does not he agree that an even worse possibility opens before us, because it is quite conceivable that the heirs of authors who never received PLR, because they died before the Bill had been passed, may receive the results? For example, Agatha Christie is now dead. Yet, if the Bill ever gets passed, her nephew, the inheritor of her estate under her will, could presumably acquire a certain measure of income as a result of something with which he had nothing to do.
§ Mr. Sproat
I did not hear the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks because his hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth was coughing. But, as I understand it, and as I believe I have now verified from the Minister, Agatha Christie herself does not come into it because she died before the Bill will reach the statute book. None the less, although that specific example does not follow, the principle does. I 504 take as an example Dick Francis, who is a thriller writer that I far prefer to Agatha Christie. He is still alive. I hope that he will go on living for many years and produce a novel every Christmas. It is absolutely ludicrous that the heirs of Dick Francis, who presumably will already be extremely rich from the royalties which Mr. Francis accrues from the retail sales of his books, will, by the generosity of the British taxpayer, have another £1,000 a year or so added to their income. That seems a totally absurd principle.
I am not criticising the concept of passing on wealth from father to son, or whoever it is, but as a principle that must take second place to rewarding the person who actually creates it, even the rather minor wealth involved in public lending right.
We are told that the Bill aims to provide justice for authors—not justice for authors' heirs and successors. The Bill has been paraded before us as a way of helping the arts. I do not think that it is, but it cannot be said to be helping the arts if a considerable amount of the money available goes to the heirs of writers, most of whom, I imagine, will have nothing whatever to do with the arts. Therefore, in no way at all can it be said that any of the money which goes to the heirs of authors will help the arts.
Furthermore, the more money that goes to dead authors, the less there will be for those who are alive, and the less there will be to stimulate the arts. Therefore, this clause alone completely vitiates the main purpose of the Bill as the Government see it, which is to get justice for authors and to encourage the arts thereby.
One diminishes the sum available by handing it to people who are once removed from the authors. In addition, the whole concept of passing on money is perfectly reputable in its own place, but I do not believe that that concept is one into which public funds should enter. A case can be made—no doubt the Under-Secretary of State will make it—that since one allows royalties to be inherited one should allow PLR to be inherited. That was the point which, by implication, the hon. Member for Handsworth made when he asked whether I realised the parallels between copyright lasting for 50 years and the words in the Bill.
505 7.30 p.m.
Before I say what I take to be the Government's case on this point, let me revert to the phrase "justice for authors", words which are frequently used by proponents of the Bill. "Justice" is presumably here related to value and worth. It is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said—jokingly, of course—a means of social justice.
There is all the difference in the world between justice and social justice. Either the Bill exists to provide the most popular authors with more money or it does not. If it does not, it is not giving justice.
If we are talking about a branch of social welfare, we ought to have the Secretary of State for Social Services at the Dispatch Box. But we are not talking about social welfare. We are talking about justice.
The Bill cannot be an exercise in the redistribution of wealth, so the only possible defence of the Bill is that those authors whom the public think highly of should receive even more money than they do now out of public funds. That is a ridiculous principle. For any Labour Member to propose that rich people should be made even richer out of public funds is ludicrous. If we tell them that taxes should be reduced so that people might become richer as a result of their own efforts, they baulk at that. The idea that Mr. Alistair Maclean—to take one author who lives abroad—should get more money as a result of the Bill seems about as unsocialist an attitude as it is possible to adopt.
We have to face the fact that we are talking either about justice for all authors, which includes rich authors, or about a kind of social welfare. We have heard from those on the Government Benches that they are seeking justice for authors. If that is so, it must be justice for people who are alive and not for their heirs.
We may hear the hon. Lady say that she has been persuaded by our arguments, but if the Government are about to deny my case I imagine that it will be on the ground that, since royalties are inherited, public lending right should be inherited. The great difference between the two propositions is that royalties accrue from 506 sales through the retail trade and public lending right is public money. Royalties are usually 10 per cent. of the retail price. So let none of us think that authors are not already doing pretty well.
If a book is selling at £5 in the shops, for as long as the books sells the author receives 50p a volume, which is not bad. That 50p comes out of the pockets of the general public who wish to buy the book, who have a specific reason for rewarding the author, whereas the public lending right comes from public funds. Many of the public who contribute to public funds are given no choice. They may be people who detest the author and never buy his books. The Government decide that they will give authors this extra bit of money, even though the public have not specifically indicated that they want to do so.
We must have priorities in these matters. Even if we grant that PLR is a correct principle and we should like to do something for authors from public funds, we must then say "We are proposing to give £2 million to public lending right. Is that the best way of stimulating interest in literature?" It might be thought better that the money should go into other spheres such as hospitals or provision for old-age pensioners. I shall not discuss that, but it might be thought that the cause of literature in this country would be better advanced if the £2 million were spent on improving public libraries and seeing that they were better stocked and more comfortable places. We have had no chance to examine any of this in detail.
However, let us presume that we overcome that first sense of priorities and decide that we have £2 million to spend to stimulate literature and do not think that the best way of doing that is to pay librarians more, or to make libraries more attractive and comfortable places, with more facilities. Even if we had decided that none of those was our priority, we should come up against a further obstacle. We should have said "We have agreed to spend £2 million for the stimulation of literature on the public lending right—giving the money to authors, anyway." That is how the Bill describes it. One must then ask "Is the best way to assist 507 authors really to give the money to the heirs of dead authors?"
That is the point on which we are in total disagreement. I hope that the hon. Member for Handsworth, who has indicated that he opposes the idea of giving the money to heirs, will continue to pursue that point and do his best to persuade his hon. Friend that, even within the absurd bounds of the principle of public lending right, she is even more absurdly wasting the very little money that is available.
Without considering how inflation will reduce the value of the £2 million, and without considering the fact—although it is relevant—that the bureaucracy will grow and therefore reduce the amount available, one must remember that the longer the scheme is in being the higher will be the percentage of heirs of dead people who will benefit from it.
I have not worked out the figures. I do not suppose that anyone could do so with complete accuracy. But it does not require much mathematical skill to see that after 25 or 30 years the larger part of the money being disbursed under the scheme, apart from that being disbursed to the Civil Service, would be going to the heirs of dead authors. If that were so, would the Government still persist with the scheme? Does the Minister really think that the British public will agree that over half the amount of money—the £2 million minus the £600,000 for the bureaucracy—should go to the heirs of dead authors?
I do not see how anybody who defends the scheme can defend that. It cannot be defended on the argument of justice for authors, because they will not receive the money. It cannot be defended on the grounds of redistribution of income, because it will be going to people who there is no reason to suppose are not well off. They simply happen to be the heirs of people who were authors. We cannot justify it in terms of stimulation of the arts, because we have no reason to suppose that writers' heirs would have any particular interest in the arts. They might or might not, but it seems an extraordinary, blanket way to chuck money about in thinking that we should be stimulating and helping the arts.
508 Therefore, I see no grounds on which this part of the Bill can be defended. There is only the totally spurious argument that there is a kind of parallel with the 50 years of copyright on which royalties are based. But there is all the difference in the world between public and private money, and for the most part royalties are based on private money. At least, if it is not private money it is the money of local authorities going to the public libraries which have purchased the books, and the authors receive a royalty on those books.
The following point is often omitted when consideration is given to the libraries' role. Authors benefit in many ways from the existence of public libraries. They receive a royalty on every copy that the library purchases. I think that I talked earlier about the difference between the purchase price and the discount to the retailer. In fact, that is not true. Authors nearly always receive their royalty on the retail price, but the libraries receive a special discount.
To illustrate the absurdity of the scheme, I shall not take an author who is still alive because that would be invidious; instead, I take an author whom I have already mentioned, who might very well have come under the scheme had it been set up when my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) was in favour of it back in 1973–74. I refer to the late P. G. Wodehouse, who was born in 1881. I think that his first book was "The Pothunters", which he wrote when he was about 22. He wrote his last book, "Sunset at Blandings", at the age of 90 or 91. He would have benefited tremendously at the public expense, though he was very rich, as he deserved to be. He held joint British and American nationality and lived in New York for the last 30-odd years of his life. Under the Bill, his heirs and successors would receive public lending right on a book written at the turn of the century after the turn of the next century. On the works of a man born in 1881 royalties would accrue in 2025.
It is ludicrous that a period of almost 150 years can be covered by the Bill. It is insane that at a time of severe public disquiet about the way in which we spend our money we should not only agree to spend another £2 million but throw away what could be half the amount left for 509 authors on people who were not authors. It must be a contradiction in terms that from a fund set up to help authors just under one-third should go on the civil servants who are supposed to disburse the money another third should go to the heirs of people who are already dead and only one-third should go to authors who are alive. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Handsworth nodding agreement.
Hon. Members such as myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham who have followed this debate for many years are irritated by what happens. There is a serious case to be made. I have worked in the publishing business and have written various books. I know what the publishing business is about. The case, of which certain authors are in favour, has been given endless publicity in the House. But the fact that the librarians and the retail trade are, by and large, opposed to the measure is never acknowledged in the House.
I have described as ludicrous the proposal that after some years only one-third of the fund would go to live authors. There is no response from the Government, so far. Perhaps our eloquence tonight will persuade the hon. Lady. People say "The money must go to the heirs of dead authors, amongst other people, because this is all enmeshed in the rest of the Bill. We believe that the Bill embodies a fine principle and therefore you must take it or leave it." We are not prepared to take it or leave it.
I particularly welcome the hon. Member for Handsworth to our ranks because I did not know previously that he was interested in this subject. I know that au fond he is, as he indicated earlier, among the backers of the Bill. I beseech him to believe that the absurdities that we are pointing out here and in the next group of amendments, about people who live abroad, are among many with which the Bill is riddled.
The heirs of dead authors would continue to benefit from the library system even if there were no public lending right. They would do so for ever and a day because they already receive, through the copyright provisions, the advantages of drawing royalties. If libraries buy new copies of popular books, which they have to do because popular 510 books become dog-eared and worn, more royalties go to the heirs.
A publisher may decide to bring out a fresh edition of an old work, perhaps of a book by Dick Francis, P. G. Wode-house or Anthony Powell. Anthony Powell will presumably be on the register when it comes into being, but as he was born in 1905 one must think ahead a little, disagreeable though that may be. There might be a memorial edition of his works. That is a series of books that I should like to see.
In the case of a memorial edition, the public libraries might be the prime source of income for the heirs of any dead author. The publishers know that they wilt sell, say, 1,500 sets of the 12 volumes of the "Music of Time" series by Anthony Powell, half a dozen others and a couple of volumes of autobiography, in the case of Anthony Powell. That is a fairly substantial prospect for any private individual, especially if each volume costs about £5. It means that the heirs of dead authors will benefit already, without the help of this public lending right, because the publishers will say to themselves "We would like to do this for prestige reasons and because we believe these works are worth keeping alive and are worth publishing in a fine edition."
Publishers are not activated simply by the thought of making more money. They are activated very much by the thought of keeping before the public the works of an author whom they respect and admire But, of course, they must have regard to the economics of doing it, and it is precisely that regard to economics which benefits the heirs of the dead authors, because the publishers say "We know that we shall be able to sell 1,000 copies of a set of 20 volumes", and that is good publishing if the economics and the price are right. In such a case, the publishers are selling 20,000 volumes which they publish at £5 each. That means that we are talking about a gross turnover of £100,000 on the library sales alone.
It is almost certain that the royalties will be well above 10 per cent. by this time. Royalties on a hardback tend to start at 10 per cent. and, although every publisher, every author and every agent has a different grading, and although obviously the grading depends on the book, I should be very surprised if any 511 novel by Anthony Powell published in hardback fetched a royalty of less than 15 per cent. If it did, I would say that Mr. Powell needed to change his agent.
Therefore, there is a gross turnover at £100,000 in respect of sales to the public libraries alone at a royalty of 15 per cent. That is £15,000 in one year. No one can say that any heir of an author who is getting £15,000 just out of library sales is doing badly.
I do not object to successful authors and authors whom I admire—alas, there is a distinction—doing well out of such a sale. But since Mr. Powell is not dead—and long may be live—he himself would gain the benefit of the sale which I am hypothesising of 1,000 sets of 20 volumes. If he got £15,000 out of it and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) was saying, had been smart enough to get an accountant so that he did not have to pay the tax on it, that would be pretty good.
I speak from memory. Mr. Powell started writing in about 1930, with "Afternon Men". It is a wonderful book, and he deserves to be making money out of it after 48 years. It is not bad going if, say, it took him three months to write and 48 years afterwards he still gets £15,000. But at least it is fair, and I am happy that he should do so.
What is not fair, especially in the context of having only £2 million to spend on public lending right—and I am not begging for an increase in it; far from it—is that that money should go to the heirs of dead authors. We must draw a distinction between that which it is fair that a living author should get from the fruits of his labours and the fruits to the heirs of dead authors, especially when it is public money.
§ Mr. Kimball
My hon. Friend was good enough to refer to my remark about good taxation advice. As he knows, the racket is for an author to sell his notes to his publisher so that it is a capital payment. In equity, in this scheme we ought to differentiate between those who have a substantial capital payment by selling their notes in addition to their royalties, and those who survive purely on royalties, because that is the dodge.
§ Mr. Sproat
Perhaps my hon. Friend will expand on that in a moment. Let me see whether I have him right. Is he referring to the selling of notes?
§ Mr. Sproat
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not know whether it was in order, and I was attempting to discover the relevance of it. As I understood it, in practice it was a dodge by which a living author could keep more money from his works and pass it on to his heirs. Perhaps I ought to describe it as "a method" by which that could be done.
§ Mr. Kimball
It is very wrong to use the word "dodge". Every citizen is entitled to the greatest mitigation of his tax affairs.
§ Mr. Sproat
I hope you did not think that I was not accepting your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to explain why I was speaking as I was, because I did not follow my hon. Friend's point and had not come across the method to which he referred.
§ Mr. Moate
Although I accept that what my hon. Friend has just been discussing is not within the purview of the amendment, we are also discussing amendments Nos. 30 and 31, and they refer specifically to the possibility of assignment. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will direct his thoughts to that aspect. It seems to me to be undesirable that the taxpayers' money should be used, in effect, simply to benefit perhaps the publishers or even a public company because the author has been persuaded to sell or to assign his public lending right together with copyright to a public company in exchange for a substantial sum of money. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that that comes specifically within the scope of one of his amendments.
§ Mr. Sproat
Indeed, it does. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider developing that argument himself.
I object to public money being given to authors and then being assigned to publishers. We all know that one of the reasons why certain publishers are in favour of this measure, apart from wanting to curry favour with their authors, is that it represents a financial benefit to their companies. They can say to an author "You will be getting an additional £1,000 a year in public lending right; therefore, you will not try to press us too hard in respect of royalties and will be prepared to take 121 per cent. instead of 15 per cent. after the first 15,000 copies."
My hon. Friend is right to point this out, but that in itself is objectionable. I cannot understand how, of all Governments, a Labour Government cannot see that they are putting money into the hands not only of people who are rich already but of private industry. It is a kind of NEB operation by the back door. They do not realise that much of this money which is to be taken out of the pockets of poor taxpayers will go to comparatively wealthy publishers.
I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), who is a member of the distinguished Macmillan publishing company, what he felt about this matter. Speaking as a publisher, he said that he felt that it was an absolute load of rubbish. I am only sorry that other duties have prevented him from coming here this evening. Although he takes a rather idealistic view, which he should, unfortunately, certainly other publishers do not.
Therefore, it appears that dead authors will be able to assign their rights not only to their heirs and successors but to publishers. Of course, we accept the general principle of people being able to pass on these rights in their wills, but that principle becomes even further watered down if the heir is not a dead author's wife, for whom there is a good case, his son, for whom there is a less good case, his nephew, for whom there is an even less good case—for example, Agatha Christie's nephew—but his publisher. It really is a kind of incestuous business. Publishers spur authors to 514 start lobbying the Government, the Government scratch their head and, after five years, say they will do something about the matter and legislate to provide the money, but at the end of the day the money finds it ways back to the publishers, and in some of those cases the sums could be very large.
Had I a pocket calculator, I might be able to work out how long it would take before that part of this fund which is available for authors—I repeat, at the moment it is only £2 million minus £600,000, so it is a comparatively small amount; say, two-thirds—would become owing to dead people. My common sense tells me that after the fund has been going for 50 years, almost half the people concerned will be dead authors.
If those dead authors, as in law they are entitled to do, can assign their rights to whomsoever they please, we shall have the ludicrous situation that the British taxpayer is having to cough up, to pay money, to publishers who are already making money from the sales of those dead authors' books through the retail trade. That must be wrong.
I have already indicated that it is bad enough that the money should be passed on at all. Even if a much larger sum were available, I still think that it would be wrong. But it seems absolutely indefensible when only £2 million, minus the cost of the bureaucracy, is available at any one time.
I very much hope that the Under-Secretary of State will consider this whole raft of objections which we have put forward so far. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham intends to speak on this matter, because he has tabled an amendment on it. The hon. Member for Handsworth has also indicated that he intends to speak in this debate. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has not so far been able to speak in the debate because the closure was moved. However, I hope that he will speak on this interesting point.
I want a series of answers from the Government. Are they still claiming that the Bill's prime aim is justice for authors? If so, how can they justify giving such a large proportion to authors who are rich while they are alive? Even worse, how can they justify giving substantial sums 515 of public money to the rich heirs of authors who were rich when they were alive? Do the Government accept that that is an abuse of public funds? Or are they prepared to accept at this time that, if we are to try to make this bad Bill a little better, one way of doing that is to insert the word "live" and, on a later group of amendments, the wordswho are resident in the United Kingdomor "authors paying British taxes" or whatever phrase might come to mind? On 4 November 1976 we had a debate on how we should define "authors". There were some problems. Indeed, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West suggested some interesting forms of words for getting round that problem.
I do not propose to argue over the word "live". I heard the criticism made of the drafting of the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. I thought that a somewhat semantic attitude was taken to the placing of the word "annually". However, let us not quibble over the drafting of this simple amendment. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will now make clear from the Dispatch Box that we shall not give anything out of this £2 million to the heirs of dead authors. If she accepts that principle, we shall not press the matter to a Division. I hope that she will be able to give that assurance.
§ Miss Margaret Jackson
I hope to be able to give some assistance to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), although perhaps not as much as he was seeking. He indicated that, if I were able to give the assurance that he sought, he would welcome it. But the welcome that he and his hon. Friends extend is so lengthy and florid that I fear it might not greatly assist us in making progress on the Bill. Normally it would be a great temptation, but in this instance the temptation is seriously diminished. That is a factor that hon. Gentlemen might bear in mind when dealing with later amendments.
Amendment No. 1 was almost cleared up early on when the hon. Gentleman asked me to intervene and clarify the point. However, lest there should remain any shred of doubt in the mind of any hon. Member who may wish to return to the point, I reiterate that it will 516 be necessary for an author himself to register for public lending right and that the Registrar will not consider the presence of a dead body and someone else speaking to cover registering in person. The person concerned will have to be alive to register for public lending right.
Furthermore, such a person will have to be alive to attempt to assign public lending right. I hope that we can clarify this question of people being alive, that it will not cause hon. Members any further confusion, and that we shall not need to elucidate it further in the debate.
§ Mr. English
Does "alive" in this context mean like Members of Parliament? In other words, does the author on his last gasp have to be driven in by ambulance to sign on so that his heirs can benefit?
§ Miss Jackson
We do not envisage writing in any kind of "nodding through" procedure. We merely argue that it is necessary for an author to have his soul still within his body in order to register.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
The hon. Lady has just said that an author must be alive to register. Most of us understand what that means, but she went on to say that the author must be alive to attempt to assign. She used a word between the words "to" and "assign" and I shall be grateful if she can clear up that matter.
§ Miss Jackson
I referred to the point mentioned in passing by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South that it will not be possible for a dead person to make a fresh assignment. During his speech, the hon. Gentleman seemed to stray into the realms of thinking that, if one were dead, one might be able to assign the right to a publisher. Let me make it clear that it will be possible to assign a right only while one is still alive. If I inserted words that caused the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) confusion, I regret that and withdraw them.
§ Mr. Sproat
I do not believe that I said anything peculiar when I referred to assignment. Is the hon. Lady saying that, for example, if an author dies and specifically assigns the benefit from public lending right to his son, that son may further assign the benefits, assuming that that assignation is within 50 years? If that is correct, what the hon. Lady said about assignations—that they cannot be 517 made after an author is dead—is false. The person to whom it was originally assigned can presumably assign it further.
§ Miss Jackson
I was seeking to draw a distinction between an assignation and a bequest. I was making the point that it is necessary for the author to assign the right while he is alive. I do not believe that we need to dwell on that aspect any further.
The other amendments that are grouped with this one all have a common aim—to restrict or remove the power of an author either to assign public lending right to someone else in his lifetime or to make a bequest.
The essential difference between the Government and the proponents of the amendments is that we look upon public lending right as property. That is what authors have always requested that we should do. Therefore, we see public lending right as being treated in the same way as one treats property. Conservative Members may say that that is not very Socialistic, but I find it so bizarre and entertaining to listen to them arguing vehemently against inheritance that I propose to store up my reply on that point for future benefit.
Amendment No. 21 seeks to remove from the list in the possession of the Registrar persons to whom the right belongs, leaving the list as a list of books.
Amendments Nos. 24, 25, 27, 30 and part of 32 attempt to remove the right to bequeath public lending right. Those amendments would restrict its duration either to the author's lifetime or to the end of the year in which the author dies. Amendment No. 28 would restrict the duration of the bequest to the lifetime of the surviving spouse or the attainment of the age of majority by the youngest child.
We shall not be accepting any of those amendments. We realise that Conservative Members and some of my hon. Friends feel that it is not right that public lending right should continue after an author's death. I point out to those hon. Members that it is not automatic—the right continues only if the books are still being borrowed. As we see public lending right as property, we feel that it is an author's right, and the right of those he nominates, to benefit from it.
518 My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) accedes in amendment No. 12 to the right of bequest, but he restricts the bequest to the wife and children of the author. That means that the Registrar would have to ascertain whether the author is in possession of a wife and children and keep track of them.
§ Miss Jackson
If my hon. Friend wishes to debate the correct attitude to marriage, perhaps we can do that at another time and another place. Unless the Registrar were notified by the author, he would have to discover in each case whether there was a wife and/or children to inherit. He would have to keep track of them to make sure they continued to be in a position to inherit.
We feel that it is simpler to have a cut-off date rather than to link the right of bequest to an author's lifetime or to the age of others.
Amendment No. 29 provides that payments should be made only to living authors and those who are assigned the right until the fund reaches the level of £10 million. I presumed on first reading the amendment, and my impression has been confirmed by the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, that the object of the amendment was to protect living authors against the heirs of dead authors. We come back again to the fundamental question whether the right is a property to be disposed of as the author wishes. We accept that principle, and the hon. Members who support the amendment do not.
I accept that the amendment does not seek to delete the 50-year provision, but it places an arbitrary limit of extremely uncertain duration on when the scheme comes fully into force. We do not know when the fund will reach £10 million, and I think that any hon. Member would hesitate to predict that date. We think that such a provision would introduce uncertainty into the Bill without offering any advantage—and certainly no advantage that authors have sought.
We recognise the case for limiting the period after an author's death in which the right is paid and we are prepared to 519 accept the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham. West that has that effect.
Amendment No. 31 and the rest of amendment No. 32 would prevent an author from assigning his right to others while he is alive. It has been suggested in many of our debates that some publishers will press authors to assign the right to them. I think that that suggestion is stretching the argument a little far.
If we dealt with the matter as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South suggests, we should be interfering with an author's right to dispose of what we regard as his property as he sees fit. We see it as property and believe that an author should be able to assign or bequeath it, but we accept the argument for restricting the duration of the bequest.
It has been suggested that the period of 50 years was a convenient link with copyright legislation, and that is, indeed, the reason why the period was used. However, we are not totally wedded to it. It was a marriage of convenience and we are content to accept the eloquent arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West. He was told that his representations would be treated seriously. They have been and we accept amendment No. 26, which deletes the 50-year provision and substitutes a period of 20 years. The principle that we adopt is not shared by Conservative Members, but we are prepared to accept some restriction.
§ Mr. Lee
The rationale of the link between what is proposed in the Bill and copyright legislation is obvious, but, bearing in mind that the purpose of the Bill, which I support, is to do justice to people who benefit from their work, what conceivable justification can there be for dissipating a substantial portion of the very modest sum earmarked for that purpose to an author's heirs and successors? I find that a very unsocialistic principle.
§ Miss Jackson
I understand my hon. Friend's argument. He approves of the principle of the public lending right but has strong views about the right being bequeathed. I am, however, a little amazed to hear Conservative Members approving of my hon. Friend's views.
520 It would be of greater benefit to living authors if we restricted the fund to them, but we are not prepared, having taken so long to make even a start on giving authors the right, to place restrictions on them so that they are not able to use it in the way that they may use copyright and bequeath or assign it. We believe that that would be giving authors only half measure. Therefore, although we are prepared to accept some restriction on the time involved, we stand by the original contention that has been discussed at length, on this occasion and others, to retain this in the Bill.
§ Mr. English
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister. I am sure that she realises that I would not wish to be churlish by discussing her remarks at great length, but I should like to raise one or two points.
I heard the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) say, sotto voce, that it would be a terribly bad principle to accept amendment No. 26 that if one reduced 50 to 20 the law of copyright would be altered next. I can reassure him. I have discussed this matter with the eminent judge who recently chaired a committee on copyright law. His committee had considered examining the issue but realised that copyright law is not just a small portion of the law of England. It results from an international convention. The international convention, in my view, is out of date. But the relevant conventions stem from the beginning of this century and sometimes before.
It is impossible for anyone in this country to change suddenly the law of copyright. A change would require an international conference, the agreement of about 100 different States and the ratification of those States. Part of the agreement might mean a change in the law of England. But it would be impossible, in international law, unless we acted in total breach of our international obligations, for us to make any unilateral change in copyright law.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
As the hon. Member has mentioned me, perhaps I might make a brief intervention. There may not be that much significance in the possibility of a change from 50 years to 20 years, arbitrarily chosen here to suit one hon. Member because the Government find it convenient, having an effect on 521 copyright law. But it could conceivably do so. The Government, by accepting the hon. Member's amendment, as they have said they will, have removed some of the property that an author would have in life. If an author in life had, 50 years after death, to assign or sell, he has that much property. We are now told that the Government are to reduce that to 20 years, so taking away the benefit a living author would have had.
§ Mr. English
That was not the hon. Gentleman's first reaction. With great respect, I take exception to an innuendo that he raised when he used the words "to suit one hon. Member." This House has been in existence for 700 years in order that its individual Members might be satisfied by the Executive, of whatever party. The fact that the hon. Gentleman intends, or is likely, to retire from membership of this House is irrelevant. Those who remain are here to make our points of view prevail. Why are we here if not for that reason?
I am grateful to the Minister. She quoted my remarks in Committee. I presume she meant my words in the Committee on the previous Bill two years ago, or possibly she meant my recent remarks in an otherwise unmentionable institution, the Parliamentary Labour Party. Either way, I am grateful.
I do not believe that it is beyond the power of the Registrar to determine whether someone has a surviving spouse or a surviving child. There is a simple process. It just means ringing up or sending a note to the Newcastle social security computer centre, which will have a record because the surviving spouse or the surviving children often receive money directly from the State as a result of having been married or having been the children of particular people.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) entering because he may not realise that the Government have just accepted an amendment which he hoped, as he said in his speech on Second Reading, where I was not allowed to speak, would not be accepted.
§ Mr. English
I had not realised that the hon. Member for Chelmsford was 522 what I might call a negative ally of mine. I had not realised that he supported my amendments from that famous position in the background which has been referred to in many quotations. I do not believe that it is impossible for the Registrar to determine by way of the social security computer in Newcastle that people have surviving wives or children.
The Minister seemed to imply that the Registrar will never speak to any other Government Department, since in a later schedule it is specifically stated that he must never be described as a civil servant. If the schedule were not pressed in the form in which it is drafted, he would be a civil servant. I hope at a later stage to suggest that he should not be a civil servant for superannuation Act purposes either, which would perhaps reduce the competition for the job.
It seems that the Minister has been convinced that public lending right is a form of property. There is no dispute about that in the House. I should have thought that the dispute was between her advisers who briefed her and hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) and myself who believe that property should not necessarily be hereditary.
I have never heard my hon. Friend or any Conservative Member say that people should not be entitled to the just rewards of their work. Several Labour Members would join the Conservatives in saying that individuals are entitled perhaps to more of the just proceeds of their work than they currently get under our present taxation system. The Minister will be well aware that at present under our taxation system people who benefit most are those, like the Earl of Warwick or Lord Brooke, who neither work nor even live in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Bristol, West seems to be amused at my remarks, but I would think that his hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford has often defended the British heritage and could not therefore wish to see a tax system which actually encouraged non-resident inheritors to sell it off, thus depriving everyone of it and ensuring that even the Revenue did not benefit since the non-resident pays neither income nor capital gains tax.
523 If the Minister's brief had been more specific we should have got further. The real question is not whether the public lending right is property but whether it should be heritable property, whether it should be inherited by people who may not even be literate. There is no reason why the heir of an author should be capable of writing a single line. It may be that one would wish, as a matter of charity, to give him some money because, by reason of disability, he was incapable of doing so.
That, however, has nothing to do with whether one should give public money to an heir or, even worse, to an assignee. I say that that is worse because an heir can be of some blood relationship to the author, but the assignee may be merely the man's moneylender. The hon. Member for Bristol, West said that by this contraction from 50 to 20 years the Government were depriving an author of a right that he could assign. Presumably the hon. Member meant that the author could give it to his money-lender and thus borrow more on the strength of 50 years than 20 years.
That is nonsense. The whole argument for the Bill is that an author deserves something for his work. The argument is that an author should receive something for his work by way of royalties on sales and that he does not receive enough from the borrowings of his works from public libraries. It is the only argument in favour of the Bill. The theory is that there is a tremendous injustice to authors. But there is no mention in the Bill of the possible injustice to public library authorities because of the net book agreement which keeps up the price of books to public libraries.
Having done his work, perhaps on his last legs, an author might gallop in an ambulance to the Registrar—like some hon. Members come to vote when the Whips on both sides fall out—to register his interest a moment before he dies. The result would be that 50 years later people who have nothing to do with whether that author was good or bad will collect money.
That is my argument for tabling amendment No. 28. I can see why one might argue that a widow or a child under the 524 age of 18 should receive income from an author who was that person's husband or father. I do not agree with the hon. Lady that wives are possessions, but one could consider that a widow or child was the responsibility of such an author. However, one cannot argue that those who are not widows or the children of the author but who are adult and capable of earning their own living should be paid by public money because a particular person wrote the world's best novel, for instance. That is nonsense. I do not know where the Government got that idea from.
The Government did not invent this proposition. Many of my hon. Friends have suggested that there should be a public lending right. There is a measure of justice in such a provision. Some rather vicious statements have been written about me by authors, but I have never voted against the Second Reading of any Public Lending Right Bill, although I have reservations about details such as those that we are now discussing.
It is no secret that after the former Bill disappeared two years ago I had discussions with many people who had been involved in its production. I made suggestions, but they were not taken up. I do not blame anybody for that. I do not know why people such as Lord Donaldson, who claims to be a member of a Social Party, advocates hereditary wealth. Perhaps he is influenced by his surroundings. Perhaps he is influenced because about 70 per cent. of his colleagues are hereditary peers.
I should prefer the Government to accept amendment No. 28, but I should be churlish if I spoke longer. I appreciate that the Government have accepted amendment No. 26. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, West will not carp any longer about copyright law. There was never any connection between public lending right and copyright. If there had been a connection, we should have had a public lending right long ago. If hon. Gentlemen want to hear the history of copyright, I could go on for another hour explaining how, in this country at least, some part of it began in the arguments about monopolies in the reign of James I. That would be straining the patience of the House.
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth refers to the reign of Richard III, whose reign was brief, though I assume that he managed to pass some legislation during it.
There has never been any connection between public lending right and copyright. Nor should there be. Copyright is quite different and was founded upon an international convention. I am sure that many people who advocate public lending right would wish to see the principle which we might be passing into law now eventually becoming an international principle. They might hope for an international convention on public lending right and that 100 countries would agree to it. Meanwhile, there is no such thing.
In my view, it is quite wrong to try to tie this relatively new principle—though there are two or three countries which subscribe to such a principle now—of public lending right to the old principle of copyright, which applies in many countries.
There are arguments for and against the principle, and I do not need to go into them. I am sure that the Chair would forbid me if I tried. For example, one argument might be that copyright and patent law to some extent inhibit the use of new knowledge and invention. There are arguments against copyright and patent law as well as those in favour of them which say that people should get the product of their enterprise. There is no argument at all for tying public lending right, which is new, to such ancient principles as copyright and patent law.
I should have thought that it would be rather better if we did not attempt to do that, because if we seek to tie new legislation to old we tempt courts into following precedents which apply to other circumstances. It would be much better if any court considering public lending right considered it as such and did not attempt to tie it to copyright or patent law.
I am grateful to the Minister for accepting my amendment, though I am sorry that the Government did not see their way to accepting it two years ago. It is rather like the decisions on the audit. Eighteen months ago a committee which I chaired suggested a reform of our system of audit. Ten months ago the Government turned it down. Last Thursday the Secretary of State for Industry said that 526 the Treasury agreed to it. In a similar way, the Government are now accepting something which I suggested two years ago. One can only be grateful for these small mercies. I wish, however, that the system of government, under any party, worked more quickly.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
May I attempt to clear up any difference of opinion which there may be between myself and other hon. Members on the subject of the Government's proposal to reduce to 20 years the 50-year "after death" benefit which is in the Bill?
We take the view that this move potentially takes away benefits which could accrue in life. An author with the prospect of leaving a widow an income of £12 a year from the public lending right fund might well take the view that he would rather sell the right before his death. The family would get more for the assignment if it was a 50-year continuing income rather than a 20-year continuing income.
I suggest to my hon. Friends that perhaps we should not vote against the Government this evening but that we should reserve the right to return to the matter in another place when, no doubt, the Bill will be further explored.
§ Mr. English
That is a direct threat that the hereditary House will be used to protect hereditary property.
§ Mr. Lee
Supporters of legislation tend to be abstemious in speaking at this stage in the progress of a Bill to compensate for the verbal incontinence of opponents. I shall not take long, but I am bound to make a few observations. It would be churlish of me not to thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for agreeing to accept the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). The amendment does two things. First, it emphasises the difference between the two concepts of law—of a public lending right as we are now inventing it, and the older, different, concept of copyright.
The amendment also serves to move a little away from an aspect of this Bill which has received a fair measure of criticism and ridicule from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), namely, that we have a Labour Government zealously protecting and enlarging the concept of heritable wealth. The hon. 527 Member is right, in a sense, in that if someone has a right which he knows will endure for a long time he has something which is assignable, which is, in one way or another, merchantable. I can understand why the hon. Member, as a Conservative, would be minded to protect such a right. That is in conformity with the general philosophy of the Conservative Party. I find it bizarre that the Government should have accepted, even in this modified form, this extended principle of heritability.
My main objection to any extension of this right beyond the life of the author is purely practical. I have already remarked twice this evening that the funds being set aside are extremely modest. It has been calculated, goodness knows how many times, that most authors will receive modest, almost derisory, amounts by way of remuneration. To dissipate a substantial portion of that upon dead persons, their successors in title and assignees—who may be strangers to them, having no relationship with the original author—is the most extraordinary principle.
I have already criticised, perhaps in extravagant language, the amounts of money being spent upon the administration of this scheme. It may be that this is an irreducible factor. It may be that the mere setting up of this scheme is such that it is bound to involve a disproportionately large outlay. Perhaps that is something which we cannot avoid. What we can avoid is a further diminution of the long-promised remuneration for living authors. For that reason, whatever the motives of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, who objects to this Bill, as is his right, I believe that it would be no bad thing if my hon. Friend were to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Moate
The debate so far has emphasised the point that this group of amendments goes to the heart of the Bill. The Under-Secretary said that the Government saw that what they were doing was creating a new property right. It is the first time that that has been stated in such clear and precise terms. The debates we have had about the ability and scope to assign and the right to pass 528 on this right have clearly emphasised that we are reaching the central part of the Bill.
I find it difficult to decide on the rights or wrongs of many of the amendments in the group. It is difficult to know whether we should say "Let us assume that this is a property right and that we must protect the interests of the authors to manage that property right", or "The Bill is intended to help living authors and, therefore, the property right factor should be restricted and limited to ensure the maximum benefit for living authors." It is a difficult decision. The dilemma that I and others find ourselves in is a reflection on the nature of the Bill, which is confused in its principles.
It is difficult categorically to say what should or should not be the right approach. I am tempted by both propositions. The ability to pass on the property right to one's heirs is an attractive proposition. Equally, one is tempted by the argument that the £2 million should be used to the maximum possible advantage of living authors. Both propositions are acceptable and sensible. Unfortunately, the nature of the Bill places us in a dilemma.
If we had adopted a sensible approach throughout the whole measure, we could have avoided the decision that I have set out. The sensible approach would have been to give the money that is available for disbursement direct to authors who are deemed to be in need by a body such as the Arts Council. The council could have distributed the money to living authors in need of help. That would have avoided the legalistic and bureaucratic structure that is evolving all the more as we consider the Bill.
When the Under-Secretary of State accepted the amendment of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) she said that, if she had agreed to limit the benefit to living authors, that would be giving only half measure to others. I presume that the hon. Lady regarded the right to pass on for 50 years as being full measure, so she decided to give three-quarter measure. In effect, she says that we shall throw away 50 years and have 20 years.
§ Mr. Moate
I shall not argue the mathematics. We are talking about justice and principles, and suddenly we start bargaining. It is said that 50 years is too long, nil is not acceptable, so we shall settle on 20 years. At least the propositon of 50 years had a logical basis. That was comparable to copyright, although I accept the argument of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West that the proposition before us is not directly comparable to copyright. I accept that copyright has been established for a long time and is bound up by international conventions.
We have before us an innovation. There are few countries in the world that have legislated in this way. It is fairly unusual. However, it is comparable in many ways to copyright. Surely it would have been more logical to go for 50 years or to say that the benefit cannot be passed on. I feel that the Minister of State will come to regret having made the concession. I am sure that he sees it as a concession.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for his reasonable attitude. The hon. Gentleman is genuinely trying to assist the House in a manner that has not been apparent in previous proceedings.
§ Mr. English
I know that the hon. Gentleman would not want to inspire it, but we must take up this threat by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) that the primarily hereditary House which lives along the corridor would wish to defend a hereditary right. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who was momentarily out of the Chamber, may not realise that the hon. Member for Bristol, West suggested that the Government's acceptance of the amendment should be destroyed in another place. I remarked that this was a direct 530 threat that a primarily hereditary institution should be used to defend hereditary property rights. That is clearly what it is. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and I might differ on the virtues of hereditary property, but I doubt whether we would differ on the virtues of a decision of this House in this sort of matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I am glad to learn from the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that this is an intervention and not a speceh.
§ Mr. English
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as you realise, my passions were aroused by the threat that a lot of hereditary individuals next door should be entitled to prevent the House of Commons from restricting a property right to those who earned it.
§ Mr. Moate
I often agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West but on this matter I disagree with him totally. We have a bicameral system, and the other House has its rights and will not be dictated to by this House or by my hon. Friends. I was not asserting that the other place would be in any way influenced by my hon. Friends, or that any threat could be held up. That is not the situation. What I believe is that the other House, which has perhaps rather more independent voices than this House, will look at this formula on its merits and find it unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
All I said from this Dispatch Box was that we would reserve our position in another place. That in no way suggests that the members of my party or any other party in another place would take any particular course of action. That is all I said. It is a harmless thing to say. Whilst I am on my feet, I must acknowledge the notable contribution of noble Lords in another place, notably the Minister, Lord Donaldson, and Lord Willis, to this subject, and neither of those gentlemen is what is called a hereditary peer.
§ Mr. Moate
On the merits, it seems to me that the argument raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. 531 Cooke) was that this proposal would reduce the benefit of the living, and I think that that is a sound point. When we come to the question of the assignment of public lending right, one is talking about a capital sum—or what could be a capital sum, or the disposal of a capital sum—and I would have thought that it would probably be substantially reduced because the benefit would expire after 20 years and not 50 years after death. So that would reduce the benefit to the living. Although there is no fundamental link between public lending right and copyright, nevertheless they presented a tidy comparison, with copyright at 50 years and PLR at 50. I have a feeling that many people would see that as a persuasive point.
I appreciate the Minister's flexibility. In a way, we are now seeing what should have happened in Committee. For whatever reason—it is not my business to go into that now—the Committee stage was brief, and for a variety of reasons we always find ourselves in confrontation on this Bill, which means that we do not get the proper debate, concessions and agreements, and so on, which are desirable on a complex matter of this kind.
§ Mr. English
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene a second time. He and I and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) were present at the most recent Committee, and I am sure he will agree that it was different from the previous one. Previously, the opponents of the Bill let it out of Committee, when they need not have done, in time for it to reach the Floor of the House, whereas, on this occasion, the Whips of both parties kept most of the Bill's opponents off the Committee.
§ Mr. Moate
It would not be in order for me to pursue that very far, but may I add this further point? On that Committee we agreed not to delay the proceedings after they had reached a certain point. If we were now able to enter into a similar arrangement, we would have a more reasonable atmosphere for debate on the amendments. That is desirable. One often tables amendments for reasons of opposition. But, although one might be opposed to a Bill in principle one eventually becomes interested in getting the 532 Bill right. If it has to go through, one would like to see it changed. On such occasions the pressure by Whips is considerable, and when Front Benchers agree it is hard for Back Benchers to influence such a Bill.
One would rather finish the proceedings at an early hour and have short speeches. But few options are presented to hon. Members who wish to change a Bill.
The Under-Secretary said that this is a property right. She also said that the heirs of an author could not assign that right. I do not see how that follows from the logic of what was said, nor do I see it in the Bill. If it is a property right that can be bequeathed by the author to his heirs, I fail to understand why the heirs should not be able further to assign that right if they wish. This is a technical point, but it is one of the few opportunities to make technical details public.
Clause 1 (7)(b), states thatProvision shall be made by the scheme for the right … (b) to be transmissible by assignment",and subsection (7)(c) says that the right hasto be claimed by or on behalf of the person for the time being entitled".In other words, the claim has to be made initially by that person, but it does not say that the assignment must be made by the person. It does not limit that. Nowhere in the Bill does it state that that which the Government are now asserting to be a property right cannot be assigned by the heirs and successors. It seems that the Government might be wrong, and I should have thought they would like to make it clear.
The Bill gets to the fundamentals of the argument. I have already discussed the question of live authors. We have had the argument about 50 years or 20 years or nil.
§ Mr. Oakes
I should like to clear up this point. I gather that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary did not say what the hon. Gentleman is claiming. I apologise for being out of the Chamber for a short time at another meeting, connected with the Education Bill. The Under-Secretary said that the author had to be alive to bequeath or assign the right. She did not say that it could not be further assigned by the first assignee. It can be so further assigned.
§ Mr. Moate
I am glad that that is cleared up and that it can be further assigned. I am not sure whether that was the message which came through before, but I am glad that it is now clear.
I should like to deal with this question of assignment in relation to the principle of the scheme. Again, it seems to me that, while the Government have asserted that this is a property right, nevertheless they are still limiting that right in so many ways that it becomes rather a mangled principle. For example, I understand that it is a property right which will be limited, in an almost arbitrary fashion, by the Government deciding that there will be a cut-off point of £1,000. But if it is a property right, why should an arbitrary decision by Government, the Registrar or the whim of the moment mean a cut-off point of £1,000? I cannot understand why that should be.
It reminds me that on 12 May 1976 a leading article on the PLR Bill appeared in The Times under the heading "Authors Equalization Grant". It stated:The 'public lending right', in the course of being knocked into statutory shape in the House of Lords, is beginning to look less like the translation into hard cash of a right which common justice warrants, and more like yet another state hand-out—in the form this time of an authors equalization grant.The advocates of a public lending right (PLR) have established, with surprising completeness in the quarters which matter, the proposition that authors retain a property interest in copies of their books which have been sold to libraries, and that they are entitled to further payment related to the lendings of each book. But having established the propostion they immediately undermined it by proposing a cut-off point to the disadvantage of best-selling authors".The point I am making is that, if this is a property right, it must be absolute and not subject to these arbitrary decisions of Government. We have not recently had confirmed that this cut-off point will exist, but I believe it to be a pretty established part of the proposed scheme. Confirmation on that point would be helpful. But that property right has been so mangled that we as a House are entitled to question the right of assignment and, indeed, the right of inheritance. That is why on balance I would have preferred to restrict the Bill to live authors.
534 I find that a difficult decision. I was torn by the argument put by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West on the question of welfare. He wanted to help the widows and children of dead authors. That is a very strong welfare argument, and one can see the sentiments in favour of it. Against that, one can argue that the main effort should be directed towards helping live authors. On balance, I do not think that this should be a property interest. I believe that this small sum of money, taking into account the 113,000 authors that it will have to help, should be directed to helping live authors. That being so, the other property aspects of the argument should also be excluded. These relate to the question of inheritance, bequests and assignments.
The hon. Lady said that she thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) stretched the argument too far by suggesting that authors would assign this right to their publishers. I would have thought that a fairly obvious thing to do. If an author negotiates with his publisher—I have never been in that position, and do not know how it works—I would imagine that he would be very keen to get the maximum percentage in royalties. I would have thought that the publisher instinctively would say "We shall take over the PLR aspect and handle that side of it for you. We shall do all the registration and save you from all the paperwork. In exchange, instead of giving you 7½ per cent. royalties, we shall give you 8 per cent. or 9 per cent." It will become a bargaining factor.
That seems to be quite a sensible thing to do. Indeed, if the author was very successful, he might also say "I want capital now. I shall assign my PLR rights to one of the big public companies which specialise in this sort of thing". I believe that Booker McConnell does this on a substantial scale, and that David Frost's company is engaged in that sort of business.
I do not think it is far-fetched to suggest that many authors will find it advantageous to sell their PLR rights immediately to some company or other, or assign them to their publishers. But I do not believe that that is particularly desirable. As I understand it, the one thing that this Bill is not designed to do is to help publishers.
535 For a long time I have thought that, if extra help is to be given to authors—I accept that there is a strong argument for trying to help them obtain extra income—the taxpayer is not the person who ought to be footing the bill. He already pays nearly half the United Kingdom turnover of the publishing houses in one form or another. The help should come from the paying public or the publishers themselves, but certainly not the taxpayer.
This Bill is not designed to help the publisher, yet, once the PLR becomes a bargaining factor, the publishing house could say "We shall take over your PLR as part of the package", or "Because you are getting PLR we do not need to pay you 10 per cent. or 7½ per cent. in royalties. We will pay you only 6½ per cent. or 5 per cent." The publishers will squeeze the author, particularly the new author who has not had a great deal of experience.
I would argue very strongly in favour of the proposition that we should delete the right to transmit this benefit by assignment. I hope that the Minister of State will accept that I am putting my case sincerely and that he might later consider an amendment along those lines. I accept that it is an odd position for someone on the Opposition Benches to take. It is the Labour Government who are creating the property right and making it assignable and inheritable. The Labour Party has become the party of property and inheritance. If we have a limited fund, let us use it in the best possible way. I should like to see it used as a grant payable through the Arts Council to worthy authors.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument very carefully and find myself in great sympathy with the points he is making. Does he agree that the people the Bill should assist are those unknown authors entering literature for the first time and that any assessment of contribution should be based upon the need to encourage them? Many of them are good authors who would not be recognised under the Bill, particularly in relation to the hon. Gentleman's point about inheritance. There is a need to encourage writers in this country. We ought to 536 be directing our minds to those whose books may not yet be in the libraries but who are making a great contribution to our literature. That ought to be a major factor in our consideration of the Bill.
§ Mr. Moate
That is a very helpful and wise intervention. It has saddened me all along, and it is one of my reasons for disliking the Bill, that it is a misuse of money. Now is not the time to be spending £2 million on this kind of thing, anyway, but, if we have £2 million to spend, the money ought to be distributed by the Arts Council. It could help more directly the sort of author mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—the author who is struggling, the new author, the author who will have very little chance of selling his books or even seeing them in great numbers on library shelves.
If we divided that £2 million between the 630 constituencies, each constituency would receive about £3,000. That money, could help approximately half a dozen authors in every constituency with a grant of £500 each. It would allow new authors to do research work. Every year half a dozen constituents in every constituency in this country could benefit significantly. Instead, what will happen? The man or woman mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South will receive £2, £3 or £12 if he is lucky out of the scheme. That is the difference.
§ Mr. Moate
The Minister of State probably thinks that our opposition is unreasonable, but I emphasise that this is what motivates me. This is a nonsense, and it will become more of a nonsense if we allow this benefit, paid by the taxpayer, to be misused, as I suspect it could be if it becomes an assignable right.
Having changed the property nature of the right, having reduced the period to 20 years, and having a cut-off point which emphasises that it is really a State benefit and not an absolute property right like copyright, the Minister should go a little further down that road and restrict the nature of the benefit so that it is payable only to live authors.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need to encourage new authors, yet much of the money will go to the estates of the dead. We cannot encourage dead 537 authors. Someone talked about a living wage for authors. We cannot pay a living wage to dead authors. What is proposed is misuse of the limited sums available.
We have been talking about matters that are fundamental to the principles of the Bill. Subsection (6) begins:Subject to any provision made by the scheme, the duration of public lending right in respect of a book shall be from the date of the book's first publication".The 50-year period is subject to those opening words. It seems to me wrong that matters of fundamental importance should be able to be varied, perhaps by the Registrar or by the Secretary of State, without reference to the House. It should not be possible to vary the scheme in a way which affects the matters of which we have been talking. I shall be glad if the Minister will study those words to see whether they should be deleted. It would be wrong if the scheme could be varied in a way that affected questions of inheritance, assignability and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) has tabled an amendment that suggests that payment of the benefits to the estates of dead authors should not begin until the fund has reached £10 million. I am sure that his motives are worthy and are along the lines that I have just described. But it is appalling to think of the fund reaching £10 million through an annual payment by the taxpayer. It is money that should be paid out by the publishers, or perhaps as a subsidy to publishers. It would be an appalling misuse of public funds if we reached that sort of figure.
I hope that the House will not accept the idea mooted by one of my hon. Friends who said that we all knew that the £2 million limit would be raised very quickly. We should not assume anything of the sort. The £2 million limit can be raised only with the approval of the House. I hope that we shall allow the scheme to run for some years so that we have a number of annual reports before us and can consider the scheme's
|Division No. 50]||AYES||[9.16 p.m.|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Lee, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Kilfedder, James||Loyden, Eddie||Mr. Iain Sproat and|
|Kimball, Marcus||Viggers, Peter||Mr. Roger Moater.|
|Knight, Mrs Jill|
§ merits before the House spends a penny more than that £2 million on this dubious scheme, which is riddled with so many anomalies and contradictions.
§ I hope that it is generally assumed that the £2 million is the limit. I think that it was the Minister's predecessor handling the Bill, now the Secretary of State for Trade, who said that if we thought that the £2 million would be rapidly increased we did not know the Treasury. I hope that I was right to take that as a reassuring comment and that the £2 million will remain the limit for quite a few years.
§ If under a new Conservative Government we are creating wealth much faster and have more funds to disburse, I would much rather leave the PLR scheme as it is, foolish though it is, and see the extra funds diverted in the way I have suggested—disbursed by the Arts Council selectively. I am not suggesting that I have any great love or admiration for the Arts Council, but it could make the sort of judgments, which are not difficult to make, about helping worthy authors with a substantial sum instead of handing out pathetically small amounts to all authors regardless of need.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ I revert to what I regard as the fundamental question. Is this a property right or is it a welfare benefit—and I do not use the word "welfare" in any derogatory sense? It seems to me that, with limited funds, we should concentrate on helping the living, that we should not pursue what the Minister emphasised about its being a property right, and that we should remember that it will be looked at again in another place. I suggest that the Government should take a much bolder look at the problems of assignability and inheritance and accept in principle this amendment and the others grouped with it.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 163.
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Ovenden, John|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Forrester, John||Park, George|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Parker, John|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||George, Bruce||Parry, Robert|
|Bates, Alf||Golding, John||Penhaligon, David|
|Belth, A. J.||Gould, Bryan||Perry, Ernest|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Grant, John (Islington C)||Rees, Rt Hon Meriyn (Leeds S)|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Boardman, H.||Home Robertson, John||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Hunter, Adam||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Brotherton, Michael||James, David||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Roper, John|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kllmarnock)|
|Buchan, Norman||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Campbell, Ian||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cant, R. B.||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Snape, Peter|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Judd, Frank||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Kerr, Russell||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Lambie, David||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Lamond, James||Stott, Roger|
|Coleman, Donald||Lawrence, Ivan||Strang, Gavin|
|Conlan, Bernard||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Thompson, George|
|Cowans, Harry||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Tierney, Sydney|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Tinn, James|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Tomlinson, John|
|Crawshaw, Richard||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Torney, Tom|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Maclennan, Robert||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Cryer, Bob||Madden, Max||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Magee, Bryan||Ward, Michael|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Mahon, Simon||Watkinson, John|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Deakins, Eric||Marks, Kenneth||Weetch, ken|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||White, James (Pollok)|
|Dempsey, James||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Dewar, Donald||Mayhew, Patrick||Whitlock, William|
|Dormand, J. D.||Maynrd, Miss Joan||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Mikardo, Ian||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Dunn, James A.||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Morton, George||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland||Woodall, Alec|
|English, Michael||Mudd, David||Woof, Robert|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Newens, Stanley|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Noble, Mike||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Flannery, Martin||Oakes, Gordon||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Orbach, Maurice||Mr. James Hamilton.|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Sproat
I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 7, after 'authors', insert'who are resident in the United Kingdom'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this, we may take the following amendments:
No. 49, in clause 4, page 4, line 44, at end insert—'(4A) No payment shall be made to an author normally resident abroad whether or not retaining citizenship of the United Kingdom'.No. 58, in clause 5, page 5, line 41 leave out from '(b)' to 'and' in line 42.
No. 60, in clause 5, page 6, line 9, at end add— 540'(5) This Act shall not apply to any libraries that may be responsible to the Scottish Assembly'.
§ Mr. Sproat
I should like to say how much my hon. Friends and I appreciate the concessions that the Government are continuing to make. We are pleased that they have brought in the concession to allow the report to be laid before the House.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Michael Cocks)
Further 541 to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will see that the position is not as the hon. Gentleman states.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It certainly was the position when the Patronage Secretary raised his ample presence to the Dispatch Box. We are glad to see the Minister back and we have no complaint. We are only sorry that we heard no speech from the Patronage Secretary.
§ Mr. Moate
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was not complaining about the absence of the Minister. He has been most helpful. I thought it desirable, in view of the intimations given earlier of his intentions concerning this amendment, that he should hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat).
§ Mr. Sproat
I was paying compliments to the Minister in the hope that it would give him time to grace our assembly once more.
My hon. Friends and I are glad that, as a result of our arguments, there has been a concession on the first series of amendments. The Government have promised, quite properly, that they will lay before Parliament a report on the workings of public lending right if the Bill reaches the statute book.
We do not regard the reduction from 50 years to 20 years as satisfactory, but we are grateful for the reduction because it shows that the Government are accepting the principle, even though they are not going all the way. The Government accepted the spirit, if not the entire wording, of our previous amendments and we hope that they will accept the spirit and the words of these amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) will agree that it is significant that we have had interventions from two hon. Members who have not previously taken part in our debates—the hon. Members for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) and Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). It is interesting that when Labour Members, most of whom would be expected to support the Government, stay in the Chamber for half an hour or so to listen to the arguments, 542 they agree that those of us who oppose the Bill have a point. That has happened with the hon. Members for Handsworth and Garston, and it demonstrates again what a great pity it was that we were not able to go through the Bill in more detail in Committee. However, we are grateful that the Minister of State is bringing to our debates some of the sympathy and understanding that could have been offered earlier.
I believe that this is a bad Bill, based on false principles, but we are trying to improve it. We have already discovered that the £2 million provided for in the Bill is gradually being eroded. When the Bill was produced, the Secretary of State said that its aim was to bring justice for authors. But the £2 million that was originally allocated for that purpose is being eroded at every stage of the Bill.
I see that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) is in the Chamber. He is my constituent and I can sometimes persuade him with my arguments. I know that he is a good Socialist, so what I have to say should appeal to him. We are setting aside £2 million for "justice for authors", but before one penny of that is disbursed we have £600,000 knocked off for the bureaucracy. That leaves only £1.4 million. Then we have money to be given to dead authors. It was proposed that such sums should be paid for 50 years after an author's death. That period has been reduced to 20 years, but justice for living authors is being eroded again.
We know that the amount that can go to dead authors depends on how long the public lending right runs. The longer it runs, the greater will be the percentage of the £2 million going to dead authors.
In this group of amendments, we are dealing with another erosion—payments to foreign authors. Bureaucrats will get their slice, dead authors will get their slice, and, if our amendments are not accepted, foreign authors will get their slice.
Another erosion has just occurred to me—and I am surprised that no one has thought of it before. Agents' commission will have to come out of the payments to authors. If £1.4 million is all that is available to authors of every sort, 10 per cent. of that will go to agents. 543 Agents receive 10 per cent. of whatever income an author gets on books, assuming that he uses an agent. Most authors do. So the sum will be decreased by another £140,000.
Foreign authors, such as Harold Robbins living in California, elaborate the case that I am making. The hon. Member for Oldham, East is a good Socialist. Is he really going into the Lobby to vote for giving taxpayers' money to an American millionaire living in California and to that American millionaire's heirs and successors? That cannot be the aim of the Minister of State. This is not a party political point.
Let us assume that the principle is right and it is correct to give £2 million. Is it right, having granted the principle of £2 million for the stimulation of literature in this country, that we should erode that money by £600,000 through bureacracy, by £140,000 in agents' commission, by money to dead authors, which could easily approach half of what remains, and by payments to foreign authors? I cannot believe that that is the right way to stimulate literature in this country.
I recognise the principles which the Minister of State espouses. I know he has been thrown into this debate at the deep end after many years of discussion in the House. But he must surely realise that this is a crazy way to implement the principle. It must be wrong.
The hon. Member for Garston was opposed to giving money to dead authors. But the case applies equally to foreign authors. Instead of giving money to people like Harold Robbins, why not give it to young authors in this country to encourage them to start writing? Why not allow the Arts Council to give it to people which it considers worthy authors? Why not give it to libraries so they can buy more books? There are 100 ways in which £2 million can be spent, without all these erosions, which would actually benefit authors and the people of this country.
In this amendment, which calls for authors to be resident in the United Kingdom, I should like to make two divisions. The first group of authors I should like to rule out—I should have thought this 544 would gain some support on the Government Benches—are those of British nationality who choose to live abroad for tax or other reasons. I am glad to see that I have at last the agreement of my constituent the hon. Member for Oldham, East. He is a Scotsman, like myself. He will know that there is a millionaire Scottish author called Mr. Alistair Maclean who writes fine adventure stories and who, I understand, lives in Switzerland. Can it be right that the hon. Gentleman's neighbours and my constituents should pay money through this public lending right to make this rich man even richer?
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman says "No". I hope that he will join me in the Lobby if the Government oppose these amendments. There are many others apart from Alistair Maclean. It is their right to go abroad. I am not blaming them. I congratulate these people for writing so well that they can make so much money. But it is no duty of this House to give them public money.
Authors who live abroad are almost certainly rich. This contravenes a Socialist prejudice not to give money to people who already have a lot. I recognise that there are difficulties. Some authors go abroad for reasons other than to evade tax. I think for instance, of the author Dornford Yates—I believe William Mercer was his real name—who was wounded in the First World War. He wrote a series of 30 or 40 popular novels under the pseudonym Dornford Yates. Because he was so badly wounded, he had to live in France due to the weather in this country. It would be unfair not to allow someone who, for health reasons, was not able to live in this country to benefit. Therefore, extreme cases apart, if a British national wants to live abroad for tax reasons, that is his right, but the House of Commons, and particularly the Labour Government, who complain of being short of funds for hospitals, housing, roads, education and everything else, should not be giving all this money to him.
I mentioned Alistair Maclean, but there is a whole string of such authors. Nicholas Monsarrat is also very rich. If he lived off the earnings of "The Cruel Sea" alone he would not have to do another day's work in his life. The idea 545 that we should give him public money passes my comprehension. Even less should his heirs, living abroad after his death, receive it.
British nationals resident abroad are not the most offensive cases. There is at least some argument, although I do not agree with it, for saying that British authors who once lived and worked here might be entitled to payment, because at least at some time they paid their taxes here. It could not be argued, however, that someone like Harold Robbins, a man who aspires to no higher a title than "entertainer", who is already a millionaire, lives in the United States and has never paid a penny in British tax, should get substantial sums from the British tax-payer.
Harold Robbins lives in California. So popular are his books that I should be surprised if his royalties are less than 20 per cent. of the cover price. I guess that one of his books in hardback form would sell for £5, or perhaps a little less. If he sold 20,000 copies, that would represent a turnover of £100,000, earning him £15,000 to £20,000 on that print run alone. To say that that man is not getting a fair deal out of his books is ludicrous, and it shows why this Bill is madness. It is wrong to say to such an author that in addition to the royalties he shall receive public money to compensate him for every time one of his books is taken out of a public library.
Each person who takes out one of Harold Robbins' books from a public library will probably buy a paperback version of another of his novels and he will receive a royalty. This man is doing extremely well. Good luck to him—I do not complain—but the idea that all the wealth that he makes from the sale of his books in this country should be topped up by the British taxpayer is absurd. It is wrong that the British taxpayer should give money to an American millionaire. That is the central argument.
There is a long list of successful American authors whose books sell here. I believe that Ed McBain's thrillers are excellent. I do not mind paying 75p to buy a thriller by that author. However, not only will Ed McBain make money out of royalties but it is proposed that he should receive money from the British 546 taxpayer. The average British author will receive £12 a year, minus agent's commission of £1.20 and income tax. But Mr. McBain and Mr. Robbins will receive £1,000, or whatever the top cut-off is. To give such authors anything is wrong. But we are proposing to give them the maximum amount, and that cannot be right.
Perhaps we have a kick-back from the Americans. The other day I read that Ed McBain was here and, I have no doubt, spending money in our shops. But what happens to royalties due to authors such as Sholokhov or Yevtushenko? How do the Government propose to pay money for public lending rights to authors who are resident in the Soviet Union? I know that the Soviet Union has signed various copyright treaties, but I do not know whether British authors whose books are sold in the Soviet Union receive royalties, let alone a public lending right. This is an extraordinary drain on our balance of payments. It is a one-way street.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I hope that my hon. Friend can enlighten me. If a Soviet author finds that a local authority in the Clyde valley or South Wales, for instance, particularly likes to buy his books to stock up the local library, is it not possible that books could be purchased from ratepayers' funds by local authorities whose political views are aligned to those of certain authors in the Soviet Union? Could not there be a cosy arrangement which could bring benefit to the author and to members of those local authorities which shared his views?
§ Mr. Sproat
That is a possibility, but it is not particularly likely. A number of conditions would have to be fulfilled. A batty local authority would have to be in charge of one of the sample libraries on which the public lending right was based. Someone would have to go in and out of the library every day, taking out books and returning them so that every time a Russian author's book was taken out it was registered on a computer.
None the less, it is true that the whole system is open to fraud. After all, when it becomes known which are the 70 libraries, there will be nothing to stop Mr. Harold Robbins from going to my hon. Friend and saying "For you, pal, there 547 is 5 per cent. on everything I get for your going into these libraries and taking the books off the shelves." There is no way in which that could be stopped. I do not say that that is particularly likely, but, just as normal authors urge their friends to buy books from the shops so that they get a royalty on the retail price, no doubt foreign authors could do exactly the same thing. Although the precise example regarding foreign authors which my hon. Friend cited is not likely, none the less it points out the way in which the door can be opened to fraud.
The interesting feature here is reciprocity. It seems that the only conceivable circumstance in which it would be justifiable for British taxpayers, through public lending right, to give money to Harold Robbins would be if British authors' works on the shelves of public libraries in California were to get dollars just as Mr. Robbins's works get pounds. Otherwise it will be a one-way drain on our balance of payments, with endless amounts of money going out and nothing coming back.
The Soviet Union presents us with an opportunity. Ever since the Helsinki agreement was signed on 1 August 1975 there has been an odd situation. Although the number of British books available in the Soviet Union is not very large, the number of titles of British books available there is very much greater than the number of Soviet titles available in this country. I think that the hon. Member for Oldham, East will confirm that, because apart from being one of my constituents he also knows a great deal about the Helsinki agreement. One of the results of basket 3 of the Helsinki agreement was that both sides agreed to an increase in the free flow of ideas and information. One of the ways in which the Soviet Union has undoubtedly implemented this agreement is by buying more British titles. There may be only two of each British title in Russia, but as they have thousands of public libraries there are many British titles there.
If the Minister of State can assure me that the Soviet Union has agreed to a reciprocal public lending right, so that any British author whose books are on the shelves of the public libraries of Omsk, Tomsk, Leningrad or Moscow will receive a payment as a result of a 548 Soviet public lending right, similar to that which Yevtushenko or Sholokhov receive when their books are taken from public library shelves in Britain, I might say that reciprocity at least went some of the way down the road.
The trouble with reciprocity, however, even if it is granted by certain countries, is that it does not work all the way, because there are many countries which do not have such a right. An interesting fact is that one of the progenitors of this Bill is the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins)—he is not in the Chamber at the moment though I make no complaint about that. He is always telling us that we should support this Bill because it is a sign of our cultural awareness. He says that if we want to be regarded seriously as a country of culture we should give this public lending right to authors, as if authors were our only visible cultural symbol, and because this way of rewarding them is a way of proving that we are cultured.
We do not have public lending right, but let us take the two countries in Europe which cannot, whatever else may be said about them, be called uncultured, namely, France and Italy. Whatever else may be said about France and Italy, they both have culture coming out of their ears. That is for sure. But they do not have a public lending right.
Even if the Minister were to agree that reciprocity was a good principle, and that without it foreign authors should not be rewarded, he would be unable to do what he would like to do because there is no public lending system in France. The provisions of the Bill would not be able to operate.
Let us suppose that Francoise Sagan were to write a book and that it were taken out by hundreds of her admirers in this country. Certainly she had many admirers in this country, and for all I know she still has them. The pounds would flow to her across the Channel. If, however, Dick Francis or Barbara Cartland—if that is not too unfair a comparison to make with Francoise Sagan—were to write a book which was popular in France, there would be no money coming for them across the Channel.
Although we may agree that reciprocity is a good route to follow so as to get us out of this dilemma, it is not one which 549 we can pursue because so few countries have a lending right. Perhaps the Minister of State can tell us which countries have that right. I know that it operates in certain Scandinavian countries. However, bearing in mind the number of Scandinavian books taken from the shelves of our libraries, I do not believe that reciprocity would be much use to us. I believe that West Germany has a system. I am not sure whether it is in operation, because on 4 November 1976 the Under-Secretary told us that West Germany had a system but that it was not then in operation. Australia has such a right. I do not know how many great Australian authors there are. There are Patrick White and one or two others—
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
The hon. Gentleman will recall that on Second Reading I mentioned the Swedish public lending right and reported that Swedish authors had descended on libraries, taken their books from the shelves, acted like present-day strikers, and sought to put up the public lending right.
§ Mr. Sproat
I recall that and I had hoped to hear the hon. Member deal with it further in Committee. However, he did not serve on the Committee. That serves to show the type of path down which we can progress without meaning to, once we embark upon a Bill which is essentially based upon false principles. A book, once bought by a public library, becomes the property of that library, just as when I buy a book, whether by a foreign or a British author, living or dead, it becomes my property. When it is said that an author retains a right of property in such a book we shall, sooner or later, go down the path described by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springbum (Mr. Buchanan) when authors seek to hold the public to ransom.
The essential maxim of this amendment is that no money should be paid to foreign authors unless there is reciprocity. Since France does not have a public lending right, no French authors with books on British shelves should receive any money as a result of this Bill. When the report which the Minister has said he intends should be brought before the House annually is produced, it will be interesting to see whether the reciprocal arrangements with other countries—for 550 example, Australia—are resulting in cash flowing to this country as well as flowing from it.
§ Mr. John Cope (Gloucestershire South)
I was interested in something my hon. Friend said, to the effect that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) had suggested that in some way the Bill would be regarded as a symbol of the extent to which we were a cultured country. Is it suggested that it is symbolic of this country's culture that we should pay £1,000 a year to Mr. Robbins, for example? If that is seriously suggested by the hon. Gentleman, does my hon. Friend support that theory?
§ Mr. Sproat
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I should not want it to be thought that I was quoting directly the hon. Member for Putney. In no sentence did he say—
§ It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.
§ Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
§ Mr. Sproat
I do not want to give the impression that I have quoted the exact words of the hon. Gentleman. However, my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), who sat through many debates in Committee, will agree that if ever I or any other hon. Member advanced an argument of substance—for example, "Surely it is madness to pay Harold Robbins £1,000"—the hon. Gentleman fell back on the defence "The Bill will improve the cultural climate of our country." There is no doubt that he regards the Bill as a sort of cultural virility symbol. If someone is in favour of the Bill, he considers him cultured. If someone is against it, he considers him a philistine. That is the division that he has been making. I am amazed that he is not in the Chamber tonight. He used to claim to be the father of the Bill.
§ Mr. Sproat
I remind the House that when talking about culture the hon. Member for Putney stated in a memorable memorandum that any work of 800 pages must be worth more than a mere essay. In that one remark he must stand damned for ever as a philistine of the deepest hue. That was the man who dared to criticise us—
§ Mr. Sproat
I apologise Mr. Speaker.
I turn to a subject that will prove even less fascinating to hon. Members. Some exceptions may be the hon. Members for Springburn and for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter). Rather curiously, the Scottish Assembly has been linked with authors living abroad. I appreciate the link, although I had not thought about it until this moment. Amendment No. 60 seeks to remove from the Bill any libraries that may come under any future possible control by a Scottish Assembly. I find myself in a curious position, as the House will know that I consider the idea of a Scottish Assembly to be a load of rubbish. If the Minister of State will adjourn the House now and delay the Bill until after 1 March, when the referendum takes place, I shall willingly withdraw the amendment. Let us assume that it is just possible that there will be a "Yes" vote in the Scottish referendum. I should say that there is a 50–50 chance at present. Let us assume that there was—
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman is right; I should have used the subjunctive. The Scottish Assembly always throws me off balance, it being such an appalling idea.
If there is a Scottish Assembly, under the Act the Assembly will have power over all libraries in Scotland. It follows 552 that the power to require libraries to take part in the sampling procedures to assess public lending right will leave the House and go to the Assembly. In logic it is surely correct, much as I abhor the idea, that in the Bill we must make a small amendment to the Scotland Act.
What would the result be of passing over to a Scottish Assembly the power to run public lending right in Scotland? Before I answer my own question, I ask what would be the result of not passing it over. If the Government reject the amendment to remove from the Bill the libraries which would come under the control of an Assembly, we shall immediately have a conflict between this House and a Scottish Assembly, if there is one, over what should be done over public lending right. I agree that that would be amongst the most trifling and piffling of all the confrontations that would happen if a Scottish Assembly were to be set up. But undoubtedly, just as setting up a Scottish Assembly would be a recipe for constitutional chaos, so the mere existence of the words "libraries in Scotland" in this Bill would provide exactly such a small cause of conflict between this House and such an Assembly. Therefore, if we do not remove those words we shall be building into the Bill, and, at one remove, into the Scotland Act, a cause of conflict.
What would be the result if we were to remove all libraries which would come under the control of a Scottish Assembly from the Bill, as I propose? First, if a Scottish Assembly had as much sense on this matter as I and other hon. Members have, no doubt it would be able to say "We will not operate a public lending right in Scotland", and it would be able to remove Scotland, as it were, from the whole PLR system. To the people of Scotland, no doubt that would be a benefit, but I am not parading it as an advantage or a disadvantage at this stage. I am merely saying that that is what would happen.
If the Secretary of State for Trade, who pushed through the Scotland Act—a load of rubbish—and was earlier in charge of this Bill—another load of rubbish—had still been responsible for the Bill, he might have tried to harmonise the two. But he is not, so we have this essential element of disharmony right in the middle of the Bill. One hopes that if there is a Scottish Assembly it will instruct its libraries not 553 to co-operate. But it could decide to conduct a public lending right of its own. That would be building horror on horror. To have a Scottish Assembly and then a Scottish Assembly with its own PLR system would be a nightmare. But it is a situation that we will have to face if the Scottish people are foolish enough to have an Assembly and the Government do not accept my amendment.
§ Mr. Cope
I apologise for interrupeting my hon. Friend again, but, if his amendment on the Scottish Assembly were to be accepted by the Government, and assuming that the Assembly came into being and were to go against PLR, thereby not having PLR in Scotland although England went ahead—presumably Wales will make its own decision—how does that square with amendment No. 2 concerning authors resident in the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend was speaking about reciprocal rights with regard to France and Germany. If PLR were different in Scotland from the arrangements in England, presumably reciprocal rights ought to apply as well between the two countries. It would not be fair if Scottish authors living in Scotland were to be paid by the English taxpayer and vice versa. Would my hon. Friend not have been better advised to express amendment No. 2 in the words "authors resident in England" if the assumptions that he has made about the Scottish referendum were to prove correct?
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but I thought that if the Government were to accept both my amendments we could amend the Bill in another place later, so that the words "United Kingdom" should have substituted for them "England", and possibly "Wales" and "Ulster".
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman says "Not Ulster", but I notice that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is one of the sponsors of the Bill. I therefore presume that it operates there.
§ Mr. English
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who represents a Scottish constituency, realises that Ulster comprises eight counties and Northern Ireland six, and that there are those who say that even those six may or may not be in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman complains about my use of the word "Ulster" rather than the idea behind the use of that word. Very well, for "Ulster" I substitute "Northern Ireland". The point which my hon. Friend made was a very good one. I would have thought that if a Scottish Assembly declined to go ahead with PLR, as it might well do since it will only exist on a block grant from Westminster, this House might still feel it right to pay money to authors resident in the Scottish part of the United Kingdom on the ground that those authors contribute taxes to the United Kingdom Treasury. That would be one way of harmonisation.
However, it was pointed out that if only one of the 72 sample libraries to be in Scotland or Wales, it would mean that particularly Scottish authors—by that I mean authors such as Nigel Tranter who are particularly popular in Scotland—would not be registered on the 72 sample. The same would apply in Wales. If one were to have more than one sample library in Scotland or Wales, one would then detract from the ability of those sample libraries to be sensitive to readership habits in the rest of the United Kingdom. In that respect one is faced with an almost insoluble dilemma.
A related issue to the main problem of regional selection concerns the Gaelic and Welsh languages. Unless one wants to put one's sample library on the Isle of Skye, I do not suppose that many Gaelic books would be withdrawn. I do not know which part of Wales speaks Welsh, but, unless one had a sample library there, one would not be aware of the sensitivity of Welsh literature which would be desirable if all authors are to be given a fair crack of the whip.
Therefore, the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) about West Country and Yorkshire books really arises out of the question of a Scottish Assembly. The one advantage that I can see of a Scottish Assembly which went ahead with PLR is that at least Scottish authors whose books were withdrawn from Scottish libraries at a very high frequency would be able to get a just amount of PLR vis-à-vis their British or foreign counterparts. That would be one general advantage of a Scottish Assembly which decided to go ahead with PLR.
555 I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State missed the first part of my argument, because I am sure she must be just as fed up with a Scottish Assembly as I am. But, out of kindness to her, I must point out that the point at issue is that a Scottish Assembly will be given powers over Scottish libraries, and the Bill says that PLR is dependent upon Scottish libraries being included in the sample. But if the Scottish Assembly instructs its libraries not to co-operate in PLR, the whole scheme will be vitiated. For that reason, I suggest that all libraries under the control of a Scottish Assembly should be removed from the Bill so that the Scottish Assembly can itself decide exactly what is wants to do.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. English
The hon. Gentleman, almost from the opposite point of view to one who believes in devolution, has got the truth of the matter. One can hardly believe that a matter as small and inessential as a PLR should be decided centrally and not devolved to Scotland. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this matter could be solved if my hon. Friend the Minister gave us an assurance that in the event of a certain referendum taking place on 1 March, and 556 of the people of Scotland expressing their wish for an Assembly, they should have power over these minor matters?
§ Mr. Sproat
Yes, up to a point. In a sense, the decision is not up to the hon. Lady, although no doubt she will explain it. In one sense the matter has already been decided, because the Scotland Act states that any Scottish Assembly will have power over the libraries. Therefore, there is an inherent contradiction between the two measures.
Instead of making a great fuss about the matter in regard to the Scotland Act, I suggest that we can correct this error by getting the Government to agree to amendment No. 60, that the libraries covered by the Scotland Act should be removed. I know that the hon. Member for Springburn is a great expert in these matters, and no doubt he will give us his views.
Summing up, I reiterate that there should be no money for foreign authors. If the Government will not accept that, there should be no money for foreign authors where there is no reciprocity. It is ludicrous to include Scottish libraries in the Bill when the Scotland Act already says that they come under the Assembly. I hope that the hon. Lady will address her mind to these two propositions.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I shall not be led astray by the hon. Member for Aberdene, South (Mr. Sproat) into talking about what Scottish librarians think of the Bill. I think I made that clear on Second Reading. Librarians as an official body do not think very much of the Bill, anxious though they are to assist authors. They wish to assist them in a practical way.
I was reluctant to speak earlier in the debate. At this late time in the evening I find myself hoping that the radio is turned off and that the Scottish journalists have gone home. The front pages of the newspapers tomorrow—and even the radio and television—will be full of the crises which Britain faces. There is a crisis in the road transport industry and there is crisis on the railways, and Government are in constant session. The railway trade unionists are meeting Len Murray. Constituents will turn to the middle pages of the newspapers and discover that their elected representatives are discussing a public lending right.
Our councillor friends had to face a barrage of criticism two years ago when they had to cut back public expenditure. Now they will read, from their rather enlightened position, that we propose to spend £2 million rewarding people who have scuttled into tax exile, who have scuttled out of this country to avoid paying tax. They will read that we are to pay those people out of a sum of £2 million less the £600,000 administrative charges. The hon. Gentleman forgot the cost of printing the annual report. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for seeing fit to give way on that. I hope that he will give way on the Bill.
There should be no place in the Bill for paying money out of a somewhat restricted fund to authors who take themselves off to Jersey, the Isle of Man and foreign parts to dodge taxes. I think that I carry more of my colleagues into the Lobby against such a proposal to pay those tax exiles.
§ Mr. Moate
However, it seems to me that the amendments on the question of Scottish libraries touch on the fundamentals of devolution. I have added my name to the names of my hon. Friends on the amendments which would have the effect of excluding Scottish libraries, but I am not sure that I was right to do so, for the simple reason that I should find it utterly deplorable if we had to segregate the library system of our country in that way.
I am a great believer in the United Kingdom. I trust that on 1 March the Scottish people will ensure that the United Kingdom remains intact and that the unity of the kingdom will in no way be jeopardised by the creation of the Assembly. While there might be a certain logic to our amendment in the light of the Scottish Assembly legislation, it adds emphasis to the possible break-up of the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, if a separate Scottish library arrangement resulted in a second Public Lending Right Bill, a second Registrar, a second quango in the United Kingdom and—heaven forbid!—perhaps even a third one in Wales—not just horror upon horror but horror upon horror upon horror—we should be inflicting upon all the British people something of which I can only say "Perish the thought!"
Although in many ways the amendment is logical, the principle is undesirable, but we are entitled to know from the Minister what the precise position will be if enough Scottish people—40 per cent.—vote in the referendum to have devolution. If they do so, and the measure remains on the statute book with Scottish libraries as a separate authority, some tidying up of the legislation might be needed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) pointed out, if the Scottish libraries were directed not to co-operate, or if the Assembly decided that it wanted a different sort of PLR scheme, there could be a conflict. As the sampling arrangement depends upon a number of Scottish libraries being within the sample, we should be clear whether an amendment is necessary if Scottish devolution proceeds.
559 However, my main concern is about foreign authors. I readily concede two points. First, it is a difficult and complex matter. Secondly, what I shall say now probably conflicts very much with what I said on a previous occasion. But if I am inconsistent on this I have a suspicion that my inconsistency will be matched again—it has already been matched—by the Government. I gathered from an earlier remark by the Minister of State that the Government were likely to propose an alteration to the Bill. Therefore they too will go back on what they said previously. I do not criticise them for that. Indeed, I go to the other extreme and compliment the Minister of State on being much more flexible and open-minded than any Minister has been previously on this legislation. That might be get him into trouble later.
§ Mr. Moate
It is better to stick one's neck out and try, as the hon. Gentleman is certainly doing, to improve this legislation.
Let me go back to 1976. Then, the Bill originally provided that there should be no restriction on the benefit payable to foreign authors. In another place, their Lordships introduced an amendment into the Bill requiring that there should be reciprocity before benefits were paid to overseas authors. That was the form in which the Bill came to this House.
Then the Government introduced their own amendment seeking to delete that reciprocity requirement put into the Bill by their Lordships. They argued that it was improper, wrong or impractical to try to restrict these rights to United Kingdom citizens or residents. Initially, their argument was that to do so would be in breach of our international commitments in terms of copyright law and, therefore, that we could not introduce such a restriction.
By the time the Bill was considered in Committee, the Government changed their mind and admitted that they were wrong. They agreed that there was no obligation under copyright law imposing such a requirement on the Government. Nevertheless, they said that we still had international obligations. They quoted the Treaty of Rome and said that, under 560 it, it would be wrong to restrict this right to British nationals.
Originally my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) had been very keen on this restriction remaining in the Bill. But he was so bowled over by the Treaty of Rome argument that he accepted that position immediately, and that is how the matter ended. The Government had their way and the Bill reverted to its original wording about payments to foreign authors. Presumably the Government were satisfied about their argument then, because that is how they introduced the Bill two years later.
However, I suspect that the Minister will tell us now that he intends to introduce an amendment to restrict the provisions of the Bill, not as I believe it should be restricted, to United Kingdom citizens, but to United Kingdom citizens and EEC nationals. If that is so, I argue that that will introduce yet another form of discrimination which in itself is un-desirable.
I do not accept that the Treaty of Rome requires us to pay this public lending right benefit to EEC citizens whose books are lent in this country. Presumably, the Treaty of Rome requires us to allow authors who are citizens of other EEC countries to reside here and to sell their books here. But I do not accept that that means, therefore, that we must discriminate in their favour and against authors who happen to be citizens of other countries. I regard it as an unreasonable form of discrimination if we have to benefit the EEC whose nationals are already doing well out of this country.
It would be rubbing salt in the wound to say that we had to pay more money to Common Market nationals when we are already paying £800 million a year into the EEC budget. I do not see the argument in law for that. In any sense, it would be offensive to do that. But in this area it would be even more offensive. Surely we do not intend to discriminate in favour of an author who happens to be a citizen of, say, Luxembourg, and against writers in other parts of the English-speaking world whose books normally are published and much more freely available in this country. Do we really intend to discriminate against authors who are citizens of Canada, the United States, New Zealand or Australia but say that we 561 must pay this benefit to Common Market nationalists? I hope that the Minister will tell me that I am wrong and that that is not proposed. Having said that, I argue very much in favour of the amendment to which I have put my name.
On the last occasion on which we debated this matter, I was persuaded by the Government's argument about their international obligations. It seemed to me that if that was the situation, we should honour the spirit and the letter of our international obligations. I was also influenced by the leader in The Times, which I quoted earlier, about restricting this property right in such a way as to say that justice ends at Dover. The idea was that it should be restricted to United Kingdom nationals and should not apply to foreign nationals.
That property right has now become so mangled that I think we should forget about it and try to use the £2 million—a large sum, but a small fund in terms of 30,000 authors—for the maximum benefit of live authors. Indeed, I suggest that it should be restricted to live authors in this country.
It seems fundamentally wrong to ask taxpayers in this country to foot the bill for helping not only Harold Robbins, who has been mentioned on many occasions, but innumerable overseas authors to boost their incomes. That is an untenable situation, particularly when the fund is so small and British authors will benefit so little. It is not right to say to the pensioners of Faversham or of any other constituency "We are going to take taxes from you to help pay foreign authors".
I do not believe that there could be much outcry from any foreign author, national or Government if we restricted this right in the way that I have suggested. Unless other countries have a public lending right and can reciprocate, they can hardly complain if we do not confer this benefit upon their citizens. There could not be much objection. This is an innovation for this country. Therefore, I submit that there could be very little complaint.
Who would be the first to take action if, in somebody's eyes, we were in breach of our international obligations? Would it be Mr. Harold Robbins? It would be pretty offensive if an author of his calibre 562 were to sue the British Government for payment of money to help boost his position. Such a situation is most unlikely. Therefore, I maintain that the Government would not be in much danger of being challenged if they restricted this benefit to British nationals only—and I emphasise British nationals only.
§ Mr. Moate
I accept my hon. Friend's correction. I accept the implication that the amendment probably begs many questions about the definition of who is or is not to benefit under the clause. We discussed this matter in previous proceedings. We sought to restrict this right to United Kingdom citizens, but there is no satisfactory definition of a United Kingdom citizen. At least, by restricting the right to those who are resident in this country, we shall ensure that it is restricted to people who pay taxes here.
I have a great deal of sympathy with British citizens who go abroad to avoid paying our penal taxes, but, having taken that decision, they must abide by it. It is wrong that they should benefit under a scheme of this kind if they are avoiding paying British taxation, which they are entitled to do. Of course, in those happy days when a Conservative Government reduce the massive penal burden of direct taxation, they will return and be able to claim public lending right. I believe that public lending right should be restricted to people living in this country and paying British taxation.
The situation is more complex than I have described. However we restrict payment of the right, what will be the position of foreign authors' books that are published and lent in this country? If a Soviet author has a book published here and lent extensively through the library system, will he benefit? Could his publisher put in a claim on his behalf? Could the translator make a claim? It could be argued that extensive sales in this country would entitle that author to benefit. I suspect that there are complications in such cases, whatever formula we adopt.
The Government have, correctly, not gone along with the EEC requirement that we should have introduced tachographs. I do not think that we should tamely accept that every interpretation of the 563 Treaty of Rome should be embodied in legislation here and that we should meekly agree with it. There are many occasions when we need to challenge some of those assertions. The Minister of State will be in good company if he says that, no matter what advice he has received about the Treaty, he does not regard it as an overriding factor in influencing this legislation.
Let us decide what is best for Britain and British authors and state categorically that, if the public lending right benefit is to be paid, it will go to British authors living in this country.
§ Mr. Loyden
The hon. Gentleman has made a commendable case on other matters and it is sad to see him adopting an insular position in regard to literary works. Does he not agree that such works, wherever they come from, ought to be judged on the basis of their literary value?
There is an absence of international agreement on these matters and it may be that we should be working for that. The hon. Gentleman's suggestions would create a degree of insularity in British authors. The views in Europe and other parts of the world of our way of life and political system are invaluable to us and it would be wrong of us to limit the Bill, in an insular way, to British authors.
§ Mr. Moate
I see a great deal in the hon. Gentleman's arguments. In a sense, literature is international and we do not want to be insular about it. But that is not what we are talking about. I understand that we are discussing a positive endeavour to assist and encourage literature in this country, to encourage people to write more books or to reward them when books are lent. The method chosen is a fund which, when spread among authors, will provide very limited benefit.
How is that sum of money to be used to maximum advantage? If one were to pursue the logic of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), one would bestow it across the world and benefit all authors, whether they lived in the Soviet Union, Australia, the United States or the United Kingdom. That cannot be done with limited resources. Given those resources, I suggest that British authors should benefit. Other countries are not trying to emulate us 564 and I do not believe we should try to encourage them to do so. This is the silliest way to encourage authors.
If the Government were sensible, they would use the available funds to help authors through something like the Arts Council. The money would go direct, as a grant, to the individual author, who would be a British author. There would be no question of paying Harold Robbins, Alistair Maclean or a Soviet Union author. Such a policy would be positive and clear and directed to the worthy person in need of support and assistance.
Instead, we are becoming involved in a complex, legal international argument. Why cannot we agree that it is a scheme to help British authors? The principles have been so muddied and flawed that we should forget them and limit the money to British authors or to authors living in the United Kingdom and paying United Kingdom taxation. That makes sense. There is an argument in favour of each option, but the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South, restricting the scheme to authors resident in the United Kingdom, makes a lot of sense. I hope that the Minister will not introduce another halfway house, limiting the benefit to Europe or the European Economic Community. I would prefer the Bill to remain as it is rather than see that new discrimination introduced. My preference is that the Bill should be limited as my hon. Friend has proposed and so ably argued.
§ Mr. Oakes
I intend to ask the House to reject the amendments as they stand. This has been a most interesting debate. This House is a peculiar place. It is rather like wine; it improves with time. In the course of this debate, many interesting arguments have been put forward. Indeed, they were put forward in Committee in a rather extreme way by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), and I said I disagreed with them. I have considered what the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and other members of the Committee have said, and some of the remarks gave me a little unease. I have listened carefully to the debate tonight, and I shall go further in reciprocity than I intended.
I would like to examine the three main aspects of the debate. First, there is the 565 question of the United Kingdom national and his residence. The second strand of the debate has been the question of reciprocity and whether a foreign author should receive rights under the Bill. The third question relates to Scotland. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) asked whether the Bill would apply to Scotland if, as a result of the referendum on 1 March, devolution takes place.
I take first the question of the United Kingdom resident. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South argues that the wording should be thosewho are resident in the United Kingdom.He is specific that one must live here to benefit from the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) says that no payment should be made to persons normally resident abroad whether or not they retain citizenship of the United Kingdom. I still resist that approach for reasons that I think my hon. Friend and other hon. Members may accept. I know that it is emotive and in some ways fair to say that if a United Kingdom author goes abroad for tax reasons it is entirely wrong that the British taxpayer should pay him money. The problem is, who decides the motive of a person going to live abroad? We are looking at the question of authors' rights. We say in the Bill that an author whose books go through the public libraries has a right to a certain amount of income.
I find it difficult to accept that the Registrar or someone else should determine that that right should be infringed because that author goes to live abroad. Some authors live abroad but pay United Kingdom tax on their earnings. They may have gone abroad not to avoid British taxes but for health reasons or in the course of their profession. Many authors, including many of my favourite authors, locate their stories in the wild regions of the world. An author will spend much time there in order to get the feel of the location and thereby improve his literary efforts. Or he may have married someone from abroad and goes abroad for that reason.
I am surprised at the attitude of some Conservative Members. They continually talk about fundamental human rights 566 and about tax inspectors and others interfering with those rights. But how do we in legislation decide upon the reason for a person going abroad? Who has the right to make that determination?
§ Mr. Cope
Inspectors of taxes make a distinction between three classes of United Kingdom citizens. There are citizens who are resident here, those who are, in the technical phrase, ordinarily resident here, although they may be abroad temporarily, and those who are domiciled here. These are three distinct classes. Sometimes the inspectors go to a little effort to determine the classification of an individual. All United Kingdom citizens fall into one of those three classes. Would the Minister accept an amendment along the lines of amendment No. 2 if it said "domiciled in the United Kingdom" instead ofresident in the United Kingdom"?
§ Mr. Oakes
I would not, and not because I am being awkward, as hon. Members will discover from my next point.
Under the terms of the Bill we are dealing with a right. Further, it would transpose the Inland Revenue and the Treasury in determination of matters involving the Registrar under the scheme. It would be costly to determine the matters that the hon. Gentleman suggests. Secondly, it involves the Registrar being in cahoots with the Inland Revenue on the matter. This is a right. My blood curdles at the idea of giving a United Kingdom citizen a right of which he is deprived if he goes abroad. Some countries which have been mentioned today do that, but we, thank goodness, do not.
I turn to the question of reciprocity. My comments might be acceptable to hon. Members. I have examined the matter carefully. The hon. Member for Faversham is right. The issue bristles with difficulties. The hon. Member mentioned our obligations under the Treaty of Rome. I have been advised that to exclude an author who is a citizen of the EEC from such a right would, without doubt, breach the Treaty of Rome.
I still think that, despite that, we must examine the matter. West Germany, for example, has a public lending right scheme which, on the face of it, is reciprocal. In practice it is exceedingly difficult for a non-West German author 567 to participate in that scheme. France, Italy, Ireland and other European countries do not operate such a scheme.
I cannot fly in the face of the Treaty of Rome, but I shall look at the question of reciprocity. Within Europe it is perhaps a matter for negotiation between officials in the Foreign Office and the European Parliament. Perhaps they could ensure that there is genuine reciprocity within Europe. I cannot say that we can exclude all foreign authors from the scheme, but I shall examine the matter.
The issue is clearer when one examines the situation in the rest of the world. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South mentioned Australia. I understand that Australia has a public lending right system but that it is applied only to foreigners who are resident in Australia and to Australian citizens. New Zealand also applies its scheme only to residents.
I can see the force of the arguments of the hon. Members for Faversham and for Aberdeen, South. They say that if a country has no reciprocal system it is grossly unfair that resident citizens of that country should benefit from our scheme. I cannot put the matter right today. But I shall consider the possibility of amendments being tabled in another place on the lines of what I have said about reciprocity. Hon. Members have made a fair point.
§ Mr. Loyden
I hope that my hon. Friend will not confine his remarks. I put to my hon. Friend a hypothetical question; I expect that he will give me a hypothetical answer. Suppose that an author was expelled from the United Kingdom but that a book of his was published in this country. I believe that it would be wrong that the support in this measure should not apply to him. I accept that there is a need for international agreement, but I hope that my hon. Friend will not draw the issue too tightly.
§ Mr. Oakes
I see my hon. Friend's point. Fortunately, we expel very few people, and I have not exercised my mind on this point. If America introduced a system whereby British authors could benefit from a public lending right, it would be fair for us to give reciprocity to American authors. If a country did not 568 extend reciprocity, we should look closely at the position. The whole subject bristles with difficulties. I am not a Foreign Office Minister, but there are all sorts of problems regarding international treaties, and so on.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Faversham, to his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South and to my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn. I believe that there is some force in their case. I cannot put it right on Report, but I shall endeavour to see whether, in another place, we can meet the spirit of their speeches.
Amendments Nos. 58 and 60 restrict the position, if Scottish devolution comes about, by providing that the measure shall not apply to any library which is responsible to the Scottish Assembly. I hope that the House will reject the amendments. Their effect would be that, if a Scottish library is not included in the scheme, a Scottish author, even though he be registered under the United Kingdom scheme, would be deprived of benefiting from the scheme because the Scottish library was not included in it. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South would want that to happen. It would be grossly unfair to Scottish authors. On Second Reading hon. Members representing the Scottish and Welsh National Parties, and Ulster Unionist Members, welcomed the intention to apply the right on a United Kingdom basis.
For those reasons, I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment. The Scottish amendment would have a detrimental effect upon Scottish authors. I assure hon. Members that I shall try to meet the points which they have raised on the other amendments by action in another place.
§ Mr. Kimball
I hope, particularly after hearing the Minister's reply, that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) will not withdraw his amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) got to the kernel of this matter by referring to the problem of domicile. We are not naive enough to believe that a Government Department will pay lending rights gross. They will be paid less the standard rate of income tax. Will the Minister tell us whether the rights will be paid gross or net? That is of great importance when 569 we consider authors' domicile or residence.
Presumably the rights will be paid less the standard rate of income tax. If the author is impoverished, presumably he will be able to claim back the tax that has been deducted at source that he should not have paid. If the author is domiciled abroad and is drawing his money from sources in Britain, the simplest approach is to tax his rights at the top rate. It may be said "If he has gone abroad and he no longer wishes to pay United Kingdom taxation, it must be that his earnings in the United Kingdom are such that the level of our taxation is unacceptable."
That which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South has injected into the argument is, I believe, the solution to the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has posed. The Minister of State talks gaily about a reciprocal arrangement, but other than authors in some dreadful countries, like Sweden, which have a higher rate of tax than the United Kingdom, surely no author will want to come to write a book here, let alone have it printed and published here, and subject his royalties to our level of taxation. There are only about three countries in the world other than Sweden where taxation considerations would make it advantageous for an author to come to the United Kingdom.
The Minister has not dealt with the problem of authors who have to go abroad to research their work. The top-selling book at Christmas was on Captain Cook. The author had to go to the South Pacific for a considerable time to research that work. I am certain that during the time that he was there he did not suffer penal rates of United Kingdom taxation. That is another category of author that is not covered by the amendment. To produce books that we all enjoy, some authors have to live outside the United Kingdom for a period.
It is all very well at this time of night for the Minister to say that he is slightly sympathetic and that he will give the matter consideration. Before we let the amendment go, I want him to produce a constructive answer. Let him tell us how he will deal with the problem. If we do not take that approach, we shall find that the whole Bill becomes enacted because 570 the Minister is a charming person who is liked by everyone in the House. There is the danger that it will pass through the House on the agreement that everything will be considered later. In that way we shall lose the opportunity to receive a firm undertaking from the Government on what they intend to do.
If only the whole scheme could be dropped. The object of the exercise is to help authors. There is only one way to help them, namely, to give public libraries more money to buy books to allow those who use public libraries to borrow and enjoy those books. The more we hear in the debate and the longer we go on into the night, the more we realise what an expensive, useless and futile scheme it is and how complicated it is becoming. There is talk about reciprocal arrangements with other countries. We have heard that they will not exist.
The best course would be to adjourn the debate and not continue with the scheme. It may be that we shall hear the plans of both Front Benches.
§ Mr. Cope
It seems late in the day for the Minister to bring forward the suggestion of reciprocity, to say that he might agree to it and that he will consider the matter with care. The Bill has been knocking around for a long time. The principle has been knocking around since at least before the war. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends have practically taken the Bill through the House. However, in the last few hours of discussion of the Bill in this place the Minister says that there is a possibility that he will introduce reciprocity. It is late in the day, to say the least, to make such a statement.
After all, I do not see that the principle that underlies it differs much from, for example, social security benefits. Over the years, we have had a great deal of discussion about reciprocity of social security benefits and the way British citizens are treated overseas and the way overseas citizens are treated when they come here, fall ill or become unemployed or in some other way qualify for benefit. It does not seem to me that this scheme to benefit authors differs in principle from such social security schemes.
I want to develop what I said in an intervention in the Minister's speech. I did 571 not agree with what he said in reply to me. The point concerns the tax position of authors as affected by the Bill. An author who lives in this country, writes a book and gets money under the Bill, if it is passed in its present form, will have it taxed as earned income; after he dies, his heirs will have it taxed as investment income.
But for foreign authors the position is not quite as easy as that. I should be grateful if the Minister would explain what the tax position is for foreign authors. I do not think that it is quite as easy as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). These authors may well never have been to Britain; they may not have earned the money in Britain—they may have written the books in America, Switzerland or elsewhere. The money may accrue to them from the British taxpayer without their ever having visited Britain.
In any case, any income which they have which arises in this country and which then becomes payable to someone overseas is subject to a double taxation agreement, if one exists, between this country and the other country concerned. We have many double taxation agreements, and I am not sure how the income under this Bill will be treated under those agreements. The agreements differ in detail, but they mostly follow the OECD model agreement. I should be interested to hear how this income will be treated under double taxation agreements for foreign authors who have never been to this country and have done all their work abroad.
§ Mr. Kimball
As the Minister is unable to tell us, does my hon. Friend, with his great experience of the taxation system, expect these rights to be paid gross or net?
§ Mr. Cope
I am afraid that I am unable to say whether they will be paid gross or net. It is clearly the assumption of whoever wrote the explanatory and financial memorandum that they will be paid gross and presumably not taxed, because it says that the charge on the public funds will be £2 million. There are various allowances for expenses and so on, but basically it is £2 million.
572 It is assumed in the Government's calculations that the authors will actually receive £2 million, and that implies that it will be paid gross, otherwise the net amount of money that the Treasury will have to expend will be considerably less than £2 million. Some of it, of course, will be over the exchanges in terms of being paid out overseas, and some will be paid in this country, but the net effect on the Treasury will be considerably less than £2 million. That seems to me to imply that it will be paid gross. I may be wrong; perhaps it will be paid net. Perhaps we shall see something about it in the Finance Bill this year, when we get to it, depending on who introduces it.
I should like to develop the point about residence and domicile which I raised in my intervention. Residence, ordinary residence and domicile are three different things. They are differentiated in the tax statutes. The Revenue and taxpayers go to a great deal of trouble to agree between themselves who is resident, who is ordinarily resident and who is domiciled in this country, and who is in each of those categories overseas.
Even though those domiciled overseas may remain United Kingdom citizens, even though they may earlier have lived here, and even though they may have written their books while living here, for the purposes of United Kingdom taxation they are out of the net and gone. They are considered to have cut off their intention ever to live in the United Kingdom again. They have uplifted their roots and gone abroad. They have no residence or house here, nor have they a bank account.
The Revenue goes to a lot of trouble to make sure that these people have upped sticks and gone. They are perfectly entitled to pull up their roots and go overseas. I respect not only their right to do so, but I understand why they do so. From their point of view, I believe that they are quite right in doing so rather than staying here and paying our rates of tax. But if they choose to do so, I do not see why the British taxpayer, who will not benefit at all from any future efforts which they may make, should be expected to cough up money under this Bill.
I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us what the tax position is of authors who are domiciled overseas. Can 573 he also say what will happen to the income received from the Bill?
§ Mr. Moate
With his considerable knowledge of taxation, can my hon. Friend tell me whether I am right in believing that authors in Eire are in a particularly advantageous position? As I understand it, as a deliberate act of encouraging literature, authors pay no income tax whatever. Does my hon. Friend know whether that is the case? Would that affect the reciprocal position, and would not that be a more advantageous way of encouraging authors to stay in this country?
§ Mr. Cope
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am not an expert on the Irish tax system, but it is my understanding that authors in the Republic of Ireland enjoy considerable direct tax privileges which are such as to encourage authors of British and other nationalities to go and live in Ireland. If they choose to do so, and particularly if they become domiciled in Ireland, I see no reason why we should support them.
Of course, the converse applies. We might well learn from the Irish in this respect as, indeed, in some others, because Ireland's tax system has other advantages with regard to close companies and so on that I would welcome. However, I see no reason why we should not copy Ireland in respect of authors.
I should like to make a brief point about expelled citizens arising from something said earlier by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). Of course, these people are very few. By definition they are all foreigners. They are all people who have no right of residence in this country, otherwise the Home Secretary and the courts would not be able to expel them. Yet they may be in a position to make a great deal of money from books about their experiences. A good deal of the benefit and notoriety attaching to those books would arise from the very fact that they had been expelled.
That being so, it is even less desirable that, if the Home Secretary takes the view that such people are not fit to live here and should be expelled, they should be able to go overseas and benefit from a subsidy by the British taxpayer, partly as a result of the very fact that the Home 574 Secretary has declared them unsuitable to live among us, for his own proper reasons.
One can think of various names, but I do not wish to inflame any Labour Member by mentioning anyone who has been expelled recently. Some people might put pen to paper or typewriter to ribbon to benefit from their being thrown out. They, even more than people who have given up their United Kingdom domicile, do not deserve to benefit from the Bill.
However, my main point is to ask the Minister to clear up the matter with which he seemed unable to deal just now, to clear up the tax position and tell us whether authors overseas would benefit in full or only in part from the benefits apparently conferred on them by the Bill.
§ Mr. Kimball
As we have the advantage of my hon. Friend's great tax knowledge, can he deal with the question of authors who are in prison? What is the tax position of prisoners? Will they get their rights if they sell their story of, say, a train robbery?
§ Mr. Cope
If a man is in prison in this country, he is resident in this country—both resident and ordinarily resident. I have three prisons in my constituency, and I can assure my hon. Friend that prisoners are resident there. They have little opportunity to write books in prison, but some of them may have written books before going into prison. If so, or if they have other income which arises while they are in prison, their tax position is exactly the same as my hon. Friend's and mine, depending on how successful the books are.
The fact of being imprisoned by a foreign regime may affect one's residence, or where one is ordinarily resident, depending on the length of sentence. If a sentence takes a person into more than one tax year he will become non-resident and not ordinarily resident. But I think that the assumption would be—I speak without notice of the question—that a British subject who was imprisoned overseas retained a British domicile if it was clearly his intention to return. Certainly, if he took any action such as asking for 575 the British consul to visit him, that would tend to reinforce the assumption that his intention was eventually to return to the United Kingdom, and his domicile would remain here.
I suppose that there could be a difference if the prisoner were under sentence of death and it was thought that he was not likely to return anywhere. But I think on the whole that his domicile, as long as he remained in gaol, would still be held to be the United Kingdom. Therefore, from the Revenue's point of view, he would remain in the position of being not resident or ordinarily resident but still domiciled in the United Kingdom. His tax position would follow from that.
§ Mr. Rhodes James
The House is very grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), Faversham (Mr. Moate), Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) and Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr Buchanan) for having ventilated a matter that was raised in Committee and is of profound concern. The House is also grateful to the Minister for the manner in which he has responded to the debate, particularly for his commitment that the matter will be reviewed again by the Government, with a view to the possibility of amendments being tabled in another place.
The amendment struck me as being extremely limited, because it could have included Mr Harold Robbins, if he were so foolish as to become a resident of the United Kingdom. In the circumstances, the House having had a very good debate, I think that the Minister's statement should satisfy my hon. Friends, and I hope that I can persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South to withdraw his amendment in view of the Minister's commitment.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am happy to yield to the beguiling persuasion of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) and, perhaps more importantly, to the Minister's constructive and helpful words. We look forward to seeing the amendment when it is introduced in the other place, and, on that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.576
§ Mr. Sproat
I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 7, after 'authors', insert—joint authors, editors, compilers, illustrators, or other such persons who were wholly or largely responsible for the creation of a book".As we have heard incessantly from both sides of the House, the purpose of the Bill is the creation of justice for authors. To the extent that the Bill embodies a principle of merit in however faulty a package, were it to give justice to authors I should be much happier about it than I am. But if that is the principle on which it is based, it is unfair to draw a distinction between a number of different kinds of authors or creators of volumes such as editors, joint editors, compilers, illustrators, translators, and also authors of reference works.
This is a very wide subject, and I am sorry that the Government did not see fit in Committee to try to assist the authors of reference works. After all, since public lending right is to be—if it is at all—given, it should be given in respect of all books which are read from the shelves of public libraries, whether they are read in the homes of those who borrow them or by those who read them in the libraries.
We are talking about public libraries, and we know that books of reference from a very large part of those volumes which people go to public libraries to consult. There is a prima facie argument, therefore, for saying that the authors of reference works should be treated in a superior manner to the authors of novels. Certainly there should be equality between the authors of reference works and of novels in this respect.
The argument for reference works is that, whatever else they are, they are not mere volumes of entertainment. I agree that the word "mere" should not always be applied to novels. Novels can inform, instruct, penetrate and transmit the truth in a more profound way than many works of reference.
Nevertheless, we know also that a lot of novels—certainly, the majority of novels taken from public libraries—are mere entertainment, and one of the objections which those of us on these Opposition Benches who oppose the Bill maintain is that, since about 70 per cent. of the books borrowed from public 577 libraries are novels, there is here a question of mere entertainment, and there is a very good argument for asking why the general public should pay for a specific form of entertainment which happens to appeal to only a small section of that public.
Nobody says that the general public should subsidise cricket matches or should make access to opera performances at Covent Garden free, or whatever it might be, although, no doubt, we subsidise the Arts Council and the rest. I think that I take even the Government Whip, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), with me on this. I think it unfair that there should be this concentration of Government subsidy on certain sorts of entertainment and not on others, and although there is a case in respect of opera, say, because the economics of opera make it totally impracticable if it is not subsidised—I could argue that on another occasion—it cannot be said that novels would not be read if there were no subsidy. People will read novels. They can afford to read them without any Government subsidy.
Therefore, if we are to subsidise any part of the public library service, there is at least a prima facie case for saying that the support should go to that part which is beyond doubt serious, namely, reference books—which also happen to be more expensive—rather than novels, which are cheaper and are entertainment.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
For my guidance, will my hon. Friend say in what part of the Bill the authors of reference works are excluded from the benefits to autors? I can see no such exclusion.
§ Mr. Sproat
I cannot at the moment because I cannot afford the time in the middle of my speech to run through the whole Bill, but I dare say that the hon. Lady the Minister will tell my hon. Friend. But he can take it from me that reference books are excluded from the Bill.
Basically, the point of principle that I make is that if the Bill is to give justice for authors, not only should there be justice in the sense of saying that if their works are more popular they should get more—as I say, I do not like that principle, but at least it would be fulfillment of the idea of justice for authors—but 578 there should not be a distinction between different sorts of contributors to books.
The first kind of author who might qualify in this respect is an editor, and I shall give an example to show what I mean—an editor who, it seems to me, is indubitably entitled to whatever benefits public lending right may confer on authors, if any authors are to have such benefits at all. I take the reissue by Oxford University Press of the complete works of Chekhov. Those works are edited by Mr.—or perhaps Professor I do not know—Ronald Hingley, and, what is more, he has translated them, and provided footnotes, exegeses and cross-references. He has done enormous work on all the short stories and plays of Chekhov, which are now being reissued in I know not how many volumes—the plays bound in red and the short stories in green.
It seems to me absurd to say that that man, who is contributing enormously, in a way which it would be difficult to exaggerate, to the cultural awareness of our society by beautiful new translations of a great European writer shall not be entitled to a benefit to which Barbara Cartland is entitled. I do not want to write down Barbara Cartland, but—
§ Mr. Sproat
If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier he would have heard me pay a touching tribute to a novel of hers called "Vote for Love"—a rather moving tale of a pretty, fluffy young thing who falls in love with a Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. Sproat
If the Liberal representative present deigned to grace our assemblies more often, he would have already heard my rather critical appreciation of this fine novel.
What I am saying is that, however much Barbara Cartland may appeal to many people—and I am not critical of that—even those who buy her novels most and read them with the most pleasure would not pretend that she is making a greater contribution to our awareness of Western culture, or a greater literary contribution in any sense, than Ronald 579 Hingley with his new Oxford University Press edition of the works of Chekhov, Yet, as the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State have it at present, Barbara Cartland will get £1,000 a year, although she is a very rich lady and is already making a great deal of money out of her 198 novels, or however many it is, as well as her new gramophone record. She is making money out of all these things, and yet on top of that she is to get £1,000 from a public lending right, whereas Mr. Hingley is to get nothing.
That seems totally unfair. To draw a distinction between authors, in that sense, the author-translators, in the Hingley sense, seems to me a false distinction.
In the past, we have heard Government spokesmen say "Oh, yes, you have a point there, but the fact is that we have not got very much money to go round, and we have to draw the line somewhere." We have the old argument—"We must draw the line somewhere." Very well. If the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State and the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State want to draw the line in this Bill, let them draw it to exclude dead authors, up to 20 years. Let Ministers find a way—we discussed this matter on a previous amendment—to get rid of provision for all foreign authors. The Minister of State has been very helpful on that matter. The Government are to table an amendment in the other place.
There are, however, many ways in which the Bill could be tightened up—for example, the bureaucracy. The sum of £600,000 out of £2 million is to be spent on the bureaucrats, and then the Under-Secretary says "We cannot allow people such as Mr. Hingley to have any money because there is simply not enough money". In short, there will be enough money, if the Government Front Bench have their way, to pay the Registrar a salary of £20,000 a year, and to provide him with a car, and all the rest of it, but there will not be money to pay authors.
If the Bill has any raison d'etre, it is to stimulate literature in this country. That surely must mean concentrating on the most vital places if money is short—and, at £2 million, it certainly is short. But that certainly does not mean giving money to Barbara Cartland and her ilk, 580 on the one hand, but denying it to Ronald Hingley, as an editor, on the other.
I am very sorry that the Opposition Front Bench has not been graced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), because he is a very distinguished editor, as I understand it—
§ Mr. Sproat
—of the works of Bagehot. I think that it is a series that is still being continued. I have not read the works, but I know that they are very highly regarded by everyone who reviewed them. Yet, as I understand it, my hon. Friend will not get a penny out of PLR as a result of his work. I am sure that he is not promoting the Bill because he hopes to benefit from it. None the less, if such a Bill is to become the law of the land, surely someone who does work of great historical value, such as editing the works of Bagehot, deserves as much as Barabara Cartland, Harold Robbins or Dick Francis, or any of the other people who quite properly appeal to a taste for mere entertainment.
In short, once again the balance has been wrongly drawn. The money will go to the wrong people. Why should it go for novels of mere entertainment if there is not enough money to pay it to the authors, or whatever, of more serious works who really contribute to what we are trying to do in the Bill?
§ Mr. Cope
In the various categories outlined in the amendment, my hon. Friend includes at the endother such persons who were wholly or largely responsible for the creation of a book.It seems to me that that category might include publishers in some circumstances. After all, there are many instances, I understand, of a book being suggested in the first place, an author found and the whole thing put together by a publisher, and where the creative spark which starts off the book is the publisher's. In those cases at least, do not publishers fall into the same category as editors, compilers and so on, as listed more specifically, and would it not be right for them to benefit at least equally with editors, compilers and authors of books?
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend has made an interesting point. It is certainly true 581 that on many occasions the origin of a book is in the publishing house. The publishing house sets about finding a suitable author. A coffee table book is often the sort of book which springs from a publisher's mind. It sets about finding the author and the illustrator and bringing them together.
The Minister of State said earlier that his blood curdled at something which was being proposed. My blood curdles at the idea of publishing houses being eligible for public lending right. We know, however, that under the Bill publishing houses will benefit, not only because libraries will be a showcase for their books but because it will be a great temptation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said, for any author, particularly if he is elderly, particularly if he is without children—I say this having been in the business—to say to the publisher "You are offering me a royalty of 10 per cent. the first 5,000 copies"—or say, on the first 10,000 copies"—12½ per cent. on the next 5,000, and 15 per cent. on the next 5,000. That will not bring me enough money. I want more. Therefore, instead of my getting 10 per cent. on the first 10,000 copies, I will assign to you, as I am legally able to do, any future benefits out of public lending right, and will you please write into my contract that the 10 per cent. starts at 5,000 copies instead of at 10,000 copies?"
In short, the author will use the assignment of public lending right as a bargaining counter to get a better contract from his publisher. That perfectly legal and perfectly proper arrangement will mean that the British taxpayer will be paying in order to subsidise publishers. I do not like that.
I do not say that this would happen only with publishers. There is nothing to stop an author from assigning his public lending right to his tailor for making a suit. I am not saying that publishers are the only villains in this case. I take that as the most obvious example. An author might assign his PLR to his agent in return for his asking only 5 per cent. commission in future. There are a hundred ways in which the money could end up in hands for which it was not intended.
§ Mr. Cope
I still do not see the philosophical difference between payments to publishers who may be almost as involved, or more involved, in the creative processes 582 which lead to the production of a book, and payment to others involved. My hon. Friend mentioned coffee table hooks. Many of these contain not much text but many illustrations, sometimes provided by the same people. Is the author to get all the public lending right on the grounds that he has written part of the production, even though the main contribution may be in the photographs?
§ Mr. Sproat
That is a fair point. The answer to my hon. Friend's point about publishers being eligible for PLR because they often are the fons et oriqo of the whole book is—and this is the answer I would give if I were an author—"When you draw up my contract, I shall expect certain returns". Let us say it is a coffee table book. There was a beautiful coffee table book on the castles of mad Ludwig of Bavaria. I do not know who published it and I do not know who wrote the text. It was a lovely 10 in. by 10 in., glossy, five-colour laminated jacket and all the rest—a beautiful book.
If that were the publisher's idea and he got only 10,000 words of text to flesh out 130 pages of pictures, we should probably find in the contract that the royalty rate was only 5 per cent. for ever, or it might even be a down payment. In short, the publisher would get the extra profits, because he would not have to pay the author as high a royalty as normal and the author would probably agree because he would not have done so much work. The fact that he was to get PLR would mean that he could make a deal with his publisher, if he wished, to pay over X per cent. of his PLR. The publisher might say "It is only £12 a year anyway, it is peanuts, so it does not matter". Of course, if he were a best-selling author it might be £1,000.
In short, all these problems are remediable, to the detriment of the Government's principle, within contracts which could be negotiated between publishers and authors.
§ Mr. Sproat
That again could be taken into account. There are 100 different factors which could be taken into account. The fact that it was only a 10,000-word book but the author was a world authority on the subject would entitle him to a higher royalty rate. These are factors 583 which a good agent should be able to work out on behalf of his author.
Returning to my point about editors, there is a simple remedy which would enable the Minister to accept the amendment. Of course, she might wish to tighten up phrases relating to publishers, illustrators and so on. For example, if Ronald Hingley is treated by the publishers on a straight royalty basis for the Oxford University Press series of Chekhov—I do not know whether he is, but I imagine that he gets 10 per cent., 12½ per cent. or 15 per cent., just like any other author—as though he were the original writer, Chekhov, why cannot he get PLR for withdrawals from public libraries on the same basis as any other author who is paid a royalty by his publisher?
There is no problem there at all. It requires the Government to look again. I cannot think why they have excluded this from the Bill. It is so obvious. It is not a lion in their path. If we had a proper Committee stage, no doubt it could have been settled then. There is no reason why editors should not be brought in.
The next extremely unfair omission concerns joint authors. It seems incredible that joint authors should be excluded. I cannot see the reasoning behind such exclusion. Many famous books have been written by joint authors—for example, "Diary of a Nobody" by George and Weedon Grossmith.
§ Mr. Sproat
I shall come to that. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has made a fair point. Would we say to the authors of "Diary of a Nobody", were they alive today, "You are not allowed to put 'George and Weedon Grossmith' on the cover. Otherwise, you will lose your public lending right"? It is bizarre. "1066 And all That" by Sellars and Yeatman is another example.
The other day I bought a Penguin book, "Philby" by Maureen McConville and Patrick Seale. It is a fascinating book. Because there are two authors on the cover or in reality, are we to exclude them? "I Don't Bruise Easily" by Brian Close—although it is written by somebody else—because it has only 584 one author on the cover, will entitle him to PLR. It is madness. Given that the Government clearly do not understand anything about the mechanics of publishing or where authors get their money from, I cannot understand why they should want to do this.
There is a simple remedy. When a publisher publishes a book by joint authors, the royalties are usually split down the middle. If both authors have contributed an equal amount, they get 5 per cent. royalties each on the first X thousand copies sold, while a single author gets 10 per cent. royalties.
If that can be done by the publisher, through the agent who takes his 10 per cent., it can be done with public lending right. The money can be paid to the publisher who will send it to the agent for distribution to the author or authors as agreed in their contract. If the public lending right body decided that the book "Philby" qualified for a payment of £15 a year, the money could be sent to the publisher and forwarded to the agent, who would take off his £1.50 and divide the remaining £13.50 between the two authors.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. John Tomlinson)
That would be £6.75 each.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that he is in charge of the distribution of our overseas aid.
If the Government do not go ahead on those lines, we shall get into a world of petty deceit where, for example, the authors of the "Philby" book could say that if they put both their names on the cover they would not be eligible for public lending right. If it is a best seller, they may be entitled to £1,000. Such authors may decide to put one name on the cover but agree to divide the public lending right between them. That is the sort of appalling petty and trivial deceit into which publishers, authors and agents will be led if the Government follow the extraordinary idea that only single authors are to be eligible for public lending right payments.
Another group specifically ruled out by the Bill is compilers. Why should they be excluded? Kingsley Amis's new book, a Faber book of popular verse, is selling 585 at just less than £5. The publishers will tot up the number of sales and multiply it by the cover price, and Kingsley Amis will be owed 10 per cent. or so of the resulting figure.
A compiler often does more work in compiling a serious anthology than does a Mills & Boon romantic novelist who writes his work in, I should think, about four weeks. Simenon says that he writes a book in 10 days. Why should someone who writes a book in 10 days be eligible for public lending right when a compiler who makes a serious anthology which enriches the lives of those who read it will not be entitled to anything? Why should Kingsley Amis be entitled to £1,000 for writing "Lucky Jim" in 1953 or whenever but be entitled to nothing when he compiles the Faber anthology in 1978? It makes no sense.
Yet the problem is so simple of solution. In the previous debate we agreed on the principle of reciprocity, though the Minister pointed out that it was difficult to achieve it in practice because of the complications of EEC regulations. We accept that difficulty, but there are no difficulties in the cases that I have quoted. All that would be needed is the creation of one more sub-division of the public lending right body to get the money to the right source.
Many of the books seen in W. H. Smith or any bookshop that sells at Christmas present level are compilations. I can only prepare scrambled eggs myself, but there is a tremendous trade in cookery books. Those who compile cookery books are not being original because they explain how to make beef stroganoff but they go to tremendous trouble and doubtless visit the original house in Leningrad to find the recipe. To compile 200 recipes in the average book involves a great deal of hard work. Why should not those people be rewarded?
I saw a book recently on the history of Test cricket—I think by Bill Frindall, the BBC cricket statistician—from 1877 to 1977 containing every score card and the statistics of every batsman and bowler who has played in any Test match in the last 100 years. No one can tell me that putting together the statistics of 100 years of cricket is not far harder work than writing a Mills & Boon romance in three weeks, knocked about to a romantic writer's formula. Bill Frindall however, 586 will get absolutely nothing under this Bill. I would make a plea to the Minister that editors, joint authors and compilers are entitled, in certain circumstances, to be rewarded with public lending right, if anyone is to be rewarded. They have that right. It is a perfectly simple operation.
My hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) mentioned illustrators. This is another huge area. Why should not someone who illustrates a book—illustrations are the main part of a book—receive a PLR in the same way as he receives a royalty? It would be difficult if one was publishing a new edition of "Grimm's Fairy Tales" where the text would be out of copyright but there would be a new illustrator. The book would be sold on the strength of the new illustrations. Of course, people will specifically buy reissues with the famous Arthur Rackham illustrations. Although he is long dead, I use his name as an example. If his name is selling the book, why should he not be rewarded?
About 10 years ago I was approached by a gentleman who is now a personal adviser to the Prime Minister. He came with a proposition for an illustrated book. The idea was that an illustrator called Alan Aldridge should illustrate all the Beatles' songs. The main part of the book would consist of three verses of song followed by a full page of beautiful illustrations. It turned out to be a best seller all over the world, from Japan, Europe and America to Eastern Europe. It made a great deal of money for Mr. Aldridge, who deserved it. Unfortunately, I was only the publisher.
The title page of the book had the words "By Alan Aldridge" in gigantic letters. We were selling the book on its illustrations. Of course, we were also selling the words of the Beatles, who were big news 10 years ago, but the main emphasis was on the illustrations. We paid to Aldridge, as well as to a fellow called Dick James, who had the copyright of the Beatles' lyrics at the time, a royalty on that book. He received 10 per cent. or rather more. There was the example of an illustrator who had been treated by the publisher as the equivalent of the author of a book, and rightly so. It was his beautiful illustrations that sold the book, and I am not sure that another 587 edition is not about to be brought out now. We will get more royalties from that.
If, therefore, publishers can make allowance for royalty payments to illustrators, why cannot the Government simply pay the public lending right that accrues on a book to a publisher, who would then distribute it between the author of the text and the illustrator, as they will have determined in their contracts? It is extraordinary that the Government should go out of their way to ignore these people who have as much right to be considered as contributors to the country's cultural climate of this country as Barbara Cartland has. There is never any difficulty about giving money to her. People with much higher artistic and literary pretensions do not get the money, however.
When I was referring to the Oxford University Press edition of Chekhov, said that Hingley was not only the editor but the translator. I think that translators should also be included for benefit from the public lending right. For example, most people would say that the top 10 novels written in the twentieth century must include Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past". I cannot stand it, but many people think that it is a wonderful novel. The reason why that series of books received such acclaim in this country was the particularly outstanding translation by a man called Scott Moncrieff. It would be unfair for that translation not to be recognised in terms of public lending right.
Scott Moncrieff is no longer alive, but a man who is and who has done a wonderful translation is Sir Isaiah Berlin, who did a translation of Turgenev's "Torrents of Spring", which is an absolute masterpiece and has made this book live for readers in this country in a way that no previous translation has done. I cannot see why he should not be paid the public lending right in the same way as an author who writes a book from scratch, if that is the deal which the publishers agree to. If the publishers feel that it is the translation that is selling the book, surely there is no argument about the translator getting the benefit under public lending right. Presumably the qualities that sell the book on the retail market are the same qualities as cause 588 the visitor to the public library to take it from the shelf and read it.
One could make out a case for a whole series of people to receive this benefit. With certain books it is the printing, the jackets or even the illustrations that attract the reader. There is a big sale now for "William" books from the middle era when they were illustrated by Thomas Henry. People will pay a lot of money for those editions of the "William" books which they will not pay for other books which have the same text and illustrations by the same artist at a different period.
Therefore, there are hundreds of small ways in which certain organisations or individuals might have contributed to certain books. The House could get round that problem and ensure that justice was done simply by saying that public lending right will be paid not in respect of the author but in repect of the book, and if the book is taken from the shelves a certain number of times in a sample library the sum is owing on that book which is paid to the publishers, who distribute it to author, illustrator or whover according to contract.
There is a problem about reference books. Many people feel that it is unfair that reference books are excluded. The public library has two functions—to provide entertainment and to provide instruction. Who is to say which is the more important? Nobody would say that the mere entertainment function was more important. Let us say that the functions are equal. If they are equal, they should be treated equally.
We must try to find a way of bringing reference books within the scope of the Bill. The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that if we are foolish enough to pass the Bill, the supposed benefits are spread as widely as possible. Nobody can deny that the author of the work of reference should be rewarded. There might be arguments against the inclusion of illustrators, but nobody can argue that works of reference should be brushed aside as light productions of an idle hour. The Minister has a duty. She says that the Bill provides justice for authors. She must consider the interests of those who produce reference works.
Sometimes books are written by several authors. Dictionaries, for instance, are 589 often written by two or three people. But there is a simple solution to the problem of multi-authorship. The conditions must be written into a contract. When authors agree to write a work of reference, a contract is drawn up to apportion the other royalties, subsidiary rights, microfilm rights and other matters. All that is needed is an extra clause covering the division of the public lending right. Even if there were 10 authors there would be no problem. That would include in the system volumes of short stories, for instance, and works of history. A book entitled "The Age of Austerity" covered the 1930s and was published by Penguin. It contained essays written by half a dozen authors. Those works could be brought within the Bill.
However, the most important books in this connection are reference books. It would be simple to devise a sample method. I am not an expert on performing rights. I know about them only because my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham, when the House last considered the Bill, was critical of the Performing Right Society. I then received a long letter from the full-time organiser of the society. He sent me literature on the subject and explained that it was impossible to keep a record of every tune played by the BBC and that the society comes to a blanket agreement with the B.B.C. and others. It would be possible for a similar blanket arrangement to be made for works of reference in public libraries.
Perhaps it would take too long, in the brief time at our disposal until breakfast, to go into all the details, but it would be possible to devise such a system, and it is extraordinary that the Government have not made a serious effort to do so. They have said that the different areas pose different problems. They have rejected many proposals already.
§ Mr. Sproat
I know; but does the Minister suggest that because a matter was aired in November 1976 it should not be raised now?
§ Miss Margaret Jackson
So extensively has the subject the hon. Gentleman raises already been discussed that it has not been included for discussion now. The same applies to reference books and performing rights and the question of a 590 register of books rather than persons. This was debated earlier this evening. Perhaps the hon. Member is losing track of events. I should not be surprised.
§ Mr. Sproat
Since I have spoken on every amendment, I am certainly not losing track of events. The hon. Lady has not been in the Chamber for all of the debate, so that it is more likely that she has not got the balance of the debate. Reference to works of art are included and that is what I am discussing. That is why I tabled the amendment.
The Government have found difficulties in many different areas. None is insuperable. But to get the Bill through they have brushed aside all the different categories except one. They have said that they will accept only authors. I have demonstrated that in the categories I have mentioned the difficulties can be sorted out. The issue of works was something put in by the other place. I should not be surprised if, when the Bill goes to the other place, Lord Willis, who was pretty keen on this last time, attempts to add it again. I believe that it would be a good idea, if we are to have this burden imposed upon libraries.
Why should the Bill relate only to authors and not books? Public libraries deal in pictures, gramophone records—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is straying beyond the amendment.
§ Mr. Sproat
I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was picking up a reference made by the hon. Lady to earlier debates.
If the Government believe that justice for authors is the principle behind the Bill, it would be perfectly possible to provide justice to those who are compilers, joint authors, editors, illustrators, translators and authors of works of reference. I have shown how this can be done at no extra cost and without damage to the relationship between authors, agents and publishers.
§ Miss Margaret Jackson
I hope that I can relieve the mind of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and thus relieve him and his hon. Friends of the necessity to continue the discussion.
The hon. Member argues in particular that the Government have sought to exclude editors and joint authors from the 591 Bill. He spoke with some regret of the fact that these people were not named on the face of the Bill. Let me reassure him by saying that it is not our intention to exclude such people for ever from public lending right. The distinction between our view and that of the hon. Gentleman is that we do not believe that it would be sensible to try to write these categories into the Bill. There is no suggestion that the Government envisage excluding these people from the scope of this measure in perpetuity. We are not setting our face against the idea that we should try to accommodate persons or groups other than single identifiable authors. We do not believe that that would be sensible or practical.
I think that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the amendment illustrates the difficulty of accurately defining how we should widen "author" on the face of legislation in the main statute. The position ofjoint authors, editors, compilers, illustrators or other such personsmay be clarified under the scheme. I am not suggesting that the Government envisage that it will be possible to do that at once. In getting the scheme under way as smoothly as possible and with as little cost as possible, which I know is dear to the hearts of Opposition Members because the efficiency and cost of the scheme are matters to which they constantly refer, we do not envisage that it will be possible to accommodate joint authors or editors, for example, at the beginning. Nor are we entirely certain about exactly the mechanism we would use.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the way in which publishers decide how they will distribute the funds that are available between joint authors. It may be that that is an example that we can use. I do not say that that will prove to be the position as no doubt others will have different views. We are prepared to consider any workable mechanism for identifying editors, joint authors, compilers and others on the basis that that is something that should be done within the scheme. We do not envisage that it will be possible to put any such mechanism into effect immediately. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that it would be possible to widen the scheme by order under clause 3(7).
§ Mr. Moate
The hon. Lady and her hon. Friend the Minister of State have been most helpful and have indicated that they have been flexible and open-minded in their approach to the scheme. There is surely a special case for editors. I do not see why it would be difficult to specify editors. Often there is only one editor of a particular work, volume or book. Surely the scheme, if not the Bill, could be extended to embrace editors. I ask her and her hon. Friend to reconsider the matter so that it may be clarified. I ask that they go as far as they can to include editors and even co-authors. There are difficulties with illustrators, compilers and others, but surely it would not be too difficult to find a mechanism for editors and co-authors.
§ Miss Jackson
I am certainly prepared to tell the hon. Gentleman that we shall consider the matter again. I wished not to mislead him by saying that we think it may be possible to do something under the scheme at some time. I did not wish him to draw the conclusion that I was saying that we might do it at the very beginning. I am warning him that we may not be able to arrive at a workable mechanism at the beginning. We are prepared to consider the matter again, and I take his point about editors.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
I am genuinely bemused. I do not understand why it is not possible to make a payment to a nominated publisher and for him to distribute payment in a way that is agreed by that publisher with those who have co-ordinated in the work rather than to make one payment to the author. I cannot understand how that would create extra work for the scheme. It must be borne in mind that those running the scheme are not to be involved in any way in the distribution of the money once it is distributed from the scheme.
§ Miss Jackson
Distribution in that way would change the whole approach of the Bill from one in which a right subsists in an author and the money is paid to an author, he being free to assign it, to one in which it is solely the decision of the publisher to determine who enjoys the right and in what proportion. Opposition Members have expressed reservations about the pressure that they think some publishers may bring to bear on individual authors as regards assigning rights, 593 for example, and I am a little surprised that the hon. Gentleman suggests that distribution should be handled by publishers. We shall consider the suggestions that have been put forward by hon. Members.
I turn to the wording of the amendment. Apart from the issue of principle, on which we have some meeting of minds, we are presented with some difficulties. First, there is the reference to "other such persons". The hon. Gentleman recognises that that is a wide reference. That could include a whole range of persons—for example, the printers and the binders. That part of the amendment is widely drawn. The words "wholly or largely responsible" may lend themselves to interpretation that someone who had written only one-third of a book, for example, was not entitled to any share of the right while someone who had written half of a book was so entitled. There are difficulties in the wording.
It is my impression that the hon. Gentleman regards the amendment as a probing one. I hope that he will recognise that we are not closing our minds to the ideas and propositions that he puts forward. As I have given him the assurance that we shall consider his suggestions and that we are not seeking to exclude from PLR anyone who is not a single identifiable author, I hope that he will agree to withdraw the amendment.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Sproat
As the hon. Lady has given such cast-iron assurances that she will look again at this matter, and in view of the Government's generosity in giving concessions on every group of amendments today, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Further consideration of the Bill adjourned.—[Mr. James Hamiiton.]
§ Bill, not amended (in the Standing Committee), to be furthered considered this day.