Page 2, 10th November 1978

10th November 1978
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Page 2, 10th November 1978 — Chance of justice for authors
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People: Heath, Williams

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Chance of justice for authors

I WAS SORRY that during the debate on the Queen's . Speech there was no mention of the arts in the address of • Mrs Williams, the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

' The arts nearly always tend to . be a Cinderella on these occasions, although of course they come within the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. Such incidents reinforce my view that the title of the Department should be changed to that of s Education, Science and the Arts

, in order to make it clear that the the arts rank equally with education in the departmental set up.

, There was, however, one piece of good news in the speech itself, and that was the declaration that the Government is going to in : traduce a Public Lending Right Bill for authors.

: We have seen this Bill so many times that a certain amount of scepticism is not out of place, but this time it does seem that the

• Government really does mean business since it is to be given its second reading in the House of Commons today.

The Bill which was introduced in the last session of Parliament was produced so late that it was s possible for a handful of back benchers on both sides of the sr: House to organise a filibuster and ensure that it did not pass ' through all its stages in time for the receipt of the Royal Assent. The tardiness of introduction was compounded by the half hearted support which the

the Cabinet, and notably the Treasury, who would have been happy to see the whole Bill fail.

I trust that on this occasion the Government's quickness in getting off the mark (which I applaud) will be matched by strong support at all stages, especially in Committee, where the major efforts are likely to be made to defeat the measure.

Public lending right in my view is a simple issue of justice for authors. In Britain we have the most advanced and most heavily used library system in the world. wit's -sae than 600 million loans or books each year For all this reading the unfortunate author gets only a royalty for each book purchased by the library. The proposal now being made is that he or she should receive a small sum for each loan made.

This is the right approach, but something should also be done for authors of reference books whose works are not taken out of the library and who thus fall outside the scope of the proposed reform. Perhaps their needs could best be met by some sort of extra purchase royalty for books bought by the library.

Financing of the right is of course crucial. There are those who advocate library changes which would be paid for by the public. Having been a member of the government which introduced museum charges I look with horror on such a suggestion.

Whatever may be said for it in theory, it would cause an outcry that would make the campaign against museum charges seem a mere dress rehearsal. It really would be a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire! The scheme will have to be financed by the Government and it is vital that the money comes from Central Government funds.

If the local authorities were asked to raise the money they would simply cut down on the amount they already spend on library books and the authors would be no better off.

One further point is relevant to the question of funds: it is essential that there should be an upper limit to the amount an individual author may draw from the fund, otherwise the most successful authors would tend to scoop the pool, leaving little or nothing for the others.

It was more than five years ago that I became Minister for the Arts in the government of Mr Heath, and one of the measures I found in a pigeon hole in the Department was a Public Lend ing Right Bill. It was in the form of a purchase right rather than a lending right, and as such was not welcomed by a number of authors.

I worked out a compromise by which both a purchase right and a lending right were to be included in the Bill and it was to be left to the Minister after discussions to get the right combination of the two.

On this basis I obtained Cabinet approval for the measure in February, 1974, and also secured El million for its financing. Alas for these efforts, the day after the Cabinet gave its approval Parliament was dissolved and we were back to square one.

I did, however, manage to get the proposal put into the Con servative election manifesto, only

to be defeated by a typist who was in such a fever to get the

manifesto typed for the printer that she left it out! I was horrified the next morning to see what had happened, but dashed round to No 10 and got Mr Heath to mention it at his first Press conference of the campaign.

Public lending Right, like the Ulster settlement, was one of the casualties of the election, and since then it has remained in the doldrums. I am delighted that it is being given another chance.




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