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14 Mar 2003 : Column 584—continued

1.23 pm

Linda Perham (Ilford, North): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) on his good fortune and his excellent choice of measure to champion.

I am a chartered librarian who worked in public, workplace and academic libraries for 30 years before my election to this place. I also chair the all-party group on libraries and information management, which was formed in 1998 on the initiative of the Library Association, now reborn as CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

The clear and sustained support of both the Secretaries of State who have held the post since 1997, and their Arts Ministers, is much appreciated in the library world. I hope that the Minister who is present today is willing to assist the passage of my hon. Friend's

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Bill, which seeks to address a key issue that affects the availability and preservation of material vital to the pool of knowledge world wide.

I am especially pleased to be speaking on a Bill about libraries. A survey carried out a few years ago discovered that visiting libraries was the fifth most popular pastime in the UK, after visiting the pub, eating out, driving for pleasure and eating out at a fast food chain. In 1998 the Prime Minister said:

The excellent May 2000 report on public libraries by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport said:

The Bill would ensure that valuable material is not lost for present and future seekers of information and knowledge just because it is in a non-print format. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich has already covered the materials that do not yet require legal deposit; the number of information sources that are being wiped out is staggering.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee report to which I referred said that libraries would have to provide both electronic and book material. Almost six years ago, the Government committed themselves to establishing the public library information technology network to promote lifelong learning, public access to knowledge and social inclusion. The people's network project, which has come via the New Opportunities Fund, provides an information and communications technology learning centre that offers access to materials and ICT training opportunities in each of the UK's 4,300 public libraries.

If we are raising public expectation of access to the world wide web and delivering the means to do that in local libraries, how can we afford to allow so many rich sources of information to disappear, literally into the air, by letting slip the opportunity to preserve non-book material? Our legal deposit libraries must have such material, to ensure that a full range of media are archived and accessible to meet the thirst for knowledge in a changing world.

Legal deposit in this country—in England, more specifically—will celebrate 500 years of existence in 2010. It started with Sir Thomas Bodley, the scholar, diplomat and alumnus of Oxford university. He devoted himself to re-establishing the university library, which was reopened in 1602 and renamed the Bodleian library in his honour. He negotiated a deal with the Stationers Company to build up the library's collections, and in 1610 the company agreed to send a copy of every new book registered at Stationers Hall to the Bodleian. Although I am an Oxford reject—and a Cambridge and Bristol reject—I have nothing but praise for the Oxford graduate who began the process of preserving material for wider use.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Linda Perham: I am afraid that I do not have time.

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The first Copyright Act was passed in 1709, and further Acts followed in 1801, 1814, 1836 and 1842. The 1814 Act required the deposit of items within a month and the penalty for non-compliance was £5—the equivalent of £200 today—plus the value of the book and all legal costs. However, the Bill would amend the Copyright Act 1911, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich said, is the latest legislation that covers legal deposit. Meanwhile, the comprehensiveness of our national intellectual archive is becoming seriously deficient.

Publications deposited in the British Library are preserved for the benefit of future generations. They are added to our national heritage and are available in the library's reading rooms. They are recorded in the British Library public catalogue, which is accessible on the internet, listed in the "British National Bibliography" and used by librarians and information managers, and by the book trade for stock selection. The catalogue is available in print, CD-ROM and online formats and it has a worldwide distribution.

The British Library is not only a unique resource for scholars but a gateway to the world's knowledge. A great part of its mission is the dissemination of knowledge, and that is dependent on the delivery of electronic services.

The British Library received more than 5,000 responses to a consultation carried out in 2001, and 85 per cent. of respondents agreed that the library should increase its collections of digital material. One of the priorities decided after the consultation was the creation of an integrated technical system to provide access to printed and digital material. The British public and the wider world need to be able to access the whole spectrum of knowledge, irrespective of its format. The Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is well overdue, and we must not lose the chance to extend the range of media that is subject to copyright. I urge hon. Members to support the Bill.

1.29 pm

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I am glad that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole) has decided to update a law introduced by that most reforming and enlightened Government in 1911. My colleagues and I will certainly support him.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) rightly mentioned the significant role of the British Library, and pointed out that it was far more than just a building in the St Pancras area. It is also a large facility in Boston Spa in Yorkshire. I know that because my dad used to drive minibuses full of Sheffield university students there. Its importance is growing, in that it extends the physical reach of the British Library and also underpins much work in the higher education sector.

In a letter to me, Bob Boucher, vice-chancellor of Sheffield university, said something worth quoting:

We need to make people aware of that broader scope. The demands we are making of publishers are being made for the wider benefit of the United Kingdom economy.

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I must thank the British Library officers who not only briefed me on the Bill but allowed me to be distracted by mediaeval illuminated manuscripts. Some of those, interestingly, will be covered by the Bill. One of the best ways of issuing such manuscripts for people to see is via CD-ROM, and the library has some wonderful systems. I hope that legal deposit will mean that the work of anyone in the UK who publishes a mediaeval illuminated manuscript will find its way into our legal deposit libraries. The Bill strikes me as an important step involving material from the very old to the very new.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing his proposed measures via regulations. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire rightly said that we should ensure the continuation of the excellent co-operation between publishers and libraries through voluntary agreements. We do not want to place too heavy a burden on publishers. There are some very difficult technical issues: for instance, what defines publication? That is clear enough in the printed world, but not so clear in the non-printed world. I do not think that tidying up such issues could be done in the Bill directly rather than through regulations, given a rapidly changing technology.

Mr. Bercow: Given that clauses 6 and 8 of a 12-clause Bill provide a regulation-making power, would the regulations be subject to the affirmative procedure in the House or to its negative counterpart?

Mr. Allan: We will tidy up such issues in Committee—and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, one of the concessions that the Opposition can often screw out of the Government is the changing of a negative to an affirmative resolution. I think I have made it clear that in this instance, as in many involving technical issues, regulations are appropriate regardless of how they are introduced—but I look forward to teasing out the answer to whether an affirmative resolution, a negative resolution, or a "maybe" resolution somewhere in between, is the most appropriate option.

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): In fact, it will be an affirmative resolution.

Mr. Allan: I thank the Minister for clarifying the matter. We can claim an Opposition success at this early stage.

I hope we can work with bodies that are already trying to deal with some of these issues. There is a huge amount of expertise out there. Sheffield university tells me that it already has a close relationship with the British Library through a

There is a lot of technical co-operation between university libraries, which are also at the forefront of the process of receiving electronic publications. A vast amount of work, especially scientific work, is already received in that form. Sheffield Hallam university has, in its Adsetts centre, a library specifically designed to cope with either electronic or print media.

The expertise exists to reconfigure the whole library according to the balance between the two.

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I would also like to refer the hon. Member for Ipswich and the Minister to what is going on in industry. It is interesting that certain bodies are now trying to come up with cross-industry standards, particularly using systems such as extensible markup language—or XML, to use a terrible three-letter acronym—as a way of defining how data can be stored so that it can be retrieved in the future. Companies such as the Boeing corporation, which is designing planes with a far longer lifespan than the programmes used to produce the documentation for them, are having to tackle these issues now, and are trying to come up with open standards.

One positive spin-off that I hope will come out of the Bill is that if these common standards and interfaces are being advanced for legal deposit purposes, there could well be a beneficial effect on publishers in general, in that it would encourage them to use that standard for their general work and storage. for example, it would make their collections more valuable if they chose to sell on the copyright in the future if it was held in those commonly defined standards. There is, therefore, a huge amount of work in the academic and industrial sectors that can be drawn on. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will receive widespread support for his Bill, and I wish him every success in taking it forward.

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