HC Deb 11 December 1919 vol 122 cc1769-74

  1. (1) The council of any county in England or Wales shall have power by resolution specifying the area to which the resolution extends to adopt the Public Libraries Acts for the whole or any part of their county, exclusive of any part of the county which is an existing library area within the meaning of this Act, as if the area specified in the resolution were a library district for the purposes of those Acts.
  2. (2) Where any resolution is passed by the council of a county under this Section the Public Libraries Acts shall, as respects the area specified in the resolution, be carried into execution by the council as the library authority of the area, and, subject to the provisions of this Act, the power to adopt those Acts for any district comprised in that area, being a library district within the meaning of the Public Libraries Act, 1892, shall cease.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I should like some explanation of this Clause. It empowers the council of any county in England or Wales—I do not quite know why Ireland is left out — to adopt the Public Libraries Act for the whole or any part of the county. Why is it necessary to take them from the existing authorities and take them under their own protection?


The right hon. Baronet has not observed that the terms of the Bill expressly include existing library authorities, therefore if there is any library authority in being now it is entitled to remain for the future as an independent authority. The reason why these powers have been given to county authorities is partly because the Carnegie trustees, who have in their hands a very large sum of money, for the purpose of establishing rural libraries, commenced their work in certain counties by establishing libraries at their own expense, and undertaking to maintain them for a period of, I think, three or five years, as the case may be. It is doubtful whether at the present time the county authority has the power to give an undertaking to carry on these libraries. I feel sure the Committee would desire that the work of the Carnegie trustees should be encouraged in this respect, and that life in our villages should be made a little more interesting by the supply of books, both for children and adults. The scheme is worked very cheaply. I trust the right hon. Baronet will not object to the county authority having this power.

Sir J. D. REES

Does this transfer of power connote any power for raising further rates? Is it a fact that any participation in Carnegie money makes necessary an imposition of some rate upon the already overburdened ratepayers?


My right hon. Friend raised the question why Ireland is left out, and the hon. Member has not replied to that point. Why is Ireland left out? Does the hon. Gentleman imagine that because we are so intelligent in Ireland we do not need libraries?


What would be the effect of this Bill on the rural authorities? In some of them there are already reading rooms, and very valuable places they are. As the hon. Member probably knows, there is often difficulty in getting suitable supplies of books. Will this Bill enable the county council to supply addi- tional books for the reading rooms, and in cases where there is no reading room will any provision be made by this Bill for erecting or equipping these rooms?


This would enable the county authority to establish a central depot from which books may be provided for the various centres in the county. Under the Carnegie scheme the elementary schools are very largely used for the purpose both for children and adults. The hon. Member (Mr. Lynn) asked why the Bill did not apply to Ireland, and suggested that I had some low opinion of the intelligence of his fellow countrymen. That is not the case. I regard them as the most quick-witted race in the world; but I cannot venture in this Bill to touch Ireland, because it is introduced by the Board of Education for England and Wales, which has no jurisdiction over Ireland. The hon. Baronet (Sir J. D. Rees) asked whether there will be an addition to the rates in consequence of this Bill. This Bill throughout is an enabling Bill. No authority need adopt it unless they wish to do so. Every county authority is, of course, responsible to its own ratepayers, and it will make itself responsible for a certain amount of expenditure.


We will deal with the question of expense on Clause 4, which is a very important Clause. Clause 1 is to allow the council of any county in England or Wales to establish public libraries in addition to the public libraries already established by other public library authorities. The reason given for this is that the Carnegie Trust has spent a certain amount of money. It is another example of the evil of giving a certain amount of money. As soon as you have got a little you want more. When you bring in a Bill like the Anglo-Persian Oil Bill asking for a certain amount of money you are going to spend a lot more money. I do not see why at this particular period in our history we should be going in for spending additional money. The right hon. Gentleman has said that this will enable people to read books. What sort of books? My experience is that public libraries are places where, if the weather is cold, people go in and sit down and get warm, while other people go in to read novels. I do not believe, speaking generally, that public libraries have done any good. On the contrary, they have done a great deal of harm, because the books read, as far as my in formation goes, are chiefly sensational novels, which do no good to anybody. Except for spending public money, I do not see any object in this Bill. It would be very much better if the Government would wait until we are in a better financial position. I will deal with the financial aspect when we come to Clause 4.


I was extremely glad to hear the hon. Gentleman refer in connection with this Bill to our elementary school life. I heard with delight the fact that there is some system of giving books to the young children in our elementary schools. I agree with my right hon. Friend that up to the present public libraries have not been a success in our rural areas. We want to give our young pupils in the elementary schools good books to read, so that when they leave school they will have a taste for good books, which they cannot have when reading the same old type of books from the age of ten to fourteen. We want to do the best we can to make the people of this country a thinking people, because the coming nation will be a nation of thinkers, and I want to give the children a chance of being better equipped than they were in my time. I believe that by means of the proposals of this Bill we shall build up a better race of people than England has hitherto known.


I want to remove what I think is a misapprehension in the mind of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). He fears that under this Bill there might be a duplication of libraries. As I understand the Bill, the county council would make provision in areas which are not already provided for, and there would be no duplication. What the Bill does is to give the power to make provision in rural areas exactly to the same extent as provision is made in urban areas at present. At the moment the rateable value in rural districts is so small that it would be impossible for the rural councils and the parish councils to maintain a library, but by this unification of the work of the whole county it would be possible to place these districts in the same position as the urban districts. If that is the object, it ought to secure universal approval. If we desire to make rural life more attractive there ought to be greater opportunities of reading. I heard with pleasure the speech of the last speaker. Will he allow me to say this, that I hope that provision will be made in the rural districts, as in the towns, for good healthy fiction and litera- ture of a kind which is more for the purpose of entertainmern than for ordinary education. After all, I think that the large numbers of works of fiction which go out from the public libraries have done a great great deal to brighten the lives of the people. While I sympathise heartily with every effort for increasing education, I hope there will he no effort to crowd out works of that kind. I hope that no attempt will be made to concentrate merely upon the provision of scientific works and books of that kind.


I extend an invitation to the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) to visit the public library in my own Constituency, where, in spite of the fact that owing to the scarcity of fuel there is not very much chance of getting warm, he will find the place occupied night after night by young men who are studying technical books. They are young men training themselves after the War for the work they are hoping to take up. That library, I believe, is typical of the public libraries in many of our growing industrial towns, where the demand for really useful technical works for adults is very great. There is a large demand for Parliamentary papers, and I have no doubt they read, to the great benefit of the people of that Constituency, many of the speeches of my right hon. Friend.


When I was at home we had no books, and we had to get them at the village institute. We read histories and other books. It is a good thing to sit by the fire and smoke, and better still to take a book away; such as a history, to fit us to come to such places as this.


I think the speech of the right hon. Baronet is a strong speech in favour of libraries, because for want of training people read rubbish instead of the real sort. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke of the immense value of libraries in rural districts. In the city you can easily get books, but not in the rural districts. I think it is an enormous advantage in rural districts in England or Ireland to have plenty of good books, especially in the winter evenings. I am strongly in favour of any movement which will give people more to read, especially in the form of fiction, whether Parliamentary or other fiction.


I entirely disagree with the right hon. Baronet. In my town we claim to be the first town in the three Kingdoms to inaugurate the library and put on a, penny rate for that purpose, and it has done a great deal of good to the whole community. When I was a boy I was glad to go there and get a book and take it home and read it, such as Scott and Dickens and Thackeray, and some of the heavy books which some people to-day discard. I think it is a good thing to have a Bill extending libraries, and that it is well that boys are not content to sit doing nothing. I am glad boys are beginning to fit themselves to take the places of those who have gone before them. It is necessary they should have good books. I strongly support this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clauses 2 (Arrangements between Existing Library Authorities and County Councils) and 3 (Reference and Delegation of Library Powers to Education Committees) ordered to stand part of the Bill.