HC Deb 13 June 1988 vol 135 c14
49. Mr. Boyes

To ask the Minister for the Arts what is his policy on charging for the exhibiting of photographs in public libraries.

Mr. Luce

The decision on whether to charge is a matter for the local authorities concerned. I am suggesting no change in this policy.

Mr. Boyes

The House would have welcomed a more positive answer fron the Minister. Does he accept that libraries create opportunities for photographers to hold exhibitions, especially for youngsters who are starting off on the trail, and provide space for projects of local interest, involving local history, voluntary organisations and so on? I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would join me in encouraging libraries to create such opportunities and, above all, to ensure that their services remain free to the customer.

Mr. Luce

As I travel around, I see a considerable number of libraries that provide special exhibitions for painting and for photography. Whether there is a charge is entirely at the discretion of the local authorities. A number of local authorities provide these services, and I welcome that.

Mr. Fisher

I welcome the fact that the Minister is prepared to exempt exhibitions from his obsession with raising money and charging for public library services. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, by defining a free basic public library service and responsibility as narrowly and meanly as he does in the Green Paper, he will create a two-tier, semi-privatised public library service and thereby deny to many people its full range of services? That will narrow access rather than do what the Opposition want, which is to widen it.

Mr. Luce

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come to see that the purpose of this exercise is to improve the services of libraries. Those services are already of a high standard, but it will be a great day when the hon. Gentleman can at least welcome that objective. I have made it plain repeatedly that we plan to keep the basic services—book loan services and reference sevices—entirely free. As the libraries have changed in a big way in the past 10 years, with far more information at their disposal, it seems sensible that it should at least be possible for local authorities to levy charges, if they wish, in developing specialist services.