HC Deb 20 March 1989 vol 149 cc725-6
26. Mr. Jessel

To ask the Minister for the Arts how many (a) books and (b) titles were held in libraries in England and Wales (i) now and (ii) in 1979.

Mr. Luce

In 1986–87—the latest year for which full statistics are available—English library authorities held 115.6 million books compared with 110 million in 1979–80. That is an increase in books per head of population from 2.37 to 2.45.

Details of titles held by libraries are not kept centrally. Welsh library authorities are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Jessel

In view of the significant increase in the number of books, will my right hon. Friend comment on the whingeing, whining and falsehoods put about by the Library Campaign, the leaflets of which pretend that there has been a 4 per cent. drop in the stock of books, that issues have dropped by 7 per cent. and that libraries intend to force people to pay?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend is right. The Library Campaign has dented its credibility by such extraordinary distortions in the launch of its campaign. There was a 9 per cent. increase in real terms in expenditure on libraries between 1979 and 1986–87. Book stocks increased from 110 million to over 115 million in the same period and service points have increased from 14,000 to just under 18,000. Also, there has not been a staff cut as the Library Campaign suggests but a marginal staff increase.

Mr. Fisher

Does the Minister accept that there has been a net loss of over 200 libraries under this Government and that book fund spending is down considerably? If there is a distortion of figures, as the Minister accused the Library Campaign, he also is distorting and giving extremely partial figures.

On the subject of libraries, will the Minister join me in congratulating Mr. Holmes a Court in coming to the aid of the British Theatre Association library? We welcome his generosity but we deplore the Minister's failure to act. How much longer can he go on ducking his responsibilities and hoping that the private sector will bail him out of his refusal to act on important national issues such as this?

Mr. Luce

It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members find it impossible to welcome support for the arts when it comes from the private sector. In their judgment it always has to come from the taxpayer. To suggest that the funding should have come from another source is rather silly. The hon. Gentleman should welcome wholeheartedly and without hesitation the remarkable support that Mr. Holmes a Court has now announced. I am glad that the executive committee of the British Theatre Association library has accepted his offer to provide premises for the association in central London. The premises will enable the library to continue its operations with a firm financial base, underwritten by Mr. Holmes a Court. I should like to pay tribute to his generosity. I am contributing £25,000 to the transitional costs of the association.