HC Deb 11 March 1991 vol 187 cc663-4
33. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he has had any complaints over the adequacy of the public library facilities in Taunton.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Tim Renton)

I have had no complaints. However, I should point out to my hon. Friend that provision of public library facilities is the responsibility of the local authorities—in this case, Somerset county council.

Mr. Nicholson

I recognise that neither my right hon. Friend nor Somerset county council—with or without the community charge—has a magic pot of gold. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the splendid efforts of the staff of the Taunton library in assisting me, on occasions, and my constituents, the library is grossly undersized in relation to the size of the population that it serves? According to one estimate, it is only one quarter of the size that it should be to serve that expanding population, especially in respect of educational matters. As there is a proposal for a new building on the old Sainsbury's site in Taunton, will my right hon. Friend liaise with the local authority with a view to helping, if possible?

Mr. Renton

I note what my hon. Friend said. He has been closely involved in the efforts to persuade—if that is the right word—the county council to acquire new premises. I understand that, last week, the county council, in the light of other priorities, voted by a small majority against that course. However, if my hon. Friend sends me the full details I shall gladly look further into the matter. He will understand, of course, that I do not have any direct responsibility.

Mr. Fisher

Does the Minister understand that the vote against the excellent and extremely successful Taunton library's plan for development had nothing to do with the will of the local authority, but resulted from the fact that Somerset is threatened with poll tax capping? Has not he read the Library Association survey which shows that, because of the poll tax, 27 library authorities have had to make severe cuts this year and at least 37 propose to do so next year? Is not it a fact that the library closures, unfilled vacancies, cuts in book stocks and the shelving of excellent plans like that in Taunton are the results of the Government's obsession with the poll tax?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman may be rather more ignorant of the Taunton library expansion plans than he gives the impression he is. The plans call for a new building and a site of over 2,000 sq m has been examined. By contrast, the size of the present site is 800 sq m. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman does not really know the site or whether the expansion is justified. Furthermore, the community charge levels that have been set make provision for the maintenance of proper library services throughout the county. One area in which the provision of such services is in question is the county in which lies the constituency of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I am considering very carefully whether the library cuts that have been suggested in that area go beyond what is necessary for community charge purposes.

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