HC Deb 09 November 1992 vol 213 cc612-4
8. Mr. Raynsford

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the state of the public library service.

Mr. Key

The responsibility for providing public library services rests with local library authorities. The best of them offer sound management of resources and a service which is modern, friendly and appropriate to users' needs.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister recognise that there has been a steady decline in the standard of service throughout the country in the past 10 to 15 years? That is evident in reduced book funds and opening hours, and in library closures. Will that not grow worse as financial pressures on local authorities intensify? When will the Minister act to stop the rot so that local authorities can deliver a comprehensive and efficient service, as they are required to do under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964?

Mr. Key

Public libraries in England added 10.8 million, 11.1 million and 11 million books to their stocks in 1980–81, 1984–85 and 1990–91 respectively. Those figures include donations and free publications as well as purchases. Actual expenditure on books in those same years was £41 million, £56.8 million and £84.8 million—representing an increase in expenditure in real terms of almost 13 per cent.

Mrs. Angela Knight

My hon. Friend is aware that, despite continuing local protest and an independent review, Derbyshire county council has reopened only three of the 11 libraries that it closed. One that remains shut is the popular library in Breaston, in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend use all the powers at his disposal to ensure that my constituents enjoy the library services for which they consider that they pay in their community charge but do not receive from Derbyshire county council?

Mr. Key

I am well aware of the strong public feeling in Derbyshire about the county council's actions in recent years. I invited a delegation from the library authority to see me only last week. I took into consideration the independent panel's decision and recommendations and I have, as it were, put Derbyshire on probation: I shall not now hold a public inquiry because of the county council's good intentions, but it must hold to them if the council is to respond positively to the needs of the people whom it serves.

Mr. Barnes

Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to reconsider the formula used to calculate standard spending assessments so that Derbyshire and other authorities may have the resources to provide wide-ranging services—including public libraries, which need to be defended and expanded?

Mr. Key

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I know a thing or two about standard spending assessments. He and I have sparred over that issue for years. Derbyshire's standard spending assessment is calculated on exactly the same basis as that of every other local authority. If Derbyshire prioritises needs in a way which upsets the hon. Gentleman, he knows to whom he must speak.

Mr. Brandreth

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, despite the greatly increased expenditure on public libraries that he enumerated, the number of books borrowed in the past decade has fallen some 15 per cent.? Does he have any initiatives to encourage greater use of public libraries?

Mr. Kay

Yes, I have many ideas—but so do the professionals who run the library service. I invite my hon. Friend and right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to acknowledge that libraries are not what they were: no longer are they places where one just goes to read or borrow a book—today libraries serve as resource centres which lend many items other than books and offer on-line computer facilities. Libraries are responding positively to that new demand. They are issuing more books than they have done for some time, and the loaning of sound and video recordings is increasing rapidly.