HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc508-9
4. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What steps he is taking to encourage greater use of public libraries; and if he will make a statement. [101998]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

We have raised the profile of the public library service through the introduction of annual library plans and the forthcoming minimum service standards. We have also, through the new opportunities fund, committed significant direct investment to enable libraries to offer a new range of information technology services, along with funding to promote reader development programmes.

Helen Jones

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but does he agree that many families, particularly those on low incomes, have relied on library services not only for factual knowledge but for access to the world's great literature, and that they were seriously hampered by the scandalous neglect of the book stock under the previous Government? Will he assure me that he will continue to monitor library services and ensure that they receive resources adequate to provide a varied supply of books in good condition, so that readers can once again make proper use of our great public library system?

Mr. Smith

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. Work currently under way with the Local Government Association and the Library Association on the setting of minimum standards will ensure that the maintenance of a comprehensive book stock that is in good condition is very much one of the standards that we expect libraries to meet.

I have responsibilities under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to ensure that library authorities provide a full and comprehensive service to their local population. The work on the setting of minimum standards is the first time that a Government have taken this issue seriously and set about defining what those minimum standards should be.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

Is the Secretary of State aware that last year a mobile library service in Suffolk was shut by the Labour-controlled county council, and another is threatened for closure this coming year? Will he assure me that he will speak to the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that Suffolk gets the standard spending assessment that it deserves, so that it can continue to fund mobile library services?

Mr. Smith

This year's settlement for local authorities has been better than for any of the previous seven years. It is up to individual local authorities to decide their own spending priorities. However, earlier this year we were concerned about the plans for the future of library services in a number of local authorities. I am pleased to say that, as a result of the action that we took at that time, six of those library authorities have now dropped their closure plans.

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