§ 3. Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport)
What plans he has to support increased internet access in public libraries.
§ The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)
We have set a target that all UK public libraries, where practicable, will have public internet access and link to the national grid for learning by 2002. Through the national lottery new opportunities fund, £170 million is being provided to support the network infrastructure, train library staff and create content for delivery over this people's network.
§ Ms Coffey
I am pleased that Stockport has already received £92,000 from the new opportunities fund to 609 increase internet access and that the National Library for the Blind has also received £62,000 in Government money to set up an interactive website. Does my hon. Friend agree that those extra resources open up the internet to people who otherwise might not have access, and continue the library service as a source of enjoyment, education and information to the community?
§ Mr. Howarth
I agree with my hon. Friend and share her pleasure at the increased funding to strengthen library services in Stockport. The award from the DCMS-Wolfson reader development programme to the National Library for the Blind's project, called "A Touch Of', represents support for an excellent initiative that involves specialist staff in Stockport and public library staff across the country. All the funding that she reports for Stockport shows how we are working to ensure that there is no digital divide and that everyone—including, importantly, disabled people—has access to a full range of information, lifelong learning and cultural opportunities.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
Although increased internet access through public libraries would be welcomed in rural constituencies such as Vale of York, that will succeed only if a library is open for enough hours to make it possible and if sufficient qualified library staff are available to guide people through the internet. Can the Minister assure the House that that will be possible?
§ Mr. Howarth
As the hon. Lady is probably aware, we have put out for consultation draft national library standards, with the thought very much in mind that it is important to ensure that people in rural areas have access to a proper public library service. The proposed standard is that no user should have to travel for more than 20 minutes to use a library. We have also suggested standards for opening hours and for book purchases to enable public libraries to make further progress towards recovering from the blighted years of the mid-1990s.