HL Deb 16 November 1992 vol 540 cc497-524

5.59 p.m.

Baroness David rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the current levels of expenditure on books for schools, colleges, universities and libraries.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, three publications this autumn concern us today. The first is Books in Schools, a report of an investigation into the use and provision of books in schools, conducted by a working party under the chairmanship of Michael Marland, the headmaster of North Westminster Community School, and sponsored by the British Library and the Book Trust. The second is a report on book and journal spending in university and polytechnic libraries 1978–79 to 1989–90 produced by the Council of Academic and Professional Publishers. The third is Public Libraries and Their Book Funds, a report by the National Book Committee. I should declare an interest (though not a financial one) as chairman of that committee whose members are representative of all with interests in books: writers, agents, booksellers, publishers and the reading public through Book Trust, which is the successor body to the National Book League. It is because of what those three reports reveal that I am asking this Unstarred Question.

I believe all of us here accept the main thesis of Books in Schools that reading is the key to learning and that a sufficiency of books in the home, schools, colleges, universities and libraries is the key to reading. What we have to do is convince the Government and the Minister that if they are serious in wanting to raise standards in this country and avoid the loss of our reputation as world leaders in research they must make available funds to ensure there is ample provision of books for all levels of students.

I had hoped that when I read a press notice on 9th September that Mr. Patten was beginning to understand, though I may now be wrong. In writing to the chairman of the curriculum council agreeing to a review of the orders for English, he said that they were not sufficiently explicit about how pupils could develop the habit of reading widely and be introduced to the richness of great literature. Books in Schools however reveals all too clearly that pupils are not getting the reading experience they need, for the Government are failing to provide adequate funding for schools to make sufficient reading material available.

Learning to read at primary school is only a beginning. The crucial development of full reading and information-handling skills at secondary school is neglected. In many secondary schools children seldom read whole books. Books are increasingly replaced by photocopied extracts and information sheets. We are in danger of creating a book-starved generation. The HMI report of 1989 Reading, Policy and Practice at Ages 5 to 14 said that advanced reading skills, including information and retrieval skills, were not developed in a coherent way. Little was done after initial reading was taught to take children further and help them to understand and make use of a wider range of reading in a variety of ways.

The working party found that in good primary schools opportunities for silent reading were provided. Children had books in their lunch bags and could take them home in the evening for leisure reading. But in secondary schools sustained reading was not encouraged; pupils used worksheets and booklets put together by teachers. One teacher commented that pupils felt comfortable only with worksheets that clearly set out the limits of the reading to be done. The assumption was that pupils would be discouraged by a whole book.

A successful school should teach reading skills throughout a child's school career and provide not only sufficient books and opportunities for reading but also make use of books across the whole curriculum. Many teachers have not been adequately trained to create or make use of opportunities for children to extend their reading skills or understand fully the role of books in the learning process. Changes in teacher training, with schools having the major responsibility for the professional preparation of future teachers, mean that many more are likely to have only a superficial grounding in the teaching of extended reading.

School libraries are discussed both in the Books in Schools and the public library reports. My noble friend Lord Dormand had a very good debate on this subject in February 1991. The library or library resources centre is found to be cost-effective and is highly valued. It should be at the core of primary and secondary school work, responding to changing needs, extending pupils' awareness of imaginative literature, meeting reference needs across the curriculum and helping to develop information-handling skills. The library is usually the school's largest learning resource. In some schools the book stock alone has a cash replacement value of £150,000. Unfortunately, the majority of school libraries remain undeveloped. The 1984 report of the Library and Information Services Council for England concluded that they were under-used and under-funded. Eight years later few of its recommendations have been acted upon.

The 1990 survey of the HMI found disturbing disparities in provision that did not sit well alongside the best intentions of the national curriculum. Its 1991 report on library provision and use in 42 primary schools found the use of library resources satisfactory or better in just half the schools visited. It also found among other things that library funding did not match current book costs and replacement needs and that there were unsatisfactory staffing arrangements and inadequacies in library organisation. I should like to say how important it is to have a professional chartered librarian in charge. Most secondary schools do not; in England it is only one in seven. Scotland does much better; three-quarters of their schools do. Every head I have talked to confirms the invaluable help such a librarian gives to the work of the whole school.

But what is to happen under local management of schools and when, as we are told will be the case, more schools become grant-maintained? If schools are under-funded now will school libraries suffer more? Many LEAs have kept back funds to finance the service but in future schools will have to buy in that service. Will they? Will grant-maintained schools buy in from the LEA? If so, will they continue to be able to do so in future if they so wish? I ask the Minister to respond to those questions.

Books in Schools says that the chronic problem is money. Schools remain severely under-funded when it comes to spending on books for classroom and library use. By the late 'eighties expenditure per pupil in both primary and secondary schools had declined in cash value and in real terms and was well below the Book Trust's recommended figures. The actual spending in England in 1989–90 was £9 per primary and £13.50 per secondary pupil. The recommended reasonable (not good) provision was £15.27 for primary and £24.97 for secondary. It is worth remembering that surveys in 1989 showed that on the basis of replacement every three years a GCSE student required £23.25 per year for textbooks alone. I remind noble Lords that the actual figure was £13.50. No doubt we shall be reminded by the Minister that the DES earmarked funds for books when it made £35 million available between 1986 and 1989 via the educational support grant scheme for books and equipment for the new GCSE, and that a further £45 million is being provided for books for the national curriculum between 1991 and 1994 via grants for education support and training—the GEST scheme. First, one has to remember that providing funds for major educational change is a separate exercise from ensuring an adequate level of regular expenditure for basic provision. Secondly, one of the country's major publishers has calculated that the amount required by schools to restock with national curriculum books is £71.4 million for primary and £96 million for secondary schools, a total of £167 million over and above normal spending. Others estimate a higher figure. Coopers Lybrand Deloitte suggest £235 million over a five-year period or £47 million a year. Those are vastly different figures from the Government's.

Before I turn to the public library pamphlet I want to put in a special word for the 16 to 19 year-olds in sixth form and further education colleges. Many more young people are staying on, because of unemployment or whatever. We are very glad they are staying on, but the increased numbers will put a big extra strain on book provision. I should like to ask the Minister to comment in his reply. I hope he will not say that it is all up to the Further Education Funding Council. Public library and book provision have been more in the spotlight in 1992 than before because of the establishment of the Department for National Heritage with a Secretary of State in the Cabinet, thereby augmenting the profile of public libraries. On the other hand, never has there been so much concern about the ability of public libraries to provide books and the comprehensive and efficient service required of them under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

In February my noble friend Lord Willis opened an excellent debate on the libraries and 27th February was "Save our Libraries Day", which focused on the poor provision of books and services. In fact, 80 million fewer books were issued by libraries in 1991 than in 1981. Professor Richard Hoggart, in a lecture at the new British Library Centre for the Book, said: In this period of unusually rapid cultural change, the public libraries are both one of the main indicators of that change and among its most prominent casualties". It is ironic that under the 1964 Act the Minister for the Arts, now the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State for Wales have a duty to superintend and improve—I emphasise the word "improve"—the public library service when we know that the hours of opening are drastically reduced, cash book funds have seen cuts varying from 50 per cent. to 10 per cent., no new books have been bought by Camden since September 1991, far fewer new books are going into libraries than was the case 10 years ago, a good many libraries have been closed and more cuts and closures are feared. All these are contributory factors in the decline of library issues.

However, on the credit side, Peter Brooke's statement of 9th November on compulsory competitive tendering was much more favourable than once feared. Public library support services are not to be subject to CCT, and the Library Association's argument that it would be better to carry out pilot studies rather than press ahead has been accepted. But the association will be seeking an assurance from the Secretary of State that, whatever the outcome of the investigation, the statutory requirement to provide a comprehensive and efficient service will remain and that the core service shall remain free at the point of delivery.

I turn now to the report on book and journal spending in university and polytechnic libraries. It covers the years 1978–79 to 1989–90, 1990 being the final year that funding was specifically earmarked for books for university libraries by the Government and the UGC. Earmarked funds were not made available to the then polytechnics, and the far greater decline in provision there must in part be attributable to that. The figures reveal two distinct trends. The first is a steep long-term decline in university and polytechnic library funding for books and periodicals. The second trend seems to show that big cutbacks have been made since the previous year.

Everyone knows the facts of increased student numbers. In the 10 years to 1990, numbers in universities rose by 15 per cent.; in polytechnics by 21 per cent. In addition, teaching and learning are changing. I quote from the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, who I hoped would be speaking today. I am very disappointed that she is not. In June of this year she said: We must (use) different patterns of teaching and learning … teaching inputs must be accompanied by a greatly increased use of student self-learning materials, both computer based and more traditionally book based". The welcome emphasis on mature students, distance learning, students with non-standard entrance qualifications and part-time attendance all put additional stress on library provision. One additional factor is the increasing need to acquire materials in electronic form, often requiring significant invest-ment. Looking at both book and periodical provision, it can be seen that a total of nearly £18 million would be needed to make up the shortfall for the past 11 years—and this with the benefit of three years' earmarked funding.

Many librarians see the consequence of the upsurge in numbers as erosive of the libraries' research function, as the funds to retain the critical dual role of libraries are lacking. And it is the danger to research in this country that is really alarming. Our prosperity depends very much on it. I know that my noble friend Lord Morris will speak more on higher education, so I shall leave him to enlarge on this. But I must say how glad we are that the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced at its first meeting the establishment of a committee to review library provision in the higher education sector, which shows its awareness of the critical situation.

To sum up, reading and all the other skills of assessment and appreciation that ultimately derive from reading are essential to the development of a nation's culture and of the various kinds of expertise on which its livelihood depends. Nor is it enough that children should just be taught to read. They need to exercise and expand that skill; and for that ample material must be available to them and they must be encouraged to make full use of it. It is abundantly clear from the reports that I have cited that in Britain at present that material is woefully, but woefully, deficient and that the supply continues to decline. Are the Government really satisfied with the situation as it is? Are they unable, or unwilling, to do something about what in our view is a serious and indeed a critical situation?

6.16 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, the House will be greatly indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for raising this important issue today and for doing so in such an expert and authoritative way. For my part I shall concentrate my brief remarks mainly on the public library system but I shall say a little about schools and colleges as well.

Our free public library system, from the days of the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie onwards, has been a source of national pride in this country and very much the envy of other countries. In an increasingly leisured society—some of it sadly the enforced leisure of unemployment—it makes a vital contribution to the quality of civilised living. Its role in the underpinning of our educational system in its widest sense, as was emphasised by the noble Baroness, from children at school to senior citizens pursuing their various interests and hobbies, has never been more important.

Education is in general a top priority for this country if we are to remain internationally competitive. We live in an age when most people are likely to have to change their jobs and their skills two or three times during their working life. It is a world of mature students with non-standard entrance qualifications, of part-time courses and of distance learning, which in my day was called correspondence courses but is now very much more sophisticated.

The role of the local library in that educational revolution cannot be exaggerated. Roughly one third of the population make regular use of their local library. Surveys of the popularity of local government services always have public libraries at or near the top of the scale. For a government who have citizen's charters at the centre of their policies, the level of service in our local libraries should be a matter of great concern.

As the noble Baroness, Lady David, has shown, that level of service now varies alarmingly from one part of the country to another. The details are given in the document to which the noble Baroness referred. I am bound to say that some of the discrepancies as set out by the National Book Committee report are somewhat baffling. Looking in my parochial way at my part of Scotland, for example, I discover that in 1990–91 the city of Dundee spent £1.23 per head of population on books whereas neighbouring Angus managed no less than £3.58, which is almost three times as much, although there is an uninformative footnote which says that perhaps some of that may have been spent on more than books. Nevertheless, in my day as a working politician in that part of the world, it was Dundee that was considered to be the spending authority and Angus that was considered to be the rather parsimonious authority. I do not quite know what has gone wrong in the case of libraries.

In Kent where I presently live, and where my local village library is excellent, expenditure per head is less than £1, whereas in nearby Sussex expenditure is £1.73. I hope that the Secretary of State himself will note that local authority expenditure in his constituency of Westminster stands at £5.39 per head compared with £1.26 per head for Northern Ireland, where he was previously Secretary of State. I hope that that will encourage him to do something about that degree of discrepancy.

Although the prime responsibility for public libraries lies with local authorities, the Government have a heavy responsibility. Many of the distortions are a direct result of the financial policies of the Government that relate to local government, to the poll tax and to the general squeeze on local government expenditure.

George Cunningham until recently was the chief executive of the Library Association. I quote from a letter that he sent to me earlier this year.

It used to be that objectionable cuts took place here and there. Now they are taking place right across the country. Opening hours are being slashed, book funds reduced, and in some cases libraries are actually being shut for good. In the mid 70s there were 229 libraries in England and Wales open for 60 hours a week or more. Now it is 18. People are in danger of losing the library habit". The library habit of going to the local library and of looking to it for information and recreation is surely the mark of a civilised society. We cannot raise a literate generation or improve reading standards if people find that their libraries are shut.

I was astonished to note from the report that in north Tyneside there has been a 60 per cent. cut, which has meant that all branch libraries are now open only for 10 hours a week. I was even more saddened to see that in Manchester, a city famous for its cultural life, the great Central Library is now closed all day Thursday.

While local authorities struggle with financial problems, of which libraries seem to be the principal victims, the Secretary of State has made a curious announcement relating to public library support costs. I was not as optimistic as the noble Baroness, Lady David, about the implications of that announcement. We welcome it as far as it goes. The Secretary of State stated that the support costs are not to be subject to compulsory competitive tendering, since librarians already achieve value for money in that area by encouraging competition. So far so good. However, the Secretary of State went on to propose a series of pilot projects into the feasibility of contracting out the direct delivery of all or various parts of the library service. I emphasise the word "all". I am a layman in such matters but that sounds like trying to reach CCT by another route. The Library Association has stated that the risk is that managerial money may be wasted in a fruitless search for contractors, who will not be thick on the ground, that could be better spent on direct delivery of a quality of service that is widely admired.

I tread with timidity on the theological ground of the net book agreement, which is a peculiarly divisive subject. If libraries, however, are looking for ways of obtaining better value for money in respect of their books, they would have greater bargaining power in the marketplace if there were no such net book agreement and if resale price maintenance were to disappear in that respect.

The so-called "bookseller index" on which some of the argument of those who have been providing us with information rests, is always well ahead of the retail prices index. I confine myself to stating that that is a very peculiar situation. At a time when a technological revolution has been taking place in the print industry generally, one would have thought that book production would be cheaper rather than dearer.

I should like to mention school and academic libraries which, as the noble Baroness explained, are suffering as much as the public libraries. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, the CVCP, states that over the six years to 1990–91 book expenditure per student has had to be reduced in real terms by 30 per cent. That percentage relates to the retail prices index and not to the other indexes that I have mentioned. At the same time the Government want to see more than 300,000 additional students in higher education by the end of the century. That is a worthy aim, but the Government will have to provide the means by which that aim may be achieved.

There is a similar sad story in regard to universities. There is the dismal story of the soaring building costs for the British Library which have had an impact on its expenditure. The British Library has the best library of German material in the world outside Germany—and some might say inside Germany. Last year it was not able to buy a single German monograph; there were no funds for that kind of expenditure.

School libraries, on average, are able to add only one third of a book per child per year to the book stock. That is the present situation. There is no school library service in at least five local authorities, three of which are London education authorities. That is profoundly unsatisfactory.

Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 the Government have surprisingly strong powers of intervention, but more importantly they have a duty to superintend and promote the improvement of the public library system. If there are complaints about the quality of the service, the Government can do a series of things, from setting up a local inquiry to removing the local authority's library functions and taking them on themselves. I am told that the intervention powers have been used only twice since 1964. The second occasion occurred very recently when Derbyshire had closed 11 branch libraries and cut its book fund by a half. The Government are still following up that matter and I hope that they will see it to a successful conclusion. On the basis of the National Book Committee report the case for further intervention in the worst cases seems to us to be strong.

However, the concerns of the Secretary of State should be spread more widely than his direct powers under the 1964 Act. They should spread to the nation's libraries as a whole, to local libraries, to school libraries and to the libraries in colleges and universities.

The Secretary of State is the Secretary of State for National Heritage and our libraries are an important part of that national heritage. Those of us who are concerned about libraries gave a cheer when the Office of Arts and Libraries suddenly found itself rising in the world to part of a major department of state with a place in the Cabinet. We wish the Secretary of State well in his new post. The library aspect of national heritage cries out for his urgent concern and action.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Holderness

My Lords, there have been occasions in your Lordships' House when I have been visited by doubt as to whether my qualifications are sufficient to enable me to take part. Those doubts, I say with presumption, are not with me tonight because I believe that the only qualification necessary to support the noble Baroness in the Question that she has asked is a deep respect for the business of reading. That sentiment is shared by most of your Lordships. Such a deep respect is a key to learning and is a source of almost infinite treasure. Reading is an essential component to the intellectual, cultural and economic health of any nation. It is able to enrich the life of everybody who takes part in it by bringing before them the whole range of human experience.

I shall begin, as did the noble Baroness, by mentioning the Book Trust's report, Books in Schools. As that is where the process begins, I greatly welcomed the willingness of the working party to consider widely and with imagination the whole business of learning to read. The report recognises that the provision of books is only a part—obviously an essential part—of the approach to reading skills. It makes clear that the imparting of necessary skills can be inhibited as much by the imperfect training of teachers with too little time subsequently available to them, as by the dearth of necessary books.

I also welcomed the working party's recognition of the essential part that parents play both in the process of learning to read and the later process of reading to learn. I hope that I shall never forget the debt I owe to my parents and a handful of others for pressing on with persuasion in the years when I was tempted to set greater store by other pursuits which then seemed more active and more exciting.

Today, when television plays the part it does in nearly all our lives and has undoubtedly done much to enrich them, it is probably hard for many people to switch off the set and take up a book. It is equally difficult for parents and teachers to encourage those over whom they have influence to do the same. But that merely emphasises the lack of wisdom in creating (or of not removing) any barriers to the encouragement of reading.

No one can feel in the least happy when the first sentence of that important report claims, Rarely have so many pupils had so few books". Nor indeed can one feel happy that another report from the National Book Committee, mentioned by the noble Baroness, points to "a disturbing decline in book provision" over much of the United Kingdom. The comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, emphasised that even more strongly.

To me, therefore, the suggestion of the noble Baroness seems unanswerable. Expenditure on books, both for earlier education and for subsequent learning and enjoyment, is too low. In what ways can it be increased? When he replies, I hope that my noble friend will tell me the exact obligations under the 1944 and the 1988 Acts. As I understand it, the 1944 Act considers schools insufficient which do not have enough equipment to provide proper educational opportunities —I assume that "equipment" includes books—whereas the more recent Act of 1988 makes clear that neither parent nor pupil is expected to pay for books and other equipment. Jointly, therefore, those two obligations seem to amount to a duty on behalf of the Department of Education, the local authorities and the schools to meet that shortfall. I shall be grateful for enlightenment by my noble friend on the legal obligations of each.

Even less clear in my mind is where the main responsibility lies for the comprehensive and efficient service required of public libraries under the 1964 Act. Wherever that responsibility mainly lies, it is difficult to see why, in the case of the libraries, a greater obligation should not fall on those who make use of the service. The cost of providing entertainment through the opera, ballet, theatre or even the cinema, is reflected to quite a large extent in the price I pay for the ticket. But the loan by a library of a book, often of no cultural value whatever, takes no account of the cost of providing it—which is the whole subject of our present debate. Now that there is an imperative need to improve the performance of libraries all over the country, as the noble Lord made clear, it seems positively wrong not to ask the question whether those who depend on that service should not be asked to make some contribution.

Finally, although it may be wrong to pursue this argument tonight, which goes wide of the Question of the noble Baroness, I cannot avoid comparison of the unmet needs in the United Kingdom with the almost insatiable hunger for books across the world. That need is reduced but certainly not met by a combination of voluntary efforts and such agencies as the Ranfurly Library Service, of which many of us are well aware. The only reason I mention that wider aspect, which is probably out of order, is my belief that similar steps will be required of many individuals within this country if we are to achieve the kind of service that we should all like to see at home.

6.36 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, was it not the noble Viscount, the first Lord Samuel, who said in 1947, "A library is thought in cold storage"? If he were contributing to our debate tonight he might well rephrase his apothegm and replace "cold storage" with "deep freeze". Especially in university libraries, to which I beg leave to invite your Lordships' attention, the cold winds of change have reduced resources available for books and periodicals to well below the freezing point. Indeed, book funds which are frozen are fortunate; in most university libraries they have been cut and cut and cut again over the past decade.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals report that between 1984–85 and 1990–91 expenditure on books per full-time equivalent student stayed almost constant in cash terms at somewhere between £41 and £44. In real terms, as provided by applying the GDP deflater, that represents a drop of over 30 per cent. But the GDP deflater is a blunt instrument. More sensitive, more penetrating is the Universities Pay and Prices Index—the UPPI—which calculates price changes as directly experienced by universities. Within that index there is an individual index for costs of books, periodicals and bindings. If we apply that to the situation for the same period, the fall is over 45 per cent. So, from within universities we see a situation in which only just over half as much money is available for books as was available in the mid-1980s.

Over the same period expenditure on periodicals rose in cash terms by over 20 per cent. In real terms, therefore, by applying the GDP deflater, we see that that represents a drop of almost 15 per cent. and, using the UPPI, the cut is over 30 per cent. The cost of academic and research publications has increased relentlessly. Resources have not been made available to meet that increase or even keep within sight of it, and year upon year, inexorably, the situation becomes worse annually and cumulatively.

When the noble Viscount replies he may well echo the words of the chief priests and say in effect, "What is that to us? See thou to that". He may point out that universities are free to spend as much or as little as they like on their libraries. They have choice; they have freedom; they have opportunity. If he were to argue so, I would reply to him with only two words: "Not so"—because the cuts in book and periodical expenditure could be matched by the cuts that universities have had to make in every other area of their activity: in laboratory provision, in the purchase of scientific equipment, in the maintenance of buildings, in student accommodation, student union facilities, medical facilities, counselling and so on. A university is an organism: one part is inexorably connected to every other. The noble Viscount would be right to point out that books and periodicals are fairly close to the centre of what universities exist to do, but so are the buildings in which study and research are carried on, so is the provision of reader places in the libraries themselves. The way things are going most students will have to read books and take notes standing up, and one seat at each library table will be labelled, "Don't wait to be asked: please give up this seat if you see an elderly or infirm student who needs it more than you do".

In that same period of 1984–85 to 1990–91, student numbers in universities have risen by 22 per cent. And at the same time universities have been subjected to rigorous research selectivity exercises, where the money they received from the UFC was partly dependent upon the quantity as well as the quality of the research work they published. That meant that academics and postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers placed more and more pressure upon their limited library resources. In many cases academics have found themselves in competition for some library services with the very students they teach.

The situation was summed up, soberly, by the CVCP in its statement to the Secretary of State for Education on 26th May 1992: The current expansion in student numbers and the increase in research activity are imposing heavy strains on the existing asset base. Institutions' central facilities are particularly badly affected, especially their libraries which were built with much smaller student populations in mind. Today institutions not only have difficulty in maintaining their library stocks but also in accommodating those wishing to pursue private study. New capital investment in such facilities is essential if the quality of the students' learning experience is to be maintained". Soberly and seriously, that sums it up. The "quality of the students' learning experience" is not likely to be maintained if they are unable to buy books which increase in price at such an alarming rate and are obliged to queue up for the use of the one copy that their university library can afford of a book that it is necessary for them to read.

General impressions and nationwide statistics give us one aspect of this miserable situation, but we need also to examine the effect of government underfunding on specific institutions. Perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to just two: one, a large, highly successful, prestigious municipal university, the other a small, unique and ancient college of the University of Wales. In the case of the University of Sheffield, a very successful university in terms of the Government's own demanding criteria of research excellence, teaching quality and rapid expansion of student numbers, we find a highly professional library service, with the advantage of a superb state-of-the-art building and generously funded relative to its "larger civic" peer group. But, even with major increases of some £200,000 in each of the past two years, its library faces further major cuts in its research periodicals owing mainly to the high inflation in subscription costs and the declining value of the pound versus the United States dollar and the deutschmark.

Major additional funding, earmarked specifically for library collection development, will be required to maintain the momentum of advanced research in all areas of excellence. If that is true for the University of Sheffield, which funds its library generously, what must be the problems of other universities which are unable (or unwilling) to make similar investments in their own libraries?

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has recently established a review of library provision in higher education, chaired by Professor Sir Brian Follett, FRS, who is currently at Bristol University and soon to become Vice-Chancellor at Warwick. The Follett Report should appear in the Spring of 1993. I hope that it will set new and higher national standards for university library investment, co-operation and levels of service. Whether it makes the same impact as the great seminal Parry Report in 1967 remains to be seen.

What is clear is that one of the best university libraries, generously funded by its university, which is one of the most successful in the United Kingdom in research and in teaching, is still contemplating serious cuts in its budget for research periodicals. Surely the Government cannot view such a situation with any sort of equanimity or complacency.

Let us take, for comparison, the library of St. David's University College, Lampeter, of which I had the honour to be the principal until last December. It is small, it is specialist, dealing almost exclusively with the humanities and some social sciences. It is well managed and highly professional, with the special characteristics of working in both Welsh and English and being set deep in the heart of rural Wales. Like Sheffield, it has been strongly supported in the resources allocated by its parent body.

I did not realise just how generous it had been until I read the recently issued report on Book and journal spending in the university and polytechnic libraries published by the Council of Academic and Professional Publishers. When I read the figures the college produced for its library, I began to think that I, as principal, had been seriously conned for a period of 10 years by a very, very persuasive librarian.

Over the past 10 years and more, it has always been near the top in the table of percentage of annual recurrent grant allocated for library purposes: where the national average has been about 4 per cent., Lampeter never dropped below 7 per cent. and it was often close to 10 per cent. Yet in the period 1982–83 to 1991–92 the amount of money available for book purchases, in cash terms, dropped from £50,406 to £41,800—a cut of 20 per cent. in cash terms at a time when student numbers were increasing steadily, the automation system was already fully stretched and the next nearest library was still nearly 30 miles away (by a wholly inadequate bus service).

So the use of the British Library and the inter-library loan system increased relentlessly through the decade, with all its associated costs. Library staff numbers were more or less static, and the pressure on accommodation for readers and library services grew more severe every year. Book purchase simply had to take the "backest" of back seats, and the "quality of the students' learning experience" suffered accordingly and measurably.

The university libraries at both Sheffield and Lampeter make it abundantly clear that, large or small, urban or rural, single or multi-faculty, however well managed, however generously resourced by its parent body, the current levels of expenditure on books are lower than they have been, lower than the libraries themselves wish and lower than the "quality of the students' learning experience" requires.

It should concern us all, if we care for the economic well-being of the country and the education of its cleverest citizens, that funding for libraries in academic institutions is manifestly failing to match the increases in books and journal prices and the increase in student numbers. That has been true for many years, but the recent rapid increase in student numbers has exacerbated the situation and future growth will make it intolerable.

There is just one thing, however, upon which I find myself able to congratulate the Government. At a time when it must have seemed tempting to do so, they have not "mothballed" the British Library building at St. Pancras. I am grateful for that, because with the terrible state in which university libraries find themselves, the British Library is the last resort, the long stop, the ultimate hope in the world of scholarship and research; and the St. Pancras building, for all its troubles, will be one of the great information centres of the world. It must be funded in its annual recurrent grant to be so. That, however, is the only ray of light on an otherwise dark and dismal scene. On that one question, I must say to the Minister, as Francisco says in Act I, Scene 1 of Hamlet: For this relief much thanks". But on the rest of the university library scene I must continue the quotation and say: 'Tis bitter cold, And I am sick at heart".

6.50 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important question. We are grateful to her for doing so and for the knowledgeable and informative way in which she introduced the subject. There appears to be general agreement in the House on two points: one is the vitally important part that books intrinsically play in both higher education and at schools level. Secondly, the decreasing level of expenditure in real terms on books for education purposes is a matter for concern.

As noble Lords have indicated, the position relating to higher education is well documented in the report by the Council of Academic and Professional Publishers. In the period 1978–79 to 1989–90 book expenditure per pupil in universities had fallen by 32 per cent. and periodical expenditure by 36 per cent. Of course, the amount spent by different institutions varies in different ways. I am associated with three institutions of higher education and their expenditure on books varies from £23.30 per student to £55.50 per student, whereas their expenditure on periodicals is more or less the same—about £46 to £48 per student. Much depends on the type of universities with which we are concerned and whether or not they have a broad spectrum of faculties or whether they are the newer technological universities.

The comparison with the former polytechnic sector, now the newest universities, gives even more cause for concern. The expenditure on books over the past 11 years is down by 56 per cent.; periodicals are down by 51 per cent. Polytechnics did not have the earmarked fundings that the universities had up to the financial year 1989–90, so now, at the beginning of their new status, they have the additional disparity and problem.

The problem will not go away, it is very much still with us. The difference between the RPI and the cost of books is indicated in the Library and Information Research Report No. 82 which indicates: the prices of both academic books and journals have increased significantly more than RPI over this period. Between 1981/82 and 1987/88, academic book prices increased by 59%. Only seven university libraries had proportionate increases in … recurrent expenditure as high as this. Journal prices over the same period increased even more, almost doubling in price over this period (99%). Only one university library—Ulster—managed to keep its (total) recurrent expenditure up with journal inflation over this period". A recent comment from Leeds University indicated that the 1991–92 rate of inflation on books and periodicals was 10 per cent., compared with the RPI index of 3.8 per cent.—a gap of 6.2 per cent. in the one year.

So far as I can see, there is no evidence that the Government are seeking to mitigate the differential in their expenditure forecast. It would be helpful if the Minister could comment on that.

Like other noble Lords, I welcome the decision of the Higher Education Funding Council to set up a committee to look at library provision. However, it seems that the matter is one of urgency and I hope that the Government can comment, even before the inquiry is concluded and the report is available.

Of course, universities are doing what they can to cope with their severely reduced purchasing powers, through virement between staff and non-staff expenditure and through the use of information technology. I know from my experience that Bradford University is using computer-accessed information widely, as I believe are a number of other universities. But there is a limit to how far such policies can and should be pursued. Or perhaps we should ask, is there? Perhaps the Government are pinning their hopes on the development of modern technology along the lines outlined in a THES article of 23rd October 1992. There it was speculated that students, through the assistance of electronic catalogues and an electronic database, could immediately obtain printed and bound extracts from the publication of just the pages they required, with no reference to seeing the original publication at all.

Fortunately, we are not quite there yet and some serious judgments will have to be made about how far information and knowledge are to be made available to students through that route. For example, how does one teach history? The Government have been concerned about the history syllabus under the national curriculum, but how could one teach history merely by having extracts from an electronic computer base? How does one teach literature? How does one teach philosophy by these methods? Clearly, it is impossible.

So there is still the same important role for traditional library facilities, for books and periodicals to be made available to students if education is to be about knowledge and scholarship and not just about facts and information.

Perhaps I may say a word about schools where there are similar problems relating to expenditure on books. Here it seems that one of the problems appears to be the absence of any nationally tabulated information on book expenditure in schools. The obtaining of such information is likely to be even more difficult in future with LMS and the opting out by schools of local education authority control.

Although LEAs—where and if they continue to exist—will have information about the allocation of funds for library and book expenditure, they will have no certainty that the money allocated will have been spent in this way. My noble friend Lady David mentioned the importance of schools, particularly secondary schools, having the services of a chartered librarian. I believe that the metropolitan district of Bradford is the only metropolitan district to have a chartered librarian in all of its upper schools at a cost of about £10.53 per pupil per annum. One wonders whether or not that service will be able to continue if there is an erosion of the services provided by LEAs.

It seems to me that the apparent or the real decline in expenditure in schools is of real importance to us all. It is reflected in the decreasing use of books in the community as a whole. It seems that, more and more, members of the community favour information coming through television and other modern media at the expense of reading and handling books. Unless children have the opportunity to handle books themselves—real books and not just part of a book —and read those books while they are at school, they will not develop the ability to make culture judgments or to make judgments relating to the current and many affairs in which they are involved.

Someone has to do the writing of books and articles even if modern information technology is to be an increasing conveyor of information and facts. Therefore encouraging children to read, to learn through reading and to write correctly is essential if the education system is to do its job properly. On that basis books must be available to children on an adequate scale.

7.3 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady David for introducing this debate. I regret the fact that there are so few speakers from the Government Benches. Indeed, until this afternoon I thought there were going to be none other than the noble Viscount speaking for the Government, so I was delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, had put down his name to speak in the debate. In spite of the fact that there have been rather few speakers in this debate, I am sure we all agree that the quality of the debate has been very high.

I particularly admire the capacity of my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris always to find the most apt quote from some great writer in English literature. In the previous debate he quoted from Pope and in this debate he quoted from William Shakespeare. I am afraid I am not able to match him in that skill.

I wish to reinforce what some of my noble friends and other speakers have said in this debate and perhaps to ask the Minister one or two further questions. It is now 18 months since we last discussed school libraries and school library services in an Unstarred Question in this House. The previous Unstarred Question was tabled by my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington. On that occasion anxiety was expressed on all sides of the House about the adequacy, or perhaps I should say inadequacy, of provision. Regrettably, in the period since then—it is just over 18 months—there has been a further deterioration. This evening we are debating a rather wider subject covering post-school educational institutions as well as schools. We are also covering public libraries.

The need for a wider debate became apparent on the publication of the reports mentioned by my noble friend Lady David. All of those reports paint a disturbing picture about declining levels of provision in our educational institutions and also in our public libraries. Like my noble friend Lady David, I want to spend a little more time on the availability of books for schools. I shall say a little less about public libraries and higher education institutions where I should declare an interest as the Master of Birkbeck College in the University of London.

I begin by saying something about what is happening in our schools. Few schools now spend more than 1 per cent. of their budget on books. That is a tiny amount. The managing director of Longmans, one of the biggest educational publishers in Britain, said that the entire UK schools textbook and library market is only about £160 million a year. That is under one-third of the money spent on photocopying paper. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that statement, but if it is true it is rather disturbing.

I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, said about the huge importance of reading. I think all of us in this House agree on that. I am not just talking about reading in the technical sense of being able to decipher words on a page of print, but reading as a vitally important source of information, reading to acquire knowledge, to obtain a deeper understanding of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, and reading to appreciate great literature and to enhance our understanding of the human condition. Television can never replace books in that respect. But, perhaps above all else, it is important to learn to read for pleasure.

One of the most frightening findings of the Bullock Committee, which is referred to in the Book Trust report on reading in schools, is that many adults with reading difficulties who were surveyed by that Government inquiry had no idea that reading was something people do for pleasure. If we are to change that situation so that there are no longer any adults who are unaware of that fact, we need to help children acquire the habit of reading from the earliest possible age. The later it is left, the harder it is to achieve that aim.

I totally support what the Book Trust report states as regards the important question of reading policies. That is important not just in primary schools but also in secondary schools. I rather regret the fact that debates about teaching methods have started to obscure some of the wider and important questions about reading right across the curriculum. My noble friend Lady David discussed this matter at some length and I shall not discuss it further, but I should add that we know from educational research that the best predictor of educational performance at 16 in examinations is the reading scores of pupils at 11. We know that the best predictor of reading scores at 11 is the readiness to read at the age of five resulting from a child's preschool experiences.

It is perhaps therefore appropriate to mention at this point the important role of parents in encouraging and supporting reading. Parents need not only to read to their children when their children are young, but they also need to continue talking to them about what they are reading as they get older. Parents need to help their children regard books as a source of fulfilment. This, of course, requires a partnership with the schools and generous and well thought out courses to lend pupils books so that they can take them home and read them together with their parents. We must always remember that there are many families who possess few books in their own homes.

In the light of the importance of reading, are we spending enough on books in our schools? Regrettably, we are not. There may be some dispute about the Book Trust assessment of what is needed, and I shall be very interested to hear the views of the noble Viscount who is to speak for the Government, but even if its assessment of what is needed is on the generous side, the shortfalls in provision at present are nevertheless enormous—£80 million down on what is needed for good provision and £53 million down on what is needed for reasonable provision. It would surely be complacent to argue that the current situation is satisfactory. On the basis of the Book Trust figures, schools are spending less than half of what they should be spending to make adequate provision for our school pupils. If those figures are right it is hard to escape from the fact that educational standards are being put at risk.

I hope that the Minister will not try to wriggle out of responsibility for that by blaming local education authorities or the schools themselves. There was an element of that in the previous debate we had on the subject. At the heart of the problem is government under-funding. The Government have the responsibility to provide sufficient funds and to turn round the decline in spending on books which has taken place, especially in the late 1980s, and which appears to be continuing.

If the noble Viscount tells us that resources are available perhaps he will explain why that decline in expenditure in real terms has taken place. Surely it is not because teachers do not care or have some malicious intent about cutting spending on books? It is quite the reverse. Perhaps he could also say what steps, if any, the Government intend to take to protect expenditure on books in schools.

The problem about a cumulative decline in expenditure is that it creates a backlog of needs which is then very hard to make up. It also means that pupils are exposed to out-dated and inappropriate textbooks and library books because of a failure to replace them and to weed out obsolete titles. In our last debate on this subject we produced some amusing—but also sad —examples from books still in use in our schools. Unfortunately, I suspect that there are still books in school libraries making such claims as "When the 'Queen Mary' is completed she will be the world's largest liner", or "Pygmies are fierce little creatures, but all loyal subjects of King George V".

No doubt the noble Viscount will make a great deal of the extra £15 million per annum under the GEST scheme which is being provided for three years—amounting to £45 million in total. That is intended to support the national curriculum, but it is peanuts in relation to what is needed. One assessment suggests that about £70 million is needed in primary schools and another £165 million in secondary schools. It is not just books to support curriculum change which are needed but also books to create well-stocked libraries and to provide that source of adventure for children, and real pleasure, as well as the foundations of independent learning which must be laid in pupils' use of libraries.

Concern about libraries in schools has been expressed by HMI in a survey on secondary schools in 1990 and another on primary schools in 1991. As regards the second of those surveys, the inspectorate found the use of library resources satisfactory or better in only just over half of our primary schools. Inspectors found damaged, old and inappropriate book stocks in more than one-third, thus confirming what the Labour Party survey had found earlier. They found library funding was not matched to current book costs and replacement needs. I hope that the Minister will be able to say whether the Government accept Her Majesty's Inspectorate's findings and what action they are taking to deal with the problems they revealed.

I do not have to remind the Minister, who is always very well informed, that under the Education Reform Act 1988 neither parents nor pupils should be required to pay for materials, books, instruments or other equipment. However, it is clear that parents are having to stump up quite large sums of money. A survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that parents have contributed £75 million over three years to ensure an adequate supply of textbooks and help maintain the fabric of buildings. It may be arguable that we should ask parents to pay something towards extra curricular activities such as trips or outings, but to ask them to pay for textbooks and school buildings is a disgrace. All it will do is increase the disparities between schools in well-off areas and those in poorer districts.

Because schools' own book provision is below par the support of the school library service, which is provided by local authorities, and public libraries is very important. Unfortunately, as a number of speakers have said, both those services are under very great pressure. Although there is survey evidence from a study carried out in the University of Loughborough which demonstrates the dependence of schools on local authority library services—for advice, pro-motion of information skills, as well as for loan stock —in a number of authorities there is now a real question about the future of the library service. One or two have already closed down.

The interesting question is what the effects of delegating to schools will be in this area. If some schools do not buy back into the service the cost to other schools could become so high, because there are economies of scale in this area, that the survival of the service would become an issue. I should like to hear the Government's view. Do they wish the library service to survive and what will they do to ensure that that happens?

I turn now to the public libraries. They are also under great pressure, yet they are now being asked to make up for some of the problems of schools by stocking textbooks. That cannot be a sensible use of their resources. They are being cut back, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said. Branches are being closed, opening hours reduced and staff cut. That is a direct result of the huge financial constraints being imposed on local government.

Children need public libraries as a place in which to browse, to learn how to search for information and to help establish the habit of reading. I hope that the noble Viscount will draw that point to the attention of his right honourable friend. It is a fact that the amount of money which public libraries have to spend on children's books is now down to £1.37 per head per annum—in other words, less than a third of a book per head per year.

As already stated, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, the public library service is a popular one. It is used by something like a third of the population with, on average, 10 books being borrowed each year by those who use the libraries. It has a great tradition which goes back well over 100 years. It is a service of which we have been justifiably proud. It is vital that we do not destroy it through a slow death by cuts. Between 1978–79 and 1989–90 the real purchasing power of public library book funds fell by 17 per cent. I hope that when the Minister quotes figures on book spending he will use the booksellers average price index—which is the appropriate index —and not the retail prices index.

There are worrying disparities in expenditure around the country. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, is particularly unlucky to live in Kent, which spends only 98 pence per annum per head. Other authorities in the same part of the country spend more than double that. Such disparities appear to be widening with the decline in spending which has taken place in some parts of the country, especially recently.

A deep recession means that the general public are buying fewer books. As public libraries do the same book prices rise, fewer and fewer books are bought and there is a vicious spiral at work.

I should like to make one other point on public libraries. I take issue with what the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, proposed. He suggested that it might be appropriate to charge more. Under the existing law, local authorities are not allowed to charge for book loans or use of materials on the premises; but they are allowed to make some other charges. I am concerned about charges such as £2 to reserve each book. That will affect the less well off members of the community and it would be very sad if they could not afford to reserve books.

I turn to university and polytechnic libraries. The picture is no less gloomy. From my own experience as head of a higher education institution I know just how difficult it is to keep pace with growing knowledge, the development of new courses and the expansion of research as well as the very rapid increase in student numbers. Whereas we can all just about survive, uncomfortable as it may be, without replacing our furniture or with too few places in our refectories or canteens, I am sure that everyone in your Lordships' House will agree that we just cannot maintain high academic standards once library provision starts seriously to deteriorate.

A good library is the absolutely central core to students' needs at undergraduate and post-graduate level and across all disciplines. It is also vital for research, especially in the humanities and social sciences. There is now clear evidence that provision of both study space and books is inadequate.

The focus of this debate is about the provision of books, but we neglect library accommodation at our peril. I certainly do not expect that, as my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris suggested, we should have to stand up to read in libraries. That would be absurd and a total deterrent to visiting them. We cannot go on expanding higher education at the current rate without some capital expenditure, in particular on library provision. Higher education on the cheap in this area will eventually lead to lower quality and falling standards.

The figures for spending in university libraries have already been quoted at length by my noble friends Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lady Lockwood. The figures are deeply disturbing. I shall not repeat them now. Like my noble friends, I hope that when the noble Viscount who speaks for the Government replies he will not tell us that this is a matter for the universities. The findings on expenditure are a direct result of the pressure under which higher education institutions have been put by the Government. This is what so-called efficiency savings mean on the ground.

It would also be helpful if the Minister could indicate just how universities will accommodate another 300,000 students by the end of the 1990s, without expanding library facilities. We have heard about the Higher Education Funding Council's inquiry and no doubt that will be helpful, but its recommendations will be quite meaningless unless the Government are prepared to back them with the necessary funding.

In conclusion, it is particularly worrying that we face decreases in expenditure on books right across the public sector in all types of libraries at the same time as the general public is buying fewer books because of the recession. Books are so important that to sit back and do nothing strikes at the very core of civilised life in this country. It will also damage the education of thousands of children and young people who depend on a wide-ranging supply of interesting and challenging books. I hope that the Government will accept that it is now time for them to stop the rot.

7.25 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for raising this important subject tonight. Overall spending on schools and spending on school books in particular has risen significantly over the past decade. The local authority grant settlement for 1992–93, including the additional grant for the teachers' pay award, allows education authorities in England to spend £18.8 billion on education—a 7.4 per cent. increase on the 1991–92 settlement. That follows a 16 per cent. increase the previous year. Spending on school books and equipment has risen from £20 per pupil in 1979–80 to £57 per pupil in 1990–91 (the latest year for which complete figures are available). After taking account of inflation, that is a real terms increase of 31 per cent.

There are a number of ways of measuring inflation. The Government's long-established convention is to use the GDP deflator as a measure of general inflation in the domestic market. I believe that that answers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris.

Our philosophy is that schools are best placed to decide their spending priorities, but we have felt it important to underpin the introduction of the national curriculum with specific grants. We recognise that many schools will need to improve or overhaul their book stocks in this respect. We therefore earmarked grant from the specific grants programme for 1991–92 to cover £15 million worth of expenditure, and the same in 1992–93, for the purchase of books related to the national curriculum. In 1993–94 there will be grant of £85 million for books, equipment and in-service training, for schools to spread among the three categories, as they wish. Local education authorities have consistently submitted bids for all or nearly all the grant available, and virtually every school has benefited.

The specific grants are designed to focus and encourage spending on particular activities. They do not represent what we expect schools to spend overall. Schools must also handle the normal, routine replacement of books that should go on all the time. Given good management of resources overall, that should allow schools the scope to target additional expenditure where it is most needed.

I am quite certain that it is not just a question of money. Schools need good management as well: sensible purchasing policies, a careful matching of books to the curriculum, and close liaison between library staff and classroom teachers. Her Majesty's Inspectorate has said repeatedly in its reports that the national curriculum has provided a powerful stimulus to schools to plan and manage their curricular provision. Marked improvements have taken place where there is good management, and particularly where schools have a clear policy about the role of the school library in delivering the curriculum. Attitudes have changed for the better. LEAs and schools have taken special initiatives on libraries. There is an opportunity for new thinking.

Self-determination has been another stimulus. Schools now have increasing control over the management of their own budgets under the local management of schools initiative. A growing number have grant-maintained status. Schools have the opportunity to match resources to needs more precisely than ever before. We usually find that those best placed to take decisions are those who will be implementing them in practice, and this is what local management of schools and grant-maintained status will achieve. How schools go about providing books for children is a matter for local decision, not for central Government. Many schools make extensive use of a schools library service run by their LEA and they may well choose to continue to do that in future; or they may choose alternative approaches. The Government do not require LEAs and schools to adopt any one method. Nor do we tell them what their spending priorities should be.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may seek clarification on that point. Does it mean that the Government will be perfectly happy if school library services are closed in a number of local education authorities?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I was just about to answer that point. The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked me whether grant-maintained schools would still be able to buy services from LEA's in future. The Government have proposed in the White Paper, Choice and Diversity, to lift the prohibition on LEA's and allow them to provide a range of services to grant-maintained schools for a period of two years, after which time the private sector suppliers will be able to step in.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply but it does not answer my question. Perhaps the noble Viscount will answer the question more directly?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is an answer to part of the question. The answer to the other point is, in effect, no; it is for the local authority to make that decision.

Baroness David

My Lords, surely it will be for the school to decide whether it continues to buy in the services. It is not a matter for the local authority. If the schools do not want to buy in the services, they will not exist.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, that is right. I said that, but the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked me another question. I said quite clearly that it is up to the schools after a period of two or three years. I must emphasise that in 1991 Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report stated that books, other materials and equipment were satisfactory or better in 60 per cent. of schools.

Where the governing body controls the budget of the school it means that governors and heads will still have the scope to give priority to books. It also means that schools can purchase books most appropriate to the curriculum within the framework of the national curriculum that is offered at the school. That is the way to gain maximum efficiency and value for money. The Government are taking action in three ways to ensure satisfactory levels of expenditure on books for schools. First, they are increasing the overall funding for education. Secondly, they are providing additional support through specific grants. Thirdly, they are giving schools greater freedom to make their own choices about how to use their resources. I wish to emphasise that that is taking place in the context of our key policy of the national curriculum which focuses schools on the effective planning management of teaching and learning.

Schools, including sixth-form colleges, are prohibited from charging for books, as the noble Baroness reminded us, and for materials and equipment associated with courses of study. The Government have given an assurance that funding will continue to be available for books, materials and equipment and it will be open to colleges to continue to provide them free of charge.

The position of tertiary and further education colleges is slightly different. Most tertiary colleges model their practice on that of schools and provide books and so forth for 16 to 19 year-olds free of charge. Many further education colleges provide set books, or whole sets of books, for students studying GCSE subjects, especially where such books can be used for several years. The funds within the local authority funding at present devoted to the purchase of books have been transferred to the new further education sector. Where tertiary and further education colleges currently provide books free of charge it will be open to them to continue to do so in future. Where they do not, similarly it will be for them to determine the basis on which they provide books in the future.

The Government have announced the resources to be provided to the Further Education Funding Council for 1993–94 to 1995–96. The funding council will be responsible for distributing those resources to colleges. It will be for the colleges to determine the basis on which items such as books are made available to students.

I turn to the universities. Funding for higher education has risen in real terms since 1979. The latest plan is to provide for an increase of 7.3 per cent. in available recurrent funding in 1993–94. This follows planned increases of 10 per cent. in each of the three previous years. It is for universities and colleges to determine their spending on libraries from within that and other income at their disposal. The evidence is that institutions attach different priorities to spending on libraries. Some institutions have increased spending faster than others. Total spending on libraries in universities increased in real terms in the 1980s. In addition, information technology and flexibility of opening hours have a major impact on the service to students. All aspects of the funding and management of higher education libraries are currently being considered by a review group established by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. That will take account of the views expressed by universities and colleges about the priorities of library provision and effective approaches to management.

Responsibility for providing public library services rests with local authorities. They are best placed to decide on the detail of the service provision, including allocations to the book fund. Eleven million books were added to the stock of public libraries in England in 1990–91. That compares with 10.8 million volumes added in 1980–81. Actual expenditure on books was £41 million in 1980–81 and £84.8 million in 1990–91. That represents a real terms increase of nearly 13 per cent. during the 10-year period. The National Book Committee report demonstrated that many library authorities substantially increased their expenditure on book provision in real terms during that period, even using the unfavourable Bookseller index.

Nevertheless, the Government are aware, as the National Book Committee report stated, that there are large discrepancies between different authorities in their levels of expenditure. The Secretary of State for National Heritage continues to monitor the situation and will not hesitate to step in where there is doubt about an authority's ability or willingness to fulfil its statutory obligations under the Libraries and Museums Act. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that the new chief executive of the Libraries Association will see the Secretary of State for National Heritage next week.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, asked about library closures. Where inappropriate library closures, or unnecessary reductions occur, or cuts appear to strike the basic services and statutory responsibilities, the Secretary of State is prepared to step in. While appreciating competing pressures on local authority resources some authorities may need to use their resources better and libraries should not bear a disproportionate share of any cuts. There have been reductions in opening hours in some library services but the picture is patchy across the country. Six county library authorities increased their opening hours this year and recent statistics indicate that there is evidence of response to public pressure to reverse the decline in opening hours characteristic of recent years.

Of course, public libraries make charges but they are imposed largely to cover the many and varied services which the public libraries offer; for instance, video and audio services. My noble friend Lord Holderness emphasised the importance of learning to read and the importance of books and of handling books, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report on reading in primary schools concluded that few schools were short of books for the teaching of reading and that most provided attractive reading material of other kinds. I agree with my noble friend and the noble Baroness on that important matter.

My noble friend Lord Holderness asked about the obligation under the 1944 and 1984 Acts relating to books and equipment. Local authorities and individual schools are responsible for providing books and equipment. Indeed, it is their obligation under the Act. Legislation forbids forcing parents to pay for books, materials and school activities during the day. However, it is absurd to deny parents the right to make voluntary contributions if they wish to do so. Parental contributions are tiny compared with the total resources made available for education—

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I was not suggesting that we should deny parents the right to make voluntary contributions. I was concerned about the fact that because of the shortage of good textbooks and the failure of schools to replace books and library books as a result of lack of funding many parents feel that they have to contribute. Surely that is not a satisfactory situation.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness's point but I was making a slightly different point.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, spoke of cuts to universities and said that spending on higher education libraries had fallen. The figures show that spending on libraries in universities increased by 8 per cent. in real terms between 1979–80 and 1989–90. Figures showing a fall relate to spending per student and that takes no account of the economies of scale achieved through expansion. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for his continuing support for the British Library. It is a vital project and we all look forward to its progress and completion.

I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, when he spoke of the net book agreement. He and I have discussed that subject previously at Question Time and perhaps it is not for tonight.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, talked about the comparison between the old universities and polytechnics as regards receiving less funding for teaching. The higher education White Paper published in 1991 made clear that universities and polytechnics receive similar levels of funding for teaching per student. Different institutions have attached different priorities to spending on libraries for research and teaching.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I do not believe that I talked about money available for teaching. I was referring to books.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I included both in the answer that I gave to the noble Baroness.

Many school libraries could be better and there are some which are definitely poor. However, the overall trend is one of improvement. Her Majesty's Inspectorate has repeatedly pointed out that there is no simple relationship between resources and quality. There is certainly a link between good management, organisation and leadership.

The facts bear testimony to the value which this Government place on the importance of books for pupils, students and the general public. Thus, local education authorities' spending per pupil on books and equipment has increased by over 30 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Spending on university libraries has also increased in real terms. A specialist central government grant of £30 million in the past two years has improved the supply of books for the national curriculum in just about every school. Spending on books for public libraries has increased.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount. I think I must be getting extremely stupid because, although I have not read the figures myself, I heard one set of figures presented on this side of the House and a totally different set presented on the other. Perhaps the noble Viscount will tell us how he reconciles the different figures. I am prepared to believe that either may be wrong, but they cannot both be right. Perhaps the noble Viscount will give us an explanation.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Baroness shows with absolute clarity that there are two sides to every argument.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is the noble Viscount taking a different baseline for measuring what has happened? That is an old game. If you take the right year to start with, you can achieve any result that you want to. Is that what the noble Viscount is doing? I ask because I am genuinely seeking knowledge. I have not done my homework on the figures, but I am totally confused.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness is confused. I am using the Government's figures, and, as I said before, there are different ways of arriving at figures. I have spoken about the various inflationary and deflationary indexes. I can speak only for my own figures.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I too am genuinely confused. The figures that I have used—and I believe that they are common to the briefing which we have all received from interested parties —are for the period from 1984 to 1991. The noble Viscount referred to 1979 as his baseline. If our sets of figures are accurate and the noble Viscount's sets of figures are accurate, the implication must be that there has been a dramatic downward trend in the second half of the decade.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is possible that both sets of figures are right to a degree. I cannot speak for the figures that have been quoted at me by noble Lords opposite. I am not responsible for their figures. The spending on books per school pupil figures are taken from local authority returns. I realise that the figures are extremely complicated. I hope that I have explained them as well as I can. I shall look carefully at the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and if there is an explanation that I can give her, I shall write to her and send a copy to other noble Lords who have spoken.

Baroness David

My Lords, I think it depends on the baseline which is taken.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as I said, I shall write to the noble Baroness and to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate if I can assist further on that matter.

It is not only the absolute amount spent on books which is important. Quality and value for money are also extremely important, as are book purchasing policies, book management and the way in which books are used in schools and colleges. Evidence of Her Majesty's Inspectorate has shown that those are areas in which schools generally have considerable scope for improvement. I am glad to say that Her Majesty's Inspectorate's most recent reports have detected some improvement in that respect.

For their part, the Government have ensured that schools and colleges have much more freedom than ever before to make their own spending decisions within their delegated budgets. Schools and colleges now decide the priority to attach to spending on books. It must be right that money is better spent when the decisions about spending are taken by those best placed to judge the need to spend.

In a final answer to the noble Baroness I should say that the Government are not complacent. They would like schools, colleges and libraries to have more funds for books, but we have to be realistic. Public expenditure must be contained. That said, levels of spending on books have grown over the past decade. We trust that the steady progress made in recent years will continue well into the future.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes before eight o'clock.