asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many books were borrowed from public libraries during 1979.
About 557 million books were borrowed from public libraries in England in the year which ended on 31 March 1979.
Do not those substantial figures show what an important part the borrowing and reading of books from public libraries plays in the educational process as a whole? Is my hon. Friend prepared to say, in relation to economies that we on the Conservative side accept totally, that he would hope that not disproportionate economies are made by local authorities on public libraries when considering the economies that they necessarily have before them?
I certainly endorse my hon. Friend's opening remarks. Everyone acknowledges the important role that libraries play in all communities. However, expenditure on the library service cannot be exempt from the restraints to which public expenditure in general must be subjected in present circumstances. I hope that the libraries will continue as the focal point that they have become for many people in every community.
Do not the facts that opening hours of libraries are being cut and fewer books are being bought by local authorities because of the Government's insensate and destructive tendencies in public expenditure cuts do enormous damage to the long-established tradition of free borrowing in British libraries?
The hon. Gentleman states his case with a little too much excess. The matter is constantly under review by my Department, but the hon. Gentleman must not exaggerate too much. We acknowledge that libraries play an important part and the number of books lent over the past year show no signs of a recession over the next 12 months.
Having made the gesture of supporting the public lending right legislation, will the Government take the further step of showing that they have their feet firmly on the ground by filing the matter and letting it gather dust?
That is not an undertaking which can be granted this afternoon. My hon. Friend knows the precise state of that legislation and the pro- gramme that has already passed the House.