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Premium Book Subscription Service

Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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To ask the Minister for the Arts what evidence he has of a desire by library authorities to introduce a premium book subscription service for newly published books.

One library authority recently drew up proposals to set up a complementary premium lending service for newly published novels and biographies, but did not proceed because it was advised that to do so would be in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. I have also received letters from members of the public saying that they would like libraries to provide subscription services. My Green Paper therefore suggests that library authorities should have discretionary powers, to set up these services.

Is the Minister aware that when this harebrained scheme was introduced in New Zealand, 66 per cent. of the income was taken up in administration costs, and when it was introduced in Kiel in Germany it was dropped quickly because loans of children's books fell by 40 per cent.? Are we really to have new books for the rich, and old, dog-eared books for the poor, with each book having to meet a test discount rate and a real rate of return?

That is a nonsensical way to consider the Green Paper. The objectives of the Green Paper are to seek ways to enable local authorities to raise extra resources, not just through the public sector, but in harness with the private sector, so that they can raise extra resources to improve the library services for customers. That proposal was one of several designed to achieve just that.

My right hon. Friend knows my concern about the closure of many public libraries in London because of alleged lack of resources, particularly in Kingswood in my constituency. Will not the premium subscription lending service generate resouces to improve library services generally?

Yes, indeed. That is one reason why we introduced for consideration that suggestion, among others. Other suggestions, including the paying of charges for certain specialist services in one field or another, are all designed to increase resources and improve facilities to customers.

Since the Green Paper is a consultative document, no doubt the Minister is taking a keen interest in the public responses to his proposals. Has he seen last week's copy of the Library Association "Record", which describes his Green Paper as

"an impenetrable forest of negatives … A dog's breakfast …. patronising … badly written … confusing … and weak on logic."
Should not the Minister save himself further embarrassment by withdrawing his ridiculous proposals now?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not interested in new ways of finding extra resources. It is regrettable that he adopts that attitide. The views of the chief executive of the Library Association have been positive, constructive and helpful. I look for such an attitude of mind, but I do not expect it from the Opposition.