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Volume 405: debated on Monday 19 May 2003

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What plans she has for improvements in library services. [113834]

I note in passing that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) asks that the sailing should be in the royal docks.

We want to help library services transform themselves to meet the needs of the public and prospective users in the 21st century. Many public libraries are developing new ideas and offer an excellent service. As I said earlier, we want to spread good practice. Public libraries now offer computer and internet access for everyone, and are ideally placed to help deliver improvements in reading and other skills. As I said when answering an earlier question, they can be major resource centres for the communities in which they are located.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. I acknowledge the progress that has been made, especially in providing internet access, but coming as I do from a town that had one of the first public libraries in the country, I still believe that libraries are primarily about books. Does he agree that owing to years of underinvestment, most of the book stock is in a very dilapidated and unattractive condition? What can be done to encourage more investment in providing a good book stock in libraries to encourage all the people who are attracted in to do more reading?

It is up to local authorities to dispense the moneys that are available. Some £780 million is invested annually into our library service, and it is incumbent on local authorities to make judgments on where that money should go. I accept what my hon. Friend says. However, within the resources that they have available, some libraries are trying to ensure that they present a first-class service—for example, by using the internet and other developments to access books that are out of publication. As I say, three-quarters of a billion pounds annually is invested into our library service.