By encouraging reading, providing access to information and representing a focus for community activity, public library services contribute significantly to the national cultural landscape. They deserve statutory protection. There are no proposals to remove the duty on local authorities to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service.
Many older people in Makerfield who signed petitions to save their libraries told me that their introduction to the internet, and indeed their subsequent use of it, was at their local library. How will the Government ensure that library closures and cuts to the library service do not adversely affect people who otherwise do not have access to the internet?
The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point. People access internet services in the library, and I hope that local authorities take that into account when they consider changes to public library services. Of course, UK Online centres and many other community services also provide access to the internet.
Is the Minister aware that prudent, Conservative-controlled councils such as Wiltshire county council—my council—are, far from cutting library services in these difficult times, expanding them, and expanding the hours for which libraries are open?
I am aware of Wiltshire county council’s effective stewardship of its library services, and indeed of its ambitious plans for broadband, if I may combine the two points made by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue). Local authorities of every political persuasion up and down the country are keeping their libraries open, and understand what an effective public library service can bring to their community.