My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their reaction to the decision of a number of local authorities to withdraw newspapers published by News International from public libraries.
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts has already made it clear in another place that the Government see no justification for this action. He has received complaints about 14 library authorities. He has now written to the authorities concerned to ask them whether the complaints are true and, if so, how they reconcile their action with their duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. He will consider what further action to take in the light of their replies.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. May I ask him first how many of the local authorities have yet replied? Secondly, is he aware that the Minister has substantial powers under the Public Libraries Act 1964, in Sections 1 and 10, and that it is disappointing to some of us that those powers have not been exercised as yet? Finally, is the noble Lord aware that this type of totalitarian behaviour by local authorities in taking newspapers out of public libraries because they dislike the proprietor of the newspapers is wholly unworthy of people involved in local government administration in this country?
My Lords, I think replies have been received from about three of the local authorities concerned. My understanding is that two of the 14 authorities have made clear that this position does not apply to them, and I think that is encouraging. The noble Lord asked whether there were powers under Sections 1 and 10 of the 1964 Act which enable the Government to move in this matter. As I said in my original reply, my right honourable friend has written to library authorities about this matter, and I think that we should consider the position when the replies have been received. With regard to the third point that the noble Lord made, I entirely agree with him.
My Lords, can my noble friend make it clear that in the unhappy event of an unsatisfactory answer from authorities which are behaving as badly as this his right honourable friend has powers to act, or, if he has not powers to act, will take them?
My Lords, there is a power to act. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, under Section 10 of the 1964 Act.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that although personally I have switched from The Times to the Daily Telegraph, many of us are in favour of these papers being placed in public libraries? But in regard to the Morning Star, which is excluded from many libraries, does he not agree that there should be the same right to read it in public libraries, even though we differ from its views?
My Lords, I hope that the choice of reading of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, does not mean that he is veering dangerously to the Right. The noble Lord's second point is a very important one. Perhaps I may say on behalf of the Government that we deplore any attempt to ban from public libraries particular books or newspapers for which there is a demand.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the position of the Labour Party on this matter? The local government committee of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party sent out an advice note to local authorities in February. It was sent to all Labour groups and affiliated trade unions and it said that keeping the papers from public libraries was undesirable censorship.
My Lords, I think we welcome the news which the noble Baroness has given in that question.
My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, join the rest of the House in expressing the hope that the 14 Labour-controlled councils which have been involved in this practice will listen to what their own national executive has to say?
I do, my Lords.