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Public Libraries

Volume 633: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017

Libraries play an important role in giving everyone opportunities to improve their life chances and achieve their full potential. That is why the Government have established the libraries taskforce and funds under Libraries Deliver to assist in that goal.

The Minister will know from his time as a parliamentary candidate in Plymouth how important libraries are to social mobility in the city. The Conservative council in Plymouth has this year closed six of our libraries—two in the constituency I represent and four in the constituency in which the Minister stood. Will he spread some festive cheer and tell library users in Plymouth that there will be no more library closures in the new year?

What I can say is that Plymouth City Council received £56,000 for cultural learning activities last summer, which saw 5,000 young people visit, and 3,000 were given healthy lunches, involving a collaboration with the Theatre Royal, Music Makers and the National Marine Aquarium, which represents the sort of grown-up thinking about the way libraries act in our constituencies across the country.

Order. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on his tie, which is as flamboyant as my own.

Northamptonshire County Council is proposing to cut 28 of its 36 libraries. Will the Minister send in the Government’s libraries taskforce to see whether a county-wide libraries trust might be set up to save these vital public services?

My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. I will be visiting a number of libraries in the new year, following the seven I have already visited, with the new chair of the libraries taskforce, and I will be happy to engage with my hon. Friend and his local authority to see whether there are alternative ways forward.

Ebenezer Scrooge, and indeed Charles Dickens, would recognise exactly the mood in this country at the moment, with libraries closing and children being unable to go there to do their homework or access computers. What kind of Britain is this, when we think of Dickens and Scrooge at this time of year, with this Government?

I think that is an unfortunate characterisation of the hard work of thousands of librarians up and down the country and thousands of volunteers. Libraries are working hard to deliver a range of social outcomes, promoting literacy and digital skills, providing support for jobseekers, and career and business decisions are helped by library services. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman takes such a downbeat view at this time of year.

Mr Speaker, I am sorry that my tie has not caught your eye as well as the tie of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), did but I will try harder in 2018.

Does the Minister agree that all libraries can play a part in social mobility? Will he join me in thanking the volunteers of Colehill community library in my constituency for all their hard work? It is not just a traditional library; there is a jigsaw library and there are one-to-one computer sessions, and I have even held my surgery there.

I think that my hon. Friend’s tie is fantastic. I am very happy to pay tribute to his local library. We are seeing a range of models up and down the country delivering a range of outcomes appropriate to the needs of different communities, and Dorset is no exception.

My tie is very plain, Mr Speaker.

I can announce to the House that over 100 libraries closed this year. Libraries are genuine engines of social mobility. Why are the Government content with that situation, because the Minister seems to be? Does he agree with the editor of Public Library News, who recently stated:

“The example of other countries shows that the decline of the library in this country is not a natural thing: this is a man-made disaster, brought on by short-sighted but long-term cuts”?

He is right, is he not? And merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas to the hon. Gentleman, and to you, Mr Speaker. The reality is that different library services tackle the provision they deliver for their local communities in different ways. There are clearly challenges in the libraries sector. I am working hard with the libraries taskforce, and with librarians across the country, to look at ways of delivering better services, and I will continue to do that. In many communities we are seeing more volunteers enthusiastically engaging with library provisions in order to deliver better services.