I beg to move Amendment No. 663, in page 140, leave out line 40, and insert:
(a) the council of a district;.
Clause 200 entrusts library powers in England to non-metropolitan county councils but denies them to non-metropolitan district councils, and the purpose of the Amendment is to transfer primary responsibility for library functions to all district councils.
Like many hon. Members, I suppose, I have received a number of letters opposing this Amendment. I was particularly charmed by those which began, "Dear Member", and then urged me strenuously to resist "Mr. Biggs-Davison's Amendment". I have weighed all the arguments put to me against the Amendment. I fully understand the position of the Essex County Council, but I do not accept it.
Historically, it was the boroughs—or a number of them—which nurtured the first free library service. I represent no borough, but my constituents in the Chigwell urban district are proud of their libraries, for which the urban district council assumed responsibility not long ago, and only yesterday the council was discussing the building of a new library.
In paragraph 22 of their White Paper of February, 1971, the Government expressed the view that the new districts should enjoy
responsibilities and powers sufficient to make service with them a reality for both members and officers".
In paragraph 8, it is stressed that,
…a genuine local democracy implies that decisions should be taken—and should be seen to be taken—as locally as possible.
Libraries are essentially a local function, yet under Clause 200 they would no longer be administered by the authorities closest to the people.
If the Clause is not amended, quite considerable towns and cities outside the metropolitan areas will lose library functions to the county council although under the reorganisation most district councils—this certainly applies to Chigwell—will possess sufficient size and resources to discharge library functions. Where there are scattered populations or sparsely populated areas, district councils no less than county councils may, as the present district councils do, run mobile libraries.
There is no intention by the Amendment to compel any district to become a library authority. If, however, the Amendment were accepted, Clause 101 would enable a district council which is unwilling or unable to administer its own library service to make agency arrangements with the county council or, indeed, with an adjoining district council.
I did not have the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee, but, having studied the proceedings, I observe that the Government rely very much on Clause 101 to enable district councils to take on functions given over to county councils. My hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace, then earthbound, in supporting the allocation of library services to county councils, praised Clause 101, saying that it would be much used, and adding:
It would be wrong for me not continually to remind people that it is there, because we see this flexible service in local government in the division of functions. I believe without the slightest doubt that it will certainly be used in this and a number of other cases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 7th March. 1972; c. 2448.]
It seems to me that "flexible service" is a key phrase. Since satisfactory arrangements can be made under the Bill to cover exceptional cases, I think it proper that Clause 200 should be amended as I propose. After all, under the reorganisation, we shall be dealing with substantially larger districts. I believe that the population of most of the new non-metropolitan district may exceed 75,000.
There is the argument that responsibility for libraries should rest with the authorities which are education authori- ties. I do not think that that argument is all that strong. In fact, the practical links between the library service and the education service are tenuous. Local authorities, like the Chigwell Urban District Council, which are not education authorities operate an efficient library service, and they work it in with other cultural activities such as exhibitions, readings, recitals, drama—activities best fostered by local pride and local people, not by distant county hall.
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) is not in his place, but I under stand—
Yes, indeed, and we are sorry about that. I make no point whatever about his absence. I just wish to say something in praise of his constituency and his own authority. It is not an education authority, but I understand that it has a seven-storey building comprising a lending library, a music and record room, a reference room, a local history museum, a 327-seat theatre, a music room and a photographic room.
On the question of links between education and libraries, the Roberts Committee had this to say:
In a broad sense, libraries are of course, part of the educational system of the country and there are very close connections between the work of public libraries and the formal education service. None the less, we think that the further development of the public library service may, in many areas, be more effectively carried out with a library committee staking its claim for financial resources as an independent service, and with a chief librarian having direct access to such a committee, than if the service remains as small part of a far greater county education service.
It has been suggested that only the top-tier authorities could make effective use of computers and other technical aids, but in the normal process of lending books to the public, which is what libraries are for, the computer has limited application. What our constituents are interested in is having books to read, books to borrow. Computers come into play in the more specialised fields, but in any case one does not have to own a computer to use a computer. Many borough library authorities do not have computers and
already resort to computerised information services under joint arrangements, and why not?
In the Standing Committee, reference was made to the advantages to be derived from giving libraries powers in terms of
specialisation, diversification, training, recruitment and deployment of staff, inter-lending, management aids and techniques".
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) also has an Amendment on this subject, because I very much like what he had to say about that. He said:
Those are all words which would send a management consultant into transports of delight. But nowhere is there any mention of the people who will read the books or the councillors who will represent them.
In reply to the debate in Standing Committee, the Minister for Aerospace showed himself
…sensitive to the view put forward by many Members that there is need to represent the views of the people who use the library services, who take the books out, and who want to feel that there is a local relationship, a local pride and a local sense of ownership. This point represents the dilemma between the technological argument and the democratic argument which has run through the entire Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 7th March, 1972; c. 2430–48.]
The Minister spoke of the Welsh proposals in Clause 201 providing that during a specified period an application may be made to the Secretary of State for an order whereby the district council is constituted the libary authority in place of the county council. All I would say is that English district councils should not be worse off than district councils in the Principality of Wales.
Finally, I suggest that we should beware the cult of centralisation and free ourselves from the illusion that economy and efficiency necessarily come from the larger unit. Let us not strip the new districts of functions in which citizens and councillors can take pride. I do not concede that with modern inter-lending facilities the modern seeker after enlightenment and entertainment would be denied books, and I commend the Amendment to the Government in the hope that they will show themselves responsive.
I remind the House again, as has the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), of paragraph 22 of the White Paper:
The Government intend these councils to be genuine authorities, existing in their own right, and with responsibilities and powers sufficient to make service with them a reality for both members and officers.
This aspiration cannot be achieved if everything is given lock, stock and barrel to the county. It can be achieved only if the district councils have adequate responsibilities for certain functions which are of local concern, and the library service is obviously one of these.
Why should responsibility for public libraries rest with county councils to the exclusion of the district councils? I appreciate the difficulty in a sparsely populated area with low resources which has never enjoyed a locally administered library service, but the county service could operate in such an area with the already highly developed services of the district still preserved as an entity, and neither need operate to the detriment of the other.
I query the Government's assertion in paragraph 18 of the White Paper that responsibility for libraries should rest with education authorities. Education authorities provide library services for schools and colleges, but a general public library service goes further than that. In the Report of the Wheatley Commission for Scotland, libraries were viewed as providing not only education facilities but civic amenities, serving local needs and reflecting local characteristics. The town library often becomes a cultural centre, with facilities for exhibitions, meetings, readings and even recitals and dramatic presentations. In some towns it will be part of a complex of buildings housing a museum, an art gallery and perhaps a theatre or a concert hall. Intense local pride is fostered in this way, pride which would probably disappear if a distant county hall administered the service.
Where such cultural centres have been developed, would it not be unwise in the extreme to dismantle what is essentially a local service forming an integral part of the community's cultural life? If it is found—and this happens to be the case—that local authorities which are at present without education functions operate an efficient library service, why change something that has been found to be good? We English, unfortunately, seem adept at this. We have something that is really good and we have to change it. We might be called compulsive changelings!
I remind the Government that most of the new district councils will be of sufficient size and will have adequate resources to maintain an efficient library service on their own. The Government have accepted the Wheatley Commission's view that responsibility for libraries should rest with the district councils in Scotland. Are we in England and Wales so inferior to the Scots? I spoke of England and Wales, but even Wales is treated better than poor old England. The proposals for the allocation of functions as between county councils and district councils in Wales are much more favourable to district councils in Wales than those in England. Why? I ask the Minister to answer that question. Why is that so?
According to Clause 200, the library authority will be the county council. According to Clause 201, the district council in Wales may apply to, and be constituted a library authority by the Secretary of State if he considers that that is expedient having regard to
My constituency, Watford, can certainly show capacity and its being the library authority would presumably have no adverse effect whatever on the county services. Why, therefore, should not Watford apply to the Secretary of State to be constituted a library authority? The answer is that the Bill does not give the same privileges to district councils in England as to those in Wales, and again I ask the Minister, why not?
In my constituency—Watford—the borough council is at present the library authority. It has maintained a library service in its own right for many years. This library service compares most favourably with that provided by the county council and the rest of Hertfordshire. Our per capita book expenditure is far ahead of the other councils and Watford also has a gramophone record library, which is a service not provided by the county council. Our reference and local history services are very good, and probably better than those provided in the other Hertfordshire areas where the county council runs the service, and the exhibition and meeting facilities provided are excellent. Yet, despite all this, the total cost per 1,000 inhabitants in Watford is lower than it is in the rest of the county.
Therefore, again I urge the Minister, "Do not change something which has been found to be good. At best, you can equalise your position; at worst, you will worsen it. Leave the primary responsibility on district councils and give reserve powers to the county so that if the district is not working properly or if it is in an area with very low resources which has never enjoyed a locally administered library service, the county can step in." I ask the Minister to allow places such as Watford to continue to be proud of their record and not to spoil it all.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will resist the Amendment. As I have said before, we stand in danger of whittling the Bill away too far. I realise that people who have the interests of the new districts at heart want to ensure that their districts have a reasonable amount to do. Nevertheless, from time to time I detect arguments which suggest that the true reason for allowing powers to the districts is simply to give them enough to do rather than arguments based on the provision of excellent services to the public, which is what the exercise should be about.
The arguments for treating the library service at the county level are very strong. The first is that the large library service can offer a size and variety of book stock which cannot normally be matched by a smaller service. Many of the books can be found in any service, but the more expensive and scarcer books can be much more efficiently and economically provided by the large service than by the small service. In addition, the management resources and the organisation of a modern library system require specialists whom we cannot reasonably expect to find in the smaller districts. A good library service has specialists in a wide variety of topics, and the big authority can provide something very valuable.
Although I do not press the point too strongly, there are advantages in all the boroughs throughout a county having the same level of service. This is one area where the interdependence between town and country, which has always been regarded as one of the points of local government reform, has some meaning. It is nonsense that people who live in a village and have to go to the town to work find that there are different library services in the two areas, when there could be a single effective library service covering both.
The point about the interdependence with the education authority, not fully refuted by the Government is valid. Perhaps there is not as close a link between the library services and the education services as there should be. There should be much more activity in this area. The bringing of the expertise and advice of libraries and the display of books and the description of the functions of the library into the school system is to be encouraged and it is more likely to be achieved through my right hon. Friend's proposals than through the Amendment.
There is an argument in terms of career prospects. By and large, the larger services will provide greater opportunities and attractions for librarians. By and large, it is easier to amalgamate than to fragment. What we are talking about will undoubtedly mean amalgamation in many cases but that is a process which can come about more naturally and effectively by what is proposed by the Government than by the process proposed in the Amendment.
I do not dispute that many county boroughs and some non-county boroughs can provide a very good library service. Watford may have a very good library service; I do not know. But if Watford has a better library service than the rest of Hertfordshire, why should it object to the level of the service being raised in the rest of the county? The borough is being much too defensive. It is assumed that this is a grand take-over by the counties and that the districts will inevitably become the poor relations. There is absolutely no reason why that should be so. The trouble is that hon. Members persist in thinking that, because the new areas are called counties, the county element will pre-dominate at the expense of the county borough element. There is no reason why it should be so. If Watford has better librarians and facilities, it will act as a pacemaker for the rest of Hertfordshire, which is a very good thing. I beseech hon. Members not to lapse into a tired defensiveness—
A county is much more likely to be influenced by Watford's standards if Watford is part of the set-up than if it persists as a separate authority. It is said that there should be a defensive spirit among hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck).
This is one of the areas in which scale confers advantages. I am not a great advocate of scale for all purposes; in many instances it does not achieve anything. But in this case there are positive advantages of scale which it would be foolish to ignore.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not scale but money which gives advantages? In the urban areas, county boroughs have been far more ready to give cash for the libraries and museums than have the authorities in the rural areas.
The figures do not bear that out. The county boroughs as a whole do not give more money than the counties. Therefore, my hon. Friend's argument does not hold water.
The other side of the coin of local government reform is the question of how we balance efficiency, which may tend to lead to scale, with local involvement. Therefore, the other question we must face is whether having the library service run by county councillors as opposed to district councillors means that inadequate control will be exercised by the elected representatives. I do not believe that the library service cries out for very close links with councillors. This is claimed to be a merit of the districts. I have some doubt about whether that is so. But, assuming that the district councillor will be more aware of the situation than the county councillor, that is not important in respect of the library service. It is important in, for example, housing where we have housing allocations. It may be important in planning matters where knowledge of the locality as obviously important.
But, with the library service, the job of the committee is to lay down policy. We do not expect the committees to choose books; we have professional librarians for that purpose. If the committees selected the books, it would perhaps be another matter. But that is not operate. There is no advantage in operat-the way in which a library service should ing at the second-tier. I am told that in Buckinghamshire the system of area library committees was dropped a few years ago, and I gather that nobody has complained about it.
The arguments are strongly in favour of the case embodied in the Bill. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister not to be faint hearted or deterred by the serried ranks of the representatives of the district, but to stick to his position.
I support the Amendment. Like most other hon. Members I have been lobbied by the county councils and the county librarians, but that lobbying has left me completely cold because I think their case is not a good one. In talking about the library service we must bear in mind that "big" is not necessarily "better", and "too big" can often be "very much worse". In a personal service, which this is, there is an optimum size, and once one gets above that size the personal element begins to go by the board. The new district councils which we hope will operate the library service will in many cases be bigger than the existing district councils and boroughs which are at present running a very efficient library service.
There is something about the library service that people go for. Anyone who has been associated with a local authority knows that the libraries committee is a favourite committee because people, are interested in the services provided by it. It is a service that affects people and it should be administered as closely to the people as possible. The unit closest to the people is the district council, and that is another reason why the district council should have responsibility for the library service.
It has been argued that the education authority should also be the library authority—that books and education are inextricably linked. So they are, but the library service has entertainment as well as educational value and that is why it is preferable that it should be right away from the education service, while still being able to provide a service to the education authority. Although I am much in favour of improved education and have served on an education committee for many years, I fear we shall reach the stage when the educationists will want to set up a conglomerate empire. If we are not careful, the educationists will be making a case for taking over every activity of the local authority and we shall need no other committee than the education committee. It is not necessarily right for the library service to be controlled by the education authority.
The provision in the Bill that the county councils should take over the library service is insulting to many of our boroughs and county boroughs which have been responsible for building up the library service. It is not the counties which have been responsible for building it up, but in the main the county boroughs and boroughs. Having built up this first-class service, they are now told that they are no longer capable of running it.
I have been associated with two boroughs with first-class library services. For many years Reading has operated a highly developed service. It was years before the Berkshire county councillors were convinced that ordinary working folk should even be taught to read, let alone provided with library facilities for their enjoyment and further education. I admit that Reading is a county borough and is a rich town with many resources. It is also an education authority, but the library service has operated quite separately, very efficiently, giving a first-class service to all the citizens and schools. There has been no pressure from the education authority to take over the library service.
The councillors in Swindon, and the ordinary people, are resentful that the library service is to be taken away from Swindon. Although it is a comparatively new town, Swindon has a history of railway greatness. It will not have that for much longer under this Government, unfortunately, and we shall have to take the railway engine from the coat of arms of the borough when the British Rail workshops, about which the Secretary of State seems to care nothing, are closed down.
To get back to the library service, Swindon Borough Council has built up a library service and a cultural service second to none in the country. I have done some research and have been able to make comparisons between what is provided by Swindon and what is provided by Wiltshire County Council. Swindon has always adopted a broad view, not merely confining itself to books but taking in entertainment and cultural activities for the people.
The Swindon Arts Centre was probably the first in the country to be wholly financed by a local authority. It provides a home, either free or at very cheap rates, for a large number of groups working on broadly cultural lines. Those groups include 18 public library ancillary societies, for example, ballet club, film unit, music club, literary and philosophical societies and various amateur dramatic groups, townswomen's guilds, artists' societies and many other organisations of a similar nature. Swindon is proud to have been able to provide these facilities, and the people are proud to have them. Administered by the same committee and officer structure and linked in the public mind with these facilities are the three museums and the art gallery in the town. On the straight book issue side, Swindon's membership of 40 per cent. of the population and book issues of 17 per head of the population per annum are well above the national average.
Statistical comparisons are not always reliable, but these are the facts relating to Swindon and Wiltshire. The volumes per head of the population issued by Swindon are 2·1, by Wiltshire, 1·59. The issues per head of population in Swindon are 17, and in Wiltshire 11. The expenditure per 1,000 of population is for Swindon £1,149 and for Wiltshire £1,014. Expenditure is the key. Expenditure in Swindon, over a smaller and more compact area, is much higher than it is in Wiltshire over a much wider area.
Expenditure per thousand of population in Swindon was £1,149 and in Wiltshire £1,014. It does not appear to be very much higher, but I was trying to explain that Swindon with a compact area to administer spends £1,149 and one would have thought that the county, with a much wider area to administer, would be spending a lot more rather than less. It seems that we must differ on this matter, but it appears to me as a matter of logic that this must be so.
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that those figures are reflected throughout the country, and that per head of population more money is spent by the urban dweller on libraries than by the rural dweller, despite the fact that in urban areas there are no transport costs? Would he not agree that we must consider the national figure as well as the local figure.
Yes, I accept that. Indeed it confirms what I am saying about Swindon. What is happening in Swindon is being repeated throughout the country and helps the case for this Amendment.
I emphasise that Swindon Borough Council in terms of library opening hours and service is far superior in every respect to the service given by the county council. It is a nonsense to suppose that the library service in future will be better administered and that a superior service given to people of Swindon if it is taken over by the Wiltshire County Council.
It may be that Swindon is doing very well because of its strong Welsh associations and its cultural heritage, but nevertheless it is a very good town which has done a very good job in many respects. This applies particularly to its library services and cultural amenities. I assure the Secretary of State that if this service is taken out of the hands of the Swindon people, they will be very resentful indeed and will tell him so in no uncertain terms.
I agree with a great deal of the speech made by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart). He put the human side of the argument very well indeed, as distinct from the management consultant side of the argument which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison).
I wish to speak principally about Amendment No. 1177, and if the Amendment is not accepted by the Government I shall be asking for a separate vote upon it. The Amendment is the same as that on which I spoke in Committee. It will have the effect of giving the Secretary of State the same power in relation to English libraries as Clause 201 gives him in relation to Welsh libraries, namely the power to designate as library authorities certain district councils, subject to certain conditions.
Before I speak specifically about Amendment No. 1177, I should like to say something about the general argument involving counties and districts. Those who argue that the counties should have library powers base themselves on the alleged administrative advantages and on the close link which, it is said, exists between the library service and education. The education argument, although plausible, is specious. Some three-quarters of all books issued by public libraries are fiction. Of the non-fiction books a large proportion are light biography which are read for entertainment rather than enlightenment In other words, the library service is very much more a leisure service than an education service.
That argument is reinforced by the extent to which libraries, particularly in urban areas, are integrated into the cultural life of the community and often form the focal point of that cultural life. Reading likes and dislikes vary from area to area and good local library reflects very much the personality of the district which it serves.
On the grounds of the leisure argument, the case for having administration of the library service at district level is much stronger than the argument for having it at county level. However, it is a fact that not all districts want to be library authorities, and that strengthens the county argument. But there is no justification for the rigid provisions of Clause 200 as drafted since it makes all the counties library authorities and none of the districts a library authority. The provision in the Welsh Clause 201, which gives the Secretary of State power to designate certain district councils as library authorities, is both sensible and flexible. I listened carefully to the arguments in Committee and have read carefully through all the briefs issued by the counties, and I have yet to see a convincing reason why a provision that is thought to be appropriate for Wales is inappropriate for England.
I do not want to rehearse what was said in Committee, but everybody who served on it, and indeed anybody who reads the proceedings, will agree that, had this Amendment been put to the vote in the Standing Committee it would have been approved by an overwhelming majority. However, I did not press it because at the end of the discussion the Government gave certain undertakings. They were given by my hon. Friend who is now the Minister for Aerospace, and are to be found in columns 2448–89 in the Committee proceedings on 7th March. 1972.
The expectation aroused in Members of the Committee by those undertakings was that the Government would in due course table on Report an Amendment similar to Amendment No. 1177. Admittedly, my hon. Friend made the qualification that consideration would have to be given to the very different conditions in England. But nobody has yet explained what these very different conditions are, and I do not think anybody takes that argument very seriously.
If anybody wonders why, if the Government were persuaded by this argument, they did not accept the Amendment, there is a sensible and reasonable answer. It is that the Minister responsible for the library service is my noble friend the Paymaster-General. Anybody who has corresponded with him on this subject will know that he is a passionate believer in having control of the libraries at county level. I respect his view. In Committee it appeared to be a simple matter of allowing my hon. Friend to consult with the Paymaster-General before the Government were able to make a major concession. There was no doubt in my mind what the Government intended to do. Indeed, had I had any doubt I would have tabled Amendment No. 1177 three months ago. But I did nothing about tabling it because I was certain that the Government would do so. In fact, I tabled it about a week ago, at the last possible moment.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) reads those two columns of the speech, probably he will understand that the impression left in the minds of those hon. Members who served on the Committee was that, with reasonable qualifications, the Government would be tabling an Amendment along these lines on Report. The Government have tabled no Amendment. Therefore one wonders in what way they intend to honour this undertaking. In the light of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the course of our debate on Clause 101, one can only infer that it is the Government view that the agency provisions in that Clause provide a way of giving district councils the degree of control that they wish to have.
In Committee, I argued strongly for departmental guide lines on the grant of agency powers, especially for functions relating to municipal engineering. For that reason, I welcomed what my right hon. Friend said when we debated Clause 101. In granting the appeal procedure up to 1st April, 1974, my right hon. Friend has gone even further than I asked. In respect of most functions that is an extremely useful concession on his part. However, in Committee I made it clear that I did not think that the grant of agency powers was adequate for the library function—
Mr. Ted Lead bitter:
A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) asked the hon. Gentleman which words in the Minister's speech in Committee he had in mind. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that in c. 2448 of the Committee proceedings, the Minister referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) and said:
I think that there is a case for considering the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 7th March, 1972; c. 2448.]
Surely that answers the hon. Member for Hove.
That is perfectly true. As I was saying, I argued strongly in Committee that the agency provisions were not appropriate for the library function. In this country, there are a number of outstanding local libraries which have been built up over the years by the enthusiasm and initiative of local people. They have been very much integrated into the life of the community. Many of them have valuable stocks of books accumulated over the years, in some cases by bequests left specifically to the communities concerned. I believe that the people of a community would find it intolerable if the ownership of those valuable stocks of books passed to an enlarged county authority.
I do not believe that the agency provisions outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would provide any thing like the safeguards to district councils in that position—
My right hon. Friend is right to say that this matter could be raised until 1st April, 1974, and that he could exercise his discretion in the case of an appeal. I was about to come to that. Under my Amendment, there is the same provision to settle the matter by 1st April, 1974. But the big difference is that under the Amendment, once the Secretary of State had decided to grant library powers, the district would then remain a library authority for a period of 10 years. My right hon. Friend would not be able to alter that decision until the next review date in 1984.
In the case of my right hon. Friend's appeal procedure under Clause 101, that is fine up to 1st April, 1974. Last night, when speaking on Clause 183, he said that all argument would end on 1st April, 1974. With respect to my right hon. Friend, he is being a little over-optimistic. What will happen when, two or three years after 1974, the bigger, stronger, richer county councils begin to repent of their bargain on agency provisions? There will be no Secretary of State to turn to. His powers of appeal will have lapsed on 1st April, 1974. There may be departmental sanctions which can be used to ensure that the counties honour their agreements on agency. But under my Amendment those sanctions are unnecessary because once a district council has been designated a library authority it must remain so for 10 years.
For those reasons, I believe that the agency provisions under Clause 101, however much they are buttressed about by departmental guidance notes, directives and caveats and however much they are supported by appeals, are a very poor substitute for the grant of library powers under my Amendment.
Two or three weeks ago I received a telephone call from the Clerk of Dartford Borough Council. He conveyed to me the concern felt by the Smaller Public Libraries Group with which he was in touch over the fact that no Government Amendment had been tabled to the Clause. He asked what he should say to them, and I replied, "Tell them to relax. The Government have given an undertaking, and I am confident that they will honour it". The best way in which the Government can honour that undertaking is by accepting the Amendment, and I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will do just that.
I shall not go over the ground which has been so adequately covered by hon. Members on both sides of the House. To do so would be a waste of time, particularly as many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be flexible in his approach to this problem, because there are many towns and cities in this country—leaving out Wales, and we know what the position is in Scotland—which have long and wide experience of running public libraries. It seems to me that the Amendment provides the most adequate way of dealing with the situation, because it gives a sense of flexibility and allows the Secretary of State the opportunity of examining the circumstances in any town before a final decision is made. This seems to me to be completely fair to everyone concerned, and I believe that the Secretary of State would be wise to accept the advice that has been given to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) and accept Amendment No. 1177, because it allows the flexibility that is so necessary.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I refer in particular to Derby because, with my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), I represent that town. We have in Derby experience extending over more than 100 years of running our public libraries, a record that is almost unsurpassed. There are perhaps only two or three cities which have greater experience than we have.
Derby has been progressively improving the library facilities of the town and surrounding areas for a long time. In 1968, because of an improvement in the boundary situation, the town had the opportunity of making a greater contribution to the library service. It was able to have a fully cohesive branch library programme, backed by the full resources of the central library. This enabled it to make an outstanding contribution to anyone who wanted to participate in this aspect of public service.
Today in Derby there are 20 libraries which lend more than 2½ million books per annum, and in the Central Reference Library, where students of all ages make considerable use of the large stocks, about 230,000 books were referred to in just one year alone. Derby, being an engineering town, has many students and technicians who need to refer to a reference library, and that has been one of the considerations in building up the library service. Surely such a volume of business is a tribute to those who have worked so hard for such a long time to build up a library service, and it would be wrong to take away these facilities from those who have provided such a service.
As a result of the boundary changes which took place—and this gives the House some idea of the way in which the library service in Derby has improved over the years—between 1968 and 1969 about 44,000 books were loaned by the various libraries. That figure increased in 1970–71 to 170,000. That gives an indication of the volume of service that has been provided and the improvements that have occurred in the library service in Derby.
The history of Derby in this matter shows periods of rapid expansion. It indicates a progressive line of thought by the local authority. I emphasise that all political opinion in the town supports the idea that this matter should remain under the control of the district council. The council is sure that it can provide a full and comprehensive service, and it would be quite wrong to break up the administration and to interfere in any way with the general running of a service that has provided so much satisfaction to the people of Derby.
I hope that the Secretary of State will look again at this matter and accept Amendment No. 1177. It would seem to give him the manoeuverability necessary to make the right sort of judgment and decision, bearing in mind all the facts. I am sure that this line of thought will commend itself to both sides of the House.
I want to intervene only briefly to mention what I call the rather reactionary outlook of some of those who support the Amendments. I am sure that Derby is a wonderful library authority. But when Derby is joined to Derbyshire I cannot see why it cannot create an even better library authority.
One argument that has been made is very difficult to counteract, and that is the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) when he said that if Wales is allowed these tiny library authorities—which will be very inefficient—why cannot Dartford and other places have a similar advantage? I cannot answer that one. I have never quite understood what the Secretary of State meant by Clause 201.
Backing up very much what my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said, let us recognise that this change put in the Bill was recommended in the evidence given by the Library Association to the Royal Commission in 1966, recommended by that Royal Commission, recommended by the Redcliffe-Maud Report and in the minority report of Mr. Senior to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, recommended in a White Paper produced by the Labour Government, and recommended in the present Government's White Paper. It has fairly substantial backing.
When we are looking forward to a really good library service, I cannot see why we should boggle at the suggestion in the Clause. Hon. Members of the Opposition are the most reactionary creatures alive when it comes to the library service.
That is just what I am saying. It is like a bachelor before marriage saying, "I am wonderful and I do not want to give up this state. I am being forced into a marriage by my parents, but I must keep my library service as a bachelor." That seems to be looking at the matter from the wrong aspect.
I want to make two other observations. In 1957 there were about 484 library authorities in England. Today there are 345. Why has there been this decrease in library authorities? What we have been getting is a far better, expanded library service, covering a wider area. That is why I am worried about the attitude of some hon. Members.
I am keen that the aged, the partially sighted, and all the disabled should be able to obtain from the new library service the best facilities that they can. They will not get such facilities if the library service is fragmented. My right hon. Friend has taken the right decision. He may want to help special cases, but that is another matter. I beg him to stick to his guns, because I am sure that he is looking forward to the new library service of the future, which will be vitally important for the coming generation.
We on this side have a great deal of sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and with the Amendment propounded by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew).
It was clear in Standing Committee that most of my hon. Friends and several hon. Members opposite were very concerned about the Government's intention that libraries in non-metropolitan English counties should be run by county councils. As the Bill stands, any library which has been established by a borough or a district council will be transferred automatically to the new county council. Clause 200 is drafted in such a way that in England there is no possibility of local option. If a county council refuses to come to an agency agreement with a district council under Clause 101, the district council cannot do anything about it.
The Secretary of State has now given an assurance, which we welcome, that he will seek to amend the Bill so that he can act as a referee in any dispute between a county and a district council. This assurance is not good enough in respect of libraries, for reasons which I will explain.
There is no doubt that many district councils will want to have library powers. The new non-metropolitan districts will include several towns which have their own excellent libraries and which have been running them for many years. We have heard this evening from hon. Members who represent many of these towns. It is not only the large county boroughs such as Southampton and Plymouth which have been mentioned so often in our debates on the Bill. There are other county boroughs such as Swindon and Derby which have equally strong feelings, and there are many municipal boroughs and district councils which are desperately anxious to keep their own libraries.
The Redditch Urban District Council has an outstanding library. Under the proposals of the Boundary Commission, Redditch will be the second smallest district council in England. I know that both the councillors and the library staff are very upset at the prospect of being merged with the county library service in Hereford and Worcester.
This is not just a matter of sentiment. It is true that libraries are a great source of civic pride. It is a fair summary of the Report of the Roberts Committee on the structure of the library service and of the later Report of the Committee on Standards to say that they found that this civic pride was justified. A district council with a population of over 40,000 can provide an efficient and comprehensive library service. This conclusion was the basis of the Public Libraries and Museums Act, 1964. After this reorganisation several district councils will exceed that figure.
If there has been any change in the last eight years it has surely been an increasing awareness that libraries are more than a book-lending service. There is a trend towards the use of a library as the basis for a much more comprehensive leisure service.
The hon. Member for Chigwell referred to the example of Thurrock, which is a very good one—an outstanding situation where the local council has used its library as a basis on which to build and to provide other leisure services. The buildings themselves are often used to house other activities such as museums and art galleries and in some cases there is a theatre or concert hall, as in the case of Thurrock. Libraries are becoming local art centres and many hon. Members believe that the best way to encourage this development is to leave the library powers at district level.
Whether we are right or wrong in this belief, there is no doubt about the practical difficulties which will arise if the Bill is not amended.
As I have already explained, a library, a museum and an art gallery are often contained in the same building. The Bill leaves district councils with the power to provide museums and art galleries. That division of power is bound to lead to a conflict over who does what in which part of the building.
Secondly, and more important, there is no clear boundary between books, pamphlets, magazines, manuscripts, photographs and museum objects. When does a museum become a library? I doubt whether the Minister can tell us. These services are closely related and should be provided by the same local authority.
Clause 200 is much too inflexible and rigid as it stands and must be amended. However, I cannot advise my hon. Friends to support Amendment No. 663, moved by the hon. Member for Chigwell, because it goes too far in the other direction. I sympathise with hon. Members who are so concerned about the loss of library powers by district councils which want to continue to run their own libraries and deserve to do so. Clause 200 reflects the extreme position of giving all library powers to the county council unless they agree to appoint the county council as their agent.
Amendment No. 663 would adopt the equally extreme position of giving all library powers to the district councils unless they employed the county council as their agent. There has already been much praise for the libraries which are run by some district councils and I join in that praise. However, some county libraries are also excellent. I advise my hon. Friends that there are also some district council libraries which are not very good. In some parts of the country in urban and rural areas the county councils do a magnificent job. There is a great danger that Amendment No. 663 would break up these services and transfer library powers to new district councils who do not want them. In some cases the dissolution of county library services would take place against the wishes of the county council and the new district councils.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) sang the praises of the new county library service. His point about education was dealt with by the hon. Member for Dartford. However, I am not sure that fiction is not educational. I was attracted by the point put forward by the hon. Gentleman about dual use, the connection between schools and libraries. I sympathise with that point, but throughout the Bill there are areas where there must be co-operation between district councils and county councils. The county councils will be responsible for the social services and district councils will be responsible for housing. There is a great need for co-operation between those two public services.
The point made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury should not influence us too greatly. I do not agree that it is necessary to have a county library service in order to have co-operation between town and country. The new district councils will include urban and rural areas, and we shall get the co-operation we need in that way. The hon. Gentleman was mistaken in his reference to the size of the book stock. What matters to the reader is not the size of the stock which exists in the total library service, county or urban district, but whether a particular book is available when he goes into his local library. A reader does not care whether a book which is not available is obtained from the county stock or from the stock of a district council elsewhere.
It is possible to have inter-lending arrangements between district councils. Such arrangements already exist and flourish. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's point regarding the economics of the library service. District councils in many places co-operate in their book buying to ensure that two councils do not buy copies of the same expensive book. This is all part of the library service and a recognised feature of it at present.
I am not sure whether I heard the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton) correctly. I think he referred to a bachelor who was forced into marriage by his parents. I hate to call that reactionary, but I must advise the House, as someone who is a little younger than the right hon. Gentleman, that it is a rare occurrence these days for a bachelor to be forced into marriage by his parents.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the need to cater for the disabled. However, there is abundant evidence that some district councils are already providing that service. I believe that the district council of Cam borne and Redruth in Cornwall provides that kind of service. It sends out mobile libraries to provide that service for those who are disabled and confined to their homes.
District councils will not be too small and inefficient under the new organisation of local government. They will, in general, be bigger than they are today. Although the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton read out a long list of White Papers and reports which suggested the library service should be provided by district councils, there have been reports on the other side. In particular, there was the Roberts Committee Report.
I am sorry if I made a mistake. I meant that the right hon. Gentleman read a long list which advocated a county library service. However, there have been reports on the other side from committees which considered the subject in depth. It was also debated at length when the Public Libraries and Museums Act was passed in 1964.
In this situation the Government want to rely on Clause 101, especially since the Secretary of State has promised to amend it along the lines suggested the other night. However, I believe there are two weaknesses in the assurance given by the Secretary of State concerning libraries.
First, it would be possible for a new district council to apply for library powers only where it includes within its boundaries the whole of the area of any borough or district council which is already running a library in 1974. This assurance will not help a district council where the old councils did not have library powers.
I will give the Minister an example from my own county of Hereford and Worcester. The Boundary Commission has suggested that there should be seven new district councils. I believe that six of those district councils contain within their areas existing boroughs or district councils with library powers. The seventh district council does not contain within its area a library run by a district council. I believe there should be an opportunity for that seventh district council to apply to the Secretary of State for the power to run its own library. I feel especially strong on this point because that seventh district council consists of two-thirds of my constituency, Bromsgrove.
Suppose the new district council would like its own library. At the moment it will not have the opportunity. The Secretary of State's assurance does not give it that opportunity. I believe it should have that opportunity if it wishes to apply after the new council has been elected.
I must emphasise that I am not advocating the dismemberment of the county library service. No doubt the transfer of responsibility from county to district council should be rare, but it should be possible, and it is not possible under the Secretary of State's assurance.
Secondly, the Secretary of State will arbitrate only for a limited period during the reorganisation. It will be a once-for-all option. Any district council which does not apply to run its library in 1974 will not be able to apply at some future time. I believe that is a weakness in the Youth Employment Service which was based on a once-for-all option by county councils some years ago. I should like to see a situation where district and county councils can change their minds and apply to the Secretary of State, not as frequently perhaps as they vote on the drinking laws of Wales but at least every ten years.
For these reasons, I urge the Government to accept Amendment No. 1177. It is an excellent Amendment and eminently reasonable. It increases the amount of flexibility in the reorganisation and does not tie the Government's hands. It would put England on the same footing as Wales.
If the Government will not accept Amendment No. 1177, I ask hon. Members on both sides to support it and I hope that the sponsors of Amendment No. 663 will withdraw it in favour of No. 1177 because the latter would give them what they want.
The remarks just made by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) about the importance of seeing that districts are encouraged to run the library service, and his feeling that the existing districts with a good library service should be allowed to continue to run them, are in complete contradiction to what has been Labour Party policy to date. I believe that those in the professional library service and in education will be surprised that the Labour Party has changed course on this subject.
In their acceptance of the Redcliffe-Maud report, Ministers in the Labour Government supported the logic of its recommendations on libraries, and one of their proposals was that the library facilities, for example, of Redditch Urban District Council would disappear to become part of Worcestershire and Herefordshire combined—indeed, not even that, but would become part of Greater Birmingham. The Labour Party has now decided, interestingly enough, as the great advocate of the unitary system, that on this issue at least it should take a different view.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is a grotesque interpretation of the Labour Party's position. The Redcliffe-Maud report, which the Labour Government supported, came out for unitary authorities. The present Government have dismissed that solution. Therefore, we are left with the problem of what to do with the library service in the circumstances which the Government have created. Where we have to choose between one authority and another, we think that the case for the district council has been made out, although we would prefer the unitary authority.
The hon. Gentleman will find many quotations of Labour Ministers, particularly the Minister who was concerned with the library service, made at the time of the Labour Government's discussions after the Redcliffe-Maud report and the publication of their White Paper, advocating the great advantages of having libraries organised on that basis. I am sure that people in the library service and in education will judge the Labour Party on that basis. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), who has close connections with teaching, will be aware of the teaching profession's views on this matter.
Amendment No. 663 would do considerable harm to the existing library service. I understand the feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that a district with a good library service should be allowed to continue it, but in the present circumstances and in the light of the proposal for new districts I believe that his proposal would do harm. Of the 275 suggested new districts, only 39 are similar to the present district authorities with library services, while 127 of them are currently wholly served by county library services and 108 are served by a combination of county and district services. To make the 275 districts library authorities would mean the complete dismantling of the library services which operate in by far the majority of districts in the country, and this would cause considerable disruption.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) both raised the point that the relationship between the library service and education and the educational service were not of great importance. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford when he states that a large proportion of the books are books of fiction and that the greatest use of the library service is for leisure reading. That does not in any way detract from the enormous and growing importance of the library service for education. That is particularly the case in view of the substantial number of the population now taking advantage of the many facilities available for higher education.
I confess that when I decided on a two-tier system for local government my original intention was that libraries should be run at district level. I did so because I felt that the library service, as I had enjoyed it, currently in Worcester, and at one time in Dartford, offered facilities with friendliness and personal attention. I could see no real reason why it should not go to the districts. But when I looked more deeply into the problems that the library service is endeavouring to contend with I found there were enormous advantages, with the vast increase in the number of books and in the number of titles published and with the vast growth in interest in higher education, and the wide range of needs, I thought there were considerable advantages in trying to operate the library service over larger areas.
Understandably my hon. Friend slightly mocked at the concentration on management efficiency at the expense of looking after the person who wanted to borrow a book. But there is no need for these two elements to be contradictory. There is no disadvantage in obtaining maximum management efficiency and the maximum reduction in cost to get the best value for money out of the library service. I believe that the proposals we have made will achieve those objectives.
It is not right for hon. Members completely to ignore the unanimous view of those professionally engaged in the library service and the degree to which the last conference of the Library Association, which has members operating in district councils at the present time, voted for the service to be at the county level. It is a decision which shows that those professionally engaged in the actual working of the libraries recognise that there are a number of advantages in such a system.
My hon. Friends quite rightly asked why there was a difference for Wales. There are two main factors which led my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to decide on the Welsh provisions. One was that under the Welsh proposals quite a few existing counties are being made into districts. Because of their geographical size and because they have been counties with county educational services, he considered that this provision was needed there. The other factor was the Welsh language. There could be a need in certain parts of Wales to make a designation because of the language factor. That sort of factor does not apply in England.
The debate might have given the impression that the great mass of libraries are operated currently at district level. Apart from London, of 1,251 existing districts 1,048 of them now have their library system operated by the counties. That means that about 80 per cent. of the present districts have their library system operated at county level.
Quite reasonably, my hon. Friends have been concerned about the loss of local connection with some very good existing libraries. This is a matter which I have discussed with my noble Friend the Paymaster-General who has direct responsibility for the library service, and I should like to give my hon. Friends two assurances—first, that he will be preparing for publication and release when the legislation is enacted a memorandum to go to all the new library authorities suggesting the manner in which they should liaise with the districts, the way they should conserve local collections and look after a very wide range and diversity of interest currently connected with libraries. This memorandum, which he will prepare in consultation with those concerned, will have an important impact.
Added to this there is the provision of Clause 101. This is rather interesting. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove had two basic objections to the use of this, with neither of which I personally agreed. He said that Clause 101 would not apply to a district which did not already have an existing service. That is not so. In fact, it is one of the factors to be taken into account.
But I did not accept the Amendment. All the hon. Gentleman is doing is referring to the Amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) which was not accepted by the House, and the new Clause which we shall provide will enable districts without having this existing function to apply. I do not think that in reality it will have very much effect. Nor do I think it would have very much effect under the provisions in my hon. Friend's Amendment No. 1177. One must recognise the manner in which subsection (6) of that Amendment is likely to be exercised by the Ministers concerned. In fact, the power is given to the Secretary of State.
In reality, in exercising that power I would consult my noble Friend the Paymaster-General who has direct responsibility for the library service. The criteria that any Minister, knowing the problems of the library service, is likely to apply to subsection (6) of that Amendment would mean, for example, that a district that had never had any experience at all of library services, with a tolerably small catchment area of population, would have no possibility under the Amendment or under Clause 101 of being able to go ahead in providing a library service.
I am recommending that we should not accept the Amendment, but certainly I wish to make it clear that if one applied the Amendment as drafted and particularly applied subsection (6), in terms of the thinking of the present Minister directly responsible for libraries, the effect of the application would not be to the liking of my hon. Friend and almost certainly it would not be to the liking of the Dartford district.
I do not think anything I said implied that. What it implies is that there are certain advantages to the library system which are known to those professionally involved in libraries. It would be wrong under this Amendment for a Minister, knowing those advantages and knowing the better service that could be provided if those advantages were present, to interpret his decisions under this Amendment in any other way. I am not saying that, as a result, there are not districts which would not be accepted under this provision. I am pointing out that many of those who advocate the sort of case which we have heard argued tonight would be disappointed by the application of the Amendment.
There are several advantages to be gained from using the Clause 101 procedure rather than the procedure under Amendment 1177. One of the biggest single advantages, perhaps, is the advantage which an agency arrangement could give as opposed to complete power being in the hands of a district, that over a county area there will be facilities and resources to be made available as part of an agency arrangement with a district, and it is this type of arrangement which is likely to be concluded through use of the Clause 101 method.
Agency, like marriage, requires two parties to work it. It is all very well to say that it would be of use. It would be of use only if both sides agreed and, of course, one side may well not agree.
Under the Clause 101 procedure, up till April, 1974, the terms of an agency agreement can be approved and agreed by the Secretary of State. [Interruption.] That is now the position, with the Secretary of State acting as arbitrator. I believe that the existence of that procedure will result in those districts which have a good library system linked with the local people being able to negotiate in this period a sensible agency arrangement, with all the range of advantages which it could give, with the county authority. Also, it would result in an end to the uncertainty, which is very important for the staff.
I must emphasise that there are considerable advantages for the career structure in operating a library service overall on a county basis. This is one of the reasons why the staff of libraries have been virtually unanimous in their support of our proposal.
The main plank of the right hon. Gentleman's case is that the professionals in the library service believe absolutely in the need for a county based service. In that case, why on earth should the counties ever agree to such an agency arrangement? They will not agree to it.
There is plenty of chance of their doing so. In fact, in joint consultations, many counties have already expressed their readiness to operate an agency arrangement with large county boroughs. It is not right to say that they will not operate the system on that basis. I believe that the new Clause which I shall introduce in the other place will bring greater strength to negotiations taking place in that connection, and I think that the advantages to the library service as a whole will be considerable. Until this debate, the Opposition, too, had considered that the advantages would be considerable.
I understand my hon. Friend's concern on this matter, and I assure them that we shall have careful consultations with the Association of Municipal Corporations, which represents many of the county boroughs anxious on this point, as to the nature of the advice which we shall give in a circular on the operation of Clause 101. Obviously, there will be matters of importance in that circular with reference to reaching sensible agency arrangements. I believe that the purpose which my hon. Friends have in mind is much more likely to be secured, and secured quickly, by a sensible use of Clause 101, with the new Clause which we shall introduce in the other place, than it would be under the proposals in Amendment 1177, or Amendment No. 663, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell. I hope, therefore, that the House will reject the Amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman began by trying to hang round our necks on this side of the House our acceptance of the Redcliffe-Maud proposals for unitary authorities in quite different circumstances. We are now asked to accept a dual system, with two types of authority, and, on the basis of the merits of the argument in the present case, we must decide which function shall be discharged by the top-tier authority and which by the second-tier authority.
It is the experience of many Members that the discharge of responsibility for library facilities by some, not necessarily all, borough library authorities, which have done such a remarkable job in the past, would be to the advantage of those who matter most, those with whom the House should be absorbed, the consumers, those who most use the library services. I do not believe that if we were to rely on the diaphonous assurance given tonight by the Secretary of State we should see any meaningful negotiations for agency arrangements under Clause 101. I cannot believe that if the new top-tier authorities accepted, as I am sure they would, the arguments for scale put forward by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), they would want to enter into that kind of negotiation with second-tier authorities.
For that reason I support, and hope to support in the Lobby Amendment No. 1177. My reasons are precisely those which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) argued in his comprehensive and lucid speech. I was not privileged to serve on the Standing Committee, but I understand that Amendment No. 1177 does not provide that inevitably district councils should be designated library authorities, but simply puts it at the discretion of the Minister, having regard to the safeguards set forth in the Amendment.
Personally, I am torn between the two types of authority. No one who has advanced some of the considerable merits of the existing borough library authorities would say that this was a matter of black and white, that each borough service was always marvellous and that it had been shown that the services provided by the county authorities were in some way always worse. They provide different services.
In Derbyshire, where I live, the services provided by the county authorities are different in nature because they serve a rural community, a community which wants travelling libraries and so on much more than the kind of cohesive cultural centre that is provided by the borough authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) also mentioned experience in Derby. The library services in Derby have been provided for 101 years and anyone having recourse to them is having recourse not merely to a library but to a whole cultural entity which shapes one's life and relates to the town and community in which one lives. It is the view of all those who enjoy those services that they are being adequately and satisfactorily provided and that to tamper with them now or to put them under a top-tier authority would in no sense be an improvement.
Under one and the same roof as the library in Derby one can see the works of our leading painter Joseph Wright and the museum where there is everything from the Ark Wright spinning jenny to the RB211 and the work of other advanced technologists and scientists in Derby, and very shortly one will also see the new centre for the living arts. All these things are brought together under one local authority locally responsible.
I do not agree with the arguments of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton). He said that what we had might be very good, but the larger unit would probably be better still and we should not shiver on the brink when we could get in and enjoy it. I did not hear him saying that in the arguments about the European Communities Bill recently. No doubt it is a question of horses for courses in Thirsk and Malton as everywhere else. To that argument I would simply say that we are not arguing that the top-tier authorities and the new counties are in any way to be denigrated. We are simply saying that if services are being adequately and satisfactorily provided, they should be left as they are.
There is a difference in marriage depending on whom one marries. I should have thought that Derby would find Derbyshire an attractive partner. That is rather different from the argument about the Six.
I hope that one marries a partner with complementary qualities to oneself and does not try to get more of a good thing if one has a lot of a good thing already.
Since the Minister is unwilling to accept Amendment No. 1177 or an Amendment like it, I hope that the House will overturn the right hon. Gentleman's proposals and will vote for the proposals of the hon. Member for Dartford outlined in his very comprehensive Amendment, which I wholeheartedly support.
Few matters of local authority function are clear-cut. In spite of the impassioned feelings they arouse, there are generally conflicting and balancing considerations about the best way in which to administer them. Libraries are no exception. We want to make the right decision on this matter, particularly because of the nature of the subject and the pleasure which most of us have derived from books and libraries.
I appreciate the arguments of the professional librarian. I appreciate the arguments of the Library Association, the Society of County Librarians and the Hertford County Council and their plea for the advantages of a larger unified library system and those economies of scale about which we heard so much in another context. But these are matters which perhaps are reflected mainly in the context of the more specialist requirements. It is difficult to see that the requirements of the specialist and the researcher can be met from even the county library. Certainly they cannot be met from the individual branches of county libraries in our smaller towns.
The greater the degree of specialisation, the greater the degree of concentration. But I doubt whether the ordinary reader is much concerned with the specialist requirements. The ordinary reader attaches importance to a reasonable volume of choice, accessibility, an intimate atmosphere, personal attention and the feeling that it is part of the local cultural complex. Therefore, the optimum situation may well be well-stocked local libraries with highly developed inter-library loan services and a background of more specialised services.
We have heard of the larger boroughs and their library services. I wish to make brief reference to a smaller town providing a very good library service as an urban district. I refer to the library service in Cheshunt, in my constituency, with an annual expenditure on the service of £1,530 per 1,000 people, well above the national average; an issue of books per head above the national average; a library service point within half a mile of any resident; special deposits and collections at old people's homes; and the only music library in the County of Hertford.
So far as I know, that is so—andthere does not seem to be any contradiction coming from the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck).
Library services like that in Cheshunt clearly should be allowed to continue. I would not argue that districts should be allowed or encouraged, still less compelled, to provide library services if they do not have the means, will, resources and resolution to do it, but if on an objective test it can be shown that they have these things, then they should have the right to provide a library service. That is the philosophy of Clause 201 applied to Wales. It takes as the criteria not only the capacity to provide an efficient service but the effect on the county library service which I wish to uphold and protect.
Under the Clause and the Amendment the Secretary of State is to be in the position of an objective arbiter considering the issues, no doubt in a quasi-judicial manner, and responsible to Parliament under the negative procedure. It would hardly be right for Parliament to judge an Act which is to have a permanent place on the Statute Book simply by the current feelings of particular Ministers in this regard. Therefore, I join with those who hope that ways will be found of preserving a district library service for those districts which are both competent to provide it and which are desired to provide it by the general will of the people in their locality.
I support the Amendment moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew), and I congratulate him on his work in Committee. My hon. Friend the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Dartford said:
With the permission of the Committee, if the hon. Member for Widnes and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford would consider withdrawing their Amendments, I will take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 7th March, 1972; c. 2449.]
I should like to know what was the reply from the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton) mentioned many organisations, but he omitted to refer to the Association of Municipal Corporations, which has this to say:
Many small towns at present provide outstanding library services of the kind described. Clearly they are not in a position to maintain as extensive a stock of reference books as one would expect to find in a large city. However, it would be idle to suppose that a library service provided by a county council would more easily be able to provide such material in each small town. At best, it could be held at the county central library; but if the central libraryis at some distance from the intending reader, this would present no advantage over the existing well-developed system of inter-library loans. Conversely, it would be difficult for a county council to respond adequately to the intensely local demands generated by a local library service.
That is what the Association of Municipal Corporations, which knows a great deal about the problem, has to say about this crucial matter. The library service has little in common with the education service at the operational level, as stated in the Roberts Report.
Even with an agency service Plymouth will be in difficulties. There is what might perhaps be termed a love-hate relationship between Plymouth and Devon county. For many years Plymouth has had an outstanding librarian in charge of the main library and 15 branch libraries. It is the principal reference library for Devon and Cornwall. Plymouth has this dual rôle to play for both counties. Anyone living within Devon county may belong to the lending library, which has a membership of over 100,000, plus 10,000 from Devon county.
Plymouth provides an exceptional service because there are exceptional establishments in the town. There are the Polytechnic, the Teachers' Training College, the College of Further Education, the College of Art and the School of Navigation—the only one in the country.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton referred to special services. We have very special services for the handicapped who have books delivered to their homes. We supply books to old folks' residential homes. Every blind person can borrow three talking books at one time and the books are supplied not just to Plymouth but to the whole of the region.
We provide our service in Six Counties of the South West. For example, music scores for choirs and orchestras in the Six Counties are supplied from Plymouth—not from Devon County or Cornwall County or even from Gloucester or Wiltshire, but the service is provided by Plymouth. At present 11,000 manuscripts are out on loan to people in the Six Counties. The same applies to drama, and sets of plays go out to Devon and Cornwall from Plymouth; some 11,000 of these sets go out on loan at the same time.
Furthermore, a business information service is provided from the City of Plymouth Library to Devon and Cornwall. At the moment there is a Centrax factory in Newton Abbot which is using this service. There is also a reference library for the whole of Devon and Cornwall. We also have a unique children's service called the "Good Readers Circle". This has 14,000 members who are taught to read literature that is considered worthwhile. This is the only service of its kind in the country.
We have a children's library which runs holiday courses lasting 14 days at which children are encouraged to search for references on a particular theme; there are then question and answer sessions and the children put their findings in writing. We have a gramophone lending section, and Lord Denning nominated Plymouth as a manorial repository. We have an archives department with an excellent specialist in charge. We spend as much as 7p per head out of the rates on these services.
As over 80 per cent. of our rates go direct to Devon County and at any time the representatives of Plymouth can be outvoted by the representatives of Devon County, we should like to know how we shall be able to uphold our standards in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) said in Committee that Plymouth would not be administered by foreigners. We have a completely different outlook in Plymouth from that adopted in the rest of the county. We consider that we should not be administered by those who have no direct knowledge of the Library. The 1964 legislation has proved very successful and I see no reason for changing it in 1972. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree to accept the Amendment No. 1177 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford.
I agree very much with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon port (Dame Joan Vickers). I must say that, having listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, I wondered whether he and I were living in the same world. So many of the limitations which he appeared to believe apply to local district libraries certainly do not apply to the one I know best in the city of Lancaster.
Lancaster has always enjoyed an excellent public library service. My right hon. Friend said that a library should cater for the needs of higher education. We have not only a university, but also probably one of the best teacher-training colleges in the country. We have no fewer than 2,000 students who are members of our city library service who borrow books constantly and steadily.
We have a first-class library service to our hospitals—both to our mental hos- pitals as appropriate and to our very large district hospital. We have an excellent and well-established service to our home-bound. We supply all the local old people's homes, the prison and the schools. We also have the largest reference library between Preston and Carlisle. Like Plymouth, we have excellent manorial records. We are one of the few public libraries to have been recognised by the Master of the Rolls as repositories for manorial records.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the last conference of the Library Association, which voted for libraries to be in the hands of county authorities. However, in January of this year every chief librarian in the country from the smallest authority to the largest city was asked to state whether he preferred libraries to be operated at district level or at county level. I understand that there was a majority of five to two in favour of libraries being operated at district level.
I feel strongly that this is a service which is far more appropriate to those who understand the needs of the localities at the grass-roots level. I very much deprecate its being taken over by the countries.
I am grateful for an opportunity to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew), who has done so much work on this Amendment. I shall not put the case in detail now; indeed, it does not need to be put again. However, one or two arguments have to be repeated.
One that we hear constantly suggests that a small minority of radical urban dwellers can control the great majority of those who live in rural areas. That is quite untrue. When it comes to local government or national government, it is not the dynamism of the speaking which counts. It is the votes, and in this respect the votes are those of the large rural areas.
If we hand over the district libraries of the county boroughs to the larger areas of the new counties, we shall lose control of them. I wish to look at just one facet of the library-museum service in my own area. The amount of money spent by Norwich on our museum is about £120,000 a year. The amount spent by the county on the same museum is £4,500. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has been kind enough to hand me some figures showing that throughout the country it is the urban dwellers who have built up the library service. It is not only cruel but wrong that this service should be taken away from them.
We have heard how the libraries in these areas are lending libraries. However, they are also centres of research, cultural centres, centres for the collection of archives, and so on. This is a service which is not being given by the county in the same way, since the county has to devote the majority of its resources to quite a different standard of library service, taking books to those living in scattered areas rather than providing centres of cultural research such as those that we have to have in the cities. To dilute that necessary and concentrated service by putting it under the control of those who have been running a totally different service seems to be quite wrong.
I can understand that in some parts of the country it might be right for the service to be operated at county level. If that is the case, why not consider the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford and allow the local authorities to have some flexibility? We need to get back to the days when the Tory Party was the party of freedom of choice, not the party of dogma and of central control. We are the party of flexibility, and this should be a good Tory principle. That will be seen to be so if we adopt Amendment No. 1177 allowing local authorities to appeal to the Secretary of State.
I was a little worried by the reply of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It appears that because the Paymaster-General is known to favour the counties, we are to get little change out of the Government and we might as well not bother to vote on this Amendment. We feel that that is wrong. If we are to have a ministerial opinion, we need an objective and not a prejudiced one. We must avoid this sort of situation in the future.
There has been no talk of museums. As the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said, in many places museums and libraries are combined. We have heard nothing about the transfer orders which will come in when the Bill becomes an Act. Will they be temporary, as the Paymaster-General's Department thinks they will be, or will they be permanent as the Department of the Environment thinks? This is rather a nasty problem, a complete dichotomy of view, to which no one has given the answer.
We know that there will be consultations with local authorities, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and with the Paymaster-General, but no one has said whether the transfer order will be permanent or temporary. This is a fundamental importance to museum authorities, who have a career structure to consider.
Libraries and museums are not run for the people who run them. They are run for the general public, and the general public want to keep their county borough libraries in the county boroughs. I think that many hon. Members on this side of the House will find it very difficult not to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford if he decides not to withdraw his Amendment.
The air has been filled with the sound of grinding constituency axes, and my constituency is no exception. I have an axe which I should like to grind, but I shall resist the temptation to do so because I want to put to my right hon. Friend one general point which has not so far been mentioned in this somewhat protracted debate.
I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that we all wish to see good and effective local councillors in these second-tier authorities. How can he hope to attract men and women with cultural interests and of a higher standard of education to serve on the new authorities which he is creating unless he gives them something to get their cultural teeth into? This means not depriving them of their libraries. I feel that there are enough necessary changes in the Bill, without adding unnecessary changes—which this is.
I feel sure that we can acquit my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of wishing to emasculate the second-tier authorities, but I ask him to realise that he must not de-tribalise them.
It has been agreeable listening to the debate, because there is nothing nicer than to hear of people's pride in the quality of their local services. What has struck me is that nearly every hon. Member has the best library service in England, and that is a very agreeable product of the present system, but I do not think there is any reason to imagine that that state of affairs will not continue under the system proposed by my right hon. Friend.
The counties provide a very good library service. Most library authorities provide a good library service. Some very large boroughs perhaps provide outstanding library services. That is the fact, and what my right hon. Friend proposes would meet the point about the very good town library.
It has been suggested that every borough wants to keep its library. I come from a borough which is happy to see the responsibility for the library taken on by the East Sussex County Council in conjunction with the library services for the area as a whole. It is not that we do not have a good library—we do. It is not that it does not play a large part in the culture and life of the town—it does, particularly since our town hall was burned down. But it is considered by those who are involved in the running of the library that being part of a bigger whole will bring real advantages to the people of Hove, and the point needs to be made because it is an example of a point that I do not think that anyone else has made.
The Borough Librarian of Hove beseeched me to catch your eye Mr. Speaker if my hon. Friend the member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) did, and I thank you for having allowed me to do so.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend has not been able to give way on this matter of libraries.
I have been a member of a library committee for a considerable time and have a little experience of a small town library. I have found that a library is easier to administer from the centre of a compact area. That is why our older libraries have grown up in the places in which they are. County libraries have come later to cover a scattered area. My experience is that people from the villages around my small town come into the town to our library because they cannot get what they want from a county library. The borough provides this service absolutely free to county ratepayers.
The county service is more or less in its infancy. It is growing, but that does not mean that at this stage it is ready to take over the existing, very efficient, well used libraries in towns. I do not see why the two cannot go on growing as they are without this takeover bid from the county councils. My town has provided a wonderful exchange service with bigger libraries so that we can supply books to our townspeople and county people at no cost to themselves. We have run a hospital library service. The county provides mobile libraries which are very well used in the villages and much appreciated; but as yet the county has not covered all my villages with libraries built in them. This will come in time and other facilities will be provided, particularly for young people, for whom there will be all-purpose buildings rather than purely libraries.
I hope that even at this late stage my right hon. Friend will be able to give way a little on this point.
I apologise for intervening in a debate to the whole of which I have not listened. It is something that I rarely do. I shall not speak for more than one minute.
I was tempted to intervene by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan), who made a very good case for the county library. I agree with him entirely. The county library does a magnificent job, but it is a job quite different from that of the borough library. The borough library operates a good deal in the nature of a club. That aspect of the library emerges from the local interest from individuals within the town who take a passionate interest in it. It would be an awful pity to throw away that. Why cannot the two live together?
In Northampton we are very anxious to keep this sort of cultural club we have. It cannot be kept if it is impersonalised by becoming part of the county. This is not a criticism of the county; it is just that the two things do not fit.
authority and if, after consulting the authority which is then the library authority for that district and after taking account of any likely changes in the area and population of that district and of any other matters appearing to him to be relevant, the Secretary of State is of the opinion that the order would lead to an improvement in the library facilities in that district and would not prejudicially affect the library facilities in the county or the area of the joint board, as the case may be, he may make an order constituting the council a library authority as from a date specified in the order.
|Division No. 306.]||AYES||[9.55 p.m.|
|Allen, Scholefield||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Ellis, Tom||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Evans, Fred||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Ewing, Henry||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Kinnock, Neil|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Foot, Michael||Lamond, James|
|Booth, Albert||Forrester, John||Lawson, George|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.)||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Buchan, Norman||Gilbert, Dr. John||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Cant, R. B.||Golding, John||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Gourlay, Harry||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Cooks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Hamling, William||McBride, Neil|
|Coleman, Donald||Hannam, John (Exeter)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Heffer, Eric S.||Mackie. John|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Hornby, Richard||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Davidson, Arthur||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Huckfield, Leslie||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Marquand, David|
|Deakins, Eric||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Hunter, Adam||Moate, Roger|
|Dormand, J. D.||Janner, Greville||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Dunnett, Jack||John, Brynmor||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)||Torney, Tom|
|Murray, Ronald King||Rowlands, Ted||Tuck, Raphael|
|Oakes, Gordon||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||Urwin, T. W.|
|O'Malley, Brian||Sinclair, Sir George||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Paget, R. T.||Spriggs, Leslie||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Parker, John (Dagenham)||Stallard, A. W.||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Pentland, Norman||Steel, David||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Prescott, John||Stoddart, David (Swindon)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Probert, Arthur||Taverne, Dick|
|Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Thomas,Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.|
|Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Mr. Peter Trew and Mr. Harold Walker.|
|Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)||Thompson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Rose, Paul B.||Tinn, James|
|Adley, Robert||Gummer, Selwyn||Normanton, Tom|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Nott, John|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Havers, Michael||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Higgins, Terence L.||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Hiley, Joseph||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Benyon, W.||Hill, James (Southampton. Test)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Holt, Miss Mary||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Hordern, Peter||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Boscawen, Robert||Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Redmond, Robert|
|Bray, Ronald||Hunt, John||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Buck, Antony||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn)||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Jopling, Michael||Scott, Nicholas|
|Chapman, Sydney||Kershaw, Anthony||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Sharples, Sir Richard|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Speed, Keith|
|Clegg, Walter||Kinsey. J. R.||Spence, John|
|Cockeram, Eric||Kirk, Peter||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Crouch, David||Knox, David||Stokes, John|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid,Maj.-Gen.James||Le Marchant, Spencer||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Dean, Paul||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Dixon, Piers||Luce, R. N.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Macmillan, Rt.Hn.Maurice (Farnham)||Tilney, John|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Maddan, Martin||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Eyre, Reginald||Madel, David||Waddington, David|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Miscampbell, Norman||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fortescue, Tim||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Fox, Marcus||Molyneaux, James||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Money, Ernle||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Montgomery, Fergus||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Morrison, Charles||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gower, Raymond||Murton, Oscar||Mr. Paul Hawkins and Mr. Kenneth Clarke.|
|Gray, Hamish||Neave, Airey|
|Green, Alan||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|