To ask the Minister for the Arts what evidence he has on the extent of demand for competitive tendering for library services to old people's homes.
This service is one of several that library authorities may wish to consider contracting out to the commercial sector. Library authorities would continue to be responsible for the scope and quality of any service contracted out.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he admit that it is ludicrous to think that money can be made out of providing a comprehensive library service for elderly people? They are very worried about the service. Has any commercial interest been shown in this disgraceful competitive tendering? If not, will he withdraw it, as the Green Paper proposes?
The hon. Lady has misunderstood the purpose of the exercise. The purpose of the Green Paper and the proposals for discussing more contracting out is to improve the services for elderly people that are available in our libraries at the service points by obtaining better value for money. If a library authority decides that by tendering outside it will receive an improved service, surely that is something that the hon. Lady would welcome.
My right hon. Friend is right—the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As he has confirmed that it is still part of the Government's policy to encourage library authorities to target special needs groups, will he give the number of library service points that are available for the elderly and other special needs groups compared with 10 years ago?
The Minister knows that what is needed are more resources for libraries. We know that the Prime Minister, and perhaps the Minister, would like our poor old-age pensioners to be stuck in their homes reading The Sun, or books by Freddie Forsyth and listening to MTV. That is not what they would want to do, any more than we should. This is nothing more than a further reading tax. The Minister is a disgrace to the library service.