I collect information annually from English library authorities about their expenditure plans for the coming financial year and their actual expenditure in the previous year. This year's planned spending total was higher than the previous year's outturn.
Does the Minister accept that public library services are declining and that closures of libraries and reductions in opening hours are becoming commonplace under local authorities of all political persuasions? Is that not the inevitable result of the Government's financial pressure on local authorities to cut spending? What does the Minister intend to do to help local authorities to deliver efficient library services?
No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Total gross expenditure on public libraries in England rose by 17 per cent. in real terms over the past 10 years. I have looked carefully at actual and proposed cuts and there is no current evidence of a breach of statutory duty. Book issues were up 3 per cent. in the last year for which figures are available, issues of children's books were up by 8 per cent., and a staggering 489 million books were issued that year.
Is my hon. Friend aware that some local authorities such as Derbyshire see libaries as a soft target and will propose to close them or to curtail opening hours rather than trying to control expenditure in other areas? Will he undertake to keep such matters under careful scrutiny so that constituents such as mine in Erewash get the services that they require and pay for?
Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to the Conservative county councillors on her council, for keeping me so well informed about the situation in Derbyshire. I have looked at it carefully and I am confident that there is no breach of statutory duty. I will not, therefore, be setting up a public inquiry, but I assure my hon. Friend that we are keeping the situation under careful review, especially in Derbyshire, and if there is any such evidence my chief library adviser will, of course, advise me accordingly.
If the Minister intends to keep library services in Derbyshire under review, why does he not also guarantee that Derbyshire county council—which has had a mandate from the people against the Tory party, including the hon. Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight), since 1981—has returned to it the £40 million of cuts in Government grant? Then no library in Derbyshire will be affected and the community education system will prosper. Let us have less hypocrisy from the Dispatch Box and from Tory Members about what is happening in Derbyshire, given that the Conservative Government are responsible for all the cuts.
It is always a pleasure to be questioned by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), although I wish he would change the record once a year or so. I recall a similar exchange with him before. Standard spending assessments are set to take account of library services. Derbyshire, along with other authorities, has one problem: it contains a lot of reactionary people who seem to think that libraries should not change to match the changing requirements, aspirations and demands of their people. When libraries do change, they flourish—as has happened in the past few years, with more books and more expenditure on public libraries.
May I refer my hon. Friend to the good interview on LBC this morning, in which the non-statutory service offered by Westminster city council—the Westminster music library—was discussed? Will he consider the possibility of a national music library which might take over some of the funding responsibilities from Westminster, which currently provides a service—scores, compositions and other printed music—for most of the country's amateur and semi-professional orchestras?