I continue to assess the provision of public library services in England, including opening hours, by analysing statistics and by listening to users and providers of the service.
Is the Minister aware that public libraries provide a great deal more than books, music and pictures for borrowing? They provide a safe, warm environment for many elderly people. As the Government have imposed value added tax on fuel, which will preclude the elderly and those on low incomes heating their own homes in future winters, will the Minister ensure that local authorities are encouraged to expand and extend public library opening hours, and are funded accordingly?
I should love to, but the hon. Lady ought to have a word with her own Labour council in Camden. It was Camden's misfortune to have to take a vote on whether its libraries remained open. It was a close-run thing. They remained open on the casting vote of the chairman, with the Conservatives in favour, but the Labour party voting against the libraries remaining open.
Does my hon. Friend agree that flexibility is the most important factor in library opening hours? Rather than having simply nine-to-five opening hours, libraries should open when it is sensible for them to open and when the public want them to be open.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is as true of rural areas as of urban areas. The flexibility shown in rural areas by the use of mobile public libraries proves just how much library professionals are moving ahead of some who seek to govern them.