Public Libraries

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 2000.

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Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon 12:00 am, 11th December 2000

If he will make a statement on his policy on the level of service that public libraries should provide to local communities. [141891]

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

Public library authorities have a statutory duty to provide "a comprehensive and efficient" service across their areas. Early next year we intend to introduce national library standards so that library authorities and users understand better what that means in practice, and we shall monitor the performance of authorities through annual library plans.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in deciding on the level of public library service locally, councillors should take account of the views of local residents, user groups and, where they exist, local library forums? Will he join me in encouraging the new leader of Merton council, Councillor Peter Holt, who is meeting the Merton library forum, to listen to the concerns expressed through that forum and to respond positively to them? Perhaps in that way, we can start to make up for the council's previous mistake whereby branch libraries were closed—including Wimbledon Park branch library in my constituency—to help pay for modernisation.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

I shall certainly give the encouragement sought by my hon. Friend. I hope that his constituents know how relentless he has been in putting pressure on me to ensure that Merton did not act improperly and unlawfully in that closure. He made absolutely sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I were fully aware of the impact on his constituents of the closure of Wimbledon Park library. I know of the importance he attached to keeping that library open.