Public Libraries

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of access to public libraries on social mobility.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Nearly 3,000 public libraries in England received 195 million physical visits in 2017-18. That is more than all the visits to premier league football games, to cinemas and to English Heritage sites combined—and perhaps even more than to tennis matches, Mr Speaker. Everyone uses public libraries, and everyone is involved in the social mobility aspects of those libraries. It is crucial that we support them so that they give opportunities to improve the life chances and achieve the full potential of everyone.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

Andrew Carnegie, the great Scottish-US philanthropist, once stated:

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

However, since 2010, 605 libraries have closed in England, Wales in Scotland, and 15 of the 34 in Warwickshire have closed. Through their cuts to revenue support grant, are this Government not deserting our communities?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s claim. The fact is that this Government are supporting local government in its work. Local government has a responsibility under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to maintain libraries and provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Taking Part survey found that libraries are used by all parts of our society. They are supported by this Government and this Department.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

Will my hon. Friend support the campaign by the to save our libraries? Will he also protect Harlow? Essex County Council is threatening to close libraries across my constituency despite having nearly £250 million in reserves.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am aware of what is happening in Essex—my right hon. Friend wrote to me about that—and I am aware of the recent consultation by Essex County Council on proposals for its library service. DCMS is monitoring Essex County Council’s compliance with its duty. I can tell my right hon. Friend that, should DCMS receive a complaint following a final decision by the council, it will look very carefully at whether it is failing to meet its statutory duty.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

Will the Minister also have a word with the people running Derbyshire County Council? They issued a statement in which they said almost every public librarian is going to lose so many hours per week. On top of that, 20 libraries in Derbyshire are due to close completely. Will he have a word with them? It is a Tory county council.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

There are county councils of different colours that, clearly, are dealing with the issues the hon. Gentleman refers to. I do not accept what he says about these facts. Libraries need to be supported by all local authorities. Local authorities have a statutory duty under the 1964 Act, and the Department will continue to monitor those duties.