British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:42 pm on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 12:42 pm, 13th March 2020

It is a huge pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank Bim Afolami not just for introducing the Bill, but for the time that he spent with me this week. Who knew so much politics could happen over egg and chips in the Tea Room? I hope to be able to work with the hon. Member to pursue the Bill further. I also share with him a love of books. I definitely would not be standing here today and be the woman I am without the mobile library that came round my estate and my local library in Birstall. I certainly agree with what the hon. Member said about libraries being a quiet place where people can gather their thoughts: I would not be able to have done my homework in quite a chaotic family house without my local library. Winning the book “Puff, the Magic Dragon” as a prize in a writing competition enabled me to think as I grew up that writing could be a career for me, and indeed I did pursue it for many decades.

While there is a list of things that I believe the Budget did not address, the British Library certainly is not one of them. I will not make any bones about the fact that I am a huge supporter of the British Library. Like the hon. Member, I have been a member for many, many years. I used the Library on a daily basis, and it became my office when I was writing scripts and books. One thing the hon. Member did not mention is that the British Library has a speed dating evening. Men are in short supply, so if anybody is single, I recommend that for where they can meet some very clever women. [Interruption.] Nobody’s single, so there we are.

I am sure that most Members will be familiar with the British Library’s premises, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, that is not the only site. Keen observers of the library will know that is also has a 44-acre site in glorious Boston Spa—unfortunately, not in my constituency and quite a drive away, but still in Yorkshire. Some 70% of its collection is already stored in West Yorkshire, so it makes sense that the British Library aspires to have a public library in West Yorkshire, too. I really welcome the commitment to provide £25 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to the West Yorkshire combined authority to support the library in pursuing a new Leeds city centre presence, making the prospect of a British Library north much more realistic. We in West Yorkshire would absolutely welcome with open arms a public-facing British Library base, adding to our already fantastic cultural offer. From Channel 4 to Sky to the new film studios, it is a great place to live and work.

I would just like to take this opportunity to congratulate the leaders of my local councils who have managed to get the West Yorkshire devo deal over the line. We will soon be seeing a West Yorkshire Mayor, who can unlock all that funding for our region to build on the massive and brilliant cultural offer that will define West Yorkshire in the years and decades to come.