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Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, the House will be glad to receive that assurance as we have reason to have pride in the public library service of our country. However, is the Minister aware that if present tendencies continue--namely, a gradual decline in local government support for libraries, and gross variation between one authority and another--we shall have less cause for pride? Is it not time for the department to take a broad look at the situation to see precisely what is happening?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the library service is one of the most popular, indeed loved, services in the entire country. The Government take their statutory responsibilities towards public libraries very seriously. We shall continue to monitor the quality of the service through the professional library advisers in the Department of National Heritage, and to draw on the expertise and experience of the advisory council on libraries.

Baroness David: My Lords, does the Minister really think that 2.2 books per person is adequate?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, it is too much for some people!

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, will the Minister agree that the problem in the library service derives from the long-standing squeeze on local authority expenditure that has led to cuts in book purchasing in virtually every authority? Is she aware that last year seven major authorities cut library spending by over 20 per cent., and a dozen are forecast to cut branches in the coming year? Will the Minister help the House by stating how the Secretary of State defines the comprehensive service that is statutorily required? As seven authorities were reported to the department for breaching that comprehensive service, especially Somerset, will she amplify the reply she began and tell the House the

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Secretary of State's decision in regard to those authorities that are in breach of a comprehensive service, however defined?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, that is a heck of a long question, and may need a heck of a long answer. Ministers have to ensure that authorities meet their statutory obligations. They have full powers to intervene where they have reason to believe that library authorities are failing to meet those duties. Those powers have never been used. There are wide disparities in levels of book provision per person across the country. Some authorities spend less than £1 and others nearly £6. While some book funds have decreased over a 10-year period, there are examples of substantial increases. So the pattern is spread over a very wide area. I could continue but I think I should bore the House.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, long questions give the Minister a good chance to find the page!

I mentioned Somerset, the subject of a specific reference to the Secretary of State for failure to provide the service required. Is the Minister able to tell the House the Secretary of State's conclusion in that specific case?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, discussions between the Department of National Heritage and Somerset County Council are continuing. One of the subjects is next year's bookfund but as the conversations are continuing, I have no information to give the noble Lord.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, as Somerset has been mentioned, does my noble friend recall that Somerset is an authority under Liberal Democrat control? It has chosen to spend in excess of £3 million on a new library in Taunton which opened only last month. Is it any wonder that there is no money left to spend on books?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, as I said, the conversations are continuing. I must tell my noble friend, however, that building a new library involves capital expenditure which does not come out of the same purse as books. Books come out of current expenditure.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, having regard to the general decline over the whole period, despite bright spots here and there, does the noble Baroness agree that it is high time for her right honourable friend to take a general look at the situation from the department itself? Will she make that recommendation to him? May we hope that some general government action on a declining situation will be taken so that it can be reversed and we can return again to what we should have?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, apart from the fact that the noble Lord got the Secretary of State's sex wrong, the Secretary of State has no powers to interfere in the day-to-day management of the public library service.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, can the Minister say whether mobile libraries are included and will not be cut? Will she accept that they are very popular with the elderly and mothers with small children?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I agree that they are very popular and it is up to local authorities.

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Mobile Telephones: Use in Public Places

3.12 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will encourage the formulation of a code of conduct for the use of mobile telephones in public places.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, while that is an intriguing suggestion, the Government doubt how efficaciously manners can be regulated.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for his reply. Is he aware that several such telephones used in a restricted place can become a serious public nuisance? They may be necessary in the modern, competitive business world but should not special areas be designated for their use--for example, on trains, where passengers suffer unduly and especially when voices are raised to a shout when passing through tunnels?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I have no doubt that the suggestion made by my noble friend meets with considerable approval from many noble Lords. Many of us have suffered the intolerable situation on trains and elsewhere of having to listen to extremely boring ends of conversations. It would be polite for people not to engage in such phonecalls at maximum pitch and it might be desirable if trains, restaurants and other places introduced some arrangements of their own. I am certainly aware of one airline which, within its lounge, provides a particular area in which people can use their mobile phones. I have no doubt that if that suggestion were followed by others, it would meet with widespread approval.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does the Minister consider motorways to be a public place in the context of this Question? On two separate occasions I have had the unfortunate experience of following down the motorway someone who was driving at 60 miles an hour in the centre lane while making telephone calls, causing several hundred cars to pull out into the fast lane to try to overtake, rather than undercut in the empty inner lane. Can the Minister find some way of approaching that problem?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, there is not a specific offence of using a mobile phone while driving a motor vehicle. But there are circumstances in which use of a mobile phone might result in prosecution.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that mobile telephones are not for purposes of communication but to enhance the prestige of those who carry them and make it apparent that they are upwardly mobile? Would Her Majesty's Government care to consider offering such people some kind of decoration which they could wear to

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indicate that they are qualified yuppies, without their having to bore the rest of the public with their conversations, alleged or imaginary?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, my noble friend strikes a clear chord with many of your Lordships. He makes an intriguing suggestion but, again, I doubt whether it is a matter that the Government could hope to regulate. It might disturb him to know that there are around 5.5 million people in the country now with mobile telephones. It would be a horrible situation if they were all to use them in public places at the same time.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, regarding the use of mobile phones on trains and the nuisance caused to passengers, does the noble and learned Lord agree that it would be possible, as has already been suggested, to have a separate carriage for mobile phone users? Perhaps, at the same time, those responsible could be persuaded to reintroduce smoking compartments where they could very well be?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I hope that the soon to be successful operators of the privatised railways will take on board the noble Lord's suggestion, coming, as it does, from such an eminent source.

Lord Peston: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware how glad I am to hear that the Government will not become involved in teaching manners to people with mobile phones or with anything else? My heart sank when I first heard the Question. What is there about mobile phones that so upsets people? Perfectly normal people seem to go absolutely crackers at the mere mention of a mobile phone. I hasten to add that I do not have one. If there is a problem, could not separate places be created, approximately one yard square, in which people could use their mobile phones? Such places used to be called phone-boxes.


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