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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I welcome the Select Committee's report on public libraries. I share many of the concerns about the current state of the library service, of which I know my hon. Friend has been a long-standing advocate. There is an unacceptable variation in the extent to which they are resourced to be a local service for knowledge, discovery, information and reading. The quality of books is a key factor in the appeal of a library, and we are currently consideringalong with local authoritieshow efficiency in the purchasing of books, yielding more money with which to buy them, can be achieved.
Linda Perham: The Select Committee report also drew attention to the condition of public library buildings. Would my right hon. Friend consider establishing a partnership fund between national and local government and the lottery to secure investment in improving those buildings?
Tessa Jowell: We have made the issuing of private finance initiative credit for the improvement of the library service a priority. My hon. Friend is right: the quality of a building has a major impact on the level of use. I commend the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which has taken some imaginative steps through partnership to develop modern, beautifully designed libraries. As a result, library use has increased in a deprived borough.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Community and village halls that wish to provide entertainment or to sell alcohol will now be able to do so with a single licence, and with no additional cost for permission to carry out the wide range of activities that they might want to provide.
Will the Secretary of State act before this November to prevent the widespread damage that the Licensing Act 2003 is expected to cause to our 19,000 community and village halls across the country? In particular, the role of the designated premises supervisor is far too onerous to expect volunteers to take it on. Will the Secretary of State instead consider awarding a comprehensive premises licence at no, or
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very low, cost to these halls? After all, it is not as if community and village halls have been hotbeds of antisocial behaviour in the past.
Tessa Jowell: No, we are certainly not going to put this legislation into reverse; it is on the statute book and we are implementing it. We are discussing with Action with Communities in Rural England some of the points that the hon. Gentleman raises, but he should be aware that during this legislation's parliamentary stages, village halls were made exempt from licence charges except where they wish to serve alcohol. As he knows, they can certainly apply for temporary event notices should they choose to do so
Tessa Jowell: Yes, exactlythey can apply 12 times a year, but only the police have a right of appeal against a temporary event notice. We on the Labour Benches regard the involvement of local communities and the upholding of local residents' rights as an important part of this legislation, along with curbing precisely the risk of antisocial behaviournot necessarily from village hallsthat the hon. Gentleman refers to.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): That was a most complacent reply, which showed a complete lack of understanding of the value of village halls, particularly in isolated rural areas. Putting village halls on the same level as commercial premisesthe Act's basisis utterly absurd. The Secretary of State says that she is talking to the industry's representatives; will she publish the results of those discussions as soon as possible? I have received not a single letter from anyone running any of my village halls stating that they want this interfering new regulation.
Tessa Jowell: What I just said is that we are discussing with ACREthe body that represents village hallsthe implementation of the 2003 Act. It is as important to local communities in rural areas as it is to those in urban areas that their peace and the quiet enjoyment of their homes be safeguarded. We shall ensure that the application of the licensing regime through the local authorities is proportionate. Indeed, that is why the burden on village halls in that regard is much less than on city centre pubs, as it should be.
The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): The Government are fully committed to increasing public interest and participation in all aspects of the historical environment, including archaeology. As a result of the recent spending review, £2.5 million has been allocated to the portable antiquities scheme.
National and amateur archaeologists will warmly welcome the Government's new funding for the portable antiquities scheme. Heritage comes alive and becomes meaningful to most people when it is local
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and relates to their own neighbourhood. The Council for British Archaeology, which is based in York, is concerned about the proposed changes to English Heritage's education service. Can the Minister assure me that the Government will maintain support for local and regional education in heritage and archaeology?
Estelle Morris: Yes; my hon. Friend has a particular interest in this issue, given his constituency, and I pay tribute to the work that he does. There is no doubt that English Heritage has re-organised its education service in the past few years. Change is always unsettling and leads to some lack of certainty, but I am pleased to say that the money that English Heritage is putting into education has increased. Indeed, a lot of money has gone into front-line services, so that more people with different skills are working with children. In addition, and as my hon. Friend knows, our Department and the Department for Education and Skills have been working closely with English Heritage to ensure that the quality and shape of its education service is as effective as it can be. I suspect that, over the next few years, as the new proposals bed down, my hon. Friend will see education services in his constituency, and, indeed, throughout the country, improving in quality.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I welcome the Government's decision to fund the portable antiquities scheme, which is crucial for the 95 per cent. of finds that are not covered by the Treasure Act 1996. Is the Minister aware that the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), who raised the question, is a member of the all-party archaeology group, which made recommendations to establish a cross-departmental committee at ministerial level to examine archaeological issues? Her Department alone cannot cover them all, so does she agree that it is important to establish such a committee, and that one of its first priorities should be to investigate the proposals to scrap the GCSE in archaeology?
Estelle Morris: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the portable antiquities scheme. The security of funding for it over the next three years has been welcomed by all. I take his point about the need to ensure that Departments work closely together, and I would not deny that archaeology spans a number of different Departments. Ensuring seamless support for it is sometimes difficult, but I hesitate to commit the matter to a committee. What inevitably ends up happening is that more time is spent servicing and organising the committee than on carrying out work on archaeology itself.
I would not want to go as far as establishing a committee, but I can give an assurance that I shall keep an eye on how the different Departments are working, as they are not working as well on this matter as they should. I have asked my officials to ensure that, in the months ahead, they monitor how archaeological issues are tackled. If it appears that appointing a committee is the most appropriate way of making progress, I would have no problem supporting it, but I am not convinced at this stage that that would be the best way forward.
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