Finally, we face the challenge of the reading habits of the next generation. We know that the incidence of children reading regularly for pleasure is more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school. However, alarmingly, just over a quarter of children in a National Literacy Trust survey said that they read outside school, and one in five said that they were embarrassed to be caught with a book. I suppose that is the opposite of the snobbery to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred. Even more

9 July 2014 : Column GC150

alarmingly, a survey in 2011 showed that three in 10 children in the UK do not own a single book of their own, with boys being even less likely to own a book than girls. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, made a passionate case for school libraries. I think that is part of the solution. However, it is clear that, without a better education strategy, we are in danger of losing the civilising impact of books for good. Therefore, I would be grateful to hear from the Minister whether the department has a book strategy. What are its plans for extending the love of reading? How does it plan to protect our future access to the freedom of ideas contained in all the great works of fiction and non-fiction?

7.17 pm

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate. It has been an exceptional one which has highlighted how books are central to all our lives. Like all speakers in the debate, I come to it as a great supporter of books and, indeed, bookshops. I am afraid that I probably have far too many books cluttering my house but they are much loved and much enjoyed. This came to me very vividly when I saw a photograph in the newspaper only last week of a man in Ukraine rescuing his books from his burning house. I also reflected on how totalitarian regimes have suppressed and destroyed books, fearful of the power that they represent. Dreadful massacres have, alas, often been accompanied by the destruction of books. The dark age and destruction of civilisation that, alas, our continent has seen all too much of, contrasts with the age of the enlightenment that is represented by the book.

Books at their best are a source of information, knowledge, thought and pleasure for all age groups. As my noble friend Lady Miller said, they cross international boundaries and promote understanding and tolerance. My noble friend Lord Norton referred particularly to free speech. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, referred to the unique role of books in his thought-provoking speech. Unlike him, I do not see this age as marking the beginning of the demise of the book. I think that we will value books increasingly as we go through the technological revolution and that many people will continue to treasure them. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to the challenge and elevation that books bring to us. Indeed, I think that books for children have a special significance. They undoubtedly transform the life of a child and thereby contribute to the shaping of our society in the future. The noble Baroness was right to talk about the excitement and thrill we experience when we first start reading and continue to do so.

My noble friend Lord Norton referred to how essential reading is. Its development should be nurtured from an early age. Parents, family members and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and in fostering a love of books. Clearly, there are parts of the community where that does not happen, and therefore schools are essential in developing the habit of reading books. The Government are committed to encouraging all age groups to read more.

9 July 2014 : Column GC151

A number of noble Lords referred to the curriculum. The new national curriculum for English aims to make sure that all pupils develop the habit of reading widely and often both for pleasure and for information. Teachers are encouraged to promote a love of reading and to inspire their pupils to choose and read books independently for challenge, interest and enjoyment. The Department for Education has strengthened the English curriculum and the support offered to schools to help children. There is now a phonics screening check for six year-olds and a greater focus on grammar, spelling and punctuation, with a new test for 11 year-olds, along with a strengthened requirement in GCSEs to use accurate spelling and punctuation. There is increased support for pupils in Year 7 who have not achieved level 4 in reading at key stage 2, as well as a greater focus on reading for pleasure, requiring pupils to study a range of books in order to develop a lifelong love of literature. All children deserve to be taught a rich curriculum that encourages extensive reading both in and out of school. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, referred to school libraries. I agree that the library should be at the heart of the school and well placed to help provide a love of reading. The Government fully support school libraries. It is a matter of choice for the head teacher, but we very much encourage the part that school libraries play in schools.

Adult literacy must also be addressed. BIS supports a wide range of different and flexible types of provision so that adults can learn in the way that suits them. This includes learning in the workplace, in community settings and through traditional college courses and using technology and online learning. BIS is ensuring that good-quality English and maths provision is at the heart of traineeships and apprenticeships to put people in a better position to take up an apprenticeship or other job. It will be piloting a new scheme supporting 18 to 21 year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance to ensure they can improve their English and maths to help them find and stay in a job. In addition, it is offering bursaries of £6 million in 2014-15 for maths, English and special educational needs teachers to attract more graduates. It is terribly important that we ensure that, in looking after children and young people, we also think about provision for adults so that their reading skills, and therefore their opportunities to read books, are much enhanced.

Outside the school curriculum and adult learning, a number of organisations that receive public funding, such as the Reading Agency and Booktrust, also deliver programmes to children and adults. The Reading Agency receives public funding from Arts Council England and runs a number of programmes to support people and develop an interest in literacy. Its programmes are targeted at specific age groups. For children, this includes the summer reading challenge, chatterbox and reading activists programmes. For adults, programmes include the six-book challenge and reading groups for everyone. All these programmes are developed and run in partnership with public libraries.

Booktrust, a UK-wide charity, is receiving £6 million this year from the Department for Education to assist delivery of a number of programmes aimed specifically at getting parents or carers reading to their children and to build children’s own love of reading. Its initiatives

9 July 2014 : Column GC152

include the national flagship programme, Bookstart, which gives free books to all children at two key ages before they start school. This means around 3.8 million books are distributed to children up to the age of four. Booktrust delivers its programmes in partnership with children’s centres, health visitors, schools and local authorities.

Let us not forget the important contribution of the National Literacy Trust. The trust is a national charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK. It works to improve reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities with the focus of its work on families, young people and children. Only last week, the trust unveiled new research revealing that children’s enjoyment of reading had increased for the first time in eight years. The latest figures show that 53.3% of children enjoy reading. However, that is not the sort of figure that we should be satisfied with. We obviously all have much more to do in this regard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, quite rightly referred to the importance of public libraries. The service has a central role to play in spreading the book-reading habit and provides access to a range of free reading material. It is indeed a treasure house of all kinds of books. There remains—I do not deny it, and indeed none of your Lordships will do so—the issue of the gravity of the economic situation in this country, but we still have a strong library service in England, with some 3,181 public libraries. Those libraries remain very popular and a large number of people visit them annually. There were 238.9 million physical library visits and 222.4 million book issues in 2012-13 in England. This is a service that is not just a repository of books in the traditional paper form. The public library service is adapting, as it should, to the changes in digital technology, and we have seen the number of e-books being issued increase by 80% in recent times. My noble friend Lord Addington referred to audiobooks. These are available and can be accessed from public libraries. Moreover, the public lending right was recently extended to the loan of audiobooks as well as e-books.

I was particularly struck by what my noble friend Lady Miller said about the book trade. The statistics for the UK show that book clubs, festivals and so on comprise the firmament of the love of books and of reading. The extraordinary success of book festivals is an indication of the place of the book in our national life. My noble friend also raised a number of points about copyright, and indeed my noble friend Lord Younger would wish me to stress how strongly the Government support the efforts being made by the creative industries to simplify the licensing of copyright material through the Copyright Hub. In terms of progress, phase 1 of the hub was launched in July last year and provided information for those seeking copyright material. Much work needs to continue on that, but because it is a detailed subject, perhaps I may write to my noble friend.

As I have said, the Government fully recognise the importance of authors, and this is why it is so helpful to extend the public lending right to e-books for onsite lending. We have a problem, because of current EU

9 July 2014 : Column GC153

copyright law, about remote lending at this time, but that is also a work in progress. Although I will write more fully, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lady Miller raised the issue of Amazon. This is of course a matter for the Competition and Markets Authority, but there is more that I would like to say on that.

My noble friends Lady Miller and Lord Dholakia mentioned books in prisons. I will write more fully on this subject, but I will say that the Government have not banned prisoners from having access to books. There is library access for every prison, and indeed prison library budgets have been protected. Moreover, as has been said, prisoners may also use their own funds to buy books. The Government’s policy is about restrictions on sending items into prisons, not specifically books. There have always been restrictions on what can be sent into a prison, and this policy simply seeks

9 July 2014 : Column GC154

to ensure that there is greater consistency across all prisons in terms of their security. However, I will write more fully about this issue.

I was struck by what is involved in the creation of a book: the writing, the production, the author, the publisher, the literary agent, the printer, the illustrator and the photographer. All these are part of what make up books, and I am very conscious of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I looked at the number of books in his entry, and it is very considerable. It is a great privilege to reply to this debate and I wish that we had longer to discuss these issues. I hope that I have been able to set out what the Government, public bodies and charities—I particularly congratulate the charities on the part that they are seeking to play—are doing. As far as I am concerned, a civilised world without books is unimaginable.

Committee adjourned at 7.29 pm.