Sir HENRY COWAN
I beg to move:That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the powers of local authorities with regard to the acquisition and use of land for recreation purposeThis Bill is of an entirely non-controversial character, and is one which I am confident will commend itself to all 1317 sections of the House, for, when it was introduced in its present form last Session, by leave of the House, it received a Second Reading within four days of its introduction, and its failure to make further progress was entirely due to the congested state of public business, but I submit that the favourable reception that the Bill had on that occasion is evidence that it provides for a real need. The Bill is sponsored not only by the societies which interest themselves in the protection and preservation of open spaces—the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society, the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and the London Playing Fields Society—but it is supported—and this is very important—by all the national athletic associations which control field sports and pastimes, including the Marylebone Cricket Club, the Rugby Football Union, the Hockey Association—[An HON.MEMBER: "Speak up!"]—It is very difficult to speak up when everybody else is speaking up at the same time. I was saying that the Bill is supported by the Marylebone Cricket Club, the Rugby Football Union, the Hockey Association, the Lawn Tennis Association, the All-England Women's Hockey Association, the Ladies' Lacrosse Association, the London Football Association, and the London and Southern Counties Club Cricket Conference.
In view of the fact that this is a Bill to enable the local authorities to make proper provision for playing grounds and for places of recreation in the open air for the people, I think that it has had a wonderful body of support from these organisations, the names of which I have just read out. I think it is conclusive evidence that the Bill, though not a great Measure, is something which is needed to supply an urgent public need. There is in the neighbourhood of the ordinary great industrial centres of our country, and not least of all in and about London, a dearth of land available for playing grounds and public recreation grounds. As one instance, I think I might mention that the London County Council has been able to respond favourably to and to satisfy only one-third of the applications received from accredited cricket clubs for cricket pitches; while out of 975 applications the county councils received for football grounds, it is only able to satisfy 205.
1318 This dearth of land available for the purposes of public recreation and for the playing of games is mainly due to the movement of the population outwards from the congested industrial centres. The builder—and I make no complaint of him, for I am not criticising the builder—has taken possession of the land which until recently was used for recreative purposes. Under the Open Spaces Act, 1906, local authorities are enabled to acquire land for these purposes, but the definition Clause of that Act defeats the object of this provision, for it limits the land which the local authorities have a right to acquire to three categories: First, the land already laid out as gardens; secondly, land actually used for the purposes of recreation; thirdly, waste or unoccupied land. Meadows, which form the ideal playing grounds for the people, which are the most suitable places for public recreation and, above all, for the playing of games, are absolutely ruled out by the definition. It is a significant thing that in every Parliamentary Session some individual corporation, or public, body, comes to this House of Commons and asks for the very powers which this Bill proposes to give to the country as a whole.
The Bill is permissive. It gives no compulsory powers. It will enable local authorities to acquire land either by agreement or gift, or to take on lease any land suitable for the playing of games, and to recoup themselves, in part at least, by letting it out to approved athletic clubs. They will raise the money necessary by loan, and they will charge a rent for the use of the land by the cricket and football clubs that will enable them to repay, by means of a sinking fund, the actual purchase money and the interest. There are throughout the country a very considerable number of clubs, cricket clubs in particular, who are both able and willing to pay a rent, to buy all the equipment and defray the charges in connection with the game, and a cricket pitch, provided they can rent one. But these clubs, although they can pay what I have suggested, reasonable charges for the use of the ground, are not in a position to raise the capital necessary to purchase the land. It is very desirable that they should be enabled to acquire the use of land from a public authority in return for a reasonable rent, because by so doing you lessen the com- 1319 petition which these comparatively prosperous clubs make with the clubs of another sort, equally reputable and equally deserving, but which are not able to pay any rent.
This Bill will secure large areas for public recreation, and will secure them, it is hoped, before they are snapped up by the builder; before they are acquired and conditions become prohibitive. It is provided in the Bill that the land so acquired must be retained free of buildings, that is of all buildings which are not necessary for the purpose of the game. Therefore, there will be no temptation for a local authority, having acquired land, to use it for speculative purposes or to endeavour to make money out of it. The health and contentment of the people are valuable national assets, and nothing, it seems to me, can be more praiseworthy than the reasonable encouragement of outdoor sport and games. I therefore ask the House to give me leave to introduce this Bill to-day as a useful contribution to that object.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Henry Cowan, Sir John Marriott, Sir Rowland Blades, Major Birchall, Mr. Briant, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Frederick Hall, Mr. Harris, Mr. Hurd, Mr. Pethick Lawrence, Dr. Salter, and Mr. Campbell.