HC Deb 28 April 1926 vol 194 cc2129-74

I beg to move, That the Government should insist on the urgent necessity for local authorities to make adequate provision in town-planning schemes for the reservation of open spaces, and, if necessary, to provide some more effective power to enable local authorities to acquire land for recreation in all cases where it cannot be purchased on fair terms by negotiation. In rising to move this Motion, I am somewhat apprehensive that the House, or what remains of it, will decide that I too have made a "plunge into the obvious," to use an expression employed by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury with regard to another private Member's Motion earlier in the Session. But before I sit down I hope to induce the House to acknowledge that I have been fully justified in bringing this most vital and urgent problem to the notice of hon. Members. It is quite true that the subject of the Motion is obvious, but, like so many of our needs and grievances, the more obvious they are the more they seem to fail in obtaining redress. I was fully aware, in selecting the subject of this Motion, that it was not one calculated to appeal to those whose emotions are kindled or whose attention is rivetted only by what is sensational. But I think it will be readily acknowledged that it is not always the most sensational debates in this House which yield results most profitable to the community.

It might be urged that the subject of the Motion may not be very prolific of discussion, that it is lacking in those elements of acute controversy which make our Debates always so interesting if not always edifying. For instance, it is not likely that any hon. Member would dispute the need of the industrial worker in this respect. I am consoled by the reflection that, if the Motion provides no other cause for complaint, it will furnish the Labour party with another opportunity of disparaging private enterprise and endeavouring to demonstrate once again how lamentably private enterprise has failed in this as in all other spheres of human activity. If so, I shall certainly welcome the discussion. I do not anticipate that the members of the Labour party will make many converts to Socialism by instituting comparisons between what private enterprise and public enterprise have achieved in this respect. If they are as familiar with the subject as I claim to be, they will give that aspect of the controversy a wide berth. Public enterprise has hardly justified the reputation which, doubtless, its champions will claim for it to-night in this sphere. For many years public enterprise has lamently failed to meet present requirements and to make any provision for the requirements of the future.

With regard to the other section of the Opposition, which appears not to be present, I certainly anticipated that they would, by some ingenious process of reasoning, divert the discussion to the subject of land values; but as they are not here it is not necessary for me to lure them into that morass. Apart from all questions of party strife, there may be other elements of controversy introduced. It is quite possible that some hon. Member may protest that at this psychological moment of our social history it would be more appropriate to teach our people to work than to play. Anyone who argues on those lines fails altogether to appreciate the importance of the subject, fails altogether to appreciate how work and play are interdependent, and fails to appreciate how efficiency in work depends upon sufficiency of recreation.

The Great War inculcated many lessons. It revealed many national infirmities and defects that we had previously either ignored or failed to take any pains to remedy. None was more humiliating or more disquieting than the grave statistics that were revealed as to the national physique of our people. Even to-day that has not been remedied. I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for War, told us in his speech on the Army Estimates, that no less than 58 per cent. of would-be recruits were rejected by the Army medical authorities as unfit for military service. I understand that it was the grave statistics as to national physique produced during the Great War which first prompted the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and all patriotic persons to address themselves to the subject of housing. Rightly, they attributed the deficiency in national physique to defective housing. But if they attributed it exclusively to that reason, I consider that they were wrong. I speak without fear of contradiction when I say that that defective condition of the national physique was just as much due to the lack of fresh air and exercise.

Members have recently had occasion to examine the report of the Royal Commission on National Health Insurance. If they have studied that formidable document with diligence, they will recollect that reference is made to the fact that the British Medial Asociation, in their evidence, expressed a doubt as to whether, under a limited expenditure of public funds, the best results in the way of improvement of national health could be expected from the application of the money on the lines of National Health Insurance, and they suggested that, with an equivalent expenditure, better results might be expected from the application of the money for "Proper housing, town planning, with due, provision for recreation." That is testimony which the Minister of Health cannot afford to ignore. I earnestly trust that no Member will conclude that, because I dwell insistently on the physical benefit which recreation is capable of conferring on the people, I do so merely in order to render the working man more efficient and a sounder component part of the great industrial machine. I trust that hon. Members will give me credit for a rather higher conception of the duty that we owe to our fellow citizens. It is just as much my ambition to focus attention on the moral aspect of the question as on the physical.

If as many argue, with varying degrees of justification, we support racing in order to improve the breed of horses, I think that with equal reason we may support and encourage athletics, in the industrial districts of great cities, in order to improve the breed of mankind. And whereas racing produces the one result of improving the physical condition of animals, we can, in this way, improve not only the physical but the moral qualities of mankind. In describing the circumstances which prompted me to table this Motion, I wish the House to understand that., being a native of London and having lived in London a great part of my life, although I am quite familiar with the problem as it presents itself here in this vast Metropolis—and that, after all, gave a sufficiently wide field for my investigations—at the same time, I am prepared to confess that I am not cognisant at first hand of the problem as it exists in other great cities. I understand from all the information I have received, the conditions in other great cities are not dissimilar, although not quite so bad as the conditions in London. Therefore, I shall be able to argue by inference and analogy and adduce the case of London to illustrate the needs of the people in this respect, and I am sure I can confidently trust other hon. Members who are familiar with the conditions existing elsewhere to reinforce my argument.

I do not intend to waste time in endeavouring to attach blame for our present situation to any quarter. When ever I can reconcile it with ascertained facts, I prefer to exonerate our predecessors and blame our contemporaries. It is obviously futile to reproach our ancestors, who presumably are beyond the reach either of praise or blame, whereas it is quite practicable to reproach our contemporaries who are here and who can make amends. At the same time, it is deplorable that our ancestors should have shown so little foresight in this matter. I remind hon. Members too that it is not only private individuals who are to blame. We cannot attribute the present situation solely to the enclosure of the commons. Local authorities for well high 100 years have had power to acquire land for recreation purposes, and by the Metropolis Act, power was given to the Metropolitan Board of Works to acquire land for the purposes of recreation. Successive Acts, notably the Open Spaces Act of 1887, vested in the local authorities power to acquire land for that purpose and with what result? If we cannot congratulate private enterprise on its achievements in this direction—and I am not prepare d to do so—we certainly cannot waste any encomiums on what public enterprise has done in this respect. Hon. Members opposite will doubtless attribute the situation in London to the avaricious London ground landlord, but as a matter of fact, the situation which exists in London to day is primarily due to the fact that this vast city of ours has been allowed to grow and to ramify in a perfectly haphazard fashion from the days of Casivellaunus up to the present day.

It would be very disappointing if my Motion only had the effect of promoting a purely academic discussion. It is my intention and the intention of the hon. Member who will second the Motion, to make certain suggestions as to how Government can address itself to this subject in a practical manner. Before doing so, I should like to indicate the gravity of the situation as it exists in Greater London. If any hon. Member has the curiosity to examine an Ordnance Survey sheet of that vast district which is familiarly known as the East End of London, he will find that, roughly speaking, that area is bounded on the West by the Caledonian Road, on the North and East by the Metropolitan boundary, and on the South by the River Thames, and the most striking feature he will observe is how little of that land is painted green on the map—Hackney Marshes, Victoria Park, Hackney Downs —and if you take a magnifying glass, you may possibly discern some smaller recreation grounds with which only those who have a knowledge of London as extensive and peculiar as mine will be well acquainted. These are little oases in that vast wilderness of London streets and they certainly render a great service to the community, but when you have named the open spaces which I have just enumerated you have mentioned all that the local authorities have rendered available for the vast teeming multitudes who live in that area.

On the outskirts of that area to the North and East it is quite true there are some large open spaces—Epping, Chingford, Wanstead—but when you make allusion to such places as that, you speak of districts which lie outside the ken of those who live in the congested areas of the East End, and who have neither the time nor the means to reach such Elysian fields. In one of the writings of W. H. Hudson—I hardly dare mention that author's name in this House lest I should raise memories of an extremely wearisome controversy—there is a passage to the effect that it is the strongest impulse in children and young persons, both civilised and savage, to seek out the open spaces. But that is an extremely expensive impulse for the young men and lads in Hoxton, which is a far cry from any of the open spaces I have mentioned. South of the river the situation is hardly appreciably better, although it is true that in that district there are some wide open spaces. It may interest the House to know, how-ever, that in the Borough of Southwark there are no fewer than 14,000 persons to one acre of open space. That is almost incredible. I shall leave it to the hoe. Member for North-West Camberwell (Mr. Campbell) to tell us of the situation in his constituency. At a recent meeting of the National Playing Fields Association it was laid down as an. ideal to be aimed at that there should be 2'50 persons to an acre of open space. How on earth, in such circumstances as those in which we live, are we to attain that ideal?

In order to give the House some idea of the relations between supply and demand in the matter of playing fields in the Metropolis, I am compelled to trespass upon the patience of hon. Members while I give a few figures. I wish particularly to instance the case of Hackney Marshes, which, as everyone familiar with the subject knows, is the playground par excellence of the East End of London. How well it deserves that title the House will understand when I say that of the 232 football pitches under the control of the London County Council no less than 100 are in Hackney Marshes. Incidentally, I should like to say that hon. Members who have not witnessed the scene there on Saturday afternoons, ought to repair the omission. When these 100 football grounds are in full use, the scene is far more inspiring than many of those titanic contests I sometimes go to see in the more important arenas of national sport. Here we have not the hireling gladiator, but the true sportsman who plays for the love of the game, seeking and finding the best expression for his vigorous manhood in athletic exercise. To return to the question of supply and demand of recreation grounds in London, it is essential, as I said, that I should give some figures. For the 232 football grounds in the year 1925–26 there were 878 Saturday applications. For the 320 cricket pitches in the same year there were 1,048 Saturday applications. With the exception of clubs playing on Hackney Marshes, the maximum allotment for Saturday afternoon matches of football and cricket has been seven permits for the season, so that the requirements of a club are met on only 14 days throughout the whole season.

It may he asked, Of what concern is this question to the Imperial Parliament? and it may justifiably be objected that this is rather a matter for local authorities than for the Government. I, for one, deprecate very much undue interference by the Imperial Parliament in local affairs, but when local authorities have insufficient powers, or when they do not avail themselves of the powers that they can now employ, I think it is time for the Government to assert itself. The matter primarily cod terns more than one Department of the State. It immediately concerns the Ministry of Health, I think, the Board of Education—I am sorry that there is no representative of the Board of Education on the Front Bench this evening, although I know the Board is short-handed at present—and in a lesser degree it concerns His Majesty's Office of Works. In addressing myself to the Minister of Health, I would suggest that in reviewing schemes submitted to him by local authorities in applications for assistance from the Unemployment Grants Committee, he should always be solicitous that the laying out of playing fields should take precedence of any other of those schemes with which in the last few years we have become all too familiar and which seem to be of no particular value to the community.

Let the Minister make it quite obvious that any application for a grant, from the Unemployment Grants Committee which has recreation grounds as its object will receive favourable and sympathetic consideration. I think I could give the Minister certainly one, if not more, examples recently when that has not been so, and, in dealing with town-planning schemes, I should suggest that the Minister should be careful, not only that ample areas should be scheduled for the reservation of open spaces, and that not only should regard be had to the actual necessities of the moment, but most especially that regard should be had to the probable needs of the future. It is that omission which is responsible for much of the trouble with which we are faced at the present time. I am informed that there is a large area in the North West of London which 20 years ago could have been purchased for the purposes of playing fields at £500 an acre. The price which is now asked for that particular land is no less than £3,000 an acre. That is an instance of how careful the Minister should be to take a long view of the necessities of the community in this respect, and the Minister should always bear in mind this fact, that when you reserve certain areas for playing fields, you invest those areas with amenities which make all the adjacent land particularly valuable, and for that reason he should be careful that the land reserved should be a large area. Open spaces hitherto have been secured fortuitously for this purpose. Therefore, could not the Minister, in all these town-planning schemes, maintain and enforce certain fixed and definite standards, say, for the sake of argument, the reservation of 10 per cent. of the total needs? It seems to me that there should be a much more clearly-defined standard laid down in these town-planning schemes.

What I would suggest as an all-important provision is that there should be some effective power to enable county and urban district councils, if they cannot acquire land by negotiation at a fair price, to acquire it compulsorily. The position in London at the present time is that there are no compulsory powers. Outside the London area the county councils have only power to acquire land for this purpose by agreement. Town, urban, and rural district councils may acquire compulsorily, it is true, under Section 176 of the Public Health Act, 1875, but this, of course, requires a provisional order, and takes time. It is true that land can be acquired for this purpose compulsorily under town-planning schemes, but this is a very long process. What we require is some more expeditious and cheaper method of acquiring land for this purpose. There is an apprehension, and I think it is quite justified—perhaps the Under-Secretary will relieve our anxieties on this head—that town-planning schemes will go through without adequate provision for this all-important service. The Minister should be careful to see that the powers which exist at present should be made full use of, and this applies particularly to Section 69 of the Health Act, 1925, which is the most recent charter of national recreation.

There is one other matter which I should like to touch upon in addressing myself to the Ministry of Health. While it is quite legitimate to anticipate that transport, when it becomes cheaper, more extensive, and more expeditious, will brine these remoter playing fields nearer to those who dwell in the congested areas of the great cities, and that to that extent cheaper, quicker and more extensive transport will help the problem, I should like the Minister to remember that when transport develops it has a. tendency to populate districts and so blot out open spaces. Therefore, I would ask him to keep a weather eye on those districts where transport is developing, and to exercise, as much as possible, his power of reserving open spaces. I was going to make an appeal to the Minister of Education, but as he is not here, perhaps the Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Health will convey my appeal to him, because the subject of my Motion does affect the Board of Education.

I have it from the organising secretary of the National Playing Fields Association that, while the secondary schools are very well provided indeed with playing fields, there is a deplorable and lamentable deficiency in this respect as far as the elementary schools are concerned. I know it will at once be advanced that, in these days of financial stringency, it would be quite beyond the sphere of practical politics to expect any fresh expenditure in this direction. I often feel that we should not object even to Treasury demands nearly so much as we do if we could earmark our particular contribution to those services most needed for the benefit of the community. I should feel less aggrieved were I certain that in the last few years my contributions had been employed in the laying out of playing fields on the banks of the Thames rather than on any misguided attempt to raise the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But dues the provision of playing fields for the elementary schools necessarily mean fresh expenditure or taxation? I think that the Minister of Education should enter into negotiations—if he has done so, I think he might do so a little more—with public and private schools, sports associations and the universities in order to obtain facilities for the use of their grounds.

The University of Oxford, which always leads the way in any pioneer movement of social welfare, a short time ago made arrangements through its athletic association that all its running tracks should be used in the summer months by the elementary schools, and also made arrangements that distinguished athletes should instruct schoolchildren in that particular athletic exercise. I should like to congratulate the University, for the reason that I hold the view that it is deplorable that so many of the public school athletes should have turned their great athletic abilities to no other advantage than merely scoring spectacular triumphs in those arenas where their prowess is displayed. Surely they would deserve some of the exaggerated encomiums which are heaped upon them by Press and public if they would turn their attention to organising athletics in the industrial districts of great cities. In this connection, I am glad to observe that the Association of the Southern Counties Cricket Clubs have passed a resolution recommending that all their affiliated' clubs should provide facilities for elementary schoolchildren on their grounds. The recent decision of the Marylebone Cricket Club to hold instructional classes is also welcome, and it is to be hoped that that is a movement which will spread throughout the length and breadth of the land.

I have alluded to the fact that in some respects this Motion affects His Majesty's Office of Works. I regret to say that that Department has incurred the charge of not being too sympathetic towards the recreative needs of the public. It is alleged that they propose to charge prohibitive rates to the local cricket clubs in Bushey Park, a policy which has been carried out in Home Park. This change of policy has certainly caused complaint, and we can imagine what to expect if everything is to be nationalised, if this is the extent of sympathy we shall get when these things are socialised. I have a more edifying tale to tell with regard to private enterprise in this respect. There is a laudable endeavour on the part of employers of labour now to provide rcreation grounds for their employés. I was taken by an hon. Member of this House, a short time ago, to see the playing fields in the neighbourhood of Harrow which a large firm provides for its employés. There are 78 acres laid down in a manner which would be the envy of the governors of our great public schools.

Then only recently Lord Rothermere presented a. princely gift of the site of Bethlem Hospital—a course which might easily be emulated by others in his position. In the Report of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry, I am glad to see that in respect to the Miners' Welfare Fund, about 67 per cent. of the amounts allocated from the district funds is given over to recreation. All this is to the good, there is no doubt, but in our great industrial towns the fact remains there is a most shameful deficiency in those particular amenities which need this kind of assistance most. It is being argued that it is inappropriate to indulge in any expenditure at this moment in this direction, while our housing conditions are so defective, but I myself believe that these two problems of housing and recreation are inter-dependent. Whenever I study the figures of local expenditure upon the two services, the conviction is borne in upon me, that while local authorities seem to be fully alive to the importance of good housing, they seem to ignore altogether the need of the recreation of those who live in the houses. At any rate, the expenditure on the two services seems altogether disproportionate.

Abroad, it is stated that we attach too much importance to recreation, but I am not so sure that is the case. After all, team games evoke the best qualities of mind, courage, swiftness to appreciate situations, energy, and unselfishness. I do not think we shall materially assist the young man by any grandmotherly legislation, vexatious prohibitions and restraints. Far better give him an opportunity to use his superfluous energies in healthful recreation. The question of control of public morals by the State is one instinct with difficulties. There are some persons who believe that the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic liquors is going to solve all problems. I am not quite so confident as those enthusiasts. I think that a rather more comprehensive and beneficial result will be obtained if you organise the recreation in industrial districts of great towns, than by any harassing, vexatious legislation. It has been well said that the most reasonable way of tackling intemperance and vice is so to improve conditions in great cities that vice will cease to be the only or the most attractive antidote to toil and care. If the young man has a good house and recreative opportunities, it will not be necessary to watch his goings-out and comings-in, or to have all those restrictive regulations which the adolescent naturally resents.

Nothing is more likely to make for peace and contentment in industry than the fact that the amenities of life are no longer the monopoly of one class of the community. Playing-fields have been opened to a very much wider section of the community. I suppose it is fair to say that 50 years ago the average young mar or young woman toiling in a factory, office or workshop had no spare time to devote to any recreation. Employers of those days seemed to acquiesce in the degrading treatment of their employés. The physical and moral welfare of their employés seemed to be no concern of theirs. It was the fashion of the time to treat factory hands as if they were part of the factory equipment, and not even the sordid self-interest of the employers allowed them to understand that it was just as necessary to treat the human mechanism with understanding as it is to look after a machine. To me it is revolting to reflect upon the thousands of human beings who in those unregenerate days passed what should have been the brightest period of their existence in drab, monotonous toil, without alleviation of any kind whatsoever.

We have moved a long way since then, but we have not yet got far enough. While we are discussing this matter the population is on the increase. The children who are born to-day will in a few short years swell the ranks of those who need healthy recreation, and unless we address ourselves to this problem promptly they will find that their presence has only increased the difficulties and made the problem all the harder of solution. It is a supremely important matter, and one of great urgency. Industrial cities grow so rapidly that the provision of fresh air and exercise for their inhabitants becomes baffling, and defeats the best-laid plans of mankind. The fair open meadows on the outskirts of great cities are being rapidly inundated by a remorseless tide of bricks and mortar, which seems to brook no impediment, natural or artificial, Here and there, as in the instances which I have enumerated, we have some open spaces left, but they are few and far between. We cannot acquiesce in this state of things, in this policy of laisser-faire. Difficult as is the problem to-day, it will be far more difficult to-morrow, and it would argue a-poverty of conception on the part of individuals, local authorities and this House not to deal with it. I am convinced that it is at the root of our national well-being and, therefore, of our material and moral prosperity, and I have pleasure in moving this Motion.

9.0 P.M.


I have very great pleasure in seconding this Motion, because all my life I have taken an extraordinary interest in my own personal recreation, and, also, did all I possibly could when an employer of labour to see that all those in my service had ample opportunities of recreation. I shall not refer entirely to London, as the hon. Member has given his experiences of London, but as a member of the London County Council and of the Education Committee it was my duty to select sites for schools, and when I used to go round with the inspectors to see the various school buildings now in existence I was shocked in many cases by the lack of playing grounds—not playing field, but playing ground, accommodation. I took up the question strongly in an endeavour to remedy this state of things, and in the three years' plan which is now running, and in which I had a hand I am glad to say, we have specially arranged to have sites for elementary schools where there will be ample playing ground. I have learned, if I may say it with modesty, that the seed I sowed then is likely to bear fruit. In the last day or two I have been to see the education authorities of the London County Council, on which, I am sorry to say, I no longer work, and I understand from them that they are doing their utmost to push forward schemes for better playing grounds, and, where possible, for playing fields, these being divided, if necessary, amongst various elementary schools. This is a work we want to push on, not only in London but all through the country.

I told the education officer of the London County Council the day before yesterday that I considered healthy education to be better for the country than much education. He looked at me and said, "Do you mean that?" I said, "I certainly do, because if you give children healthy education they will be able to learn better and more readily." I take the example of myself. I hated learning as a youngster, but I was not afraid of my games, and I say, with modesty, I have managed to get through somehow or other; and I am sure, that if only we do all we can to make our children—the children in the slum areas especially—more healthy, it will be for the good of the country, and they will also be able to learn more. I do not agree with a great number of people who seem to think that sufficient is not being done for education. I consider ample education is being given to all those who wish to take it. Our continuation schools and our night schools are often not so well attended as they might be, perhaps because they are voluntary. I have many a time addressed meetings with the object of getting people to attend these evening classes. They have complained that they could not get sufficient education, and yet these classes were not fully attended. It may interest the House to hear that in the last 18 months the Board of Education have had before them and have approved no fewer than 200 proposals for playgrounds or playing fields, 44 of those proposals since the renowned Circular 1371 was issued. I do not wish to make this a party controversy, but I do feel pleased that despite all that was said about Circular 1371 and all the questions that were addressed to the Ministry of Education about it—

Viscountess ASTOR

The Circular has been withdrawn.


Yes, the Circular has been withdrawn, but all the 44 playing fields are in existence nevertheless. As regards the playgrounds throughout the various schools, I am anxious to see well shaped playgrounds and not merely useless pieces. According to the Rules of the Board of Education, so much space has to be allotted to each child, but that is useless if it is a small piece here and there. I want to see a piece of ground where children can kick a football, and knock each other over if they want to, and get healthy exercise. As things are in some of our elementary schools, you will find some of these places are almost impossible to play upon. We have on the way out of South London an estate known as the London County Council Bellingham Estate. A quarter of a mile further on is the Downham Estate, and you will see there the difference. One was built and completed a year of two ago in Bellingham, and you will find that there has been practically no recognition of the need for playgrounds or playing fields whatsoever for the children. There is practically no accommodation at all there in this respect, and yet it is surrounded by more or less open country. That is proved by the fact that only a quarter of a mile further on you have the Downham Estate, and on that estate the County Council have allocated good playgrounds and playing fields.

The cost of the school medical service in 1923–24 was £1,220,268 and that of public elementary education £55,000,000, or 2.2 per cent of the whole. In other words, for every £100 spent on elementary education only £2 4s. goes to the school medical service. If we realise that the country depends upon the health of the nation. I was down in the slums the other day and somebody said to me, "It is all very well for you to look after the children's tonsils, adenoids and their eyes, but where are they to go when they leave these slums? Where are they to play and where is the opportunity for them to get any open air at all?" I am a keen supporter of economy, but it is no use saying anything about what our fathers did, although I must admit that my father, who was on the county council, is still alive, and he often hears from me as to what he did not do when he was on the council.

If many of these things had been done 30 years ago we might have been in a much better position to-day. These things to my mind are a kind of insurance, and any money spent on such schemes for healthy recreation, open air spaces, playgrounds or playing fields will in the long run, not be as expensive as it is supposed to be now because we shall be saving in doctors' bills. My hon. Friend on my left (Dr. Vernon Davies) may not agree with that proposition although I think he will be prepared to support this Motion as a doctor. I am glad to see that the country is at last awakening to this great need. I happen to be, along with the Mover of this Resolution, a member of the Executive Committee of the National Playing Fields Association, and I have travelled to many places to urge upon the community to do all they can to obtain playing fields. I dare say it is partly through that movement that there is an awakening and people are gradually showing a certain amount of interest in these matters.

We have had very recently the case of the Bethlem Hospital. The Government have shown their interest in playing fields by suggesting a donation towards the Civil Service Sports Ground, and if the Government offer a similar amount to the community generally, I shall be the very first to support such a proposal. The Ministry of Health, I am told, are very keen on supporting all propositions put forward by local authorities in this respect. I hope that we shall hear from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health exactly what the Ministry are doing, and what they are proposing, because I do think that it is up to him, who has a knowledge of the Bills that pass through this House, that he should definitely bring to the notice of local authorities what are their powers, because there are live local authorities and dead ones. I know there are authorities who have other things to think about, such as building plans and extension of properties, that do not necessarily take into consideration this very great need. I, therefore, hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what is being done in that line.

I read the other day that in 1924–25 £1,250,000 was spent by the Ministry of Health upon public parks and recreation grounds. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us what will be expended during the present year. The London County Council have great powers in this direction, and I had great pleasure in joining the parks committee of the county council for the purpose of trying to help the Bill which they promoted. It was a Bill to enable them to buy land in or out of London to enable them to let grounds to cricket or football clubs which were willing and able to pay for them, and, to my mind, that is a very excellent scheme.

If you take some of our crowded London County Council parks you will find that they are not only full, but they have a waiting list of dozens of people and clubs anxious to be able to play and they cannot do so. If the local authorities can buy playing fields and let them out for small sums to clubs that are not very wealthy but are willing to pay a certain sum, the interest on the money paid by the local authority can be collected from those various clubs, and the people in the neighbourhood of the parks and open spaces in the slums— such as, we will say, Battersea Park or Kennington Park, or one of these parks which are absolutely full—the people in those localities who, through no fault of their own, cannot afford to pay any subscription whatever, will be able to play in the parks adjacent to their houses, and other people will be able to play in these other places.

I have some figures from the "Municipal Year-book" for 1926, which I think will interest the House as much as they did me. In Aberdeen, with a population of about 159,000, there are 19 parks, with an acreage of 1,380 acres. In other words, Aberdeen supplies one acre for every 115 people.


Are they playing fields or parks?


They are parks or open spaces.


Not necessarily playing fields


No, not necessarily playing fields. Birmingham, with a population of about 919,000, has 2,795 acres, or 328 people to one acre. Liverpool, with a population of 803,000, has au acreage of 1,790, or 448 people to one acre. Manchester has one acre to every 464 people, and Sheffield one acre to every 384. London is difficult to calculate, because you have the London County Council area, the population of which is given in the statistics as 7,000,000, which makes 1,415 people to the acre; but that does not include the Royal parks and the municipal open spaces. Having quoted Aberdeen, I think it is, perhaps, only right to quote Glasgow, the population of which is just a round 1,000,000. They have 2,685 acres, or one acre for every 385 people. Aberdeen has one acre for every 115 people, and perhaps it is only right, because, although I sit for a London constituency, I am an Argyllshire man, that I should say that Inverary has only one acre for 490 people, and that is used, according to the statistics, for a football pitch and a miniature golf club. Seeing that a football ground is supposed to be about an acre and a half, I should be very sorry ever to play golf there, or football, though football, perhaps, would be safer than golf.

I should like to draw the special attention of the House to the Aberdeen statistics, because they are the best of the lot, and, seeing that the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. F. C. Thomson) is now present on the Front Government Bench, I should like to congratulate him, because, although very nasty things are said about Aberdeen, they evidently do not economise in health. I have before me the Report on the London Council Council Town Planning Scheme, from which I should like to quote just the following few words on open spaces generally: In considering as to the provision to be made for open spaces, we have had regard to the needs of London generally. In view of the health-giving properties of open spaces, it is hardly necessary to labour the case for their liberal supply in any town-planning scheme, on general principles alone. The Report goes on to say that London has a special case, and it has, indeed. In some of our South London constituencies, the area given up to open spaces is very small. In Bermondsey it is 4.9 per cent., in Deptford 2 per cent., in Southwark 1 per cent., and North Camberwell and my own constituency of North-West Camberwell there is not even 1 per cent.; it is the worst in the whole of London. It is really disgraceful that, in one of the most densely populated areas in the whole of London, there is so little opportunity for the people who have to live in unhealthy areas for better recreation and open-air facilities.

I would therefore ask all Members of the House, when they return to their constituencies, to do their best to wake up their local authorities and their education authorities. The powers are in their hands. We wish to keep the nation healthy, so as to prevent a repetition of what occurred when the War broke out, when it was found that the nation included so many C3 people. We want to make the nation Al, not with a view to war or to anything else but the benefit of the nation. With a healthy nation we can compete with anybody and everybody, in business or anything else. I do hope the House will agree to this Motion to-night, and that the Minister who is going to reply will do his utmost to see that both the education authorities and his own Department bring to the notice of all the authorities the powers that they have, and see that they use them.


I think the House will be indebted to the hon. Members who have introduced this subject to its attention to-night. I cannot claim, unortunately, any acquaintance with the conditions prevailing in the constituency of the Mover of the Resolution, but I have a fairly intimate aquaintance with that of the Seconder, inasmuch as I have had the good or ill fortune, according to the point of view, of living in that constituency for a considerable time; and I think I may say for the hon. Member's consolation, if it be necessary, that no Member of this House has a better right to speak on this subject than the representative of North-West Camberwell, for, if there be any constituency in the country that is cursed by the want of Open spaces on an adequate scale, it is the constituency represented by the hon. Gentleman. The subject which has been introduced is one which, as I think we shall all agree, very intimately concerns the well-being of the State generally.

I did not rise, however, to speak particularly of the incidence of this problem from the standpoint of London itself, though I quite admit that the problem is one of a very intense character for the London population. I submit that it not only affects London, but has a very intimate relation to some of the industrial areas with which other hon. Members are very fully and intimately acquainted. For instance, I happen by birth to belong to one of the industrial areas of South Wales and I think hon. Members who know that area will agree with me that until recent times those areas have suffered from the almost entire absence of anything in the nature of facilities for open-air recreation. There are, as all hon. Members probably know, the valleys of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire which are long and very narrow and very difficult, indeed, of ingress and egress. They admit of very limited facilities for recreation at the very best, and yet in those areas, though there is ample land on the mountain tops it is perfectly true, available for the purpose of recreation, still there has been, in fact, until recently almost no provision whatsoever for recreation in the sense indicated by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan).

In submitting this Motion to the House to-night the hon. Member embarked somewhat daringly, I thought, on a discussion of the rival merits or demerits of private and public enterprise in this matter. If I were disposed in any way to enter on that controversy with him I should commend to him this point, that if he will take the figures just given by the hon. Gentleman who seconded and will observe what private enterprise has provided for the whole of the population of Liverpool—


If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I think they are both equally to blame.


Yes, I know, but perhaps the hon. Member will concede this point to me—that public enterprise has had a smaller opportunity from the standpoint of time to remedy this situation than has private enterprise, inasmuch as public enterprise has been organised for a far less extent of time. But the point I am making with regard to the figures for Liverpool is this. If I caught the figures aright, for the whole population of Liverpool, which consists of over 800,000 people, there is only available 1,800 acres of open space for the whole population. Why, there can be no better response to the challenge, if a. challenge was implied by the hon. Gentleman, than is contained in those figures, in that private enterprise has allowed a huge city to sprawl in that way over a very large area of ground and has battened and fattened on the proceeds of that development, and has only provided for a population of 800,000 something like 1.800 acres of open space. Moreover, it is highly probable that on those 1,800 acres most of those have been provided by municipal effort.


One has to collect these figures as one can, but I was speaking to a Member for Liverpool to-day and also to a Member from Glasgow and I understand as a matter of fact in both cases there is a certain amount of space allocated which is outside the actual boundaries.


I do not want to press that point any further, but to come to the main point of the Resolution itself. I only wanted to controvert the suggested challenge implied in the speech of the hon. Member opposite. Everyone will admit that we have received figures recently, conveyed to the general public in this country in various forms, relative to the physical condition of our people which in themselves present a very serious challenge. In fact the hon. Gentleman himself quoted a very interesting statement by the War Secretary recently in this House in which he said—I only give it from memory— that something like 56 per cent. of the candidates for entrance into the Army were rejected in a recent year on account of their physical disability. I observed the other day in looking up a similar matter on a cognate subject, that Dr. Addison, who was once a distinguished Member of this House, estimated that the cost of bad housing—and he was dealing with bad health due solely and directly to bad housing conditions— amounted in a recent year to the colossal figure of £40,000,000, attributable directly to bad housing. Every Member of the House— and I daresay most of them have done—if he is curious enough to look up the Reports of the medical officer of the Ministry of Health presented to this House for the years 1923, 1924, and 1925,will find in those Reports staggering figures indicating the total aggregate loss, estimated in millions of weeks, due to loss of work arising through ill-health. The figure is simply colossal. I believe I am well within the mark when I say the lowest figure was not below 70,000,000 of weeks, being the aggregate loss of time due to ill-health among the workers. Those figures are eloquent in themselves of the very serious lack of provision for the physical well being of our population, and I think most. Members of the House will agree that in the ultimate result it is far cheaper to preserve health than it is to cure disease.

Let us look at the subject from another angle. Industrial conditions are becoming somewhat different in their nature from what they were 50 years ago. The conditions in the workshops on account of increasing conditions of competition, are becoming far keener and far more exacting than they used to be. It is true, of course, that there is a tendency towards shorter hours of labour and far, so good. But for the period for which the workers are at work their duty tends to become far more strenuous. The degree of application is becoming far more keen and therefore the necessity for relaxation is all the stronger on account of that keener application during the hours of labour. If I may be allowed to say so, in my humble judgment, with the increased hours of leisure which we all hope to see secured in the coming years, there will come another problem. The big problem that will come with this increased leisure will be the better organisation of one's leisure moments.

I do not mean that we ought to organise under the direction of a superimposed authority. I mean that we ought to be able to look to a better voluntary organisation of one's leisure hours than has been the case in the past. I regret that the hon. Member who moved the Resolution has given to the word "recreation" a somewhat narrow interpretation. I say that for this reason. There is recreation, after all, that is equally valuable with physical recreation. There is a form of mental recreation which we ought to stimulate and encourage. I am entirely at one with the hon. Member that this question of recreation concerns not merely the Ministry of Health, but very specially indeed the Board of Education. If any hon. Member travels through any of the mining villages of South Wales from top to bottom he will not find, with the exception of three towns, and in two of those only in a very limited way, a single museum worth talking about. There is not a single suggestion of an art gallery anywhere. There is not, even in most of these cases, a decent public library except in so far as they have been provided by the voluntary effort of the miners themselves. All this, of course, has relation to the question of recreation, though it is not, unfortunately, related to the interpretation given in this Motion.

Reference has been made to the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, and I am very grateful to both hon. Members for directing attention to this fact, which no one can controvert, that by the Regulations of the Board of Education itself it is not permissible for the same degree of recreational opportunity to be provided for the children of the elementary schools as is provided for the children of the secondary. Not only is there less cubic space per child inside the schoolroom, but the primary schools are prevented in the main, or have been in the past, from providing on anything like a, comparable scale for the primary school children as was obligatory in the case of the secondary school children, and if, as we have heard from the Seconder, the Board of Education is prepared to embark on a new policy not merely permitting but, I hope, insisting upon more adequate recreational facilities for elementary schools, to that degree I assure him that I and my friends will be heartily behind the Board of Education in that policy.

If there is any Member in the House who has any doubt at all as to the practical value of the proposal involved in this Motion, let him visit any industrial area at this moment where the Miners' Welfare Fund is in operation. In areas that I have known since I was a child, where there was nothing when I was a lad but mere pits, ugly mounds, filthy heaps, to-day, by reason of the operation of the penny per ton demanded under the Sankey Commission scheme, those areas have been transformed from being ugly wildernesses into veritable gardens, and it is amazing to see the response that that has evoked from the general body of miners in the country by way of moving out of their overcrowded homes into the healthy countryside for recreational purposes. The social value of that must not be overlooked. The effect it has in giving men a healthy interest in healthy recreation. rather than spending their time fruitlessly in overcrowded cinemas or public-houses, is obvious to anyone who cares to see what is available anywhere.

But I must raise one issue with the hon. Member who moved the Resolution. He quite rightly calls for adequate power for local authorities to deal where necessary, and, if necessary, with, I presume, landowners who are demanding exorbitant prices for their land. That is all very well, but most of the areas such as those to which I have referred are already so heavily overburdened with other social demands that they really cannot bear this extra burden which the Resolution would involve them in. I do not say therefore, Do not pass the Resolution. Indeed it has every possible merit, but it is an argument which the hon. Gentleman opposite would do well to take note of, namely, that if it is carried on the invitation of their supporters it must mean that they must change their attitude as a Government regarding the difficulties of areas in regard to which he made an announcement of so unfortunate a character yesterday from those benches.

Their trouble is not a lack of good will, but a lack of the wherewithal to carry out an advanced policy such as is herein suggested, and, speaking for myself and, I think, for most of my hon. Friends behind me, I think I can say we are heartily at one with both hon. Members who have spoken in regard to the spirit underlying the Resolution. We may argue with them as to how this problem has arisen and why it has arisen, but I do not think we need quarrel with them as to the way in which it may be removed. We join heartily with them, therefore, in a united appeal to the, spokesmen of the Government to give us some crumb of comfort, some word of encouragement, and an indication that the Government regard this problem not merely from a. purely financial point of view but from the larger standpoint of the general wellbeing of the State.

Viscountess ASTOR

I agree with the last speaker that we should be very grateful to the hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Resolution. I only regret that they have had to do it to such an empty House. When one thinks what the Resolution would mean to the nation as a whole if it were accepted and carried out, one really sometimes almost despairs of the House of Commons. Look at the empty benches of all parties! If it had been a question of a Vote of Censure upon Mr. Hope, the House would have been seething with excitement, but on a question like this, which will, in the end, affect the lives and health of thousands of children, the hon. and gallant Member, who moved the Resolution, had to speak to an almost empty House. I deplore it, and I can only hope that when there are more women in the House of Commons, a question like this will command a fuller House. One of my hon. Friends says that I am the only one here to-night. That is so, but there are so few women Members of the House, that they have about five times as much work to do as the men. I say that in all due fairness to the women Members who are not here to-night. There are far more demands upon the time of the few women Members than upon the men Members. I do deplore the sparse attendance.

I have no intention of following the example of my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Motion and defending our forefathers, or even our fathers. Nobody can look back even upon the last 20 years and see the absolute blindness and madness of those who governed us when it came to a question of open spaces and recreations in our crowded areas, and attempt to justify it. It does not do any good simply to look back on this matter, if we are to learn a lesson. What we want to do is to look forward. We need not look so much to the sins of our forefathers as to see where we ourselves have fallen short. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will tell us that the local authorities have power already. I believe they have the power, but they have to proceed by Provisional Orders in this House, and even with their present powers they are certainly not using them in the proper way. The reason why they are not using them is that the great mass of people are so inert and blind on the subject of recreation for young people.

There is a lamentable shortage of playgrounds in connection with schools. At Plymouth some years ago a former Member for the Sutton Division conceived the notion of giving a playground to be connected with a school, so that the children could go during school hours and base organised games. The intention was to set an example for other people who could afford it. That example has had an enormous effect upon the school children of Plymouth. The local health authorities say it has been of very great benefit. I hope that wherever there is a crowded area we shall have big spaces connected with schools, where the children can go during school hours and get certain forms of recreation and organised games. It makes a great difference to their work and their health. I trust that not only the Ministry of Health, but the Board of Education, will be fully alert to the importance of this matter, and that the President of the Board of Education will not go back in regard to this progressive form of providing recreation for school children.

There is no more pitiable sight in life than a child which has been arrested for playing in the street. Of all the pitiable sights that I have seen that is the most pitiable. Though these children may be fined, we stand convicted. The other night, I went to see 50 of these children, tiny children some of them, ranging from 10 years of age, although some of them were 18 or 20 years of age, who were under a probation officer. They have to meet once a fortnight. They were playing games. When I saw their keen, eager faces, and I thought that they had been arrested for a quite simple offence, it occurred to me that if I were living in a slum area with my six children, in two rooms or one room, my three boys would have been there that night. Even in a large house, with large grounds, nothing in the world that I can do can keep those boys from getting into mischief. If they had been in a slum area, I am certain that they would have been arrested for getting into mischief. It is the boy or the girl who is full of fun and life who gets into trouble.

The country as a whole is not really interested in this problem. If when people get on to public authorities they would persist in bringing up the question and saying it was a national question that could not wait, some progress might be made. The question of health cannot wait in any nation. The Report of the medical officer which has been quoted tonight shows what this nation loses in the health of its children. It loses more in that way than it loses in strikes and lockouts. When the question of recreation comes to the House of Commons it ought to be regarded as one of great national importance. Hon. Members have been talking about boys. No one has mentioned the girls. Girls to-day are taking as much interest in sports as boys, and it is a very good thing. It is no good providing healthy recreation for the boys unless we provide healthy recreation for the girls, because, in the end, it is the girl who leads the boy. That is not a new thing. There is great interest in these recreations for the girls. When the girls go into industry, they are not paid as high a wage as the young men, and when they want to hire recreation grounds they cannot afford to pay as much money as the men. The girls may want to form a basket ball association or a lacrosse club, and they may have a little money, but even if they can find a field to hire, it often happens that they cannot afford to pay the price.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will assure us that he is going to do all he can to ginger up the authorities. The Mover of the Resolution said he hoped the Parliamentary Secretary would keep a watchful eye on the local authorities. The House of Commons must keep a watchful eye on him, but it is difficult for the Members of the House of Commons to do that unless their constituents keep a watchful eye on them. Some time ago, I brought in a Bill which I was told had no chance whatever of getting through, but the pressure from the constituencies was such that the Bill passed and is now law. When my hon. and gallant Friend talks about prohibition, all I can say is that we who are not prohibitionists but who believe in drink reform, know the value of the Bill 'which I introduced. By keeping youths of under 18 out of the public-houses it has done a great deal to send boys and girls into the playing fields and into sports almost more than anything else. That is a little out of order, but I just Ns-anted to give the Under-Secretary a little dig about what he said on that matter.

If the constituents of any place really get aroused on this question then we can press the subject on the attention of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gets up and makes an impassioned speech in which he says that it is a question on which the Government cannot wait. Many of us look at this subject in that way. We cannot afford to let the children go on in the way they are in our crowded areas. It is not good for their health or their morals. Even old people like the hon. Member opposite and myself feel the great need of some recreation when we leave this House, and we play golf or go for a walk. Multiply that in the case of the child and you will realise how necessary some recreation is for the young people of this country. We ought not to be put off by the cry of economy. It is false economy not to do it, it is madness not to do it. We talk about getting young people into the Army and Navy. I am one who hopes that there will never be another war, but from the point of view of the future welfare of the nation as a whole, its moral, spiritual and physical welfare, it is essential that we should not let any false cry of economy prevent us giving to our children every facility for games and recreation. I believe if the fathers and mothers in a particular area were really in earnest on the question of obtaining playing grounds for the children of the district, they could get them. There is nothing the people cannot get if they really care about it. It might mean some sacrifice. That is quite true. We do not get anything without sacrifice, and if we are to get reform in this direction, there must be some sacrifice by all. I hope this discussion will not get on to party lines, but that we shall all let the Minister know that, although there are only a few Members in the House at the moment, we are ardent and keen on this subject, ready to back him up in every way and to defend this proposal, not as an extravagance, but as one of the very best forms of national insurance for our chidren, who are to be the future rulers of this country.

10.0 P.M.


It is quite evident that on the principle laid clown by the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution there is really no disagreement in the Horse. This is not purely a London question but largely a problem of organising the facilities which we already possess. I am not going to spend time in restating the principle, but to support the Resolution by an illustration of what can be clone even with the facilities we now possess. I take the case of another town in a mining district, the town of Wigan, of which I happen to be the Recorder, and in that capacity, of course, have nothing to do with politics either municipal or Parliamentary. As far as Parliamentary politics are concerned, they are in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. But it is worth while calling attention to what can be done in a town like that which, quite obviously, does not possess any manifest advantages in the way of facilities for recreation. In the year before the War there were in Wigan four tennis courts and three bowling greens in the public parks. There are to-day no fewer than 35 tennis courts, in three different parts of the town, as well as eight bowling greens, and there is also a most excellent library. These are the facilities for adult recreation.

We are not only concerned or chiefly concerned, however, with adult recreation, and I should like to call the attention of the House to what can be done with existing facilities in the way of juvenile recreation. In Wigan there is in existence a juvenile organisation committee. It has been in existence since 1917. It is true that this problem concerns not only the Ministry of Health but the Ministry of Education. On that committee the director of education of the borough acts, unpaid, as secretary, and the juvenile employment sub-committee of the education committee and certain other members co-opted from the members of the welfare committee form this juvenile organisation committee. It arose originally out of an attempt to co-ordinate the welfare organisations which came into existence in connection with the munition workers in Wigan. They now co-ordinate the recreation in connection with the elementary schools, and the welfare organisations of the town are able to advise leaving scholars as to the particular welfare organisation to join and the recreation facilities which are available for them. This really has not been a costly business. The original sum collected, by capitation grant or otherwise, was £1,900, and out of that there has been provided 16 recreation grounds which are in continual use throughout the year as football pitches, cricket pitches and ladies' hockey pitches; and it is done in this way.

I have no doubt this is commonplace to many hon. Members present but they will forgive me if I am a little trite on this subject. It has been done by using these grounds in this way. They are provided in the first instance in connection with the 17 elementary schools, and they are used during school hours exclusively by the scholars and out of school hours by the Juvenile Organisation Committee. There are some 30 football clubs registered with 600 registered members, and 18 cricket clubs with 350 registered members. In addition to that they are available for the use of tennis and hockey clubs, and so forth. Of course welfare organisations are those formed by the Sunday schools and by various works in the district. Again practically there is no cost. It is only a question of organisation. The Education Committee pays the rent of these grounds which amount, to £140 a year, and which ranks for Government grant. In every other respect these organisations are self-supporting. Various fees are more than enough to provide the necessary funds for the dubs. There is a highly organised system in regard to the programme for the football season, and the grounds are filled and organised to their highest capacity on every available day in the year.

If this can be done in circumstances like those which I have described, it ought to be possible to be done elsewhere. In regard to that feature of the resolution which deals with town planning, as one of the representatives of Manchester, let me call the attention of the House to the monumental work just published in regard to the operations of the Manchester City Council in that respect. As to facilities for recreation, Manchester, as everyone in the House knows, is the St. Andrews of the South, inasmuch as it is one of the few places which has provided a municipal golf course. I do not desire to bring down upon my head the apprehension of honourable Members that I am about to threaten the House with a repetition of the old saying connected with thoughts of Lancashire to-day, and of the rest of England to-morrow. But I hope that so much of the rest of England as has not already begun to think and do the same may begin at once, and that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education will insist upon their doing so.


The House will allow me, perhaps, after the views that have been put forward on the Motion with such felicity and ability to-night, to say a word or two upon the general position, exactly what steps have been taken in connection with this matter, and what steps have been taken also so far as London is concerned. My hon. Friend did in his speech intimate that perhaps I might be able to say something on the question of the present powers in relation to this matter, which powers might perhaps be extended.

Quite recently under the Act passed last year, that is the Public Health Act, 1925, more powers were given to urban and rural authorities, and also to the county councils to acquire, lay out, and maintain land for the purpose of games and recreation. It is right that it should be said that under the Act of 1875, and the Act of last year, that if the local authorities could not obtain land for these purposes, they could go to the Ministry of Health and ask for a Provisional Order. Under the law existing at present, inasmuch as these Provisional Orders have to obtain the sanction of Parliament, it means delay; that is worthy of note by everyone who is naturally jealous of the powers of the House of Commons. But I know many hon. Members who think that when the Minister suggests a Provisional Order that the necessary confirmation from the House should not make for delay in particular cases.

Delay is the worst criticism, I think, that can be directed to the present procedure, because under the Act if any owner is not prepared to agree to a reasonable price for his land, he has to go to arbitration, and the price is fixed by an independent arbitrator. So far, then, as the powers are concerned in connection with the acquisition of land and open spaces, there is little to be desired except in the one particular matter, namely, that of the rectification of the delay which I have mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in that connection is contemplating whether it is right to submit an Amendment to that particular procedure, so that, for instance, when he is about to make a provisional Order, and there is no objection to it, he should be able to make the Order forthwith. I think that would he a reasonable alteration of present procedure, and undoubtedly expedite the acquisition of land for this particular purpose. I should like to say a word on what is being done, for the House ought to know this, so far as the local authorities are concerned. The last Report of the Minister of Health, which was issued for 1924–25, shows that nearly £1,250,000 was sanctioned during that particular year for the purpose of acquiring land for open spaces.


What is the acreage?


I will see if I can get that: I could not say at the moment. As far as actual recreation grounds were concerned, the amount expressly sanctioned was about £300,000.


The hon. Gentleman is referring to England and Wales?


Yes, but these figures are not exhaustive, as they do not include the purchase of land by urban authorities which are not specifically allocated for that purpose by the local authorities. Even more has been done than is indicated by the figures mentioned. During the year alone £200,000 was sanctioned for the purchase by a particular town council of an area of 800 acres of land under the powers of a local Act.


Do those figures relate to open spaces particularly?


Open spaces and recreation grounds. 'The figures show that more has been done than has been indicated. The figures I have just mentioned were not included in the figures of the Ministry of Health because they related to something which was done under a local Act—the purchase for £200,000 of 800 acres under a local Act. I am afraid that in the report to which I have referred the aggregate acreage bought is not given, but I will endeavour to supply that information to the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson). While the House is quite rightly pressing for further action to be taken, we should not overlook the fact that a good deal of work has been done and much public spirit has been already shown by many local authorities in this connection. There is a particular authority to which I would refer. It is the Bexley Urban District Council. During the 1924–25 year, that authority has purchased an area of 204 acres, comprising a mansion house and grounds, for the benefit of the community in that district. As far as 1925–26 is concerned—these are the latest figures, and they do not appear in the report—we have sanctioned loans amounting to £1,500,000, and included in that amount is a very notable extension so far as London is concerned, namely, the acquisition by Ealing and Acton Town Council of Gunnersbury Park of 200 acres, and the acquisition of Stoke Park, 186 acres, by the Guildford Town Council.

These facts show that many local authorities are alive to their responsi- bilities. During the same period, Bristol, Croydon. Finchley, Hendon (£20,000), Manchester (£25,000), Tottenham and Wembley, have applied for loans, which have been sanctioned, in order to provide open spaces. While, undoubtedly, we would be glad to see more done, we should not forget those local authorities which have made great progress and have shown great public spirit in this matter. I do not want to discuss the difficulties. The hon. Member who moved the Resolution suggested that there should be some theoretical standard, such as five acres to every 1,000 persons. Everyone would desire to work to such a standard, but perhaps more progress would be made if we encouraged, not necessarily such a high standard, but more steady progress by a larger number of authorities.

As is known by my hon. Friend who seconded the Resolution so ably, there is a special difficulty in the Greater London area. There, a great deal of progress has been made in connection with our building operations, and that has been a drawback, in as much as it has meant a reduction in the possible area of playing-field accommodation. I would like to state the policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in this connection. It should be said, in the first place, on behalf both of the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education, that they are fully in sympathy with the demand for more playing fields and recreation grounds and that they are ready to entertain applications for sanctions to loans for parks and recreation grounds. But I must add the proviso in which, I hope, hon. Members will agree, that we must have regard to the rates in the particular locality concerned. I do riot want to specify any particular locality, but we have applications by localities where the rates are 27s. and 28s. in the£for a bowling green—to give an instance—and we have felt in cases of that kind we must ask the local authority to wait until a better time comes for that particular purpose. Again, I hope the majority of the House will agree with me when I say that before sanctioning such loans we must be satisfied that there is no failure on the part of the local authorities in regard to the other vital needs of the community which may be even more pressing.

I think the only matter in which I would differ from the Mover—and perhaps in this I did not fully appreciate his speech—is that I think the needs of housing are in many localities paramount at this moment. When so many people are living in bad and disgraceful conditions to-day and when there is an accumulation of claims upon the local authorities, then, from the point of view of the Ministry of Health, the housing needs of the community must come first. My hon. Friend also referred to the importance of town planning. I assure him that the Ministry are doing everything possible to encourage local authorities to adopt the splendid provisions of the Town Planning Acts, and I am glad to think that every day more authorities are engaged in operations of town planning and are seeking the undoubted help afforded by those Acts. If we can only get local authorities more and more to anticipate the future and to devise their schemes accordingly, it will be a great help not only to the community in a general way, but to the particular objects put before us in the Motion. I may say at once quite frankly that at the Ministry of Health we are not satisfied that more land can not be safely and prudently reserved for open spaces and allotments in town-planning schemes, and I assure my hon. Friend the Mover and the Noble Lady who has also put this matter before the House that we are pressing the local authorities to have regard to this most important aspect of the question.

Finally, may I touch upon a matter which I think has not been referred to at any length, but which is a matter of considerable public interest at the moment. That is the importance of the preservation of considerable tracts of land such as downs and cliffs and other national features in different parts of the country from indiscriminate building invasion. That is a matter to which we have endeavoured particularly to draw the attention of many local authorities, and we believe at the Ministry that the local authorities ought to act more and more in combination over a wide area in this connection. Under the Town Planning Act there is power for the establishment of a joint committee to act in cases of this kind, and I think it is very vital indeed to do so. I regret, personally, to see from my own observation beautiful spaces of down land being encroached upon when there is no reason why it should be done at all. To stop it would not really be interfering with housing. It is a vast sprawl of houses, and I hope a good deal more will be done in that connection by the local authorities up and down the country.

We must not forget the value of gifts of open spaces by public spirited men and women during the last few months, and want, on behalf of the Government, to thank the many public donors who, during the last year or so and in years gone by, have acted in the very best possible public spirit in the gift to the public of open spaces in many parts of the country. Perhaps the House will allow me to-night particularly to mention three gifts. There is the gift of Lord Rothermere, who has purchased the site of the Royal Bethlem Hospital, and has there provided an open space of about 15 acres in the densely populated borough of Southwark. It is a great object that he has in view. It is to become a playground and a park, which will form a permanent memorial to the late Mrs. Harmsworth, and I believe it is the intention of Lord Rothermere there to provide trees and flowers and green stretches for the children in that densely populated neighbourhood.

I am sure the whole House will agree with me in thanking the donor for that truly noble and princely gift. There has also, during the same year, been a gift from a former Member of this House whom we knew very well indeed—I refer to the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Simon, of a house and park of 250 acres near Manchester. I am sure that that again has been really a very beneficent act on the part of those two public-spirited persons. The third gift, which is not so big, but is certainly of value, and to which I hope myself to be able to go down in a a few weeks' time, is the gift by Mr. Courtauld of 12 acres at Braintree. That is an instance of what can be done by people who have regard not only to their obligations but to their interests as citizens in a particular neighbourhood.

Finally, I desire to pay a tribute to the work of the Playing Fields Association, which during the last few months, under the presidency of the Duke of York, has done a great deal to bring to the notice of the public the necessity of the matters contained in the Motion that we are discussing to-night. As far as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education are concerned, this Motion is pushing an open door. We desire to see, as one would naturally desire to see, having regard to the particular responsibilities which devolve upon the Ministry of Health in relation to the health of the nation, greatly extended operations so far as this particular matter is concerned. I suppose, considering that the slums and the densely populated areas of our country become breeding places of disease and crime, that if we could provide these open spaces and get the children of our country enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, the best medicine anyone can have, we should be doing the beet possible thing to bring up and foster a good, healthy nation, and believe that that is one of the best ambitions any State can have.

Viscountess ASTOR

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he answer a question? Some of us have been wondering whether there was any way in which the squares of London might be used by children, at least in the summer time, if not all the year round. For instance, there are a number of open spaces to which the people living around have a key, but hardly ever go into them. Has the Minister any powers to have those places open, at any rate, during the summer months for the use of children?

Sir K. WOO.D

I am much obliged to the noble Lady for the suggestion. As she knows, it is not an easy matter, as there are a. good many interests involved. There are certain squares in London where already the residents of their own accord have afforded the use of them to the children living around. I am sure if any encouragement could be given by my right hon. Friend and myself in that connection, we should be very glad indeed to offer it.


There is a certain aspect of this matter on which I do not think sufficient emphasis has been laid to-night, and that is an aspect which affects not only the whole question of playing fields and recreation, but affects, too, the question of our schools, quite apart from any playing fields they may have, and, at the same time, deals with the whole question of housing. I do not want to introduce into a discussion, which has been so free from anything in the nature of party controversy, anything of a controversial character, but I merely want to put it in this way, that the difficulty, so far as the large municipalities are concerned, is the whole question of land. If I may give one illustration to emphasise what I mean—and there are many more—I am speaking of the City of Sheffield—I will give a case in which the value of land, which was a few years ago agricultural, worth not more than £60 an acre, but when this land was required, in consequence of the extension of the city for school purposes, the price we had to pay for the school site was £1,600 or £1,700 an acre. I was not quite sure from what the Parliamentary Secretary said whether the Act of last year gave some additional power with regard to the acquiring of land, or whether that still applied under the older Act.


Under the 1875 Act, it was always within the power of a local authority to come to the Ministry of Health to ask for a Provisional Order, and if there was any question as regards the purchase price, then, Wader the Acquisition of Land Act, that matter could be referred to arbitration, and an independent arbitrator would then fix the price of the land, having regard to the fair market value.


There has always been very considerable difficulty in acting upon that Act of 1875. Whatever the cause, it has always been felt it was not sufficiently in the interest of the municipality. Therefore, I think it is extremely necessary that in town-planning schemes of the future the Minister should see to it that we look further ahead than we have done in the past, because this matter deeply affects the health of the community. I am speaking again of one particular area only, but there the need for economy has compelled the closing down of what was being done in the way of regional survey and development, and that, I think, must he regarded as a disaster.

In regard to housing, it is true that the number of houses to the acre has been considerably reduced, and that a certain number of open spaces have been provided as bowling greens or as green plots in the centre of groups of houses. But instances of action on the lines indicated in the Motion have been few and far between. The Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) referred to the prosecution of children for playing in the streets. As she said, in some of our industrial areas that is approaching a scandal, because the children have nowhere else to play. London treats this matter in an entirely different way The streets here are looked upon as children's playgrounds, and there is no interference, at least in such quarters as I have seen. Elsewhere, however, we are constantly having children brought before Children's Courts—children in some cases, youths in other cases in respect of dinner-hour games—for playing in the streets. As the Noble Lady has said, that is our fault and not their crime, and it provides another argument for doing more than we have done to provide recreation grounds. A few months ago the Chief Constable of the Borough of Kendal, Westmoreland, referring to the prosecution of boys for doing damage by breaking windows, said that, in his opinion, such cases were due entirely to the total insufficiency of playgrounds.

There is one other aspect of this matter as it affects industrial areas to which I wish to refer. In Sheffield, in the days before the War, an investigation showed that 300 tons of solid matter per square mile was falling on the city each year. Unless the Ministry of Health deals with the question of the smoke nuisance, some of these open spaces will be destroyed as a result of the effect of smoke upon them. We have an area in Sheffield where, looking to the south, there is not a single tree within two miles; not within three-quarters of a mile looking to the east; one mile looking to the west; and a mile and a half towards the north. Trees cannot grow there, and the health of the people is being very seriously impaired by the existing condition of things. I very cordially agree with the Resolution which the hon. and gallant Member has put down, and I hope the Ministry of Health will press upon the authorities the need for action.


I am sure the House must have heard with interest the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health with regard to this Resolution, but I am not quite sure how far he is satisfied with regard to the progress being made, particularly with regard to housing and town planning. In reply to a vital question which I put to the Government last week, I was told that out of 1,098 local authorities, only 273had putin housing and town-planning schemes. Therefore I think this House will do well to encourage the Ministry to bring pressure to bear upon local authorities in order that they may get on with this most important work. There is no doubt that in the past our towns have suffered very much through a lack of vision and foresight in these matters. It is true that we have not had the powers in the past to deal with this question which we have to-day, and I think our powers are quite ample if only they are put into force. I know we must do all we can to foster public opinion on this subject, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will help us by bringing pressure to bear upon local authorities to induce them to get on with this most important work.

Very shortly the Minister may ask for additional power to act in regard to town planning, but he will not need those powers if we can stimulate the local authorities to take action on their own account. There is a great need of providing in town-planning schemes for playgrounds and recreation grounds. We have just been told by the Parliamentary Secretary that £1,500,000 has been sanctioned last year for recreation and playing fields, but he did not give us the acreage. If one reckons the cost at £100 per acre, that would only give about 15 acres to each local authority, which does not come up to the standard of five acres per 1,000 of the population suggested by the Mover of the Resolution. Other towns besides Sheffield find a difficulty in regard to the cost of land, but even if land could be got cheaply, it is difficult to induce local authorities to purchase it on account of their present very high rates.

I do not know how far the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to make representations to the. Treasury for a Grant-in-Aid of what really is a national service. I am rather afraid from his reply in regard to other things that one cannot hope for very much sympathy on this question. I submit that the providing of playing fields, which are necessary to promote the health of the people, is largely a national service, and if we can stimulate public opinion in this House and in the country, then we may get assistance from the Treasury, so that the local authorities can receive a 50–50 grant to encourage them to get on with this very excellent work. I am sure the whole House will wish to associate itself with, the thanks which the Parliamentary Secretary expressed to those generous donors to whom he referred, who have made such valuable gifts. One may hope that their example may cause others to emulate them, because there is no doubt that a public man can bestow no greater benefit upon his neighbours than the gift of recreation grounds, open places and playing fields, especially in large congested areas.


Towards the conclusion of this Debate, I wish to emphasise the fact that the somewhat gloomy—it may be rightly gloomy—view expressed with regard to the position and the need for playing fields at the pesent moment in this country does not extend equally to all places. For instance, Preston, which I have the honour to represent—in some ways a typical industrial town, with some 200,000 people—is reasonably well provided for, as I he result of intelligent anticipation by those who have in the past governed its destinies. It is situated on some. 4,000 acres of land, and has parks extending to between 250 and 300 acres, of which 154 acres are devoted exclusively to recreation, and, to a large extent, to recreation for school children. I am assured by the authorities there that they consider that they are reasonably well provided for, I observe that those active towns which, in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, were singled out for special praise, such as Guildford, Bexhill-on-Sea, and so on, were probably, in this connection, not so important, because they may be more wealthy than many industrial towns in this country.

It may be that there is a great want of recreation grounds, both for adults and for children, in industrial areas, but in this Debate it is impossible, it seems to me, to get any general view of the situation. We have heard, in the comprehensive speech of the Mover of this Motion, about the position in London, and it is a singularly pathetic and unfortunate position. Any of us who have been associated, however little, with London life, will appreciate the magnitude of the problem in London. It is a special problem, and measures which may deal adequately with provincial towns and supply their needs in this matter, will be not necessarily suitable for London. May I give a minor illustration of the difficulty? In common with other members of my profession, I am interested in a working men's club in Drury Lane, and some few years ago, since the War, we were minded, if we could, to acquire a recreation ground. Competent persons went through London, North, South, East and West, searching for a recreation ground, and I may say that we were prepared to pay, through the generosity of subscribers, a considerable sum of money for any suitable ground. The nearest ground we could acquire was in Tottenham, at a distance of about 10 miles from Drury Lane. One is appalled when one considers what are to be the remedies for the problem in London. There is the difficulty of transport, which, though not the only difficulty, is a very important one. It costs a young man or boy 6d. to go to the recreation ground at Tottenham from this; club, and 6d. to return, and I do not think that that recreation ground can be more than a casual source of recreation to most of the members of the club.

There is another difficulty which exists, and which accentuates the problem, as it seems to me. In my experience a number of the grounds in and around cities are only used, perhaps, once or twice a week. I should like to see some of these grounds used far more frequently, and it seems to me that the problem of the school children, and their inaccessibility at the present time, in many cases, to recreation grounds, might be met by a more generous use of existing grounds for their purposes Those are some of the difficulties that exist. Nobody has mentioned one difficulty, which those concerned in running recreation grounds appreciate to the full, that of maintaining the grounds once they are acquired. The acquisition o the grounds by generous gift or purchase is not the measure of the problem. The ground has to be maintained, and local authorities know that this is a serious item. I myself am quite satisfied with the statement that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health gave us to-night as to the activities of the Ministry and as to the desire of the Ministry to promote the development of recreation grounds, both for adults and for children. I do not think on a fair view of the situation that the Government of the day can be expected to do more than he indicated is being done by the Ministry to bring pressure on the local authorities. I do not see how any step of a drastic character, sufficient to meet the problem even in a small degree, can be expected to be obtained solely by Government action. The chief value of this Debate arises from the propaganda it will be for the cause of national recreation. The future of national recreation and the provision of suitable grounds depends on public opinion. That there is a strong public opinion on this movement I am sure, but it has been inadequately represented on these benches to-night. It behoves those of us who are really keen on this subject to do everything we can to strengthen that force of public opinion.


I do not think any of us were astonished to hear the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Trevelyan Thomson) singing the praises of town planning, but I was surprised a few minutes ago to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who has so often given proof of a sound commonsense, also doing lip service to it. It is not considered quite proper to criticise town planning at the present day. Like the League of Nations, it is one of those things to which we are all supposed to do lip services. But I come, as a member of a local authority, in contact with town planning, and it may be useful in the five minutes remaining if a few of us were to do as Dr. Johnson suggested, "free our minds from cant," and consider what town planning is. Let us consider who were the great town planners of history. Surely the patron saint of town planners is the late emperor Nero. He was convinced, and he is borne out by the satires of Juvenal, that the town planning of Rome was extremely defective, and that the tenement dwellings of the poor constituted a great eyesore. Being convinced of the need for town planning, he burned the whole place down. The next was Napoleon III, who ruined the greater part of Paris by town planning and Haussmannising it. The third was the late Emperor William, of Germany, who was responsible for those appalling cities on the Rhine. We suffer to-day under the activities of long-haired men and short-haired women who call themselves town-planning experts. A vested interest in salaries has grown up like the vested interest at Geneva., called the League of Nations.

People, whose relatives cannot find a decent job for them, and who are manifestly incapable of earning their living, run round England, saying, "We are town planners," until an outraged populace gives them a job and a salary. They then assemble a staff in an office with maps and, with various coloured pencils and chalks, they make wavy lines on the maps, marking new roads and various other things. In the case of my native city of Manchester, they actually go to the expense of some thousands of pounds to prepare portentous volumes full td maps which, from my own careful examination of them, convey no information of any sort of value to anyone except such as could be got out of "Whitakers Almanack." I have very carefully examined my own district and I find a road that was made a main road when I was chairman of the highways committee and was excellently paved with granite setts is marked on the town-planning map as not even a third-class road.

Let us consider the fact that town planning is not altogether a new thing. I have pointed out that it existed in Rome in the time of the Emperors. It existed also in Manchester in the early days of the industrial age In those days our ancestors used to grind the faces of the poor in their cotton mills, and used to employ children for periods amounting to anything up to 24 hours per day. Being town planners, and thoroughly entering into the spirit of the thing, they put the hovels of the poor all round their mills, because it was obvious that the children could -not crawl more than a few yards after they had done 18 hours' work in the mill. Being town planners, they planned the slums of Manchester on the most approved principles of that particular age. We run a very great risk of repeating some of the errors of our ancestors, because we do not know in the least what we are planning for. Are we planning for a greatly increased population, a richer population with a higher standard of living, or are we planning, as I hope, for a vastly decreased population, which will not be everlastingly clamouring for anything like so high a standard of living as exists at present?

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Government should insist on the urgent necessity for local authorities to make adequate provision in town-planning schemes for the reservation of open spaces, and, if necessary, to provide some more effective power to enable local authorities to acquire land for recreation in all cases where it cannot be purchased on fair terms by negotiation.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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