HC Deb 18 February 1955 vol 537 cc840-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wills.]

4.0 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)

In the few moments at my disposal I want to talk about a borough in my constituency. It has two claims to fame. First, it is perhaps the largest single steel-producing area in the country; secondly, it is the home of a fighting football team which is respected wherever soccer fans foregather. However, it has a third claim to fame, and it is about that more particularly that I wish to speak. It is rapidly becoming a rather grim music hall joke.

One hundred years ago, Scunthorpe, the borough about which I wish to speak, was just a few picturesquely thatched cottages on the most westerly escarpment of the Wolds in North Lincolnshire, and had a population of 1,000 souls. By the turn of the century, after the development of the iron deposits in the surrounding countryside, it had a population of 11,000. In 1931, the population had soared to 33,000, and now, only 25 years afterwards, it has leapt to nearly 60,000. In other words, since 1890 the population of the borough has increased ninefold.

No less than 12 per cent. of the pig-iron of this country is produced inside the borough. No less than 10 per cent. of the steel ingots and castings is produced there. During the last eight years £37 million has been spent on the development of the steelworks in Scunthorpe. In fact, no less than half the area of the borough is covered by these sprawling industrial colossi.

I can imagine someone saying "What on earth is this fellow worried about? Is he not proud of all this achievement?" I am proud of what Scunthorpe has done, but I want to speak not so much about what Scunthorpe has put into the national stock as about what the nation has given in return.

So rapidly has the Borough of Scunthorpe developed in its effort to keep pace with the expansion of the steelworks it has virtually become a congeries of mere houses virtually bereft of the amenities which usually go with towns and which, to my way of thinking, alone make life in a town bearable. If a town is to be a self-respecting entity and a credit to its country, it must be properly balanced.

It must not have just houses. It must have properly planned streets, schools, churches, a town hall, and, maybe, a civic centre. It must have attractions for the leisure of its inhabitants as well as for their livelihood—libraries, concert halls, an art gallery, playing fields, parks and pleasure grounds. These things must follow hard on the houses, if., out of the crucible of its formation, is to come something alive, with a soul capable of being saved from the slough of despond.

After the First World War, the mad rush of the expansion of the steelworks was temporarily halted, and slump descended upon the local industry. This young township, with very few means indeed of staving them off, knew the pangs of hunger, both physical and spiritual. In the first war, of course, priority in building was given to the steelworks, even at the expense of houses to house those who must work in these steelworks. Housing was outstripped by this steelwork development. After the slump, this development and expansion had scarcely been resumed when the Second World War came along, with its dead hand upon all development which was not a first priority.

Enormous expansion of the steelworks again took place until they were striding out over half the borough and sending out their red glow far into the middle of the North Sea at night to the farthest reaches of the Dogger Bank. But this shining light, which was sent out from the steelworks, went out over roofs which perhaps sheltered the steel workers and their families, but which were all too often not the homes of those steel workers. Huddled in rooms, with all that that can mean in human friction and unhappiness, these men, who produce Britain's steel, or who work night and day on the railways to send it where it has to go, and the wives of those people, were set a well-nigh impossible task. They had to try to found decent homes wherein to bring up children who would be a credit to the nation, just as was the steel in which they trafficked.

At the end of the Second World War there were 3,000 people on the waiting list for houses in the borough. Since then, by superhuman efforts on the part of a progressive and public-spirited council, more houses were put up in Scunthorpe than in any of the new towns of the country. In fact, Scunthorpe's record of housing cannot be equalled in any other borough of comparable size. Yet today, after all these achievements, so rapidly is the population rising, by 1,000 a year, owing to the continued expansion of the steel industry locally, that the waiting list is larger than ever it was before. In the last eight years, 15,000 people have been housed in the borough, yet there are still 9,000 in "digs," or else in villages round about, perhaps 15 or 20 miles away, and they have to come into Scunthorpe daily.

When I say they have to come in daily, I am not thinking of those sleek electric trains which bring neatly dressed people from the suburbs up to London. For the steel workers of Scunthorpe there are practically no trains, most indifferent buses, and perhaps only a cycle, in the bleak north-east winds which blow across that part of the world.

There is a second respect in which Scunthorpe has been cheerfully shouldering a burden the misery which I am glad to say is undreamed of by the larger part of our population today. I said that these men come in daily, but of course they come in nightly, for these steelworks, week in, week out, go on day and night without stopping. Families whose men work the three-shift system which this entails know the wretchedness and dislocation of family life which is involved in this system. The turns are 6 o'clock to 2, 2 to 10 and 10 to 6.

If one adds to this the misery of those whose beds have to be used on the shift-system, also, because there are too few beds, and remembers the constant disturbances of rest which this involves and the multiplication of cooking which it entails on the part of the wives, one begins to realise a little of the heroism of these people. The headmaster of one school in the borough asked his pupils what they thought of the three-shift system. I should like to quote a few of the answers given by the pupils. I think that they will interest the House.

One boy said: This week my father is on the two-to-ten shift and my brother is on the six-to-two shift. As my father goes to work my brother comes home, and this makes it difficult for my mother. I feel sorry for her because she has to cook so many meals. Another replied: My dad is nearly always at work or in bed. When he is on two-to-ten my mum never goes out, never has any pleasure. Another wrote: When my father comes home from the night shift he goes to bed. Our house is on the main road where a lot of traffic passes by and my dad doesn't get much sleep. When we get home we have to be quiet so that we do not wake him up. When he gets up he is still tired and is angry if we do anything wrong. Another pupil said: In our house there are four people working on the shift system. It is very awkward for my mother, for three times a month she has to set the table at six a.m., then clear it, set it again for my breakfast at 8 a.m. Then she has to do the housework and cook again for one coming home at 2 p.m., and tea at 4 p.m., then supper at 8 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. My mother is fed up by then and she goes to bed. Another reply was: When my father is on nights I cannot play in the backyard because my mother is always saying, 'make less noise; your Dad's in bed.' I like him to be on days because then I can get a bit more money out of him. I see more of him. What a scandal it is that these grand people should have to put up with this, with no more than a back yard or a street to play in. "Make less noise; your dad's in bed." This should haunt the ears of those who are more fortunate vo their situation.

The older part of this mushroom town has houses with doors opening directly on to the pavement. I say that it is essential that there should be some place of recreation provided so that not only the children but their elders may have somewhere where they can go and regain strength of body and soul with which to carry on the eminently good work which they are doing for the nation.

So great is the burden on Scunthorpe of the attempt merely to house the population that the rates for this purpose alone are 50 per cent. above the national average. To do what is barely necessary now in the way of providing parks, playing fields, children's playgrounds and recreation grounds, Scunthorpe needs £50,000, so great has been the lagging behind which has been imposed upon the borough by its situation.

Of course, it is out of the question that this sum should be found from the rates. I remind the Parliamentary Secretary of what I have already said, namely, that half the area of the borough is covered by steelworks, which escape the main burden of the rates. Therefore, the burden is correspondingly greater upon those who pay rates. The situation is quite extraordinary, and nothing short of extraordinary treatment on the part of the Government will meet it.

There is no civic centre, no decent hall in which to hold a concert or a lecture. There is a pokey little building in a narrow street which serves as municipal offices, with a mayor's parlour, and other offices are dotted about the town and separated maybe by miles. How civic pride is fostered in these circumstances I find it hard to see. The fact is that, with great initiative, the very best is made of some extremely poor material, or it would never be done.

Two dingy little shops together form the library. As for the amount of open space available, there is only 0.65 of an acre per thousand of the population; whereas in Doncaster the figure is 6.2; in Derby 10.2 and in Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham the figures are 2.7, 3.2, and 3.8 respectively, Although the National Playing Fields Association consider that six acres per thousand is about the right amount, or at any rate the minimum, Scunthorpe has 0.65 of an acre.

Despite all this, the heart of Scunthorpe throbs on ever more vigorously as it battles against these adversities. I am glad that the Government have seen fit in the last day or two to allow the beginning of the work on Ashby Ville Recreation Ground. Of course, the grants are still to be decided. Gradually all these amenities may come, but all I am now asking is that the Government should realise that they are in the presence of something quite exceptional and should treat it as such—quite exceptional in the difficulties which have to be surmounted and in the courage and resource with which they are being tackled at present.

The Government should treat Scunthorpe like a new town, which in fact it is, and give generous recognition to the services so long, patiently, and willing rendered to the nation. The Government must recognise that the work of providing adequate recreational facilities is not just something for tomorrow, but is urgent. We are lucky indeed that the problem of juvenile delinquency in Scunthorpe is not greater than it is at present. I say that nothing less than a Government grant of 70 per cent. will meet this case and enable the crying shame of the present situation to be wiped out. I say to the Government "Fiat justitia"—let right be done.

4.17 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) began by saying that Scunthorpe had three claims to fame. On two of those I find myself in complete agreement with him, and I hope to go a small way to help him on the third "claim to fame," as he put it.

The hon. and learned Gentleman will, of course, realise that a great deal of what he has said does not come within the province of the Ministry of Education, but I hope that it will be brought to the notice of the appropriate Government Departments. I am concerned with those aspects of his speech dealing with physical recreation, which involve two Acts of Parliament. There is the Education Act, 1944, which covers the provision of school playing fields. There is also—and the hon. and learned Member has this very much in mind—the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, whereby, as he suggested, any local authority or a voluntary body may obtain a grant towards the capital expense of providing playing fields.

Such grants have been made over a number of years, and in the post-war period over £1 million has been paid to local bodies: in 1952 a small grant was paid to the Borough of Scunthorpe, although I realise that it goes but a small way to meet the requirements of the hon. and learned Gentleman. But I think that in no circumstances has a grant been made in excess of 30 per cent. of the total cost of a project.

Obviously the hon. and learned Gentleman feels that during the last few years the Borough of Scunthorpe has been unable to make progress in this direction. I regret that during the last six years it has not been possible to implement the provisions of the 1937 Act to the full. I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would wish me to dwell on the economic circumstances responsible for that, except to say that the limitations imposed over the last six years are responsible for enabling us now to make further advances, and, I hope, to give the hon. and learned Gentleman some encouragement.

In case he feels, as I believe his authority does, that the fact that it did not make an earlier application may have hindered it in its progress, I should like it to go on record that not since October, 1949, has it been possible to obtain a grant for a project in excess of £1,000.

I should, however, point out that during this last period, it has always been possible to provide to the full the necessary playing fields for new schools. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that the provision of school playing fields for Scunthorpe does not compare unfavourably with the national position.

It is in regard to the adults that concern is felt. I say without any hesitation that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor have always accepted the need for further provision for Scunthorpe, and I agree that the need of Scunthorpe is greater than that of most other boroughs. At the moment, I believe that there are only about 36½acres of public playing fields. That is insufficient, but it is only fair to comment that there are about 50 acres of playing fields which are owned by local works. I realise the difficulties involved in making these fields available to the general community, but I would ask not only Scunthorpe but other similarly placed authorities who make application to make a preliminary survey of existing fields to see whether they can be brought into more general use.

In the past the Borough of Scunthorpe has made outline proposals to the Ministry of Education, and the hon. and learned Member has made representations both to my right hon. Friend and his predecessor regarding the Manley Street area, but in the light of what I have said it has just not been possible, during the last few years, to approve a grant for this or any other of these projects. During this period there was nothing to prevent the borough from going ahead and providing playing fields, but they would not have ranked for grant. I believe that Scunthorpe has in fact done something with the assistance of a small grant from the National Playing Fields Association.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, it has been possible in recent months to make further advances in many fields of education, and in December of last year Circular 283was issued. One of its provisions was to enable playing fields to be provided for existing schools and for establishments of further education, and for grants to be resumed under the Physical Training and Recreation Act. It is too early yet to gauge the results of this change in policy, but already, under the playing-fields-for-schools part of the arrangement, considerable proposals have recently been approved for London and Stoke-on-Trent.

Many authorities besides the Borough of Scunthorpe are anxious to obtain a grant under the Physical Training and Recreation Act, and when my right hon. Friend outlined his proposals on 30th November, he explained that all the restrictions could not be removed at once. He said that he was anxious to make advances in certain directions where the need for a change of policy was most urgently felt. But, in the words of the Circular: The pace at which the advances announced can be achieved and be followed by further advances depends on the strictest control over both current and capital expenditure. Therefore, grants cannot be approved for relatively large and expensive projects unless they can be justified upon some quite exceptional grounds.

I now want to outline, for the benefit of the hon. and learned Gentleman and others who may be interested in reading the debate, the kind of proposals which can be considered as of first priority. They will be considered on four principles. First, there are those areas where the existing acreage of playing fields is very low in relation to the population. I accept that Scunthorpe is one of those areas. Secondly, prior attention will be given to applications for grant for multi-purpose fields, providing a variety of games for large numbers of people rather than to applications for facilities such as swimming baths, running tracks and bowling greens.

Thirdly, my right hon. Friend will not normally be prepared to make grants towards very large or expensive projects. Of course, in some cases, a large central playing field may be the only economical way of providing for the need, but in general we are anxious to spread the grants so as to reach as large a number of people as possible

Lastly, my right hon. Friend cannot consider retrospective applications on projects which have been carried out during those years when grants were seldom available. It has always been the rule, not only as far as playing fields are concerned but also in connection with other projects such as village halls, that no grant shall be made to local bodies which have committed themselves to work before their applications for grant have been approved, unless there were specific arrangements to the contrary. Sometimes, this is felt to be a rather harsh decision, but, after all, the whole purpose of my right hon. Friend's advance in this field is to enable new provision to be made and to give encouragement to the provision of still further facilities. If he were to agree to make grants retrospectively, this would nullify the savings that have been made in the last few years.

In the light of this change of policy in the last few months, what can be done for Scunthorpe? As far as school playing fields are concerned, the Lindsay Education Committee, which is the education authority responsible, is, I understand, putting forward one proposal for the Brumby School area in the near future, but it is in respect of the adult population that the hon. and learned Gentleman is mainly concerned.

Since the new Circular was issued on 3rd December, only one application has so far been received from the Borough of Scunthorpe, and that is for a small area, which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, of the Ashby Ville ground. This was received in January, and application forms have been sent to the local authority; I regret that there was some delay in sending these forms. It was stated in the letter accompanying the application forms that no work could be started until the application was approved. However, in view of the need to get on with this work in order that seeding can take place in the spring, I am able to inform the hon. and learned Gentleman, who I think already knows, that work can now go ahead without prejudice to approval of the grant in the future.

This is the only application we have received, but we know, of course, that Scunthorpe has other proposals, particularly in regard to the Manley Street area, which the hon. and learned Gentleman has brought to our notice on previous occasions. This is in the oldest part of the town. Of course, as the hon. and learned Gentleman anticipated, it will be an expensive proposal. All these schemes—there are two others as well—will involve the Ministry of Education in spending a considerable amount of money, and I have already told the hon. and learned Gentleman that my right hon. Friend cannot consider very large schemes save in exceptional cases. I cannot today go any further, except to say that I accept that Scunthorpe is nearly, if not quite, an exceptional case.

Scunthorpe, therefore, will receive very favourable consideration of any application which they may send us. I cannot go further than that, although I think it is only fair to warn the hon. and learned Gentleman that no grants hitherto have been paid in excess of 30 per cent. At the moment, no proposal has been made except the Ashby Ville proposal: I cannot give any undertaking that they will all necessarily be approved, but I see no reason why the Ashby Ville proposal should not be approved for grant as soon as the application form is returned.

To conclude, I have considerable sympathy with the case put by the hon. and learned Gentleman today, and I will do all I possibly can to help with any of the proposals which Scunthorpe may make and I will take note of everything that has been said today.

Mr. Mallalieu

The hon. Gentleman said that grants had not hitherto been greater than 30 per cent. Would he bear in mind that he regards Scunthorpe as nearly, if not quite, an exceptional case, when he is dealing with the question of the 30 per cent.?

Mr. Vosper

I will look at that point, but we want to meet the greatest needs all over the country and many authorities would go without if we were to start paying grants in excess of 30 per cent. I think that 30 per cent. is the maximum that may be paid, however exceptional the case may be.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Four o'clock.