§ LORD O'HAGAN rose to ask His Majesty's Government—
- 1. Whether their attention has been drawn to the serious increases which have recently taken place in the assessment of playing fields and recreation grounds for the use of villagers or attached to working men's clubs, settlements, churches and institutes;
- 2. Whether it is realised that the effect of the increased assessments will probably involve the giving up of many private playing fields because the present occupiers cannot pay the increased rates; and
- 3. Whether, in view of the importance of securing recreational facilities for developing the health and healthy enjoyment of the wage-earning classes in particular, it is intended to take any measures to relieve from the payment of rates and taxes bona fide non-profit making playing fields for those who otherwise are unable to afford them;
§ And to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper I think I can probably take it that your Lordships will agree that, if ever there was a question which should be treated on its merits, it is one which deals with the provision and the rating of recreation grounds and playing fields. I am sorry, however, that the action of the Minister of Health in another place gives one the impression that he has not been willing to treat the matter in that manner. Consequently to-day I feel myself forced to treat it not altogether as non-political. Your Lordships will recollect that the National Playing Fields Association introduced a Bill into the other House which was backed by members of all three political Parties. It was a Bill for the derating of the amateur private playing fields in the country which have been severely hit by the conditions that obtain at the present time. Clubs like Hurlingham are outside the scope 335 of the Bill and, though the promoters of the Bill were advised that that was secured by the terms of the Bill, they made it perfectly clear in another place that they would be willing to accept any Amendment so that no advantage should accrue to such clubs or to people who were well able to pay rates. The Minister, however, came down to the Committee and informed them that the only effect of the Bill would be to put money into the pockets of the landlords, and that no benefit would enure to the users of the grounds.
§ I am quite sure that there are many noble Lords in this House to-day, and many who are not present, who afford facilities for recreation to clubs, boy scouts, girl guides and other such organisations, and I would ask, in regard to land the user of which is often allowed for these purposes, if it is seriously meant that noble Lords or other landowners should send for their agents and tell them that, as the result. of the failure to derate playing fields, as might have been done if that Bill had been passed, the rent, which in most cases is a mere peppercorn rent, must be increased. Of course the whole idea is preposterous. There is the further case of land that is given gratis for the purpose of playing fields. We find at the present time that land which is being used for that purpose is being frequently assessed at a very high figure.
§ I should like to take a typical case of which I have personal knowledge in the County of Essex, where for sonic fifty years past the free use has been given to the people of a village club of part of a large field as a cricket pitch. Now the assessment committee have suddenly come down and assessed that field, which is agricultural land but which is used for playing field purposes, at £35. Naturally the owner has to consider whether he can afford to continue the permission to use this land as it has been used for so long, though it has contributed to the amenities, the pleasures and the healthy recreation of his neighbours. The effect of circumstances such as these applies not merely to those who own a great deal of land but, in cases that have been brought to my knowledge, to men who own merely a few 336 acres but who consider it their duty, if they can afford it, to allow the user of their land for a playing field.
§ When these assessments are made, I would point out that, the rate being imposed, it is clear that the occupiers in such a case cannot pay it, and therefore it falls upon the landlord himself. I should like to ask why landowners should be penalised for doing what they conceive to be their public duty. It seems to me a monstrous thing that this should be the effect of the effort to reassess land on an equitable basis at the present time. What is the present position in regard to these playing fields up and down the country? Linder the re-assessments that are taking place, in many cases, as I have said, land is being assessed that has not been assessed before, and land that is already subject to rates has been given an enormously increased assessment. The National Playing Fields Association in London has received hundreds of letters from every part of the country asking for advice and help in the position that confronts these clubs.
§ There is another aspect of this subject to which I should like to draw your Lordships attention. I refer to the harassing action that is being taken with regard to land which, strictly speaking, is not assessable to rates at all. I have been told of several cases where trustees of recreation grounds that have been given as War memorials have been assessed to rates during the last twelve or eighteen months. In other cases demands have been made on trustees controlling grounds that have been either given or acquired with great effort on the part of villagers, workpeople and others by subscription or by getting up fêtes or whist drives such as your Lordships are all familiar with. It is idle to say that in these cases their remedy is to appeal. How can these clubs in most instances afford to take the legal advice and technical evidence which it would be necessary to bring up to the Court of Quarter Sessions? The only effect of what is happening is that, after a given time, it will be impossible for such people to carry on.
§ But it is the private sports grounds that are hardest hit. As your Lordships are well aware, these are maintained in many cases by the sustained efforts of the members of these clubs. They have 337 no margin to spare in their resources for coping with the demands that are now being made upon them. These assessments are being put up in the most remarkable manner, and I should like, with your Lordships' leave, to quote a few instances from the many hundreds that are available for those who are interested in the subject. I know of two cases in Yorkshire, one where the previous assessment was £4 10s. and where it is now £16, and another where the assessment was £29 and is now £63. In Sussex a previous assessment of £18 has been increased to £90. In Warwickshire ground assessed at £5 3s. 6d. previously is now assessed at £45. In Essex one ground that was not previously assessed at all is now assessed at £15. From Durham comes a similar instance of ground not previously assessed which is assessed now at £25. Of many cases at Chesterfield I will mention just one, Which I take at random from figures supplied to me. One ground, assessed previously at £16 5s., is now assessed at £28.
§ It is when you conic to Greater London and centres of that sort that the cases are most glaring. There is one case of ground previously assessed at £197 and now assessed at £600. There are two places at Ealing one of which was assessed previously at £28 and is now assessed at £200, and another formerly assessed at £60 and now at £440. The most glaring ease of all is at Greenford, where ground assessed at £37 was in the first instance put up to £745 and, only upon appeal, was reduced to £345. These are merely instances taken from the examples that have been put before me. They are a very few of the many hundreds of cases in which the effect of the re-assessment under present conditions is of a crippling nature. The effect really is that money is being raised in this way at the expense of the provisions for health and recreation that in many cases have been provided with the greatest possible difficulty, either by subscription or through the efforts of those who feel the need of the provision of healthy outdoor exercise.
§ I should like to take a typical case to show how this works out. Take the example of a cricket club having about seventy members and paying a rent of between £30 and £40 a year. The club 338 can be carried on with a subscription of a guinea, which is within the reach of certain clerks and other low-salaried workers. If the rateable value is increased, as it is being increased, the rates alone will probably come to £75 a year. What is the club to do? It must either double the subscription of its members, which they cannot afford, or else after a given period the club must cease to exist. It is true enough, I think, to say that, judging from figures that I have mentioned, assessments have not only been doubled but in several instances have been quadrupled or even multiplied by ten; and if the former assessments were unduly low, the effect of the increase on clubs, unless some relief is given, will be that they will have to give up their tenancies of the ground and bring the clubs to an end.
Among the other letters that I have received with regard to this matter is one from the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers, who are in a position to know what is happening in every part of the country. In the course of that letter the general secretary writes as follows:—
To my own personal knowledge a very considerable number of amateur clubs in London and the provinces (and by no means are these rich men's clubs but rather clubs where the membership is almost wholly composed of working people) are having the very greatest difficulty in continuing in existence, because of the heavy reassessments upon their land. Indeed it seems as if the rating authorities consider it quite proper to rate all such land as if it were, or ought to be, developed for building,
I think that is evidence of what is going on which it is not out of place to quote to your Lordships' House this afternoon. After all, a very considerable number of people are affected by this question, for it is estimated that no fewer than 5,000,000 young men and women make use of these playing fields. The problem of our industrial centres with regard to the provision of open spaces and recreation grounds is one of very great difficulty and complexity, and we realise that we are suffering in many centres owing to the want of foresight of previous generations. Surely we ought at the present time to cater so far as we can for the future, to take long views on this subject, and whether
it be in the direction of town planning or in the direction of encouraging the private playing fields, with which I am particularly concerned this afternoon, I venture to think it is sound policy to encourage in every way the retention of open spaces, with regard to the development that is taking place in building.
§ These assessments are undoing a great deal of the work that has been done by the National Playing Fields Association. It is ludicrous of the Minister to suggest or to imply that that body is out to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, or is a tool, as one might almost gather from what he said, in the hands of the landlords of this country. Noble Lords interested in this matter know too much of the National Playing Fields Association to pay any attention to a suggestion of that sort. I am sure that noble Lords are aware also of the auspices under which the National Playing Fields Association was founded in 1927; and I think everybody is prepared to admit the splendid services that that institution has done to the State—services to every class of the community, but especially to those least able to help themselves in the direction of the provision of playing fields. The Carnegie Trustees, who devoted a very large sum indeed to supporting the movement of the National Association, and the Association itself have granted between them a sum of £110,000 towards the provision of playing fields in different parts of the country but that is no gauge of the value of the work that they have done, nor is the fact that some 550 fresh playing fields have been provided. It is the educative effect of this association and the force of public example which have led in many parts of the country to an awakening on this subject.
§ Some urge that greater use should be made for games of the public parks. I have no doubt that to a certain extent, within a reasonable limit, something can be done in this regard. We know that the Office of Works is keen to help, but it is not every town which has parks like those which are under the ægis of Mr. Lansbury. It really almost looks, after what happened the other day, that what Mr. Lansbury gives with one hand Mr. Greenwood is trying to takeaway with the other. In other places, with smaller parks, there is very little room available 340 for games. After all, the responsibility of municipalities and local authorities is to the population as a whole, and not merely to those who play games. They naturally have not to interfere with the amenities of those places that are available for the older people who do not play games, and surely the more the private playing fields are encouraged the less onus will come on those authorities to provide opportunities for playing games, which are really so necessary at the present time. In the case of the London County Council, they are only in a position to Accede, in the public open spaces, to something like one-third of the applications made to them for cricket and football pitches. Surely it is a mistake, to say the least of it, to discourage people in regard to these private playing fields in the way that Mr. Greenwood is doing, by the action he has taken.
§ I hope I have said enough to show the serious position in which the whole matter stands under present conditions. I am not speaking here as a representative of the National Playing Fields Association, but merely as a member of this House who has taken for a long time very considerable interest in the efforts which are being made to provide playing fields up and down the country. Personally I have no feeling against cinematographs, but I think it would be better to encourage the provision of playing fields, and facilities to help outdoor enjoyment, rather than to do anything to detract from what is or should be available at the present time for those who look for recreation in such centres as those. I think I may say, without much fear of contradiction, that the Attitude of the Minister of Health has filled with dismay the members of thousands of clubs throughout the country—football, tennis and other clubs—who feel that the serious grievance under which they are suffering at the present time has been dismissed in a very cavalier fashion. I have endeavoured to deal with three kinds of playing fields: land placed at disposal of villages without payment; land in the hands of trustees only held and dedicated for recreation purposes; And land occupied by bona fide amateur sports clubs—all providing facilities the value of which to the community is, I venture to say, incalculable. Surely these should be 341 relieved of the burden of rates, which practical experience is showing they are quite unable Lo cope or deal with.
§ I hope that the noble Lord who will reply will be able to give us some assurance that this matter will not continue to be treated by the Socialist Government in the manner in which it has been treated hitherto, and I can only hope, speaking on behalf of those whose attention has been very directly turned to this matter, that some steps will be taken to relieve from this overwhelming burden, as it is proving, those playing fields which are already established, with a view of encouraging an enormous extension of them in the immediate future.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, before the Minister replies I would like to support very strongly the powerful appeal made by my noble friend below me. No one in this House or out of it would under-estimate the enormous importance of providing adequate playing fields for the use of the poorer classes of both sexes in this country. This is a national question; it is not a question of ally class. It is a matter of the widest opportunities of recreation for the benefit of the people of the country. I am sorry to say that I have observed an increased tendency on the part of young men, instead of playing cricket and football themselves, to go in thousands and thousands, perhaps long distances, to watch the play of the gladiators, the great professors, of the game. For my own part I think it is far better for them to play themselves, and for that purpose it is necessary to provide them with adequate playing fields.
I do not suppose that anyone in this House or elsewhere would suggest that there are enough playing fields, either in the towns or in the country, and undoubtedly one cause of the scarcity of these playing fields is the fact that they are highly rated and have to pay rates and taxes upon the areas devoted to this purpose. Why should they pay rates and taxes? Are they not really very much of the nature of a charity? We know that charities do not pay taxes: it appears reasonable to extend the immunity which is granted to charities to institutions of this character. Some might ask whether it is proposed to throw a new burden upon the ratepayers. It 342 is true the rates in some cases are far too great. But let me remind your Lordships of the millions and millions of pounds that are spent every year now in widening old roads and making new ones, to be used as racing tracks, to the great discomfort and, in many cases, to the physical injury, and perhaps death, of the inhabitants. If there is arty difficulty in finding money for playing fields, let the Government devote some of the useless millions spent upon the roads to the far more valuable purpose of exempting these playing fields from rates and taxes.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to add my voice to the appeal that has been made to His Majesty's Government. I have recently been elected to the post of Chairman of the Committee of the National Playing Fields Association, and therefore I am in very close contact with their work. I can assure the noble Lord opposite that we have up till now had the support of all, irrespective of political opinions, and I do not believe for one moment that political opinions will come in. I am therefore not making an appeal as from one side of the House to the other side, but as a man who wants to see playing fields distributed more equally and more universally throughout the country; and I believe that noble Lords opposite, to whom I address this appeal, have equal sympathy with that idea. The National Playing Fields Association in the last few years have received not only sums of money but gifts of land for playing fields, and there can be no doubt whatever that a good many of the playing fields which can now be seen, though in all too small numbers, in various parts of the country, are due to the efforts of that association.
All municipalities in their new town planning schemes are undoubtedly reserving land for this purpose. It is not, however, with the new town planning schemes that we are concerned, but with those older districts, where there was no foresight shown in providing for eventual requirements, and where at present playing fields are almost a negligible quantity. The action of the authorities in assessing the playing fields to rates and taxes is undoubtedly discouraging the efforts of those who are assisting us with grants of land and grants of money. It may, and I think undoubtedly will, prevent us from getting free grants of land which we 343 might otherwise have received. This is not only a matter of the towns. The eloquent appeal of Lord O'Hagan has been made for the towns, but I can assure the noble Lord that playing fields are required in country districts just as much as they are in urban districts. With the advent of the motor car there is at present great danger to children who continue to play about, as they used to do, on broad country roadsides, and it is imperative, especially in places near the big trunk roads where there are schools, to try to provide playing fields. If the present system of assessment is to go on it is quite certain that we shall fail in our efforts, and therefore we ask the Government, as representing the supreme authority, to do everything they possibly can, by meeting the request now made, to aid in a work in which, I am perfectly certain, everyone of them is as keenly interested as any of those who, like myself, are connected with the National Playing Fields Association.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I want to join with the noble Lord who has just spoken in appealing to the Government to reconsider the decision which has been reached in this matter. I am certain that when this decision was arrived at there could have been no idea how hardly this assessment would press upon those who enjoy these playing fields. One of our great needs in the neighbourhood of our large towns is for small spaces for games for the younger men and boys. At present they have to go long distances before they can find any available space for their Saturday afternoon games round London; the playing fields are gradually being pressed right out from the centre to the circumference. Year after year playing fields have to be given up, and, if a new playing field can be found, it is further off, and it makes it much more difficult for the boys in the poorer parts of our towns to reach those fields. At the present time it is extremely difficult to get any new place for recreation when a playing field has been given up, and I am told on good authority that some of the playing fields which are now in existence, and which are having a severe financial struggle, will have to be given up unless the Government succeed in some way or other in modifying the pressure which is brought upon them 344 through this assessment. I am perfectly certain that the Government, realising the facts, will express their sympathy in a most practical way, but I hope they will take action soon before any of these playing fields have actually to be abandoned.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I need hardly say that the health and recreation of our people roust be one of the first cares of a Socialist Government. The examples given by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, of the increased assessments are naturally a matter of great concern. I agree that the National Playing Fields Association has done a great deal in awakening the public conscience to the lack of playing fields, and I am told that it was not at their desire that this question was raised. In view of the fact that my right hon. friend the Minister of Health is meeting that association tomorrow to discuss this very question with them in a sympathetic manner, the moderation of the speeches of noble Lords has been most marked and welcome. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, felt it necessary to attack my right hon. friend the Minister of Health, than whom no Minister of recent years has done more in helping towards public health and the general raising of the standard of the life of our people.
What we must try to do is to find a remedy for the effects of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, an Act which was passed by the last Government and was an extremely valuable and necessary Act in that it attempted to stabilise and equalise the assessments of rates all over the country. It. is perfectly true, of course, that some areas (and I think the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, admitted this) which were underrated previously have now been brought up to the general level throughout the country and that must have resulted in a feeling of dismay among those who have to pay rates on the increased assessments.
Will the noble Lord forgive me for correcting him? I do not think I made any such admission. I said that where that had been the case the effect of what had taken place would knock some of these playing fields out of existence. I do not wish to be misinterpreted.
§ LORD MARLEY
I had no intention of misinterpreting the noble Lord. With regard to the first Question, I am sure the noble Lord is aware that the Minister of Health stated in another place a few days ago that he would ask the Central Valuation Committee to make inquiries on this matter. In response to his request the Committee have obtained, and are obtaining, a great deal of information regarding the assessments in a representative selection of counties and county boroughs. I want to remind your Lordships that the result of the Rating and Valuation Act was to increase assessments all round. The information obtained by the Central Valuation Committee, which I have here, appears to show that in most of the counties and county boroughs concerned the proportionate increase in assessment in the case of playing fields has been less than the general proportionate increase in rateable value—it has been less—which means that, if anything, playing fields are, on the average, in a relatively better position than before the re-valuation as regards their rating liability.
While the noble Lord talked of assessments we most not forget that if assessments go up the rates in the £ go down because the total amount of money to be raised is approximately the same. I am not saying that that is the case in every instance, because there must he instances (we all know that there are instances) in which, while the assessments have gone up, that is, the rateable value has gone up, the rates in the £ have not gone clown sufficiently to show a saving but have left the organisation concerned with an increase. But it does indicate that in some cases local authorities have been well aware of the position with regard to playing fields and have shown sympathetic treatment in dealing with their new assessment by giving them a less high proportionate rise than they have given to other property when they were assessing it.
There is one point that might be put forward as a suggestion in this connection. It is a fact that playing fields in public recreation grounds do not pay any rates. Therefore, if more fields were dedicated to the public there would be no rates to pay on those fields. I would also remind your Lordships of 346 the fact that many rural authorities treat playing fields as agricultural land and, therefore, they are not rated at all.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think I quoted instances where agricultural land used for recreation purposes has had rates put upon it.
§ LORD MARLEY
Only when a charge is made or when it is separated by fences from the rest of the land. When there are no——
§ LORD MARLEY
If I am in error I am extremely sorry and I will certainly enquire into that point further. But I am credibly informed that if there are no fences up between the land used for recreation and the rest of the field then, as a rule, I believe I am right in saying, the land is treated as agricultural land and, therefore, is rot liable for any rates at all. There is one aspect of this case that I do not want to leave out. There is no doubt that in the Home Counties districts the increase in assessment has been much greater, as a rule, than in the rest of the country. I have figures which appear to show that the increase is some-times as much as 100 per cent. as an average in counties near London. There may be explanations for this. For one thing, near London there is tremendous competition for these playing grounds. Then there has been a very great increase in the type of equipment in playing fields. The pavilions are very much more elaborate and the grounds are much more carefully laid out. Anybody going by train out of London will see on either side these very elaborately equipped grounds. The competition alone tends to make the value go up and the rates to rise in consequence. Furthermore, a good many of these grounds are held by wealthy firms, by banks, and great distributing companies who raise the general standard and consequently add to the increase. There is no evidence that in cases like that any of these grounds will be closed despite the fact that those are the grounds where the rise in assessment is emphatically higher than is the case with the rest.
The noble Lord does not contend that that is always the case even in that part of the country where those grounds exist?
§ LORD MARLEY
No, but those are the grounds which raise the average so enormously. Where, we will say, a ground was rated at £300 and is now rated at £1,500, that has a tremendous effect in raising the average rise in rates on all grounds. The Central Valuation Committee has set up a sub-committee to consider all this information and they are going to formulate such recommendations as may be necessary for the guidance of local authorities in valuing and assessing playing fields. I have no doubt that the Central Valuation Committee will be able to get together a body of evidence which will secure an evening up or an evening down of these assessments, and will, I believe, do much to meet the point raised by the noble Lord.
With regard to the second Question, the giving up of many private playing fields, I have already said that such information as we have does not suggest that any serious financial difficulty will follow the new assessments in the majority of eases. Most local authorities have exercised a proper discretion in seeing that the burden is adjusted to the circumstances, and it is a fact that the Department has no evidence whatever of any playing fields being given up owing to this increase in assessment. I am not saying that there are no cases of difficulty, but I do say that this new inquiry by the Central Valuation Committee may help to deal with the particular cases of diffien4 to which reference has been made.
As regards the third Question, the noble Lord is of course aware that a Bill was introduced into the House of Commons for the exemption of playing fields from rating, and it was defeated in Committee. I would remind the House that that Bill was opposed by very important organisations, such as the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils Association, and others. On June 5, the Minister of Health, in replying to a question as to whether he proposed at an early date to introduce legislation to relieve playing fields, gave this statement, which I will read to the House:— 348I have the greatest sympathy with any movement which aims at the provision of playing fields for children and young persons, especially of the working classes, and it is the policy of the Ministry of Health to encourage such provision. There may be a case in some instances for some revision of recent assessments, and this is a matter on which the Central Valuation Committee, who are concerned to promote uniformity of assessment, may be able to make recommendations. But I do not think that complete exemption, which is also claimed for a number of other worthy objects, could be justified, or is the right way of dealing with any anomalies which may be shown to exist.The Minister of Health is of opinion that anomalies in the assessment of playing fields are in the same category as many other anomalies in the assessment of properties, such as hospitals, schools and so on, and should be dealt with in the same way as are those properties.
I have already mentioned that the question as to recommendations is at present being considered by the Central Valuation Committee. If the Committee find that there are anomalies in those assessments, they will no doubt make recommendations for dealing with them, as they have made recommendations for dealing with other anomalies. Such recommendations will carry great weight with local authorities, and, moreover, being published, will be available to persons interested in the revision of the assessments of playing fields. If any organisation in which your Lordships are interested desires to pursue this matter, I may say for the information of your Lordships that the general question will receive a very willing hearing from the Central Valuation Committee, a body which meets very frequently. The subcommittee of that body is meeting on the 17th of this month specially to deal with this subject, and a full meeting takes place on the following day.
Finally, let me say that it must be the unanimous wish of all members of your Lordships' House to find a solution for the difficulties, to increase the number of playing fields, and to increase their close availability to all those who desire to use them, but we must not consider that one solution only must be the right one. Because a Bill is introduced which proposes one solution, it does not follow, if we oppose that solution, that we are opposed to the general question. It means we believe that there may be other 349 and better and more equitable solutions, which we must find. I trust that the answer I have tried to give to the noble Lord will make him realise that the Government are intensely desirous of meeting this difficulty, and I hope that he will be able to withdraw his Motion for Papers.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, the suggestion that has fallen from my noble friend in putting his Questions to the Government is that playing fields, more particularly playing fields used for cricket and football and kindred games, not those used for polo, golf and games of that description, should be exempt from rates—that is to say, the benefits which the Local Government Act of 1929 extended to agriculture should be also extended to these playing fields. The noble Lord opposite has told us that this matter will be dealt with by the Central Valuation Committee. We know that the Central Valuation Committee is a statutory body, and that its duty is to secure uniformity of rating throughout the country. Its business is to recommend uniform methods of rating in regard to certain classes of hereditament. These playing fields are a particular class of hereditament, and I imagine it would be the duty of the Central Valuation Committee to advise as to their method of rating. But, although this Central Valuation Committee is a statutory body, there is no statutory obligation, so far as I know, upon local authorities to accept its recommendation, so it does not seem to me that this is that sovereign remedy which the noble Lord opposite seemed to think it was.
Whatever the Central Valuation Committee recommend, it depends upon the goodwill of the particular local authority as to whether that recommendation shall be accepted or not. If they recommend that the rates shall be reduced to a low figure and the local authorities accept that, no doubt a considerable measure of satisfaction will be given to my noble friend. But suppose they do not. What is to happen? My noble friend conies forward with a practical suggestion. His suggestion is that the benefits of Berating, which have been extended to agriculture, should also be extended to these playing fields. If after the Central Valuation Committee have clone all they can do—and I have 350 no doubt, as the noble Lord opposite said, they will do everything they can, giving a most full and careful consideration to the whole matter—and an appeal has been made to Quarter Sessions, the assessments are still so high that they are crippling these playing fields, then I hope we may obtain some further consideration from the Government. Surely it is not a very serious demand that my noble friend has made. It is not unreasonable. The Local Government Act, 1929, was a very large and comprehensive measure which did a vast deal of good with regard to the derating of agriculture and for industry, and now all that is suggested is that the extension of the same principle should be considered.
My noble friend did not insist on any particular way. All he really asked was that the matter should be gone into, and gone into carefully. We are told that the Minister of Health is going to meet the National Playing Fields Association and hear what they have to say. It seems to me—I have read the debate in the House of Commons—that their representatives there have already said a good deal and therefore the Minister of Health must be very largely in possession of their views. But we have not noticed any desire to meet them as yet. I must say I was impressed, and strongly impressed, by what fell from my noble friend Lord O'Hagan, and by what fell from other noble Lords, notably Lord Derby, in this debate. It seemed to me—I do not know because I have not gone into it very deeply—that they have a very strong ease and my opinion of their case was, I confess, augmented by the somewhat weak reply which fell from the lips of the noble Lord opposite.
My noble friend behind me gave figures. He said that rates had gone up considerably and that clubs had to pay so much more. The noble Lord opposite said that on the general average rates had gone down and clubs had not got to pay much more, but that was taking into consideration playing fields maintained by rich institutions such as banks, and he suggested that if they were evened out clubs had not much to complain of. I do not know that that will bring much comfort to the small people in village clubs. If die people in a small village club are 351 told that the South Western Railway Co.'s assessment has gone up very much and theirs only 10 per cent. of that, I do not think that would help them very much. They would not be very much cheered. I think this is a matter which requires very careful consideration. Here we have a Government who say that they are giving much consideration above all things to the health and welfare of the people, and we have seen the advantages and the blessings of the Lido transferred from Venice to the Serpentine. When we have a Government who tell us these things and who have carried out these performances, I think we are entitled to hope that they will do something to remedy this state of affairs. It is not really a very considerable matter. It cannot really mean a very heavy charge.
What we have to consider is the position of the small playing fields in urban districts, not in large places like London but in smoky industrial districts where it is difficult to get out into the country. In those districts the maintenance of those playing fields is of the utmost importance. I would like to remind your Lordships of one thing. I never thought that I should be standing in this House saying anything in favour of the Budget of 1909, but I do remember that when Mr. Lloyd George introduced his Budget in 1909 he exempted from his land values taxation playing fields such as those described by my noble friend behind me. Possibly in everything there may be some good, and it may be that in that very disastrous measure this particular point is one which I could recommend for imitation. I do not think I need say more. We are told we are to rely upon the Central Valuation Committee and see what they will give us. We are told that the Minister of Health is going to meet the National Playing Fields Committee and that he is sympathetic. We are told that there are other measures—they are not specified—and that at some remote date, or at not a very near date, proposals will be made.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, with the general purpose of the Motion I believe the whole of your Lordships' House will be unanimously in agreement. It is a definite effort to encourage what everybody desires to see—an improvement in the opportunities for poorer people to 352 have playing fields placed at their disposal. The noble Lord opposite does not deny that. He even gives to this Motion a kind of general benevolent acceptance. But he declined absolutely to accept the definite proposal that has been put forward, and he did so, as far as I can see, upon two grounds and two grounds alone.
The first is that he says it does not follow that any particular solution of the difficulty should be accepted, that there may be others and that you ought to hesitate before you accede to any particular one. I should at once assent to the reason of that answer if the other proposals were disclosed, but when there is no other solution put forward at all, and so far as I can see no prospect of any other solution, I find it difficult to see why the definite solution which has been discussed and is obviously reasonable should not be accepted. The next thing is this: he says it is an anomaly. "Anomaly" is one of those convenient words often used to cover a definite injustice. It means, as far as I know, something that is not in accordance with the ordinary law. I doubt if it is that, but at any rate it is something that ought not to be continued. Nobody would say an anomaly ought to be perpetuated. He then says: "Just think of the other anomalies that we have, hospitals and schools !" They are all equally anomalies and therefore you should do nothing at all! I should be glad to know whether he proposes some kind of omnibus Bill which is going to remove the anomalous situation of all these institutions. If not, the suggestion that because you have what is euphemistically called an anomaly here you ought to do nothing because there are anomalies elsewhere, appears to be the sort of argument that would prevent one being able to accomplish or achieve anything at all. I therefore hope the Motion will be pressed.
My Lords, I am bound to say I am gratified by the course that this debate has taken. I am glad to hear from the noble Lord opposite that the Minister of Health, in spite of the action taken the other day, does take an interest in, and wishes to encourage the provision of, playing fields. I can only hope that the action 'which may be taken now may be more in accordance with that sympathy than the action 353 which he took in another place. I am bound to say that I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said with regard to the character of the reply which I have been given. I am very glad that we have had the expression of opinion given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. I do not think that the noble Lord opposite realises that this is a matter of urgency.
The noble Lord said—if I quote him rightly, and I hope that I am doing so—that his Department has no evidence that the closing of these playing fields was likely to take place. I would venture to remind the noble. Lord of some of the facts that I have told him myself and I would venture to remind him of what the right rev. Prelate said to him this afternoon. That is some evidence. I do not pretend that my evidence is worth anything of itself, but I have had access to practical evidence on this matter and I am convinced—as I think anybody else would be who had access to what is available to members of the National Playing Fields Association in London—that the danger which I have ventured to indicate this afternoon is a very real one. I am very glad to hear of the consultations and inquiries that are being made by the Central Valuation Committee, and I can only hope that something will result from them. It is true that most of the figures that I quoted were those of assessments, but I would remind the noble Lord that in some cases those figures were increased tenfold. Does the noble Lord seriously ask me to believe that under those conditions the actual charge to be paid by the club in question will be less than it is at the present time? With regard to the noble Lord's comment on the figures as coming from the Home Counties, what he says is, no doubt, perfectly true, but, though I did not quote them, I have here a number of figures from all parts of the country—Cheshire, Cornwall, Devonshire, Dorset, Bristol and so on. I think this should be borne in mind in considering this question.
The noble Lord talks of the levelling up or down of assessments. If that has the result of lowering the actual charge with which these clubs are confronted at the present time, we shall naturally welcome it. I can only hope that this will be the effect of the action that is pro- 354 posed. The noble Lord says that, if any organisation wished to pursue this subject, they would have opportunities of doing so. I can only assure the noble Lord that so far as the National Playing Fields Association are concerned, though I am not speaking here as their representative, as I hope I made clear, yet from what I know of their executive, on which I happen to sit in London, they certainly will see to it that this matter is not lost sight of and that, so far as they are able to do anything at all in the matter, something shall be done to save these clubs. Let me add how glad I was to hear the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, in regard to the proposal that has been put forward in another place, to which I made considerable allusion, in regard to derating. When a noble Lord of his authority and legal knowledge tells us that this is obviously a reasonable Bill, I think that we of the National Playing Fields Association have good reason to congratulate ourselves.
I do not wish to prolong this discussion. I feel that, as things are, we cannot expect very much more, after what happened in another place, from the Minister of Health. I can only hope that the interest that we are assured that the Socialist Party feel in all these questions will result in action and not merely in expressions of sympathy. With the best will in the world, we are a little sceptical when things happen such as happened in another place. I can only say in conclusion that I am disappointed with the reply which has been given to me. I am thankful for the small mercies that have been extended, but I am bound to say that the reply was a very evasive one. I can only thank the noble Lord for such assurances as he has given us, but I am quite sure that members of these clubs up and down the country, north, south, east and west, who see themselves confronted with these difficulties at the present time, will be very disappointed with the Minister responsible in these matters if nothing is actually done and if the whole thing fizzles out in sympathetic expressions. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.