HL Deb 27 October 1953 vol 183 cc1396-413

LORD LUKE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that in the new towns playgrounds and playing fields are being provided ready for the use of the new population as they arrive; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful that time has been found to include the debate on this Motion in the present Session. I put down this Motion on the subject of recreational facilities in the new towns in the hope that we may be able to clear the issue between the development corporations and the local authorities who will ultimately be responsible for playing fields and playgrounds in their new areas. It is common knowledge, or should be, that these new towns, at any rate on paper, should be models for new communities. On paper, everything is provided for: there is housing accommodation, factories, shops, churches, cinemas, open spaces for recreation, and community centres—the list is a very long one. All the plans are agreed and the new towns themselves are taking shape; the buildings are making progress, and the people have begun to arrive. A great deal of money has been spent and will, of course, continue to be spent until these townships have been completed.

The financing of the development of the open spaces which have been provided, so as to make them suitable for games and recreation, is, I feel, causing some concern. It is recognised that these are open spaces; but green blobs on maps do not automatically become first-class grounds for recreational activities. In many cases they need levelling, draining, seeding down with grass and maintenance. But, unlike factories and houses, the financial return on the capital expended is hard to assess in pounds, shillings and pence, though there is an indirect return through rates and taxes and from fees payable by clubs and organisations which wish to use the fields when they are completed. I say that the return is indirect because, as regards rates, there can be an increase in the value of a dwelling to the occupant because recreational facilities are readily at hand for the family, and, as regards taxes, because healthy recreation increases earning capacity. But I am afraid that these amenities are rather low in priority when it comes to finance. At the same time, I think, and I hope your Lordships will agree, that adequate playgrounds and playing fields are vital for growing populations: they are vital as places on which young people may spend their leisure hours, and they are vital especially for keeping young people off the roads. Those considerations do not, of course, stop at new towns.

I would not wish your Lordships to think that nothing is being done in this matter, because already progress is being made by the development corporations and by the local authorities in the different areas in which these new towns are situated. But I would suggest to your Lordships that progress would be much quicker if the relative responsibilities of the corporations and the local authorities concerned were clarified. Perhaps the answer I shall receive is that they are already defined, and that these responsibilities lie with the local authority. But I think there is a point here, owing to the peculiar position of the new towns. A new town is not a local authority undertaking. Those who undertake to put it in commission, as it were, are the development corporations appointed and financed by the Government and responsible for creating a new town, later to be handed over to the local authority on terms to be approved by Parliament. A new town will obviously be deficient unless recreational facilities are provided in step with the incoming population. It is therefore the clear duty of a development corporation so to provide them, and the relative responsibilities of the corporation and the local authority, which in many cases will be newly created, can be settled when the hand-over takes place.

There is a point here on the land transactions between development corporations and the local authorities. It would be of advantage if the local authorities could purchase the land for their playing fields on reasonably favourable terms. After all, local authorities cannot be expected to pay a high figure for land for this purpose and then be expected to bear the cost of maintaining it. As a result of a conference held last April to discuss this aspect, the basis of valuation hitherto adopted has, I understand, been withdrawn, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Circular No. 41/53, which generally deals with the terms of local authorities' land transactions, specifically excludes transactions relating to land of development corporations which, in the words of the Circular, "have given rise to a number of special difficulties," and the Ministry now propose to deal with this matter separately. The previous basis for transactions in respect of playing fields and open spaces was one-quarter of the housing value for any particular land. I do not know whether the noble Lord who is going to reply can tell your Lordships what new basis is proposed. For instance, Harlow Development Corporation at some time estimated their housing-land value at £3,000 per acre—and development costs are increasing. If this figure is accepted, then the local authority, on the previous basis, will be required to pay £750 per acre for land for playing fields, and they are not prepared to do so, although here, as a temporary measure and in an endeavour to alleviate the position, the council are undertaking certain maintenance, but no capital expenditure, in the hope of an early settlement of the basis upon which they may acquire the land.

Another aspect of finance for playing fields, which affects other communities all over the country as well as the new towns, is the withdrawal of grants by the Minister of Education for the development of playing fields and playgrounds. This has been a serious blow to progress with much needed amenities, and if it were not for the assistance (I hope the noble Lord will forgive my mentioning this) of the National Playing Fields Association, which is giving grants from its comparatively meagre resources—all voluntary funds—there would be practically no progress at all, except in the larger urban areas who are doing all the financing themselves. I apologise once again for bringing that particular aspect in; I know it is a larger aspect than is the matter for this debate—it might possibly form the subject of another debate—but it does inevitably affect progress in the new towns.

Would it not be possible for playing fields in the new towns to be the subject of special consideration in the form of grants, either under the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, or Section 12 (2) of the New Towns Act, 1946? I am aware of the possibility of assistance under Section 11 of the 1946 Act, but why not recognise the playing fields issue as a general problem in new towns, and, by means of an out-and-out grant and low purchase price, make it possible for local authorities to get on with this necessary provision? These matters have been outstanding for a long time, and I see from a leader in the December, 1952, issue of New Towns News—which is published by the District Councils (New Towns) Association—that local authorities were at that time far from satisfied with the position. I can assure your Lordships that I know only too well what encouragement promises of grants for recreational facilities have on local communities who are eager for their amenities, and who become enthusiastic in endeavouring to raise from voluntary sources the balance of money required.

I am also aware of the Exchequer position at the present time and the difficulty it has in allocating the moneys at its disposal. But it is, of course, indicative of the low priority given to recreational facilities that the grants for this purpose were the first to go when any cuts were made. Is it too much to hope that the priority for this purpose, especially in the new towns, may be raised so that the grants may be reinstated ahead of others? It has been suggested to me that there might be an improvement in matters if the grant-aiding powers for recreational facilities were transferred from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. This might have the effect of speeding up administration. But I do not know whether the Exchequer regards the Ministry of Housing and Local Government any more favourably than the Ministry of Education. Last year I tried to suggest to the Minister of Education that these cuts could be put back, but I am afraid I did not get much change.

In some new towns new local factories are being urged to develop their private grounds, but this does not really make provision for the general public. I pre- sume that the development corporations are driven to this expedient because the Treasury will not let them provide the playing fields that they ought to provide. At a conference held on October 10 last, called by the Town and Country Planning Association, a resolution was passed asking the Minister to receive a small deputation to consider the matters referred to at the conference, and to discuss ways and means by which the building programme in the new towns may become more satisfactory from the social standpoint. I hope the Minister will receive this deputation and that progress can be made. I have kept my remarks as short as possible. I have not given details of progress, or lack of it, in the new towns, although I have them available. I feel that at the moment the attitude seems to be that these things can wait and take their chance, and I think that is wrong. At a time when every endeavour on the part of the public and local authorities elsewhere to make up arrears of playing fields in older communities is making headway in spite of the Treasury's damping of their ardour, we surely cannot let the new towns develop lopsidedly and leave out one of their most vital component parts. I beg to move for Papers.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House fully support the Motion and associate ourselves wholeheartedly with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Luke. He has left me little to add to the case which he has made. The noble Lord is quite right when he says that the plans for the new towns provide for an adequate amount of playing fields—indeed, in the designation which preceded the making of the plan, the playing field requirements were fully taken into account. There has been some criticism of the amount of land which has been designated for the new towns. There have been attempts to encourage a higher density of development. But the justification at the time when the designations were made was that ample provision had to be made for playing fields. Furthermore, in the plans that have been made, based on the area of designation, there is ample space. Unfortunately, far too often that is where the plans have stopped: and young people cannot play on a space marked out on a plan. The difficulty, as we all know, has been that the Treasury have laid it down that acquisition of land is not to take place ahead of requirements, and unfortunately they have not yet been persuaded that playing fields are part of the requirements of a new town. Even on that general principle, one can accept the fact that all the playing fields are not required at the beginning, and if only the Treasury would permit the acquisition of land pari passu with the development of the town, so that when half the town has ban completed then half the playing fields would have been acquired, then I think there would be no reasonable criticism. The fact is that in far too few cases have the Treasury been willing to permit the acquisition of land for this purpose, and consequently it has not been possible to go further with the laying out of over playing fields.

In those cases where land has been acquired, the next difficulty has been the question of responsibility for the laying out of the land. Then there has been a good deal of what is vulgarly known as "passing the buck." The local authorities in whose area the playing fields are situated have power to spend money in order to lay out the playing fields, but they have received little or no encouragement, because if they do spend any money they have to do it entirely out of their own funds, since they receive no Exchequer grant towards it. The development corporations have, theoretically, the power to spend money on the laying out of playing fields, but they have to obtain the approval of the Treasury, and that is equally difficult. The National Playing Fields Association have been exceedingly generous, but their budget is a restricted one, and, after all, this is a matter which should not depend upon private effort: this is a national effort. We regard the problem of the young person, and the need to provide him and her with adequate recreation, as one having a high priority. Everyone pays lip service to that, but we do not seem to be prepared to pay money. It is, after all, only a question of money. The noble Lord has rendered a great service in raising this matter this afternoon. It is a pity that there are only three speakers on the paper on this subject, where we are dealing with the welfare of young people, whereas on the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Bill, which we all supported unanimously, there were eight. I hope that that is not representative of the interest taken in those two subjects. I feel that the words which have been uttered by the noble Lord in moving this Motion will somehow find their way to the Treasury. I hope that before long the doors will be lifted a little, so that it will be possible both to acquire more land for the purpose of playing fields and to encourage local authorities or the local development corporation to spend more money in laying out the land.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, said that it was difficult to estimate, in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, the return on this expenditure. It is difficult, my Lords, but it is not impossible. If we were to make a calculation of what we should save in the prevention of crime and of ill-health, with its burden on the hospitals and medical services, we should find that every penny spent on playing fields would provide us with ample financial return. I do not think that any of us wants to make that financial calculation—that is not the basis of the demand for more playing fields. The basis of that demand is to give our young people a healthier, happier and fuller life. So many of our young people, especially those who are now going into the new towns, have not had the opportunity of living a fuller life. They have come from the slum and congested areas of London and other big cities, and if we can give them an opportunity of a better life than they have had hitherto, we ought not to grudge the relatively small expenditure involved. For these reasons I hope that it will be possible in the near future to make much greater progress in the provision of playing fields in new towns than we have made hitherto.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I feel almost apologetic for intervening in this debate. My justification is that I wish to say a few words to voice the claims of a very small section of the community who might otherwise be over-looked. Both speakers have stressed the great importance of making provision for these open spaces and playing fields for the enjoyment of the young—and I am grateful to them for having done so. But I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the need for making provision for some older people; and I refer specifically to the blind.

Nearly 80 per cent. of the blind in this country are over the age of fifty. These older folk, as well as the young blind, are, as a rule, debarred from participating in the amenities provided in the form of playing fields. If the development corporations would bear in mind the need which these people have for recreation in the open air they would be rendering a great service tothe blind, and would be making their lot considerably easier. The development corporations should, in my opinion, envisage the need for considering the demands of the blind—although they will not have direct responsibility for them, since it is, of course, the duty of the local authority to provide for them. But if, at the outset, while they are making their plans, they will bear in mind that this need does exist for a large number of people, they will make matters very much easier for the local authorities the moment they take over. I will not detain your Lordships with details as to exactly what should be provided, and what could be done fairly cheaply and reasonably. The noble Lord who will be answering for the Government would satisfy me perfectly if he would undertake at least to bring the need which I am now expressing to the notice of the authorities and obtain from them a promise that they will at least take into consideration the few remarks I have made.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a few words to what the noble Lord, Lord Luke, has said. I am glad that he has brought this Motion forward, for he speaks with great authority on these matters—as great an authority as anyone in the country. One point which he mentioned was the question of factory playing fields. It is surely very important that a factory should have easily accessible playing fields, and that they should not be, as it were, thrown in with the general playing fields provided for the community as a whole: they should be handy to the factory. I am not certain, looking at the plans, whether provision has been made in the layout of factories for playing fields for the specific use of the people working there, or whether they are just left to get hold of apiece of land if they can find one handy.

Then there is the question of the difference between open spaces and playing fields. That question sometimes causes some confusion. Both open spaces and playing fields are, of course, necessary. There should be open spaces where people can lie on the grass on a sunny day during the lunch-hour, without being troubled by other people kicking a football about; and there should be playing fields where people can indulge in such games. The value of a playing field depends very much upon expert layout. A comparatively small field, expertly laid out by people who know their job, can be more useful than a large field in which much ground is wasted. No one knows that better than Lord Luke. Above all, I feel that, in these days of motor accidents, when the casualty figures are going up and up, and children are being killed daily on our roads, it is essential that these new communities should start with plenty of room, so that there is no excuse for children to play elsewhere than in the playing fields. Children have got to play somewhere—and so have adults. Therefore I earnestly support Lord Luke's Motion, and I hope that it will melt the heart of the Treasury.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I join with other noble Lords who have spoken in this short but interesting debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for having placed his Motion on the Order Paper. Nobody can speak with greater authority or more knowledge of this subject than Lord Luke. He referred very modestly to his own position as Chairman of the National Playing Fields Association. He is, I know, intimately acquainted with the needs of the whole country in this connection; and his Association, with voluntary funds at its disposal, has rendered very great service. The noble Lord referred to the Association's contributions as being "meagre." Perhaps in relation to the needs of the country as assessed by his enthusiasts—and a very high ideal is their aim—they are not very large. If I have read aright the Report of the Association for 1952, the resources and, more important, the grants are on a very generous scale indeed. Grants for 1952 from the noble Lord's Association were, I think, about £37,000; for 1953 they were in the neighbourhood of £60,000, for, I think, about 400 different projects.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord for the sympathetic and understanding way in which he has dealt with this matter. He is as aware as I am of tine financial difficulties which lie at the root of the whole problem and which prevent the provision of so many amenities. If the noble Lord has any suggestion to make, I can assure him that it will receive my right honourable friend's careful consideration. I should also like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, whose particular point I am certain was received with great sympathy by the House, that his very special considerations will also be taken into account. I must confess that the point he raised was one to which hitherto I personally had not given consideration, but I now recognise this very peculiar and difficult problem. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his helpful remarks, took me back to the speech he made, I think some six months ago, when we had that most interesting debate that he himself initiated on the subject of the new towns generally. I remember his words when he talked about the importance of providing that people should find their employment, their recreation, their social activities, indeed their whole life, within the new town itself. That was the wording used by the noble Lord in the debate on this subject which I attempted to answer some six months ago. Nothing at all divides us on this matter. We are at one in realising the urgent necessity of building up this balanced picture, and of making certain that these playing fields have their full and proper part in that picture. The only thing that divides us, unfortunately, is the question of capital expenditure, though I have a sneaking suspicion that if the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, were speaking from this Dispatch Box instead, of from where lie did this afternoon, he would find himself confronted with exactly the same problems as those with which my right honourable friend finds himself confronted to-day.

There is one point I should like to make in reference to the actual wording of the Motion. If I have read it correctly, the terms of the Motion imply that our aims should be to provide these playing fields even before the new residents arrive in the town, so that they will be ready and waiting for immediate use as and when the families arrive to occupy houses and take up their employment. I believe that no Government, even on the crest of financial prosperity, as we naturally hope this Government will very soon be, would be wise in providing from national funds ready-made Facilities available for a population before it has arrived. Surely, it is for the people of the towns themselves to determine what they want and if, through their own voluntary effort, or through their elected representatives on the local authority, they have some share in the design, the initiation and the responsibility, they will not only secure what they want but will experience the satisfaction of having had a share in its creation. I should have thought the National Playing Fields Association rather hinted their agreement with this view by making their grants only when they are satisfied that playing fields are to be permanently established and that their future maintenance is assured. This usually means that they are being developed or taken over by a local authority. Here, I should like to add this point which my noble friend Lord Carrington, the Under-Secretary for Agriculture, has asked me to make. Much of the land reserved for playing fields in the new towns is at present, of course, in agricultural use, and the corporations, in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, endeavour to retain such land in production until it is actually needed for development.

The next point I should like to mention is a point which has been made by both the noble Lord, Lord Luke, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin: that is, this question of the plan itself, the master plan. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out, I think quite fairly, that one cannot expect children to play football on a green patch on a map: that a playing field on paper is a very different thing from a playing field on the ground. Whilst the noble Lord was making that remark, he sent my mind back to a conference that I once attended during the war, when a French general, with more optimism than knowledge of the facts, gave a wide and sweeping picture of the plans which he suggested we should immediately put into effect. My own general listened to him quietly for sometime and finally said: "Très bon, mon général; très bon sur papier." That is an easy accusation to level, that plans are very good on paper; but, if they do not exist on paper in the first place, we should obviously have chaos and confusion. The master plan must contain the provision for these playing fields. Nobody in his right mind would suggest that the master plan alone is adequate to produce the playing fields in due course for the children to play on. I have never been over-enthusiastic about planning merely for the sake of planning. Another point I should like to mention is that you would get nowhere if the original plan did not show that green blob.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, generously recognises that a good deal has been done by both the development corporations and the local authorities. Perhaps I might give your Lordships one or two short facts and figures to show that something has been done and that good progress is being made. About 225 acres of land for playing fields have been acquired by development corporations: some of it is laid out and in use, while the rest of it is now in the course of being laid out. During the same period, forty acres have been added by local authorities. The total of these new playing fields—that is, 265 acres—corresponds to the new population in these towns of approximately 45,000 people. If I have done my sums correctly, that works out at about six acres per 1,000 population. That compares very favourably with all the plans that I have seen. I think it is something—at any rate a start, something of which we can be justly proud.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton. spoke about private playing fields. Of course, private playing fields will and must be provided by industrialists for their workpeople, and by private clubs for their members. Naturally, they are not available to the general public, although in many cases in the new towns institutions and firms have been most generous in lending their well-laid-out playing fields for use by the public until the public have their own playing fields available. But I would point out that those private playing fields are a very necessary contribution to the health and general well-being of the towns and do provide facilities for no inconsiderable proportion of the inhabitants. I do not think it is generally realised that the development corporations are able, with my right honourable friend's approval, which is readily given, to provide and lay out playing fields for private use—for example, by industrialists or private clubs and associations—at an economic rent covering the cost of land acquisition, layout and overheads, though I think there is much to be said for encouraging these firms and organisations to undertake the work themselves. As I have said, a good deal of this work has already been carried out.

Now, I should like to turn to this vexed question of responsibility. The provision of public playing fields and open spaces has normally been undertaken by the local authorities, who have statutory powers to do this and who, of course, collect the rate income from which it should be financed. The Physical Training and Recreation Act, to which more than one noble Lord has referred, empowers my right honourable friend the Minister of Education to make a grant towards the capital cost of playing fields, and this can be supplemented by grants from the local authorities. It has never been the intention of the present Government or, so far as I know, of their predecessor, that development corporations should take over the responsibility of local authorities in the new town areas, or that the Exchequer should subsidise expenditure on services which ought properly to be borne by the rates. Section 11 of the New Towns Act, 1946, allows the corporations to assist these authorities financially if the carrying out of their functions in new towns would place too heavy a burden upon them. One can well foresee circumstances in which that can happen, but it was always envisaged that the development would rest primarily upon the local authority.

May I now say a word about this Ministry of Education grant, which is, of course, wrapped up with the immediate financial difficulties. Owing to capital investment and general financial problems, of which the House are only too painfully aware, the Ministry of Education are, and have been for some time, unable to pay any grants towards the provision or development of playing fields, except (and this is a very big exception which I will develop in a moment) in so far as they are provided for new schools. Local authorities willing to undertake their responsibilities for public playing fields are faced, therefore, with the unpleasant prospect of having to shoulder the whole cost, with such help as they can get from the corporations. The special need for the resumption of grant aid in respect of playing fields in the new towns has been most sympathetically considered, but my right honourable friend the Minister of Education has to bear in mind that this kind of need is urgent not only in the areas of the new towns but in many other parts of the country.

My right honourable friend is only too fully aware of all the difficulties and points that noble Lords have raised this afternoon, and all the arguments for and against. But let me emphasise once again this one big exception. Where a local education authority provides a new school in a new town, and there are a number of such schools, the Minister of Education's ban on the development of playing fields does not apply. I do not think that is fully realised. Nor do I think it is fully realised that about eighty-six primary and secondary schools in the new towns are in the Ministry of Education building programmes for the next two to three years, and about twenty-six of these will be secondary schools with substantial playing fields, ranging up to twenty acres. The rest will be primary schools which do not have playing fields, but do have playgrounds, which, of course, are a vast improvement on the gutters and the back streets of the towns from which we hope these children will be coming. I thought it right to emphasise this exception because it is fair to say that this puts quite a different complexion on the policy of the Ministry of Education, when one realises what a contribution these schools will be making to playing field accommodation in the new towns.

My Lords, I am afraid Her Majesty's Government cannot go so far as to accept the principles which are so strongly advocated by the National Playing Fields Association in their last Annual Report, that the development corporations, which, after all, are financed by national funds, should provide everything necessary for the new towns, including playing fields, and hand them over to a local authority when the whole is complete, on terms then to be agreed or fixed by Parliament. It seems to us that free enterprise, the local authorities and statutory undertakers, such as for gas, electricity and so on, have always been expected to take their part. Houses and industry, of course, had to come first, and amenities as soon as resources were available. The co-operation of all authorities concerned, each within its proper sphere of responsibility, is essential, and it is no real help to the other interested authorities to foster for a moment the idea that everything is to be done by the corporations alone out of national funds.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has told all the new town development corporations that the fundamental responsibility for the provision of playing fields rests with the local authorities, and he has asked the corporations to work in the closest possible co-operation with them, as, of course, they are very ready to do. Briefly, the policy can be summarised by saying that the provision is a matter for the local authorities; but if they are unable to make it and the need is urgent, the corporations can provide the land and lay it out for use to the minimum standard necessary. We expect that in all cases the local authority will take over playing fields at a figure reasonable in all the circumstances and will be responsible for the maintenance costs. In appropriate cases, in order to facilitate agreement the development corporations are able to make a contribution towards the cost of providing playing fields under their powers in Section 11 of the New Towns Act, which I have just been discussing, and the Minister of Housing and Local Government will approve such arrangements so far as he is financially able to do. My noble friend Lord Luke referred to the question of the one-quarter-housing value. As he rightly said, the old basis of disposal of land for playing fields by development corporations to local authorities was at one quarter of housing value. That basis has been withdrawn. I am afraid I can tell the noble Lord only this: that a new basis is in course of negotiation between my right honourable friend the Minister, the local authority associations, and the development corporations, and I hope that the new formula will soon be in operation.

If I may sum up this interesting and rather difficult subject, I must say at once that no promise can be made that the new towns can have special consideration by way of grants under the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937. I should be holding out very false hopes if I said anything to the contrary. No doubt the National Playing Fields Association itself is aware of claims outside the new towns which are no less strong from the point of view of local need. So far as that Act and the Education Act are concerned, the only possible answer I can give at this juncture is, I am afraid, that the representations made by the noble Lord on behalf of the new towns will be given their proper place amongst the other representations from other claimants whose claims have not been advanced to-day but which may be equally good. Nor can I really agree that there would be any financial advantage in transferring the powers of administration of the 1937 Act to another Ministry. As to the assistance available under the New Towns Act, 1946, I think I have already mentioned the powers of the development corporations to make contributions under Section 11. These are contributions by the corporations out of moneys advanced to and repayable by them. They are not grants to the corporations under Section 12 of the New Towns Act. Such grants cannot be made in respect of capital expenditure, and, even if they could, there would be no advantage that I can see to the national finances to make them instead of grants under the Physical Training and Recreation Act.

My Lords, there is no easy and ready-made solution to meet this fully-recognised need for playing fields. The land is being reserved, and will be kept available at the right places and at the right time. It seems to me that the local associations and the local authorities must now do their part as best they can. Let them go to the development corporations and work out an agreed programme of development with realistic estimates of what financial provision they can make from their growing membership and their increasing rate resources. The corporations can then place before my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government their own proposals for dealing with the situation, and he will go as far as he is able, within the resources at his disposal, to ensure that there is a steady progress in the provision of playing fields. The rate of progress and the prospects of the resumption of grants in aid are matters on which I am afraid I can add nothing useful on this occasion.

Let me conclude by saying this. The need for playing fields is fully realised by the Government. Every point that has been made by the noble Lords who have spoken to-day seems to me to be a point to which, on that score, no exception could be taken. They, in their turn, I am quite certain, appreciate the financial difficulty; they appreciate also the claims of other bodies. I do not pretend for one moment that all has gone well. I do not pretend that, in one or two cases, there is not a good deal of justification for Lord Silkin's accusation about "passing the buck." I have, I hope, given some indication of the way in which Her Majesty's Government think the procedure should work, and if there are any specific cases which noble Lords have in mind where they think that delay or "buck passing" has taken place, I shall be only too happy to consider them. I am sorry to end on this rather depressing note of being unable to hold out any very great prospects to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, about meeting the demands which he has so reasonably made. All I can say is that the need for meeting these demands is realised by nobody more readily than by my right honourable friend the Minister, and, with the possible exception of myself, there will be nobody more happy than he when those demands can be met.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for the trouble which he has taken to deal with my Motion and the detail which he has given in his reply. I can assure him that I shall study what he has said very carefully in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am glad that Lord Mancroft himself admitted that his statement was not very satisfactory. I did not think it so either. However, I am glad that this debate has taken place, and I should like to thank those noble Lords who took the hint from Lord Silkin when he suggested that there were not enough noble Lords taking part in this debate as compared with the number who took part in the previous one. I am most grateful for their support. I will not now reply to any special point which Lord Mancroft made, but will only say once more, "Thank you." I am glad that a new basis for the disposal of land is under negotiation, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.