HL Deb 24 June 1958 vol 210 cc166-76

9. Expenditure incurred by local authorities within the meaning of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, in the provision, or in aiding the provision, of facilities for physical training and recreation, including the provision and equipment of gymnasiums, playing fields, swimming baths, bathing places, holiday camps and camping sites, and other buildings and premises for physical training and recreation, and in respect of the training and supply of teachers and leaders.

7.40 p.m.

VISCOUNT HAILSHAM moved to add to paragraph 7: so however that nothing in this Act shall affect the payment of the grants authorised by section three of the Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Act, 1950, in respect of expenses incurred for the purposes of police forces.

The noble and learned Viscount said: This is one of three linked Amendments which are necessary to give effect to the intention, already known, of preserving the police grant in respect of expenditure on providing and maintaining vehicles and equipment used by police forces in enforcing the law relating to road traffic. This forms part of police expenditure, and accordingly should, as I hope your Lordships will accept, as with other types of police expenditure, continue to attract the specific Exchequer grant towards police services. This particular expenditure also attracts at present a grant from the Ministry of Transport under Section 57 (4) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930 (as amended by Section 4 of the Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Act, 1955), and this latter grant is to be superseded by the general grant; expenditure of this type is therefore made "relevant expenditure" by paragraph 7 of Part I of the First Schedule.

The three linked Amendments are necessary because the general grant is expressed by Clause 1 in its present form to be "in lieu of grants paid or payable" in respect of relevant expenditure, and this would have the unintended effect of replacing the police grant on this part of police expenditure as well as the separate Ministry of Transport grant. This Amendment has the effect of securing that the general grant shall be in lieu of grants in respect of relevant expenditure, save as provided in Part I of the First Schedule. We then amend paragraph 7 of Part I of the First Schedule to provide that the inclusion of motor-patrol expenditure as "relevant expenditure" is not to affect the payment of police grant. With that explanation, I hope that the House will accept these three Amendments.

Amendment moved— Page 47, line 45, at end insert (" so however that nothing in this Act shall affect the payment of the grants authorised by section three of the Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Act, 1950, in respect of expenses incurred for the purposes of police forces. ")—(Viscount Hailsham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD LUKE moved to omit paragraph 9. The noble Lord said: I put this Amendment down in order to emphasise the national, as opposed to the local, nature of the provision for recreational facilities. In another place the Minister, in reply to an Amendment of the same sort, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, April 17, 1958 (Standing Committee D), col. 1379]: I beg the Committee not to accept the argument that a local authority will never do anything unless it receives a specific Exchequer grant for that purpose. We never imagine in ordinary life that that is the case. No one ever maintains that local authorities will not provide libraries, street lighting or refuse collection because there is no specific grant. Yet it is being argued that local authorities will fail to do their duty with regard to parks and open spaces if they do not receive a specific grant. Well, I think this is a question of priorities for local expenditure. I am sorry the Minister thought fit to bracket, as it were, refuse collection with playing fields. But if one might take street lighting or refuse collection as an example, there is an immediate reaction by the public, through complaints, if lighting or refuse collection is deficient.

Recreation has a rather low priority in the scheme of things. Spaces for recreation are, I would say, in a very different category. They have much longer effects. In fact, you have to look almost generations ahead to see the effect of open spaces and the use of them for recreation, and the benefit from them is indefinable and indeterminate. I would not say that this was a question of local authorities failing in their duty; but it is a question of special assistance to local authorities to raise the priority of this type of amenity as a national policy—a question of special assistance as an incentive to proceed and to take some action. I again quote the Minister. He said in another place [Col. 1380]: There is the additional argument that those who benefit from a new park or open space in the main live in the neighbourhood. There does not seem to be any particularly cogent argument why the nation as a whole should be called upon to make a specific contribution towards a new open space which unquestionably will be visited almost entirely by those who live within a mile or two miles of it. It is, therefore, a natural discretionary decision for the local authority, whether or not the people of that area are willing to pay the additional cost to get the additional amenity.

Perhaps I might reply to that. I do not know whether I have any cogent arguments. It is, of course, more usual for local open spaces to be used by local people, but I would emphasise that it is by no means universal. I can call your Lordships' attention to all sorts of cases where running tracks, for instance, are used by people a great many miles away, and there has been some effort to provide more of these. On one occasion I was at the site of a running track and I asked where the nearest one to that was, and I was told it was a hundred miles away. People go great distances to try to get these means of recreation; and that applies to swimming facilities as well. Ever since the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1957, it has been national policy, through special grants, to encourage youth in all recreational activities, and I think everybody would agree that it has been a great success in increasing all recreational facilities.

There was an instance of the Government's approval of the policy only recently when an Amendment which I put was accepted in the Town and County Planning Act; that was evidence of the appreciation of the necessity of special national assistance in certain cases. Up to that date, and in the Act to which I have referred, it seems that this was still the concern of Her Majesty's Government, but now the policy has changed to one of indifference. If all this encouragement and assistance ceases I can see a great decline in the provision of open spaces and recreational facilities throughout the country, which would be a great disservice to the nation. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 48, line 5, leave out paragraph 9.—(Lord Luke.)


I should like to reinforce everything that my noble friend Lord Luke has said. When we were discussing this Bill on Second Reading, I ventured to draw attention to the risk that, if we were not careful here, a national policy might be stultified by local action. I think that this is a case where the risk is perhaps greater than in other directions. After all, we have a national policy in this matter of recreation grounds and open spaces. We have had it since the passing of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, and if my memory serves me (I have not been able to look up the references) the point was made again in the debates on the Education Act, 1944. The trouble is that this idea that recreation is a matter of national importance is, up to a point, a new idea. The "old-timers" on the county councils and borough councils did not have the benefit of recreation grounds and playing fields. Many of them came up the hard way, and the idea that this should have priority is not thought by some still living in another age to be right. Therefore, the fears that my noble friend Lord Luke has voiced are not entirely idle words. If we do not take care, it is possible that the national policy may work very unevenly in the areas of different local authorities. Whatever happens to my noble friend's Amendment, this is a matter on which the greatest watch will have to be kept, if we want the policy embodied in the Physical Training and Recreation Act to be a reality all over the country.

7.53 p.m.


I should like to support what has been said in respect of this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, has dealt with playing fields and other needs under the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, and he has been capably supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. I should have thought that the national interest is very apposite in this matter, and even more so in regard to open spaces. These are specifically dealt with in paragraph 5 (1) (c) of the Schedule which refers to the acquisition under any enactment not hereinbefore referred to of lard for use as a public open space; I should like to see this point included in the Amendment. No doubt it is not possible to do so at this stage, but I think that it would be feasible to deal with open spaces at the next stage in the Bill.

The provision of open spaces, as opposed to recreation grounds, has so far been dealt with under the 1937 Act, under which local authorities can obtain assistance from the central authority in the purchase of open spaces. That provision has been taken advantage of in a number of cases, to the great help of people who want to go out from the congested areas in big cities and towns to obtain open air exercise in the country, but has not imposed on the central authority any expense incommensurate with the advantages obtained. It is not possible for authorities in the country, who are often not at all well off, to make provision, for open spaces for ramblers and hikers and people coming out from the big towns unless some assistance is forthcoming from the central authority. If there is anywhere in this Part of the Bill a matter which is of national rather than local interest, I should have thought we have it here. I hope that the Government will be prepared to indicate that they will look not only at recreational facilities in the nature of sports and games but also at the wider interests of people who go into the country in order to take advantage of our open spaces.


I must say that I have not read the debate in another place, and if my noble friend who moved this Amendment was offended by the comparison between the subject matter of the Amendment and refuse collection, I can only apologise on behalf of my right honourable friend who, I am perfectly sure, did not intend any offence by the comparison. Without betraying any rifts in the Government, I would say that for certain purposes, at any rate, the comparison would appear to be inappropriate. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will accept my apologies.

Oddly enough, no noble Lord has mentioned what appears to be the conclusive argument against this Amendment. Physical education, which is really the basis of our subject matter, is an integral function of the education service. This is its essential characteristic. I realise, of course, that on the matter of general principle noble Lords opposite sought to exempt the education service from the general grant—or, rather, they opposed this general grant in principle, because 85 per cent. of it would be in respect of educational expenditure. I should have thought that nobody could suggest that this was a class of education separated in any essential characteristic from the administration of the education service, of which it is part. It is true that there is a national policy on physical training and recreation, but I hope that my noble friend will not think that there is not a national policy in respect of school education. School education is certainly as important as physical recreation: perhaps more important. Whether the Government are right or, as noble Lords opposite think, wrong about the general policy, which we have already threshed out on Second Reading, and assuming that the policy is to be carried into effect—and that was the decision of your Lordships' House on Second Reading—it must be wholly wrong to propose an Amendment which would have the effect of separating one part of the education service from another. To my mind, that is a conclusive argument against the Amendment.

There is another argument of a more inconclusive kind. The Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, was originally intended to have a limited operation for three years only. Owing to the outbreak of war and other circumstances, it has continued in force up to the present day. It has, however, become largely superfluous because, in their capacity as local education authorities under the Education Act, 1944, county and county borough councils now have powers which, to a great extent, cover the same ground. It is therefore fully appropriate on this more limited ground, now that the Government are undertaking a systematic overhaul of the system of local government finance, to simplfy the financial arrangements under which local governments must make provision for physical training and recreation and, at the same time, leave the responsibility for deciding about local expenditure of this type where it can be more effectively exercised—in the hands of the local authorities themselves. Physical education is, as I have said, an integral part of the general education service, and I think that any attempt to finance it separately from the remainder of the service will inevitably fail.

There is a final point, I am afraid of a pedantic character, but Ministers have to make these pedantic points from time to time in order to correct the record; and I hope that I have directed my mind to the merits of the case and not to pedantic considerations. The effect of this Amendment, if it were unaccompanied by any other Amendment not so far proposed, would be to remove from the category of relevant expenditure this service which we all wish to see paid for, so that the local authority, while retaining the responsibility for providing the service, would be deprived of any money in the general grant formula for the purpose of providing it.

8.2 p.m.


I rise to support this Amendment. While I appreciate the kindly references made from time to time to my association with the London County Council, I think I should say that I also had eight years' experience with a relatively small local authority, first as an urban district council and then as a borough council. I am not, therefore, wholly uninformed or inexperienced as to local government on a lower plane than that of the London County Council.

The noble Viscount referred to the difficulties which faced the operation of the Act of 1937 owing to, first, international, and then war conditions. I well remember the passing of that Act, the great acclaim with which it was welcomed and the great hopes which were associated with it. The noble Viscount said, I think, that the provisions of that Act are now regarded as being somewhat superfluous, having regard to the provision within the educational services. As I am sure he will well know, there was a Select Committee on Estimates which went into the operation of the youth service, which included consideration of the operation of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937. I will not refer to the somewhat astringent remarks made by that Committee as regards the attitude of mind, as they understood it, of the Minister of Education towards the youth employment service and the youth service generally, including, the provision (let me emphasise this) of sports grounds, open spaces and playing fields.

There was a recent Bill giving local authorities power to make to voluntary associations not only grants but also loans. I said at the time that Bill was in your Lordships' House that it was intended to merge the grants formerly given under the Act of 1937 in the general block grant within the provisions of this Bill. I think we must remember, in connection with the submission of the noble Viscount that this is really a problem to be dealt with by the education service, that the service provides not only for those who are at school, but also for the adolescents and indeed the adults.


The noble Lord must not misconstrue what I said. I said that it was part of the education service, and the education service also provides education for adults and for those who are not at school; and it expressly refers to physical education.


Yes; I am very sensible of what it does. I would say this, however: that it was precisely because the educational service had not up to 1937 adequately dealt with this problem that we had the special Act of that year and the special machinery that was set up—rather comprehensive and, as I thought at the time, rather ambitious machinery. I think we must all agree that this service, while it need not necessarily be a national service in too rigid a sense, ought not to be too dependent upon the fragmentary provision of, relatively speaking, smaller local authorities. I think that that was the view taken which led to the 1937 Act: that the provision should be by direct grant on a national basis.

There can be no doubt as to the need for sports grounds, open spaces and playing fields. There is no more corroding agency for our youth than boredom. I have recently read a book the title of which is Asphalt Playground. I am not unaware of conditions in London and elsewhere in regard to some of the playgrounds and some of the schools, or in regard to some of the housing, but I must confess that I was almost terrified at what I read in that book; and I have no reason to believe that it is exaggerated or that it is not based upon the fairly close experience which the author himself has had. If we are to abate the disturbing increase in juvenile delinquency, and, indeed, juvenile crime of a frightening order in some cases, we must provide for the employment of the leisure of adolescents and give them something to offset boredom and hanging around the street corner and the lamp post. I can think of no expenditure which will show a better return than that on the provision of open spaces, sports fields, running tracks and facilities for other cultural employment and enjoyment.

Leaving aside the general question of percentage grants and block grants, it is a little petty, is it not, to include within the block grant the provision which has hitherto been made, and will, I hope, in the future be made, under the provisions of the Physical Training and Recreation Act? I sincerely hope that the noble Viscount who has conduct of the Bill for the Government at this stage will think again and represent to his right honourable friend the need for dealing with the matter in the way that the mover of the Amendment suggested.


I am very grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has just said in emphasising the distinction between these two, which was not clear from the speech of the noble Viscount in the first instance. I am sorry that it seems to have been the wrong Amendment in the wrong place, but I am not at all sorry that the matter has been discussed. I regret that there was no reply from the noble Viscount on what I said about the national policy for recreational facilities. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.10 p.m.

VISCOUNT HAILSHAM moved, in Part III, in paragraph 8 (1), to leave out "police". The noble and learned Viscount said: This is one of three linked Amendments. Paragraph 8 of Part III of the First Schedule is intended to provide for a supplementary grant in respect of the high costs in the Greater London area which affect the cost of providing local government services. In its present form the Bill provides for the supplementary grant (which takes the form of a prescribed percentage of the basic grant) to be payable to authorities whose areas are wholly or partly within the Metropolitan Police District.

The material point, so far as concerns these Amendments, is that the paragraph also provides that there may be different percentages for authorities whose areas are wholly within the Metropolitan Police District and those whose areas are only partly within the District. The purpose is to enable, but not to require, the Minister to prescribe a higher rate for the former group of authorities, the point being that in counties which are only partly in the Metropolitan Police District, such as Kent, high metropolitan costs may not prevail in the part of the county most remote from London to the same extent as in counties like Middlesex and London.

The Amendments are necessary because the administrative County of London is not wholly within the Metropolitan Police District—the City of London, which has its own police force, being outside that district. Clearly, if there are to be two prescribed percentages for high metropolitan costs, the London County Council should qualify for the higher percentage. I am sure that the noble Lord opposite will hear those words with satisfaction.


No dissent.


The Amendments therefore substitute for "Metropolitan Police District" the expression "metropolitan district" which is defined as being the administrative County of London plus the remainder of the Metropolitan Police District. I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Lord will accept these Amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 51, line 23, leave out (" police ").—(Viscount Hailsham).

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This is part of the same point. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 51, line 29, leave out (" police ").—(Viscount Hailsham).

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 51, line 30, at end insert— (" (3) In this paragraph ' metropolitan district ' means the administrative County of London together with the remainder of the Metropolitan Police District. ").—(Viscount Hailsham).

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD ADDINGTON had given notice to move, in Part IV, to leave out subparagraph (c) of paragraph (4). The noble Lord said: Since I put down this Amendment I have heard that there has been a meeting—I think it took place this afternoon—between the Minister of Education and some of those concerned with local government on this very point of pooling expenditure on further education. I therefore suggest that it would be more suitable if I did not move this Amendment now but let the matter be reconsidered, if necessary, at a later stage.

First Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining Schedules agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past eight o'clock.