HL Deb 09 December 1971 vol 326 cc893-904

3.23 p.m.

THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (EARL JELLICOE) rose to move, That a Committee of eleven Lords be appointed to consider the demand for facilities for participation in sport and in the enjoyment of leisure out-of-doors, and to examine what impediment may exist to the fuller use of existing facilities or the development of new ones, and how they might be removed:

That the Lords following be named of the Committee:

That the Committee have power to appoint Sub-Committees and to refer to such Sub-committees any of the matters referred to the Committee; and that such Sub-committees have power to appoint their own Chairman:

That the Committee and any such Subcommittee have power (a) to send for persons, papers and records; and (b) to adjourn from place to place; that the Committee have leave to report from time to time; and that any such Sub-committee have leave to report to the Committee from time to time:

That the Committee have power to appoint persons with specialised knowledge for the purposes of particular enquiries, either to supply information which is not readily available, or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee's order of reference:

That the evidence taken before the Committee and any such Sub-committee from time to time be printed, but that no copies be delivered out except to members of the Committee and to such other persons as the Committee think fit, until further order:

That the Committee do meet in Committee Room No. 4 on Wednesday next at Four o'clock.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Those noble Lords who were present in the House on the day of the State Opening of Parliament will have heard me state during the course of my speech congratulating the Mover and Seconder of the humble Address, that in due course I would propose to the House a Select Committee on Sport and Leisure. This I am now doing. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that it is essential to make a real success of the first of what I hope will be quite a long line of Select Committees of this House on various subjects.

I think that your Lordships will agree with me that the membership of this first Select Committee is strong. I am very grateful indeed to all those who have agreed to serve on it, and especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Cobham for agreeing to be the Chairman of this Committee. He has a formidable team to help him, but he has also a great task ahead of him. The subject matter with which this Committee will be concerned is a very wide one and a very important one.

Your Lordships will also note that the Committee are given power to appoint sub-committees, if they should deem this necessary. It may well be that the Committee will wish to split themselves up into sub-committees to examine different aspects of what is on any count a very wide subject. The Committee have also been given authority to appoint a research assistant to help them to evaluate matters of complexity and to give them specialist advice. I think that it would be wrong for me to try to predict how long it will take the Committee to complete their investigations, but they have been given leave to report to the House from time to time, if and when they reach conclusions which, in their judgment, it is worth while to report. I beg to move.


My Lords, before we pass on, may I ask my noble friend whether this Committee—


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend but I noticed the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition rising and I think it would be in accordance with the normal practice if he were first man in after the opening wicket had fallen.


My Lords, I hope that my wicket will fall very quickly. The situation is slightly difficult because we are debating a Motion, and instead of noble Lords' making speeches on Questions we now have noble Lords asking questions on a Motion, and speakers have the right to speak only once. But I would congratulate the noble Earl, because this is really a striking breakthrough, or breakback, to the days when Parliament appointed many more Select Committees. This is a formidable subject, and one that is likely to provide matters for consideration not merely through one Session but through many Sessions, because it is very much an area of the future. As I understand it, the decision was taken to set up a broad-based Committee which would not necessarily—indeed, I think it would be impossible—comprehend every single sport or leisure activity out of doors. It will be possible for the main Committee to appoint sub-committees and to invite people to co-operate as assessors —indeed, at a later stage it may be necessary to enlarge the Committee. But I think that the first job of the Committee will be to survey the whole field and decide how they are going to work in what is a very important area of human activity. I certainly support the Motion.


My Lords, if I may be the third man in, several noble Lords have spoken to me about this Committee and, while not wishing to appear too self-important, I wonder whether I may say that the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal was kind enough to raise this matter with me. I should very much have liked to serve on this Committee, if he had subsequently decided to invite me, but I am afraid that pressure of work made it quite impossible for me to accept any additional commitment at the present time. Indeed, this was the main reason for my resignation from the Sports Council in June last: the other one being that I had an excellent exit line provided for me by this Government, as those familiar with the subject will know. As somebody who has worked for 20 years in both Houses on this, may I wish the Committee every success and may I, in all humility, from the Back Benches congratulate the noble Earl on having formed such an excellent Committee.


My Lords, I should like to echo what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said. This is a vastly important field and I think it will become more important as we move towards the end of the century. I think it is a good thing that a powerful Committee of your Lordships' House should be now looking into this matter. I believe that the Committee as proposed to be constituted will be broadly based. I certainly agree with what the noble Lord has said: that we do not know how long it will take the Committee to conclude their studies. Maybe the Committee's composition will change from time to time, and if there should come a time when the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, whose contribution in this field we all acknowledge (I remember very well her constant questioning on the Sports Council), has time available, then I am sure that the members of the Committee would wish to avail themselves of her very considerable expertise on this subject.


My Lords, will the terms of reference of this excellent Committee enable them to consider the preservation of the peace of the countryside for the benefit of those who wish to enjoy their leisure without noise?


My Lords, I am certain that that falls within the terms of reference of the Committee.


My Lords, may I interrupt on a matter of procedure, with the greatest respect to the noble Earl the Leader of the House? This is a Motion before the House, and I would suggest that he should allow noble Lords to make their remarks rather than, no doubt 'very helpfully, seek to answer each one—for which, incidentally, he requires the leave of the House.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I say that I was simply interrupting the debate before the noble Lord sat down, but I forgot to mention that or to ask for leave.


My Lords, is it not the case that both noble Lords have exhausted their right to speak?

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I confess that when I looked at this Motion on the Order Paper I was somewhat mystified, because it refers to a "demand for facilities" for sport. I was not quite clear—perhaps the noble Earl can clarify the point for me and no doubt for other Members of your Lordships' House—whether the demand is by Members of your Lordships' House for sport in which they can engage. I ask that question advisedly, because I understand that in the other place they are considering the provision of 'additional amenities which are not available to your Lordships' House—and, indeed, some of them are not available to the other place. For example, they are asking for a swimming pool, presumably because now that the salaries are to be increased they can indulge in more leisure and gaze upon the further emoluments available to them. I should like to know whether, as a result of the deliberations and recommendations of this Committee, we are to be provided with amenities of that character. I heard the noble Earl only indistinctly when he spoke, and I was not clear on the point that I have now ventured to address myself to; namely, whether the provision of sport is intended for your Lordships' House or for the general public. I should like that point to be cleared up.

I ask that for another reason—and I hope this will not incur a rebuke from the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who acts as a kind of amateur Speaker in this House, as I observed yesterday afternoon in the course of a little altercation for which I was in no way responsible; I was quite an innocent victim. I am intensely interested in the qualifications of my colleagues. I say that quite honestly. I read the Parliamentary Companion frequently; I am a voracious reader of Who's Who, Debret and the rest of the publications which refer to the qualifications of my colleagues. It is difficult to gain the information that one requires.

I would venture to ask, since this proposal is before your Lordships, what are the qualifications of these colleagues of mine. Are there any boxers among them; any milers; any who have played soccer or rugby? I myself, for example, was at one time centre half for our village football club. What is more, I ventured to put on the gloves with no less a person than Frank Cox, who was the lightweight champion of Australia—but, of course, I took them off very soon afterwards. What are the qualifications of these people? What are their services to sport? I listened to my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry, with whose qualifications I have been familiar over a long period of time; I am not sure whether she was in the Olympic Games, but I am certain that she deserved to be. What are the qualifications of the members of the Committee? What do they know about sport? What can they recommend to us? Are they going to ask for the advice of those engaged in sport? Are they even going to ask Members of your Lordships' House who engage in sport of various kinds to come before the Committee as witnesses? I think we are entitled to know. I recognise that I am on very dangerous ground here, because I am speaking at length, but I understand that this is a Motion and not Question Time. I see that I have the assent of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and now I feel quite happy. But despite my happiness, I have come to my conclusion. Can I get the information for which I ask?


My Lords, I rise only to mention one problem on this Motion and it is this. Apart from the contents of the Motion, in the seven years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, whenever I have seen the names of members of Committees I have always wondered how they were picked. As I say, I have been here seven years and I have never been on a Committee on any sort of subject. My only problem is this: have you to be a blue-eyed boy or a blue-eyed girl, or have you to kiss the feet of the Establishment, before you get on a Committee? I should like the Leader of the House to tell me —I am only an innocent abroad here—how it happens that Back Benchers who do service never get a chance to sit on any Select Committee.


My Lords, there is one question I should like to ask my noble friend, although I think I know the answer to it. Is it quite clear that this Committee can appoint subcommittees from the rest of the House? It is a most important task that this Committee is undertaking, for I believe that leisure in the future is going to become of much greater importance. When one goes through industrial towns in this country and sees grey-faced men standing about on the street corners with absolutely nothing to do, men who have probably been retired at the age of 60, one's heart goes out to them. Septuagenarians like myself have a golf course and a garden; these people have nothing until the pubs open. I think it is important that this Committee should have a strong golfing element in it, to try to provide miniature golf courses, putting greens and so on for the veterans of industry who are being thrown out at a lower and lower age these days, who have no gardens and who have nothing to do.


My Lords, I have one question that I should like to ask. Is this a Select Committee of the House? If so, when are Her Majesty's, Government going to appoint a Select Committee to investigate the need for a Bill of Rights, to which Her Majesty's Government are beholden, bespoken and committed?


My Lords, may I seek an explanation of the thought behind the penultimate paragraph in the Motion? When I first read this Motion I thought that it was a purely formal matter which need raise no anxiety in the breast of any noble Lord. But having listened to the noble Earl on the probable duration of the deliberations of this Committee, it seemed to me that it was possible that evidence which would be of interest to many of your Lordships, besides the members of the Committee, might be unduly withheld.


My Lords, I should like to welcome this Committee. It is a very important subject and, if I may say so with respect, an extremely well-chosen Committee has been selected to deal with it. There are two points which I should like to make. One is that there is at times, to some extent, a contradiction between sport and leisure. Admittedly, in cricket you can enjoy both, but there are some forms of sport which interfere with the leisure of other people. I think that increasingly people are looking for the leisure and peace and quiet that the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, touched on. In many cases that is, I think, a more important subject than the provision of golf courses, football grounds, tennis courts or anything of that kind. I hope that the Committee will pay a great deal of attention to that aspect of the matter.

Following on from that is the problem of access to the countryside and the manner in which that infringes upon agriculture. There is at least one member of the Committee who is an experienced agriculturist, and I am sure that even if his colleagues wish to ignore some of these matters, he will not allow them to be ignored. I would suggest that the Committee should give a great deal of attention to the manner in which access of the town dweller to the countryside for leisure purposes can be married in so that not only does it not interfere with agriculture but in fact can supplement the normal and proper activities of the town.


My Lords, in the context of this rather wide discussion, may I ask whether the noble Earl is able to give some hope that the Committee will give an indication of the difference between sport and recreation? Leisure is certainly a different thing where a great deal of people's time is consumed by recreation that is certainly not sport.


My Lords, my words will be very few. I just want to refer to one specific point in which I have some kind of general interest. I do not want to indulge in boxing reminiscences like my noble friend Lord Shinwell, who told us most amusingly about one of his sparring partners, but in 1917, when I was training for one of the boxing championships of the British Army in France, my sparring partner was none other than Bandsman Rice, the light heavyweight champion of the British Empire. My question is this. There are many local authorities in this country who have plans on their books for the building of large-scale swimming baths, those swimming baths to form the central point in a vast leisure complex embodying facilities for all kinds of sports. I merely want to ask whether the Secretary of State for the Environment, who normally has to give his sanction for the commencement of such works, will hold up that sanction until the Committee has considered that particular aspect and made its report.


My Lords, may I ask to what the word "they" refers in the terms of reference?


My Lords, I am completely puzzled by this Motion. I cannot understand why sport, of all subjects, should be the special prerogative of your Lordships' House. There is the Sports Council and the Countryside Commission, both of whom I should have thought are very active in this field. Why do we now have to have a new Committee consisting entirely of members of the Peerage and drawn from a body who after all are mostly well on in years?

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, if I may with permission rise again—I think I have been up perhaps too often—I will take some of these points in reverse order. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, asked why there should be a Select Committee of your Lordships' House because this might be duplicating the work of the Sports Council and the Countryside Commission. I do not think that this Committee will duplicate the work; I think it is a very desirable thing that Parliament—and this House is an integral part of Parliament—should have a wide look at the whole field, which is of enormous importance for the future. May I say that both the Sports Council and the Countryside Commission have very much welcomed the proposed establishment of this Committee of your Lordships' House.

Coming back now to chronological order, referring to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, I am quite certain that the matter he raised falls within the terms of reference of this proposed Committee, if your Lordships decide to set it up. The facilities for sport and leisure in your Lordships' House should also be considered by them and doubtless they will pay close attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Shin-well, has said in this respect. So far as the qualifications of the Committee are concerned it would be invidious for me to go into that but I think the noble Lord himself would admit that from his intimate knowledge of his colleagues in your Lordships' House a good many Members of this proposed Committee have very eminent qualifications indeed. It is not only, as I see it, a question of having specialist qualifications, but of trying to look ahead at what the requirements are in sport and leisure for our country for the next decade or half century or so. One needs a wide view as well as a specialist view.

The noble Lord, Lord Blyton, asked how Committees of this sort are chosen. We discussed this question a short time ago when we were discussing procedure in your Lordships' House. All I would say is that the Committees are chosen by consultations between the Parties. The noble Lord suggested that this Committee had a kind of Front Bench element in it, but there is also a considerable Back Bench element in it.

I can assure my noble friend Lord Hawke that golf will certainly fall within the purview of this Committee. I can also assure the noble Lord, Lord Walston —and I am glad that he was inclined to welcome the establishment, if your Lordships so decide, of this Committee—that clearly the question of the right balance here between sport, recreation and also the enjoyment of the countryside is one which the Committee will wish to consider. I see nothing in the proposed terms of reference which will rule this out. This seems to me, if I may say so, to be central to our consideration of this matter over the next decade or so. There were some other points put to me, one of which was by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner. I am afraid that, rather feebly, I have written the name "Gardiner" firmly in my notes but have put nothing after his name. I was wondering whether he would remind me—


My Lords, I was merely asking to what the word "they" in the terms of reference referred to.


My Lords. I think that what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, pointed out arises clearly from a misprint. I think that if "impediment" were made "impediments", that would deal with it; but I must say that I completely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner.


My Lords, as always on a matter of grammar my noble friend is absolutely right and "impediment" is to blame. It should be "impediments", and I think "they" then falls into its proper place. It was nothing more nor less than a misprint. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, asked about the Bill of Rights, and I think that is rather a different matter. We have read his remarks on the subject not long ago in the Evening News. He seems to have vanished since he asked the Question, but he has apparently apologised to me without my knowing it. I apologise to him for raising the tone of my voice in that respect. I would say that I personally view this as something of an experiment. It is a long time since we have had a Select Committee of your Lordships' House looking at a particular aspect of our nation's affairs. I personally believe that in your Lordships' House there is a pool of experience and expertise which is not properly used for the nation's benefit. I also believe that the judicious employment of Select Committees is one of the ways by which that pool of experience and expertise can be more properly exploited for the benefit of the nation.

I also profoundly believe that if one looks at the trends in our society to-day, the question of how we are going to spend our leisure in our society to-day and of how we are going to provide better facilities for sport—not only for the young, which is very necessary, but also for those who have just retired, for example —are going to be very important questions and ones to which we, as responsible citizens, ought to be addressing ourselves. I also believe—and I say this with all deference to the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton—that it is quite possible for a responsible Select Committee of your Lordships' House to do these things without tripping over other people's toes. I commend this Motion to your Lordships' House, although I take due note of the various incidental criticisms which have been made along the way, as I am sure the Select Committee will do if your Lordships decide, in your wisdom, to appoint such a Committee.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I apologetically remind him that he did not answer my question about swimming baths with vast sport and recreation complexes built around them? Many local authorities have plans on their books and they are awaiting sanction from the Minister of the Environment. I asked whether the Minister would hold up approval of these schemes until after this Committee had reported.


My Lords, I am sure that if we establish such a Committee we shall have a sensible Committee which would not wish to put any unnecessary impediment in the way; and in my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment we have a sensible Minister who will act accordingly and sensibly. I can straightaway give the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, the assurance for which he asked.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.