HL Deb 18 May 1982 vol 430 cc600-2

2.58 p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what amount of money was allocated to children's play and recreation projects within the financial years 1978–79, 1979–80, 1980–81.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the Government give direct support for play and recreation through grants to a number of voluntary organisations and through the Urban Programme. Organisations which have received grants are: the National Playing Fields Association; Fair Play for Children; the Pre-School Playgroups Association; the Toy Libraries Association and the National Playbus Association. These grants totalled £347,100 in 1978–79, £357,200 in 1979–80 and £441,000 in 1980–81.

Turning to the Urban Programme, in 1980–81, the only year for which I have reliable figures, an estimated £10 million was spent on children's projects, which include play schemes. Local authorities, health authorities, voluntary organisations and bodies such as the Sports Council are also active in this field.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend the Minister for his reply, may I ask him this: could he tell us whether in future such sums might include other facilities for disabled children, for example, for handicapped adventure playgrounds?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think some of the funds to which I have referred have already been used for that purpose on a small scale. There can be no doubt of the importance of play and recreation to the mental, physical and social development of handicapped children, and indeed the DHSS is already making grants to the Save the Children Fund; for example, of £21,000 to help with play schemes for mentally handicapped children in hospitals. Another grant of £6,500, for example, has gone to the Handicapped Playground Association.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, while we welcome the noble Lord's Answer as regards the amounts that have been given to play and to playing fields, is he aware that to a child the importance of freedom to play is a great thing in the making of the future of the nation? Is he also aware that most of us welcome the Lord Mayor of London's intention this year to make his charity the National Playing Fields Association? Finally, is he aware that if children do not have the opportunity and the freedom to play and move about in the fresh air—and I do not count just watching television—it influences the adults of the future? Children who do not really play, when they grow up try to be children instead of men.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course I wholly endorse the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, is there a liaison structure between the relevant ministries in the planning of adventure playgrounds and other playgrounds?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, these matters actually cut across two or three Government departments. I know that my noble friend has recently written to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on these matters, and my right honourable friend will be replying very shortly.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 20 per cent. or 300,000 children between the ages of five and 10 years are left alone during the holidays and that 15 per cent. of 5- to 10-year olds are left alone after school? The figures for an older group of 11- to 15-year olds are 25 per cent. during the holidays and 20 per cent. after school. Does he think it sensible that hundreds of millions of pounds should be spent on school education and really a pittance spent on facilities after school and during the holidays? Indeed, the figures which he gave really do, I think, amount to a pittance.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness is asking me something slightly different. The matter which she raised, and very properly, in her supplementary question was covered at some length the other day in our debate on these matters, when I was able to record the Government's concern and, indeed, announce a grant.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that, despite the figures that he has given, a great number of voluntary organisations—of one of which I happen to be the head—organise playgrounds for disabled children to play with able-bodied children and do so entirely voluntarily without any funding from the Government at all?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, having regard to the number of applications received by my department and, indeed, others, I am surprised that no grant has been made to the organisations to which my noble friend refers; doubtless she will put that right.

Lord Alport

My Lords, I should like to ask whether the figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady David, as to the number of children left alone during holidays and after school hours are due primarily to the fact that mothers are, in many cases, working during that time? I should like to ask my noble friend whether he does not regard the problems that we have with the younger generation in this country are to some extent due to the fact that there is no parental control when they come home from school and during the holidays owing to the fact that the mothers are working mothers rather than at home looking after their families?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if I may say so, that is a rather profound supplementary, but not an inappropriate one. None the less it is a matter that is the subject of a good deal of research just now.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that by far the greatest impact the Government could make in this field would be to encourage the greater use of school buildings and school equipment? If the noble Lord looks in the archives he will find that about 12 years ago there was a circular on the dual use of school buildings. Is the noble Lord aware that if industry under-used its capital in this country to the same extent as educational capital is under-used, it would be regarded as a scandal?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Department of Education and Science does encourage local eduation authorities to make school facilities available to the community wherever possible, and there is no doubt that schools are being increasingly used in this way. A survey conducted in 1978–79, for example, showed that virtually all secondary schools and about two-thirds of primary schools were in use regularly in the evenings or at weekends during term time, and that a substantial number were also used during the holidays.

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