§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, that the Government should have to ask your Lordships to consider the present Bill and at this time in the life of this Parliament is a measure of the urgency and difficulty of the housing situation with which we are faced. In October last the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act was 533 passed into law, and we have now begun the production of temporary houses under this Act and the flow of houses will steadily increase throughout the summer. We realized that one of our main difficulties was going to be the provision of sites for these houses and the Act of 1944 made special provision for the acquisition of land for that purpose. At an early stage, however, it became quite clear that special difficulties were going to arise in a few of the most completely built up and bomb-damaged areas in this country, particularly in London, Manchester and Birmingham. The amount of land of any description in these areas which has not been built upon is necessarily small. Moreover, if one uses land which has been acquired for the provision of permanent houses and puts temporary houses on it, it means that permanent houses cannot be built on the land for something like ten years. We find ourselves in the same position if we put temporary houses on bombed sites.
The position in the County of London illustrates the matter very well. The London County Council and the Metropolitan Borough Councils have found sites for 10,301 temporary houses out of their allocation of 12,000. Two thousand of these sites are on London County Council housing sites outside the county, so that 8,301 have been found within the county. There remains, however, a balance of 1,700 sites which cannot be found in London without blocking some other development and these sites accordingly will, if your Lordships pass this Bill, have to be found on parks and open spaces. Open spaces have the incidental advantage that in some cases they are fringed by roads which have the necessary services under them and the land is already in the possession of the local authority. Thus we save time in the legal processes of acquiring the land and we probably save from two to four months in development work.
Now may I say a word as to the existing law and the alteration that the present Bill will make? Under Section 143 of the Housing Act, 1936, parks and open spaces can be appropriated for housing purposes only by a Provisional Order unless other land is given in exchange that is equally advantageous to the public. The procedure by Provisional Order is of course protracted. Under the Bill the 534 Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health will be enabled, for a limited period of two years and subject to important safeguards, to authorize a local authority to use for temporary houses an open space vested in them. The Bill contains a number of important limitations on the use of that power by the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Health. The first is that the Health Ministers can give the authorization only on the application of the local authority. Obviously no local authority will lightly make an application for the use of an open space for this purpose.
Then authorization can only be given if the Minister of Town and Country Planning certifies that he is satisfied that this use of the land is "expedient in the public interest in consequence of the emergency that was the occasion of the passing" of the Rousing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944, "and in the particular circumstances in which the authorization is sought." The Minister of Town and Country Planning proposes to issue a certificate only after a special survey of the area of the local authority, bringing under examination all possible sites, and only after he is satisfied that there is no alternative land available, having regard to sound planning considerations. I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, will be satisfied that here at any rate we have taken full recognition of the proper powers of this new Minister. Even where that certificate has been given in respect of a particular area of land, it is still within the discretion of the Health Minister to decide that on balance the authority could do without the houses or have a smaller number of houses. All my observations upon the Bill seem up to now to be an apology. The truth is that none of us like this idea of putting houses upon open spaces and we are only doing it under the greatest pressure of emergency. Finally, the Bill is of short duration. Authorization can only be given during a period of two years from the beginning of the Act. The authorization cannot be for more than ten years and there is a definite provision that the land is to be reinstated at the end of that period.
May I now refer to some anxieties that were expressed during the Committee stage in another place? The first was lest the houses should not be removed 535 from open spaces when the authorization to use the land expired, and the second was that the local authority after the removal of the houses might neglect to reinstate the land. It has been suggested that the Minister of Health should take power to act in default. The inclusion of such a power is outside the scope of this Bill as imposing a charge on the Exchequer. In any case such a power is unnecessary. The Minister already has power under Section 2 (1) of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944, to remove the houses and any Minister of Health would have the strongest reasons for taking all necessary steps to enable an open space to revert to its original purpose as soon as the right to use it for another purpose expired. As regards reinstatement, any local authority who neglected to reinstate the site after it had been cleared by the Minister— and such cases would surely be extremely rare— would be under the strongest pressure both from their own ratepayers and the committee of the council responsible for open spaces. The Minister of Health also has strong powers of persuasion in these matters.
As regards the cost of reinstating the land, a local authority can require the Minister of Health to remove the temporary houses at any time afterten years from the passing of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944. The Government appreciate that this might involve expenditure on the local authority which would not arise in the case of ordinary sites, and my right honourable friend is prepared to modify the normal terms on which temporary houses are made available to local authorities so as to ensure that the total expenditure which the local authority is called upon to bear in respect of temporary houses will not be increased owing to the use of open spaces including cost of reinstatement.
Your Lordships will, I am sure, wish me to indicate the position with regard to commons. Only those commons which are either invested in the local authority or are at their disposal come within the scope of this Bill. The great majority of the commons vested in local authorities are vested as public open spaces and all common rights have in fact been extinguished. There may, however, be a few rare cases where a common vests in the local authority and the common rights 536 are still exercisable. The Minister of Health will not approve any proposals submitted by a local authority which involve the disturbance of existing common rights. Then in regard to rights of way the Bill provides that any right of way over the part of an open space which is used for temporary housing shall cease to be capable of being exercised. No public right of way will be stopped up except where an equally convenient or alternative right of way is provided.
As I said, we regret the necessity to introduce this Bill. At the same time it should not be thought that the provisions of the Bill will involve a widespread spoliation of the open spaces which are so necessary for our densely populated towns. It has been estimated that the number of temporary houses in the whole country which are likely to be put on open spaces will number between 7,000 and 8,000. Moreover, a number of the open spaces which will be used have never been properly laid out as parks. Many have been used during the war for war-time purposes, such as the siting of anti-aircraft batteries, and it is that sort of area, and in particular the fringes of that sort of area, which will be used. With the provisions of this Bill so carefully restricted as they are to give the maximum possible protection against the misuse of open spaces, and with the Bill providing as it does an opportunity which will enable us to get some of these temporary houses situated in the areas that want them most and where the local authority have expressly asked for these provisions, I hope your Lordships will be pleased to give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a —(Lord Woolton).
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I am sure it will be with the utmost reluctance that this House will give this Bill a Second Reading. The towns and cities of this country are so ill provided with open spaces that none of us in this House would wish lightly to take steps which would alieniate existing open spaces from their use as such, but it must be admitted that the demand for housing accommodation is so clamant that even this drastic step must be contemplated. The local authorities, including the London County Council, have with very grave misgivings 537 and much regret taken the view that powers of this kind should be conferred upon local authorities in the hope that they will only be used where all chance of obtaining alternative land has been exhausted. In London the position is particularly acute. We are already ill provided with open spaces for our great population and what open spaces we have, including some of the most beautiful parks in any city in the world, are so mal-distributed that they do not provide for the population generally those lungs and those facilities for open air recreation to which they are entitled. It is precisely in those areas of London where open spaces are most needed that most of these temporary houses are needed. Unfortunately, it will fall out that if any of the London open spaces have to be used it will be those which can be ill spared in the over-built, congested areas of the East End and the south-east of London.
I think that both the Minister of Health in another place and the Lord President of the Council in your Lordships' House are a little too optimistic as to the ability of the London County Council to find in its open spaces suitable sites for 1700 temporary dwellings. I would remind your Lordships that considerable inroads have already been made on the open spaces of London for war purposes. I am not complaining of that. It was inevitable that if a gunsite were needed in a London park, permission had to be given for that gunsite. In the result over 1,400 acres of London open spaces excluding the Royal parks, have been given over to military and civil defence occupation. It may well be said that that occupation has already ceased, or will soon cease; but the land will not therefore become available as an open space on the morrow of evacuation. It will take several years to put back the cricket pitches, the football pitches, the tennis courts, the shrubberies and the gardens of rest. During all that time the London public will be denied the use of 1,400 acres of open spaces. Moreover, quite properly, some 700 acres in addition have been given over to allotments. No one can say what the future policy of this country generally will be as regards allotments, but in any case the land at present being used for that purpose is not available and will not, I 538 apprehend, for some time be available as open space.
So, as I have said, already considerable inroads have been made on the open spaces of London, and the Minister of Health in another place was a little inaccurate, if I may say so, in his figures as to the availability of local authority open spaces in London. He said there were some 8,000 acres of public open spaces vested in the local authorities. I think that is an over-statement. That 8,000 acres includes 1,900 acres constituted by the Royal parks. They are not vested in the local authorities and they are not proposed to be dealt with by this Bill. Moreover, 500 acres of Wimbledon Common, which is exempt under this Bill—I make no complaint about it, I am simply stating the fact—is included in that 8,000 acres, as are also some 350 acres constituted by the London squares, and it is not proposed—I hope, at all events— to appropriate the London squares for this purpose. Therefore, when those adjustments are taken into account, the acreage of open spaces vested in local authorities in the County of London is no more than about 5,500 acres, and out of that 5,500 acres, as I have said, some 2,100 acres have already been alienated — not permanently, I know— for purposes other than recreation and restful enjoyment.
In order to provide accommodation for 1,700 temporary dwellings, we shall need to remove some 800 allotments. It is not a case of just walking into the park or open space and saying: "Here is some open land, we can put temporary dwellings up here." This must be fringe land. It must be land near the existing services; land near the existing roads and streets. Therefore, you are limited to what I have described as fringe land, the depths of which must be from sixty to one hundred feet, and we shall have the gravest difficulty, though acting with the best will in the world, to find sufficient accommodation for 1,600 or 1,700 dwellings, which, as I have said, will mean removing some 800 allottees. That is on the footing that London needs only 12,000 temporary dwellings. The revised allocation for London, as at the 18th May, is 15,000— not 12,000. If 15,000 temporary dwellings are ultimately allocated — as it is to be hoped that they will be — then we shall need additional land for 539 some 4,700 temporary dwellings, which will mean, in total, not 170 acres in strips all over the place, but 470 acres.
I confess that I do not share the easy optimism of the Minister of Health that it will not be necessary to consider the use of some portions of the Royal parks for this purpose. I have no desire to see any park defaced by temporary dwellings, and I do not believe that any member of your Lordships' House has. But, I do not see, in the face of the admitted urgency that exists, why the Royal parks — so described merely because they were acquired by the State and are maintained by the State— should be exempt, and other open spaces should not. There is nothing sacrosanct about the Royal parks. Several of the parks now vested in local authorities were at one time Royal parks. Victoria Park, in the East End, which serves Hackney, Bethnal Green, Shore-ditch, Mile End and Stepney, was until 1877 maintained, as it had been acquired, by the State. And it was a Royal park. Kennington Park until 1887 was a Royal park; so was Battersea Park. Now it is the case that the large remaining Royal parks, like Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, are situated in areas and districts much better provided with open spaces than many of the districts which surround, say, Victoria Park or Battersea Park, or the parks which we shall have to encroach upon to provide these sites.
It seems to me to be something of an injustice that the more fortunate districts of London, where the Royal parks are situated, should be able to retain unaffected, unimpaired and unreduced their open spaces, whereas the less fortunate districts, the overcrowded districts, that great agglomeration termed sometimes, by way of reproach, the East End, should have to sacrifice some of their very scanty and very spare open spaces. I hope, therefore, as the London County Council said in its letter to the Minister as far back as December 22 last, that if this power is to be given to use open spaces, then the Royal parks may be considered from the point of view of their making their contribution to meeting the clamant need which exists for housing.
I was glad to have a repetition of the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in another place, that the Government 540 would bear the cost of reinstatement. The local authorities will be much obliged to the Government for that assurance. I only want to enter this caveat, if I may, that I hope that neither the Ministry nor the Exchequer will be too niggardly when they examine the costs of reinstatement. Reinstatement of an open space as a playing field or as a cricket pitch will always take at least two years, and will sometimes take very much longer. Much money, much attention and much work have been given for many years by the local authorities, not only in London but in the provinces as well, to developing their open spaces to a proper state for use as playing fields or as places of rest. It will take years to reinstate those which have been used for military and civil defence purposes, and it will take years to reinstate those which will be used for the purpose of temporary houses. The cost will not be merely the capital cost at the time that the dwellings are removed, but will also include the wages of park staff, perhaps for years afterwards, for rolling, tending, sowing, cutting and all the other activities which combined go to make a good playing field or cricket pitch. I hope, therefore, that the Ministry of Health and the Exchequer will, in discharging the assurance which has been given, discharge it—I do not say in a wasteful way but in a liberal and responsible fashion, having regard to the circumstances and to the cost of reinstating an open space to its original purpose.
I regret as much as any member of your Lordships' House that the first step in the replanning of London, a replanning which, includes the provision of much more open space for the citizens of London, should have to be, in the circumstances, to ask this House to pass a Bill to enable existing open spaces to be encroached upon; but the fact is that the housing problem is so acute that I do not believe there is any alternative.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I share to the full, as I am sure all your Lordships will, the deep regret expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, that a Bill of this character should be needed and should have to be introduced into your Lordships' House. It is only sheer necessity that would induce Parliament to pass such a measure. If it had been 541 any financial consideration which had been advanced in support of it, not for a moment would that have been listened to; for the value of our parks and open spaces is beyond all price. Noble Lords on these Benches must, however, in the circumstances most regretfully support the passage of this Bill.
As to the Royal parks, I do not find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Latham. It is not only a question of the comparative needs of the inhabitants of the quarters that surround the Royal parks and of the inhabitants in the East. End and in the south of London with which we are concerned; there is another consideration which comes in which is of very great importance, and that is the dignity and the seemliness of London as the capital of Great Britain and of the Empire. London is a centre which attracts great numbers of visitors from the Dominions, from the Colonies, from the United States and from all other countries. Owing to the neglect of past generations, it in many respects falls short of the dignity and greatness which properly belong to so august a capital; but certainly the parks in the centre of London are a remarkable feature of the city, which to a great extent redeem many of the other districts of London. It would be most regrettable if round Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, St. James's Park or Regents Park there should be erected for a period of ten years a number of temporary houses. That, I think, would be very detrimental to the status and prestige of London.
It is hoped and expected that in the corning years the number of visitors to Great Britain will be enormously increased, particularly with the possibility of cheap air travel from America and from other parts of the world. It may be that this industry of tourism will develop to a degree unimagined at the present time. It may, indeed, develop sufficiently to be an important factor in the economics of Great Britain. In these circumstances, I think that this fact should be taken into careful consideration, and the matter should not be dealt with solely from the point of view of the needs of the comparatively poor and the comparatively wealthy parts of London, though I realize to the full the cogency of the argument from that point of view advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Latham. Perhaps the 542 noble Lord, Lord Woolton, when he replies, will specifically state, for the information of the public, that this Bill does not apply to the Royal parks. That is clearly the case, because it applies in terms only to the parks vested in local authorities; but the general public may not be aware of that, and I do not think that the noble Lord mentioned the point in his introductory observations. It would remove possible misapprehension outside if it were stated in terms that the Royal parks are not affected by this Bill.
There is one other point on which I should like to address your Lordships. This Bill provides, and quite rightly, that all these temporary houses are to be removed within ten years at the latest. There is, however, a great danger in legislation of this character, which is passed more or less under duress and which is subjected to a time-limit, that when that limit is reached the conditions of that day may render it difficult to fulfil it. There may well be a movement in 1955 to ask Parliament to pass another Act to amend the Bill which is now going through your Lordships' House so as to extend the period of ten years and to remove that limitation. By that time, of course, the housing problem may have been solved. Perhaps your Lordships will consider, though from varying points of view, that that will depend largely on the result of the forthcoming General Election, in which, apparently, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, shows physical symptoms of having recently taken part!
Let us suppose, however, that the housing problem is not solved by then, and that to pull down these houses might involve the eviction of some thousands of people who would find it very difficult at that date to obtain other accommodation. A somewhat uneasy situation might then arise. I would suggest that it should from the outset be made quite clear that such a situation should not be allowed to arise, and that all these local authorities who will receive permission to erect these houses should definitely be regarded as under an absolute obligation to make such provision that at the end of these ten years these houses will in fact be removed, and that no request will be made for an extension of the period. In this House to-day I think we should make it clear and put it on record that we pass this Bill with great reluctance, and on the clear understanding that the ten-year 543 limit is meant to be a real statutory limit, and that it must be observed when the testing time arrives ten years from now. With those observations, I for one reluctantly support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 2.59 p.m.
THE EARL OF CAVAN
My Lords, after the reluctance which has been expressed not only from the Front Bench but elsewhere in regard to the passing of this Bill, I have no hesitation in saying that I think that it is a horrid little Bill, so horrid that I look on it as a pill rather than a Bill, and, however much sugar may be used to coat it, although it has to be swallowed I regard it as medicine. As things are, I can only ask the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to extend a sympathetic and protective arm to the very few playing fields that are in existence in the neighbourhood of the great cities. They are essential to the safety of the children of this country. Further, I would ask for that protection especially to the King George's Fields which, as your Lordships will remember, were subscribed for by public money in memory of King George V, and of which two other members of your Lordships' House besides myself are trustees.
There is one thing which I personally quite fail to understand, and that is why it is necessary that these sites for the erection of houses should have to be inside the boundaries of great cities. We have been told for some time past that it is the desire of town and country planning authorities to spread houses out into the country, and not make congestion worse congested. I fail to see why advantage cannot be taken of the surrender of aerodromes where you have perfect runways, electric light laid on, water laid on, all ready. I hope that the local authorities may have their attention drawn to the possibility of the use of these sites outside the boundaries of great cities, so that there may be no serious threat either to Royal parks or to the intensely valuable and not too numerous playing fields that are situated within them. Then I think the shocks that undoubtedly will be administered to the public by the passing of this Bill may be greatly lessened, and it is only because of the Bill's necessity that I would venture to support it.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just sat down, I very deeply regret the necessity for this Bill, and I should like to give an answer to the question which the noble and gallant Earl has just asked. In my view the reason why it is necessary to have housing on open spaces in London is that the previous Government— and noble Lords opposite are as much concerned in this as noble Lords on this side— neglected to take the first steps towards a housing policy, which was to have proper land legislation. The late Government failed to tackle that problem. They paid lip service time and again to the fact that they intended to go in for decongestion, dispersal, and redevelopment, but they did not really do anything serious about it because it was too controversial. What is going to happen in that regard now remains to be seen. I am glad to see that the Prime Minister's manifesto has put into the forefront, or, if not in the forefront, has given a very respectable amount of prominence to the intention to deal with compensation and betterment and the location of industry. That is there; I am delighted to see it. But if that land policy had been recognized as what it is— namely, the first step to a proper rehousing policy— two or three years ago, then I think this lamentable necessity might have been avoided. That was not done, however, and we are faced with the necessity of this temporary housing in open spaces.
What has interested me about this discussion is that, although we all dislike this Bill, we are all apparently agreed that it is necessary, and I think my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill did make good his case. The strength of that case is, I think, really known only to those of your Lordships who have been dealing with this housing matter at close quarters for a good many years. The strength of the demand for housing has still to make itself felt. Only one item in the discussion has proved controversial, and that is the question of whether or not the Royal parks should be included within the scope of this Bill. I am bound to say that I entirely agree with what fell from my noble friend Lord Samuel in every respect but that one. I found myself unable to accept his arguments about not 545 including the Royal parks. My Approach is not quite that of the noble Lord opposite, who said that Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park were situated in areas much better provided with open spaces than certain other areas. Well, of course, any area that contains Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park is bound to be better provided with open spaces than others, because those are the best open spaces in London.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I thought there was an implication that other places should have a share in those open spaces. I think the noble Lord is going to be on my side tomorrow, because I have already given notice that I intend to move an Amendment to this Bill to bring the Royal parks within its scope. Having given that notice, I do not think it would be proper to develop the point to-day, because this is a debate on the principle of the Bill. But the reason for the necessity is that there are certain boroughs in London—I will not particularize because I think my noble friend opposite may have other examples to bring forward— which cannot find even the few sites required for the number of temporary houses they want. Whatever the number may be, there are certain Metropolitan boroughs which cannot find their quota without impinging on the Royal parks. The case will have to be debated tomorrow, and I do not say more to develop it now. Subject to that, I am quite certain it is right that your Lordships should pass the Bill to-day.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ LORD HARMSWORTH
My Lords, I venture to intrude on your Lordships' attention for a few moments because this is a subject in which I have been very greatly interested, and indeed actively concerned, for perhaps thirty or forty years; I mean the general subject of parks, open spaces and playing grounds for the people of this country. With all the other noble Lords who have addressed the House, I join in deprecating the necessity for introducing a Bill of this kind. I am not at all sure, however, that the Government, in framing their Bill, have taken all the steps they might have taken to render it of a temporary character. For as certain as we are assembled in this House to-day I am convinced that ten 546 years hence, twenty years hence— and far longer than that— these temporary houses will still be encumbering parks and open spaces. It will be excessively difficult to remove them, and if the cost of removing them is cast on the local authorities my impression is that they never will be removed.
The Government could take charge of the cost of removing these houses, especially having regard to the fact that, as I understand, they will be the property of the Government. Certain assurances were given in another place the other day. Assurances by Ministers, of course, have no enduring quality, and I believe I am right in saying they need not necessarily have any effect on Courts of Law. But I think it would strengthen this position in regard to assurances if my noble friend on the Front Bench, with the immense authority that attaches to his position and his office, would reinforce these assurances of the intentions of the present Government so that at all events they would be on record in both Houses of Parliament.
I hope I am not out of order in saying that the activities of the Government, with their legislation, have caused more anxiety during the last few months to those interested in the open spaces of this country than at any period in all my association with that movement. It would be out of order if I were to discuss the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill, which was a positive menace in its original form to practically every open space in the country. Fortunately the Government have yielded to representations in Parliament and to a considerable amount of pressure from outside, and have very largely remedied the defects which made that Bill, in my judgment, one of the most unfortunate (having regard to the subject we are discussing) that has ever been introduced into Parliament. The time will come, I think, if it has not already arrived, when Parliament should lay it down as a principle for the guidance of Government Departments and local authorities that they will have no chance of laying hands on a public common or an open space without the express sanction of Parliament given in each instance, and not necessarily merely the sanction of the Minister. This is an enormously important subject and, as has been pointed out before, it is a great pity that in these days of reconstruction and 547 rehabilitation after the war, our own Government, within the last two or three months, have proposed to take measures inimical to all the best interests of open-air life and recreation in this country.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, I rise not to say anything in the least controversial on the subject of this measure which has been described as a pill. I think it is a pill but, after all, pills are sometimes a very necessary part of sustenance which human beings have to take. All I wish to point out is a purely legal matter of which perhaps the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has not thought. There is a question with regard to whether commons should ever be taken unless all common rights have in fact been extinguished, and in regard to that the Government are willing to give a very definite assurance. I only want to point this out. There are commons in the country with regard to which nobody knows whether all the common rights have been extinguished or not, and there are also commons in which there may be a very few people interested—I have known cases in which there was only one person left with common rights at all. I would venture to suggest to the noble Lord that the promise that he gives might be, so to speak, limited in this way: that he would not approve— he can speak, I suppose, only for himself— a proposal which involved the disturbance of existing common rights unless there were very few commoners (who could be dealt with) or unless it was impossible to ascertain whether there were any commoners with rights still subsisting. It is a very small matter but it might, in some parts of the country, be very important.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down for advising me to make that limitation to the somewhat general words which I used. I do accept that limitation to the assurances that I gave. The noble Lord, Lord Harmsworth, says that Ministers' assurances do not have the force of law. I am glad they have not, because if we were to clutter up the Courts of this country with Ministers' assurances through successive ages the judges might find themselves in a very difficult position.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I did make my introductory remarks on this Bill longer than I would otherwise have done because I wanted to give this assurance. The noble Lord was good enough to say my words carried some weight with some people. I wanted to give this assurance on my own behalf as well as on behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, who gave it substantially in the same sort of words, either himself or through his Parliamentary Secretary, in another place.
Now I come to another assurance. The noble and gallant Earl, after all he has done for the playing fields of this country, asks that they shall be protected. This question was raised in another place; and there I thought the Minister went just as far as ever he could go to give that assurance to the Playing Fields Association. If you add to that assurance the fact that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has also to be satisfied, then I think the noble Earl can rest assured that playing fields will only be taken in the most dire necessity.
After all, none of us like this Bill. No one, including myself, has spoken a word in favour of the Bill except to say that here is a balance of disadvantage. Are we going to leave people without homes, or are we going to leave some people with less open spaces than they otherwise would have? On that balance of disadvantage I think we have all come to the conclusion, regretful as we are, that this Bill should pass. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh is quite right in saying he has given a different explanation from the explanation I would have given, because I was a Minister in the last Government. Of course there has been one other factor that has been involved besides the negligence of the last Government, and that was that little incident of the war, which did come in and make it necessary for us to have all these temporary houses. That probably is one of the factors that the noble Lord has taken into consideration. I do not propose to say any more on the subject of Royal parks, other than, in reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, to say that it is true that Royal parks are not included in this Bill, which is a Bill that deals 549 with open spaces in the possession of public authorities. Obviously we are going to have another discussion to-morrow on that subject, on the Committee stage.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.