Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens.

Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 25th February 1924.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplemental sum, not exceeding £34,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924, for Expenditure in respect of Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens.

Photo of Mr Frederick Jowett Mr Frederick Jowett , Bradford East

If hon. Members look at the first figure in the third column of this Estimate relating to Unemployment Belief Works they will see there is an amount for £41,850. If £6,000 be added to that figure, the said £6,000 being the savings on Item GG for the current year, the figure will be £47,850, and that is the amount which it is proposed should be spent for the relief of unemployment in the Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens this year. No doubt the Committee would like me to state the ultimate liability. The whole amount involved during this and next year is £60,760. The sum of £11,340 of this amount is on account of new works, and £49,420 on account of maintenance. The proportion that will probably be spent on labour may approximately be said to be 60 per cent. unskilled and 10 per cent skilled labour, and the remaining 30 per cent will be spent on materials. The number of men at present employed on this work for the relief of the unemployed is approximately 1,020, and that number will hardly vary under the Supplementary Estimate for the period during which this work continues.

If the Committee will allow me, I would like to give a few examples of the kind of work which is being undertaken in this way. At Richmond Park the sum of £5,625 is to be spent on lavatory accommodation. In this park, with the exception of some out of date accommodation, no lavatory accommodation is at present available, and this money is for the erection of five new lavatories and the reconstruction of another. With regard to maintenance, perhaps I may give one or two examples. At Bushey Park £6,250 is the amount to be spent on repairs to boundary walls, the remaking and draining of footpaths, cleaning ditches, draining portions of the park, relaying roads, and preparing tennis courts. Hon. Members will observe here that the tennis courts instituted in the Royal Parks are an extremely profitable concern, so there will be no loss there.

The sum of £9,800 is to be spent at Greenwich Park on repairs to boundary walls, repuddling part of the lake, remaking roads and paths and levelling the ground for games, etc. I have given examples of the expenditure which I have already sketched, but I wish to observe before leaving the matter to the Committee that nearly all this work would have had to be done in any case before very long, and a very large part of the work, especially the maintenance part which is approximately four-fifths of the whole, is already overdue, and would have been done before now had it not been for the strong pressure to reduce the Estimates.

Photo of Major Sir Richard Barnett Major Sir Richard Barnett , St Pancras South West

Before the right hon. Gentleman gets this Vote, I should like to have an assurance from him, and I am sure the House will be glad to have it, that the work of restoring Regent's Park will be carried to an early conclusion. As the senior Member for the Regent's Park district, I have for the past five years, in season and out of season, been advocating the removal of those unsightly buildings which deprived the public of so much space that should be devoted to their enjoyment and recreation, and by slow degrees I succeeded in obtaining from the right hon. Gentleman's Department the removal of those buildings. [An HON. MEMBER: "The elephant house"?] No, the elephant house has been left to the hon. Gentleman. I am not referring to the Zoo, but to Regent's Park. A large number of buildings were erected there during the War, and others were put up after the Armistice. The Ministry of Pensions was allowed to put up a very large range of buildings, where some 4,000 or 5,000 ladies were employed, no doubt greatly to the advantage of the nation, but to the disadvantage of my constituents. With great difficulty we got, first, the Ordnance Stores, and then the Pensions buildings, removed, but one crying evil still exists, and that is the large area devoted during the War to aircraft. It is now supposed to be in the possession of the Aircraft Disposal Co., which is an alias of the Imperial and Foreign Corporation. The Company has been there for years. Under some wonderful bargain which was made by the late Ministry of Munitions, all the aircraft that were in the Park after the War were sold to this Company, and the agreement contained a very loose clause which allowed the purchasers to retain possession of the buildings until they in their turn should dispose of the aircraft. But they never did dispose of them; as far as I know they never disposed of anything—there was a slump in aircraft. The result is that 11 acres of Regent's Park remain in the possession of these people or their successors, and I submit that it is a scandal that that should be allowed to go on. We have done our best with the Office of Works, and I did get an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor a few months ago that at last the work of getting rid of the Aircraft Disposal Co. was to be carried through, and that the site would be sown with grass next autumn. Before the right hon. Gentleman gets this Vote, I want him to dot the i's and cross the t's of his predecessor's declaration, and to tell us that these buildings will be swept away root and branch and that the ground will be resown and restored to its proper use before the end of the present year.

Photo of Sir Martin Conway Sir Martin Conway , Combined English Universities

I wish to take this opportunity of calling attention to a great public nuisance, which is not, indeed, confined to the parks, for it is universal, but which is most in evidence, as far as Londoners are concerned, in the Royal Parks. I refer to the horrible habit which the public have of strewing about waste paper—a habit which is even observable in this Chamber. And it is not only waste paper that is strewn about, but, worse still, empty tins. I understand—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that merely to pick up the waste paper that is strewn about in the Royal Parks costs something like £400 a month in the summer, and goes down to £90 or thereabouts a month in the winter. Therefore, I am justified in calling attention to the matter on this Vote, for I have no doubt that employment is given to unemployed people in picking up this paper. If I am in order in doing so, I would point out that it is not only in London parks that this nuisance is continually in evidence, but also in all the parks surrounding London.

Photo of Sir Cyril Entwistle Sir Cyril Entwistle , Kingston upon Hull South West

The hon. Member is going a little wide of the Supplementary Estimate. He must bring his remarks under one of the Sub-heads.

Photo of Sir Martin Conway Sir Martin Conway , Combined English Universities

I bring myself under the head of unemployment, because I take it that the picking up of paper is unemployment relief work, which is one of the sub-heads of this Vote. I do not wish to elaborate this question, but it is a very important one. We have got rid of certain bad habits. For instance, the habit of spitting all over the place is now nearly extinct, owing to the creation of a strong public opinion against it as one of the things that is not done, and I hope it may be found possible to create a public opinion also against this disgraceful habit of littering up public places. If any hon. Member doubts the urgency of this matter and the extent of the nuisance, let him go into one of the London parks the day after a Bank Holiday, when he will hardly see the grass for the paper that is lying about. The question of picking it up may, of course, be considered a God-send as a means of relieving unemployment, but I am sure that, if the matter were taken completely in hand, to pick up the paper all over England would employ all the unemployed, almost without exception. I only raise the question now because this is an opportunity of calling public attention to it, and I hope that in the immediate future some effort will be made to raise public opinion against what is a real public nuisance and, indeed, a public scandal.

Photo of Mr John Baird Mr John Baird , Ayr District of Burghs

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has received the same criticism which I think all First Commissioners have received with regard to waste paper and to the buildings in Regent's Park. I trust that he will be successful in dealing with the buildings in Regent's Park, but I am afraid that the matter of waste paper is a more difficult one. I would only make this suggestion, that, if he cannot reduce the amount of literature available for people to scatter about, he might find it hopeful to increase the number of receptacles which exist in the parks for receiving it. That, I think, is a possibility. I only rose to ask two questions. The right hon. Gentleman said that the number of men at present employed is 1,020, and that that number will not vary appreciably over the period during which the work is continued. Am I justified, therefore, in thinking that the Office of Works has managed to get its work forward so expeditiously that it has reached the peak stage now, and that the total number of men that it is possible to employ are employed? I well remember that our Estimates were based more or less on that being the case, the object being to get as much employment as possible. If the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in reaching the peak now, I think it is a very satisfactory result of his efforts.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could also answer one further question. He said that the numbers would remain at their present level during the continuance of the work. To the best of my recollection, the work was going to continue into the spring, and, indeed, into the early summer—that is to say, it would cover a period longer than is covered by this Supplementary Estimate, and would go well into the next financial year. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman could give the Committee any idea of the period that will be covered by this work, which is really unemployment relief work with a very useful object. I am quite certain that no one in any quarter of the Committee will grudge money spent on the upkeep and maintenance of the parks. Although, perhaps, if economy were the only thing to which we were to have regard, a great deal of this work would not have been put in hand, it is true to say that the community as a whole will benefit. Not only those who live in London, but those who come from distant places in the country, will benefit from the money spent in keeping the parks up to a standard higher than that of any parks in any other part of the world, as I think we are entitled to say. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

You do not know Greenock.

Photo of Mr John Baird Mr John Baird , Ayr District of Burghs

When the hon. Member has been longer in London, and has had more opportunities of examining the parks, I think he will agree that even we in Scotland have something to learn on this matter.

Photo of Mr John Baird Mr John Baird , Ayr District of Burghs

I did not intend to strike a note of controversy, and, therefore, hon. Members will not wish me to pursue that subject. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman these two questions, as to the duration of the work and as to whether the peak number of people employed has been reached.

Mr. PALMER:

I take this opportunity of drawing attention to the amount to be spent on unemployment relief work. The figures, as I view them, appear to be rather small, judging from what seems to me to be the immense amount of arrears of work to be done in the parks. I am one of those who believe that these parks have fallen into their sad state of disrepair during the lifetime of the preceding Government, and I am rather surprised that the Government cannot embark on larger and more ambitious schemes than clearing up waste paper and brushing aside old aerodromes which have fallen into disuse. I think there is a much more useful work to be done in developing our parks, particularly in a place like London and in areas where housing is so bad, and where parks afford the only ray of sunshine that the people living in those areas get. Another important matter to which I desire to draw the attention of the Committee, in connection with these relief works, is that of the rates of wages paid and authorised by the Department represented by my right hon. Friend. I represent a constituency in which there is a Royal Park, namely, the Royal Park of Greenwich, where men are employed on relief work, not only at 75 per cent. of the rates obtaining—which in the first place appears to be an injustice—but actually at so low a rate as 38s. a week. I do not rise to oppose this Estimate; I should have been better pleased to find that it was larger, and to receive some sort of assurance from my right hon. Friend that he had come into his position on the Front Bench with a fixed determination to make our parks more beautiful, to develop and complete the parks as they should be, and also to extend them and make them more popular than they are at the present time.

Photo of Sir Joseph Hood Sir Joseph Hood , Wimbledon

I should like to ask if the right hon. Gentleman is now prepared to make any statement with regard to additional facilities in Richmond Park for golf, the present facilities having proved so successful, not only from the point of view of recreation, but also financially?

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

In reference to the point raised by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir J. Baird) about placing receptacles in the parks for the receipt of waste paper, will my right hon. Friend also consider the placing of one at the end of the Front Opposition Bench?

Photo of Mr Frederick Jowett Mr Frederick Jowett , Bradford East

With regard to the buildings in Regent's Park, I am afraid I could not enter into a discussion of that matter because it is not included in the Supplementary Estimates. The removal of the buildings is provided for otherwise, but I can give the assurance that they are to be removed. With regard to the question of the right hon. Baronet, it is true that the number employed is at present at the peak, and to that extent I have to acknowledge that my predecessor, whose Supplementary Estimates these really are, provided well to that extent. The answer to his other question is that the work will run, not only through the remainder of this financial year, but on into the summer. As to the complaint that enough money is not being provided, the Office of Works, although one would expect it to be a Department which would be readily adaptable for providing work for the unskilled unemployed, is largely an establishment engaged in very complicated work. Large buildings, of course, to any number could be put up to fill needs which are positively known to be required, but that is not work for the unemployed. It is skilled work, work of the kind which is not wanted at present when builders are required for houses. In so far as unskilled work can be provided, it is largely in the clearing of paths, and ordinary work of the kind covered by this Supplementary Estimate, and to the extent that it is possible to provide such work, it is provided for in the Estimates I have submitted.

Mr. PALMER:

Is my right hon. Friend's Department following the same procedure as other Government Departments, and looking up schemes for work?

Photo of Mr Frederick Jowett Mr Frederick Jowett , Bradford East

Oh, yes. We have already made a careful survey for the Estimates which are to be submitted later on for the coming year. The question of the proportionate payment for work given to the unemployed is now under consideration, and a statement will shortly be made upon it.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Will any alteration that is made with regard to wages have a retrospective effect on the men who are now employed?

Photo of Mr Frederick Jowett Mr Frederick Jowett , Bradford East

My hon. Friend must await the statement. I cannot answer that now.

Photo of Mr Harry Becker Mr Harry Becker , Richmond (Surrey)

With regard to the suggested golf course in Richmond Park, if it is decided upon, are the Richmond unemployed to have the job of building it?

Photo of Mr Frederick Jowett Mr Frederick Jowett , Bradford East

I could not reply to that question at present. The construction of the golf course is under consideration.

Question put, and agreed to.