Orders of the Day — Leisure and Sport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd June 1964.

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Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking 12:00 am, 22nd June 1964

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) for reminding me of that. I always suspected that the Conservatives had had an advance glance at an early proof of our pamphlet, because their little pamphlet was rushed out in an enormous hurry long after it was known that ours was about to appear, and there were these extraordinary coincidences of figures and of other features of the two pamphlets. I seriously think that ours was the first serious attempt by any major party in the world to deal with the problem of leisure as a whole, the new patterns of patronage of the arts, sport, and all the rest of it. In any case, as my hon. Friend says, accusations of vote-catching at this point exactly cancel themselves out.

Having mentioned some of the problems and handicaps of any age of leisure as we approach it, might I mention a few of its advantages? The great central advantage seems to me to be simply the intrinsic one which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. W. T. Rodgers) mentioned. I agree with him strongly that work is not the chief end of man. Human beings are made and are entitled to enjoy a vast range of activities which may include creative work but which may more often be activities that might be dismissed as mere pleasure or fun. Do not let us dismiss fun as "mere".

Some hon. Members will have seen the announcement that the Civic Trust is hoping to develop the whole of the Lea Valley area as an enormous green wedge of recreation through one of the dreariest parts of East London. I am not sure that even the Civic Trust has realised fully and imaginatively how big this scheme could be. The Lea Valley could be a play area for the whole of Greater London and the adjacent counties. Incidentally, part of it might very well be devoted strictly to fun, since this is one of the posible sites for the great project which that genius of the English theatre, Miss Joan Littlewood, is now working on—a palace, park, or "laboratory of fun", as it was called in her article in the "New Scientist" a few weeks ago, which some hon. Members may have seen.

Another advantage of much greater leisure is that if one has only an hour or two and nothing much to do in the evening, one is apt to turn on the "telly", to watch it. fall asleep and go to bed. There will be time once more for reading, I am glad to say, as well as for watching television; even for reading books. There will be time, also—and this is perhaps a slight paradox—for more leisurely travel, for slower travel. We will not have to be in such a hurry. True, if someone in Hammersmith wants to go to the fun palace in the Lea Valley, he will be able to get there in about three minutes—by high speed monorail, of course—but the rest of us will be able to wander around on foot, or on bicycle, or even by car, exploring the beauties of our own and other people's countries. Last, and certainly not least important, there will be much more time for service to others, for voluntary service both at home and overseas. This is an obvious corollary to the whole idea of having more free time to spare.

So, if only we have the wisdom to train ourselves aright for what lies ahead, to impart true values, to provide the necessary physical facilities, not to tell people how to use their leisure, but to see to it that many good ways of using it are available, then this coming age of leisure can, after all, be a golden age of mankind.