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Physical Culture (State Leadership)

Volume 531: debated on Thursday 28 October 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Kaberry.]

10.3 p.m.

Joshua Crookshank, in the "Sunday Chronicle" last Sunday, wrote:

"My doctor complains that he is overworked. People who lack vitality—and they ire on the increase—come in search of it. Why, they ask, should they feel permanently tired."
Dr. Franklin Bicknell, the famous nutritionist and chairman of the Food Education Society, wrote in a paper these very strong words:
"Almost without exception patients complain of weariness."
He calls it the "English complaint" and adds:
"Before the war weariness was an important symptom of disease. Now it is a symptom so universal that it must be ignored as a guide to a diagnosis."
It was with this in mind that I put a Question on the Order Paper on 21st October to the Prime Minister, which reads in HANSARD as follows:
"Mr. Dodds asked the Prime Minister it he is aware of the great strides made in many European countries in the development of physical culture under the leadership of the State; and, in view of the benefits that a nation can derive from such a policy, if he will consider appointing a Minister of Physical Education; and in what way Her Majesty's Government propose to give a lead to increase the facilities for physical fitness in this country."
I never had any intention—no serious intention—of asking that a Minister for Sport should be provided, but I felt that the subject was so important that it should be directed to the Prime Minister. By the rules on Questions in this House, it was necessary to put in the Question something which concerned the Prime Minister and that was the appointment of a Minister. I asked in the Question in what other way Her Majesty's Government would help in extending physical fitness in this country. I had another purpose as I wanted to focus attention on what I believe to be a very important matter. I am sorry to say that if the Question had been put only to the Minister of Education I do not think it would have been given the attention which resulted from it going to the Prime Minister.

I cannot say that I am happy about some of the reports which appeared in the daily newspapers. For instance, one of the prominent daily newspapers wrote:
"You are a lazy lot! You won't walk to work (except when there's a bus strike), you won't play games, you won't even dig the garden on a Saturday morning. All you do is to slump, pasty-faced, in your bus seat or armchair. What you need is a Minister of Physical Education to stir you up a bit, straighten those back and bring back the flush of youth to your cheeks. At least that is what Mr. Norman Dodds, Socialist M.P. for Dartford thinks."
It is a little strange to put it that way when the newspaper took the trouble to find out exactly what I had in mind. I told them the reason for raising the matter with the Prime Minister was to focus interest in it.

Another newspaper put it in this way:


Every time a continental football team drives a nail into the coffin of British supremacy, it drives a wound into the heart of Mr. Norman Dodds, Labour M.P. for Dartford."

It went on to say that I was wounded about the defeat we suffered in Moscow at the hands of the Dynamos and hurt when West Bromwich faded out against a Hungarian team.

It was rather strange that this newspaper sent a correspondent to my home at Dartford to find out what I thought about it. He arrived at the station, got a taxi to my home and there we had a long talk. When we had finished and I made it quite clear that I had no desire for a Minister of Sport, I said, "I will get the car out and run you to the station." He said, "How far is it away?" I said, "About five minutes in the car." He then asked "How far is it walking?" I replied that it took about 25 minutes to walk and he said, "After what you have told me I will walk to the station." That is the right sort of propaganda. A lot can be done to induce people to find the joy of living in physical fitness.

In passing, I may say that in my own home, having talked so much about this matter, my two boys—aged 16 and 14½—get up at 6 o'clock each morning and go round Dartford Heath in shorts. They are beginning to learn that there is some

real joy in living, even when it is only through using their legs to advantage. In answering the Question, the Prime Minister made it quite clear that he, too, did not have any liking for the idea of a Minister of Sport; in fact, that was something impossible, but he said this:

"It is the declared policy of Her Majesty's Government to encourage the development of sport and physical fitness. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1954 Vol. 531, c. 1383.]

I took that to be an important statement by the Prime Minister. I hope that in view of that statement some thought will be given in these days to catching up a bit with other European countries which are no better off than we are—some are poorer—but which are investing some of their nation's wealth in the development of sport. When I say "sport" I mean physical fitness—not the breaking of world records—so that not only the young but the not-so-young may feel far fitter. Surely, in the type of world in which we live there is every need that the nation should be as fit as possible.

Newspapers' attention to what I have been saying has brought me the biggest mailbag I have ever had on any subject. I am amazed at the interest shown in various parts of the country in the need for greater physical fitness. But almost in every instance the absence of money or facilities proves a stranglehold on the development of physical fitness in this country. I would not feel so strongly about it were it not that the nation is spending a tremendous amount of money on medicine and pills. This has been referred to as "torrents of medicine and mountains of pills." It seems to me that in recent years far too much emphasis has been placed on the fact that the people are run dawn and not feeling too well and that there is the National Health Service to give them tonics and restore them to better health.

From my own experience I have found that there are many people who seem as though they cannot live at all unless they have medicine bottles or pills at hand the whole time. I have been talking to doctors and I am concerned to find that many patients tell the doctors that unless they can get their bottles of medicine or pills they will change to another doctor. That places many doctors in a very difficult position. When people are talking about physical fitness we hear of bills for medicine and pills, not only under the National Health Service, but three times more than that amount spent by people out of their own pocket in buying tonics, pills and medicines. It is a sobering thought that 10 million aspirins are being bought and, I take it, swallowed by the people of this country. That is an authoritative figure.

I wonder whether this is a sign of a healthy nation, or is it because we place too much emphasis on what the National Health Service can do? Would it not be better if we paid a little more attention to inducing people, when they are well, to do things which would keep them well? I hope that, as we have a Conservative Government, I may appeal to them to invest a little more in physical fitness and recreation. That might pay good dividends in saving money otherwise spent on pills and medicines.

I said that I had had a lot of correspondence. People are concerned that grammar school boys, for instance, are becoming lazy. I have had the point put to me, "How can you talk about there not being physical fitness when we have such big and bonny children?" That is true, but it is also true that some of these big, bonny children find it essential to travel 500, 600 and 700 yards by bus rather than enjoy a sharp walk before school. Some of the physical training masters deplore the fact that in many parts of the country so little emphasis is placed on physical education.

I have seen some of these cross-country runs by boys from grammar schools. Invariably, four or five boys do their best and then the biggest number of them amble along as if they were old-age pensioners on an outing. We should not blame the young people too much; those of the older generation are to blame because of their lack of emphasis on physical education.

In a report in one national newspaper about the Dynamos v. Arsenal match a big point was made about what the visitors had seen. They had seen the young, and the not so young, being coached in a central stadium in Moscow. They saw boys of 12 and upwards working at their sports and they could not help thinking of the boys back home who, when they leave school, are almost forgotten.

I should like to emphasise that whereas we may get some satisfaction about the conditions during the school life of young children, our main concern is that when they leave school they have no facilities to enable them to continue their physical education. I have in my hand a programme of the Charlton Athletic Football Club. On the back it mentions two of the players who went to Hanover to play against a team there. During their visit they stayed at a sports hostel which is very up to date, with a gymnasium and a swimming bath.

It says that the hostel is one of several in Western Germany where young boys can be coached. They can go for a fortnight, even after leaving school, and get coaching in football and other sports. The programme mentions that there are several hostels of this kind and—not that I would advocate it here—they are built from funds raised by taking a percentage from the State-controlled football pools in Western Germany. I do not say where the money should come from, but merely that we need similar facilities here.

I have a note from Mr. C. J. Palmer, Vice-President of the London Schools Football Association. He takes teams of London school boys to Western Germany. He mentions the hostels and says that they provide continuity coaching for the lads after reaching school-leaving age. He says that the facilities give the German boys a great advantage over ours. He yearns for the provision of similar facilities in this country.

I am indebted to Peter Small of the "Daily Herald" for his efforts. He is a young man who is doing much in the journalistic world to help to create interest in the provision of greater sports facilities and the promotion of physical fitness. I am informed that up to a few months ago there were, in the whole of England and Wales, only 44 public running tracks and 71 privately owned running tracks. Finland, with only a fraction of our population, has over 600 tracks. Liverpool, with a population of over 800,000, has no public running track. Neither have such large towns as Gloucester, Blackburn, Bristol, Wolverhampton, Swansea and Newcastle. It is worth noting that in London, where there are more public running tracks per head of the population than anywhere else in the country, there are many good athletes.

My main purpose is not to press for facilities for breaking world records, though it should be remembered that the successes of the Bannisters, the Chataways and the Piries have done much to encourage young people to go in for some form of sport and physical recreation.

This week we learned from the Press that the Bedford Town Council had been hoping to have a track at a cost of £19,500. The Council had hoped to get a grant from the National Playing Fields Association. When they applied they found that all the money was gone and that the grant that they could get from the National Playing Fields Association in the normal way was £300. So the proposal has been shelved; yet the track is greatly needed in the locality according to the report in the Press. I hope the Minister will not deny it, because the report comes from the "Evening News," and I accept that there must be some truth in it. That is the source of my information.

The National Playing Fields Association estimates that 300 runnning tracks are required in England and Wales. That is on the basis that all towns with more than 30,000 people should have a public cinder track and that larger towns should have a track for every 200,000 inhabitants. As against that estimate, the number of tracks in existence is very small. I know many towns having fewer than 30,000 inhabitants where one of these stadiums would be a good investment. Erith, in my own constituency, has a marvellous new stadium which, I believe, will prove to be a good investment.

I know that the Ministry of Education takes an interest in sporting organisations which cater for adults. I have in rind the Central Council of Physical Recreation, and I wish I had more time to deal with it. It has done an amazing job on a budget of £100,000, probably £75,000 of which is provided by the State, but many of its activities are specified. In other words, it is told how it may spend its money. It is heartbreaking to hear what is said by some of the people who are concerned with this work and to realise what a tremendous difference another £100,000 would make in other branches of sport which are equally important.

Another organisation is the Cyclists' Touring Club, which has been in existence for 76 years, doing a marvellous job not only at home but also in taking young people abroad to see in France, Spain and other countries things which are essential for good fellowship. There is also the British Workers' Sports Association, which refers in a letter to me to facilities in Russia, Norway, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Finland and makes a big point about Purchase Tax crippling some of the efforts in that it makes sports too expensive for the individual.

I must not forget the Ramblers, who would like fares to be cheaper so that they could get out into the country to do a little hiking. I hope that that point will be borne in mind. Finally, there is the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland, one of the oldest clubs of that sort in the world. It showed the French people how to do this sort of thing. It is finding that sites are becoming scarcer and scarcer in Great Britain because the commercial instinct is more towards caravans and less towards tents.

I wish the clock would not go round so fast. I must leave my list of clubs in order to conclude what I have to say. The Government have been greatly interested in clean food campaigns, and still are. I am too, and will support them, but I should also like to see some enthusiasm for a physical fitness campaign. I was interested in a letter I received, which said:

"As a member of the original Fitness Committee sponsored by the Government, but which came to an end when war broke out. …"

That is an interesting point. I wonder whether there is any hope of our having a similar committee and another campaign of that type.

I should like more investment in physical fitness and less in medicine and pills. If no other good results from this debate —I intend to pursue the subject; this is not merely an Adjournment debate which is done with tonight, for there will be other opportunities for me to raise it again—I hope the Minister of Education will be induced to allow some of the people who have spoken to me about their efforts in the voluntary organisations to meet him in a deputation so that he can hear from them what they have to say about physical fitness needs.

10.25 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) for giving me this opportunity of making my first speech at this Box, and my first speech for several years since I took the vow of silence imposed by my former office.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has left me only 6½ minutes in which to reply to the very wide subject he has raised to-night. He will, of course, realise that a great deal of what he said is outside the province of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. I think, too, that he will have studied a similar debate that we had on this subject on 28th July, and will have read the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick-thorn), whose excellent work at the Ministry of Education I have had good cause to appreciate during the last few days. Therefore, there is not a great deal of fresh ground to be covered.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to state that the Government were interested in physical recreation. I have no difficulty in reassuring him on that point. Indeed, it is the duty of my right hon. Friend, under Section 1 of the 1944 Act, to promote the education of the people, and that, under Section 53 of the 1944 Act, includes physical recreation.

When it comes to the promotion of sport, that is a little more definite, but if the hon. Gentleman was speaking of assistance and encouragement of sport, that obviously is within the province of Her Majesty's Government. I do not think he wanted me to suggest that the Government should in any way control or direct the organisation of sport. It is my right hon. Friend's responsibility to see that physical recreation is provided for the greatest number of people possible, and I was very glad that the hon. Gentleman did not suggest that either the Government or the organisations which we encourage should merely produce champions. Our belief is that by raising the general standard of physical recreation we can produce the Chataways and Bannisters to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred. My right hon. Friend is concerned to develop to the full each person's physical potential.

I might say one word, which I am authorised to say by the Minister of Health, that he, just as the hon. Gentleman, deplores the taking of pills. I had thought that he had been criticised, not necessarily by the hon. Gentleman but by some of his colleagues, for trying to reduce the consumption of patent medicines and pills in this country. Most certainly the National Health Service is there to prevent rather than cure illness, and therefore if physical recreation can in any way contribute to that purpose it will have the support of my right hon. Friend.

The Ministry of Education has had laid upon it certain specific tasks under the various Acts, of which I think the hon. Gentleman is aware. In the first place, the 1944 Education Act provides for recreational facilities for all schoolchildren. In the second place, under the same Act, in Sections 41 and 53, local education authorities are empowered to provide special forms of recreational activity, not merely associated with schools. Under the Physical Training Act, 1937, my right hon. Friend is able to make grants to certain specific bodies, and local authorities have the same powers.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to some of these bodies, and I should like to endorse everything he said about the Central Council of Physical Recreation. If it does nothing else, I hope this debate will emphasise the important work which that body has been doing. It is a quasi-official body, in that when the Physical Training Act, 1937, went through this House, the Central Council of Physical Recreation was the body which was expected to see that the work was carried out. It is a body which was financed last year, as to 47 per cent, of its money, by the Ministry of Education. The remainder of its contributions come from voluntary subscriptions, from local education authorities who make use of its services, and, indeed, from the fees of those who attend its courses. It does not, as I understand it, organise games so much as train leaders and help and advise local authorities in what they have to do. In the words of its own report:
"…it serves to stimulate and where appropriate co-ordinate but not to compete."
The grant that this body will receive in the current year is £80,000, and I just mention here the increase over the year 1950–51, when the grant was £66,000. I have no doubt at all that the Council, which we look upon as the principal body in this field, could spend more money, but I have no evidence to the effect that they have consistently asked my right hon. Friend or his predecessor for an increase in funds over preceding years.

The Ministry of Education also give direct grants to four other sporting bodies, of whom the principal are the Amateur Athletic Association and the L.T.A., because they promote coaching schemes. I believe we are just about to see results from these coaching schemes, and they are doing a great deal in their respective fields. Secondly, there are grants to local organisations for playing fields and equipment, though it is regretted that during the last three years there has had to be a curtailment in this field. As the hon. Member knows, we are limited in the resources at our disposal, and we have been endeavouring to concentrate on first things first. In the field of education that is providing places for school children.

May I say one further word here. When it becomes possible to ease restrictions in the field of education, consideration will be given to increasing the virtually small grants at present made to these local organisations.

I would also say that the principal work of the Ministry is in the education and recreation of children in schools. I have noted the hon. Member's remarks about children in grammar schools. It is the function of Her Majesty's inspectorate to check up on physical education, and I have no reason to believe it is not being carried out effectively.

The hon. Member was anxious that I should say a word about the deputation before my time expires. Most certainly my right hon. Friend and I will receive him and his friends or the representatives of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, or the National Playing Fields Association, if they wish to see us. The latter did, in fact, come and see my right hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh) in February of this year and again just before that. We could not offer to see each one of the 171 constituent bodies of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, but if an approach should be made through the hon. Member or through one of these specific bodies we should be only too pleased to hear what they have to say, without any promise of being able to do all that they wish.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-seven Minutes to Eleven o'clock.