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Licensing (Airports) Bill

Volume 527: debated on Friday 7 May 1954

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Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [ 5th February], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed.

3.44 p.m.

On a point of order. Is it in order for any hon. Member formally to move the Second Reading of this Bill?

The Second Reading has already been moved. It is an adjourned debate on Second Reading. Does the hon. Member for Baling, North (Mr. J Hudson) wish to address the House?

Order. I am glad to get the matter straight. The hon. Member was addressing the House when the House was adjourned previously. He now has the Floor of the House

I would have been glad to have been relieved of making a speech and to have relieved the House of any tedium in what I have to say, Sir. As I indicated in rather strong language in one of my earlier interventions in the matter—and there has been more than one occasion when I have had to intervene— I think this Bill is another example of people inordinately concerned about drinking and the liquor traffic in this country taking every opportunity they can to weaken the general liquor laws.

My view is that if, as this Bill proposes, we allow the air traveller at any time to obtain intoxicating beverages, despite the liquor laws of the country, there will be a spate of proposals for similar facilities from all sorts of other people, especially those connected with the tourist trade. Indeed, I have heard already reasons why the hotels of the country, particularly those used by foreign visitors coming in by plane or any other way, should be relieved of the strict rules under which liquor is provided.

I object to this Bill not only on the general ground that it is a proposal which, if taken seriously, would weaken the licensing laws of the country, but because of the small case made out for the proposals in the Bill. In fact, it is amazing that such a proposal should be before the House without any speech having been made in explanation by those responsible for it. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) gave a slight nod and one of his hon. Friends also nodded, and that seemed to be a sufficient reason why a revolutionary proposal of this kind should be made.

The question of the supply of liquor in new forms engaged the attention of the Royal Commission on Licensing which reported on the question of air travel and drink as well as upon many other aspects of the same issue. It was pointed out in that report that there was no case for an increase of facilities for those actually engaged in the piloting and general conduct of planes. In my judgment, it is more than likely that if there were a provision like the one suggested in this Bill, for drink to be taken at any time of the day or night as planes arrive, it would be difficult to guarantee that it would be kept quite apart from any arrangement for the refreshment of pilots and others engaged in the conduct of the planes.

This is most important. All hon. Members and the public should realise that no airline company in the world allows its aircrew to have drinks within a minimum period of eight hours of taking off in a passenger plane.

1 agree that that is the intention, but to weaken the general arrangements at the airport so that drinking facilities are made more readily available is no way in which to encourage pilots to observe the rule to which the hon. Member has referred, and which I am sure they do observe at the present time. It was to the possibility of weakening that rule that I was referring when I brought this matter forward.

In any case, one would have thought that in a matter of this kind those hon. Members whose names appear on the Bill would have managed to come to the House at some part of the proceedings and explain these things before the matter was plunged into in a form which compels me to get up almost without notice and indulge in what they would call my fancies. And I shall have to continue to indulge in my fancies Friday after Friday until almost the Greek Kalends, if Providence and the electorate are good enough to allow me. At any rate, I am here to oppose every proposal of this kind that is brought forward for the consideration of this House.

Air travel, of all forms of travel, should be specially free from this provision of drinking facilities. An air station is a place where travellers very frequently have to hang about before the departure of the plane on which they have booked their passage. I know that there is the case of the plane not being able to take off because of bad weather and the need to await further meteorological reports, as a result of which the authorities keep the passengers hanging about for prolonged periods. The best case that can be made for this provision is when a wait of that kind is involved and the hours happen to be the closing hours laid down by the general licensing laws of this country. I should have thought that that was the main* difficulty to be met.

Even when that is taken into account, the need to keep passengers free of drinking facilities before taking a prolonged journey is just as great in its way as the need to deny facilities to the pilots and others who are responsible for the conduct and care of the aeroplane and its maintenance.

Not long ago a case was reported in the Press of a man who obtained drink somewhere or other—I suppose within the licensing laws of the country—and who was in such a state in an aeroplane that he managed to force his way into the pilot's cabin and to tell the pilot how glorious it would be if the town over which they were flying, where his friends lived, was given the benefit of an air stunt or two. The man was a general nuisance in the aeroplane, to such an extent that he ultimately had to be taken in charge— rather forcibly according to the story I saw in the Press— and finally brought to the court and charged with the offence of being so much under the influence of drink as to be a danger to the air travel in which he had been taking part. That can happen and there is no case, in air travel in particular, for risks of that sort to be increased.

I may be told that they are taken already by the fact that under the liquor laws of this country before an air journey people can manage to secure drink for themselves and can manage 10 get themselves into a situation by which it is possible for them to do such things as I have described in the case which appeared before the court and was reported in the newspapers. Although that is so, I say that those risks ought not to be increased and there is no case, even for those passengers who wait about in fog and at other times for the dispatch of planes, to be subjected to this increased risk of being a nuisance to themselves and a nuisance to the air travel of which others are to have the benefit. I understand that this issue has been faced by other airlines, the American airlines in particular.

It has rather taken me by surprise that, with so long a list of Bills as we had before us today, this Bill should come up for serious debate. I am overwhelmed with figures, facts and documents which would have given me the opportunity to make a continuance of this speech which would run Friday after Friday, always with your consent, Mr. Speaker. But I am in the fortunate position today of seeing that the time is not far from 4 o'clock, so I am speaking without the benefit of all the documents which otherwise I would have had at hand.

I know very well that in America there have been announcements by the heads of American airlines—not all of them— indicating that the most important of them decline to have facilities of the sort proposed in this Bill. Generally speaking, they are forbidden because of the higher standards of safety they desire to secure by keeping drinks as far removed from the aeroplanes as possible—

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend will allow me to intervene? I wonder whether he could distinguish the difference in relation to the laws about drinking on the ground and drinking in the air? The logical development of his argument is that there should be no drinking in aircraft at all. We would therefore be able to get away from the difficulty of what happened recently in the United States and the question of Mr. Martini, as reported in "The Times." who came from South America —

(Croydon, East) rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

I am perfectly prepared to differentiate between the law regarding drinking in aeroplanes and at airports. I naturally regret the law as it stands regarding drinking in aeroplanes. I must not be regarded as giving my support to the continuance of such a law, but that is not the point before the House.

It being Four o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 25th June.