HC Deb 15 July 1946 vol 425 cc950-4

7.15 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 2, at the end, to insert: (4) It is hereby declared that the Parliament of Northern Ireland has power to make laws for purposes similar to the purposes of this section. This Clause deals with the granting of licenses to passenger aircraft, and the Attorney-General of Northern Ireland, who looked at the Bill, has come to the conclusion that aerial navigation is reserved under the Government of Ireland Act. That being so, and since this Clause purports to grant licences in respect of aerial aircraft, he would not be prepared to certify a corresponding Clause unless supported by the appropriate enablement. This Amendment, together with one which the House will be asked to accept later on to Clause 62, will permit Northern Ireland to do that. It is felt by the Government, that this is really a domestic matter, and, although technically it comes within the terms of the Government of Ireland Act, it was not the sort of thing that the Government of the time did want to reserve.

Mr. Walker (Rossendale)

I am very sorry to have to oppose my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in this matter, but I regard this Clause as being thoroughly bad, retrograde, and distinctly anti-social. The Amendment seeks to allow the Parliament of Northern Ireland to make laws for purposes similar to the purpose of this Clause, namely, to provide the means for drinking—

Mr. Speaker

We are discussing only whether Northern Ireland can apply. We cannot discuss the whole of the Clause.

Mr. Walker

We are asking Northern Ireland to do something which, in the opinion of many of us, is a very bad practice indeed. In my opinion we are not making ourselves an influential body of people in the eyes of the world in asking another Parliament, a member of the United Kingdom, to emulate our vices, rather than our virtues. The Clause allows drink to be sold to passengers on board an aircraft. I should imagine that a journey from one end of the United Kingdom to the other cannot possibly be more than two hours or so—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is discussing the sale of drink. We have already passed the Clause, and we cannot discuss it any longer. We can merely discuss whether Northern Ireland has power to make laws under this Clause. It is a question of the powers of Northern Ireland, and nothing else.

Mr. Walker

I know that this is a topic on which a man like myself quickly gets on to dangerous ground, Sir, so I will confine myself to saying that I am very sorry that a Labour Government, in which I am tremendously interested, should for one moment allow themselves to ask another Parliament to follow provisions such as are provided in this Clause. The Government are asking them to continue the vicious circle, instead of asking them to follow the great virtues for which we stand. I greatly deplore this Amendment.

Mr. J. Hudson

You have ruled very rightly on the matter before us, Mr. Speaker, so I must confine myself to a series of questions. Why should Northern Ireland have the right to send aeroplanes abroad with the assistance of "booze"? Why should there be the special advantage for Northern Ireland of allowing them to have liquor and tobacco licences for aeroplanes? I have just come back from a conducted tour of Austria, with other Members of Parliament. We were carefully informed before we went not to smoke. We have just published a very special warning about the dangers of drink in small quantities when driving motor vehicles. Why should we now ask Northern Ireland to go as wrong in this matter as we have gone wrong? We do foolish things in this House, but at least we can try to see that Northern Ireland does not do the same. I have great faith in Northern Ireland.

There is nobody from Northern Ireland here at the moment, but I would like to tell the House that Northern Ireland is exemplary in this matter of drink. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We must not blame every part of Ireland for the sins of the South, where, perhaps, drink has a special part to play. In Northern Ireland they drink, per head of the population, about three-fifths of what is drunk in this country. If I can safeguard Northern Ireland by any means, if I can protect them from the folly of the Chancellor, I will do so. I have had many good things to say about my right hon. Friend—he is a first-class man, he has done many excellent things, and I expect him to do many more—but in this matter, by granting facilities to Northern Ireland to send up aeroplanes on which there can be drinking, I think he is taking a retrograde step. I hope the public opinion in Northern Ireland will protect itself against the foolishness of the proposals in this Amendment. I commend to the attention of my fellow citizens in Northern Ireland the necessity for keeping out of aeroplanes the drink which people have been warned not to take when driving motor vehicles, drink which may mean the difference between life and death. I wish this step had not been taken.

Lieut. -Commander Braithwaite

I am sure that if some of my hon. Friends representing Ulster constituencies had realised that we were to have two such interesting speeches as we have just had on this Amendment, they would have been here. In their absence, may I say how much I am indebted to the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Walker) and to the hon. Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson) for demonstrating on the Floor of this House what many have known for so long —that teetotallers are notoriously "slower in the uptake" than any other section of the community? After all, what does the Chancellor's Amendment seek to do? To give power to the Government of Northern Ireland to refuse these licences if they think proper. The hon. Member for Rossendale said that the Government of Northern Ireland were being asked to provide liquor licences on board aircraft. All that is being done is to put the Government of Northern Ireland in precisely the same position as that of His Majesty's Government. This is really a drafting Amendment to make that possible, if the Government of Northern Ireland think it proper. So, let the two hon. Members opposite be comforted. The Government of Northern Ireland have power to refuse the licence. The hon. Member opposite rather suggested that we were asking Northern Ireland to grant licences. If he will read HANSARD tomorrow, he will find that that is what he said. I am rather surprised at him. The hon. Member for West Ealing took a rather more emphatic view. He is afraid of small quantities of alcohol being consumed. His speech reminded me of the story of two bluejackets walking past a Methodist chapel, outside of which was displayed the slogan: There is more nutrition in one half-pint of milk than in 12 half-pints of beer. One bluejacket said to his friend, "There is only one thing for it, we shall have to go and have 12 half-pints." I welcome this opportunity of defending the rights of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland to do as they think proper, either to grant or to withhold the licences. It is an unusual experience for me to support the Chancellor. This is, however, merely a drafting Amendment. I think the discussion has been worth while if only because we have on record from two hon. Members opposite two particularly fatuous speeches such as we expect from temperance fanatics.

7.30 p.m

Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)

I would not like the House to think that the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson) is the attitude generally adopted by this party. I am entirely in favour of giving to Northern Ireland the same powers as we enjoy. I have no particular reason for being a political friend of Northern Ireland; I think their representation in the House leaves very much to be desired. But my hon. Friend the Member for West Ealing is entirely wrong on this matter. Nobody proposes that alcoholic or any other drinks should play a part in running air services anywhere, even to Northern Ireland. It is only suggested that the Northern Irish people, if they like, shall give aeroplane passengers an opportunity, if they want, to drink alcohol. Nobody proposes that the passengers shall have gin poured down their throats, and nobody would force gin down my throat, even if I were coming away from Belfast. I hope the House will support the Amendment. I am sorry the representatives of Northern Ireland are not here, I deplore their politics, but I am willing to be charitable and decent towards them, and I support the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.