HL Deb 12 July 1955 vol 193 cc599-606

3.0 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, to say that a Bill is self-explanatory is obviously giving too many hostages to fortune; but if your Lordships will be good enough to read the Long Title of the Bill to which we are asking you to accord a Second Reading, you will realise that there is little more that I need add this afternoon to explain why we wish this measure to have your approval. The Long Title reads as follows: An Act to exempt international airports from the restrictions on the times at which intoxicating liquor may be sold or supplied. I do not doubt that your Lordships are familiar with this problem, which is by now old and well established. Many influential bodies have been pressing for the alteration in the law which is contained in this measure; notably the two airlines, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., and the other smaller airlines, and also the British Travel and Holidays Association. They have put forward the argument time and time again that the licensing laws at present in force in our major airports are a serious disadvantage to us in the highly competitive business of encouraging travellers to use our airlines in preference to all others.

The restrictions on the sale of liquor at airports are frankly not understood by the many thousands of foreigners who use our major airports; and since we ourselves can seldom understand our own licensing laws we can hardly blame them for being confused, and indeed annoyed, at the restrictions which they find placed upon them. This annoyance gives rise to a very bad first impression among people to whom we particularly desire to give a good impression. The odd situation in which the traveller is placed now is that the licensing law which obtains, say, at London Airport is that which obtains in Uxbridge, the nearest licensing authority. That means that the bars are normally open between 11 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. on weekdays—in other words roughly the same hours as one finds all over the country. There are certain exceptions, as your Lordships know. Special dispensations can be granted for special functions, for special trades and for special occasions, as will be familiar to those of your Lordships who know the Tavern at Lord's, or who have ever worked in Covent Garden. It was thought at one time that it might be possible to extend these special facilities to London Airport, but that has not been found possible.

The object of these restrictions in our licensing laws is, of course, to prevent continuous drinking. I think if any attempt were to be made to increase these ordinary licensing hours there would be strong reactions throughout the country. There is no great demand for any extension of the ordinary licensing laws, but it is surely ridiculous that the same laws which obtain in Uxbridge should obtain in a major international airport, where the last thing a traveller wants to do is to indulge in continuous drinking. The first thing he wants to do is to get away from the airport as soon as he can upon his journey. At the present time, these restrictions are marring the improvements which have been recently brought about at London Airport. We are expecting by 1960 that we shall have something like 3½ million passengers a year. All round the clock is now the order of the day for travel—twenty-four hours a day, come wind, cone weather. As your Lordships know, the popularity of the slightly cheaper night flights is rapidly increasing. This means that travellers, quite legitimately, desire a drink at all hours of the day and night; and the fact that they cannot get it is causing them great inconvenience.

I think I can make this point more clearly if I tell your Lordships that in the month of August this year, at the peak of the travel period, there will be 150,000 passengers going through London Airport at times when the bars would otherwise be shut. Half of those passengers will be foreigners. Foreigners now are quite markedly showing a preference to stop off at the other major European airports, rather than London Airport, because of the morn attractive facilities. London Airport and Prestwick are the only two major European airports without such facilities, and in consequence they are frequently, and understandably, criticised by the large number of travellers using the airports. They are at the moment the only two airports to which this Bill will apply—and for this very important reason: they are the only two airports which have a bar within the customs barrier, and it is only to bona fide travellers that these facilities are to be made available. You must have gone through the customs barrier and become isolated from your friends and visitors before you can make use of the facilities which we are proposing to create by this Bill. It applies, therefore, only to bona fide international passengers. It will not even apply to passengers flying from London to Birmingham or Glasgow, because they do not have to go through the customs barrier.

This measure, I know, has met with a little opposition from those who feel strongly about temperance. We respect the sincerity of their views. This matter was discussed during the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Furness, a few days ago on the travel industry. I feel that some of the opponents of this measure have put forward quite a fanciful picture which suggests to me that they have not fully understood the purpose of the Bill. I was shown one letter in the provincial Press only yesterday which conjured up pictures of vanloads of mala fide travellers careering down the Bath Road intent on prolonged drinking orgies at London Airport. This cannot happen under the Bill because, as I have said, the facilities can be enjoyed only by those who have been through the customs barrier. I must admit that certain airport officials can also make use of the bars—people who work there, like the police, the immigration officers and staff from the Home Office; but, I hasten to assure your Lordships, Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State from the same Department are normally excluded from participation. I hope your Lordships will agree that this is a reasonable Bill. It will not give rise to the abuse which those who have misunderstood it have feared. It is necessary as an adjunct to the travel facilities we hope to offer to the travellers whom we are attempting to attract into our major airports. I hope that your Lordships will again give the Bill the cordial welcome you extended to its First Reading a few days ago.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Mancroft.)

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, speaking personally, I welcome this Bill, because I know that what the noble Lord has said is true. I know that there are a large number of travellers who resent not being able to get a drink. I think many of them are rather like I am myself—it is not so much that I want a drink, but r do not like not being able to get one. I If they can get a drink they are quite happy without one, but directly you tell them they cannot have one then they want one. As President of the British Travel and Holidays Association, I know this to be a fact, because we have a large number of complaints, and this is one of the most common.

On the other hand, I should have been entirely opposed to this Bill if it had been a Bill to authorise the establishment of a super public-house which would be open for twenty-four hours in the day, so that when you finished drinking in the ordinary hours, which may or may not be reasonable, you could go round to another place and get your drinks there. I am glad that the noble Lord has made that quite plain. I did not quite realise it when I read the Bill for the first time, but I suppose there is no doubt at all that he is right and that this Bill could apply only to bona fide travellers on the aeroplanes, and does not include friends coming to see them off. I suppose that I have travelled by air as much as most of your Lordships. I confess that I have sometimes found that when people are going on a far distant flight across the sea they are a bit frightened; and I have sometimes found that a little drop of brandy brightens them up and makes them view the prospects of the flight with greater equanimity, particularly in the case of people who normally do not drink anything. I have known them, in these circumstances, desire something of that sort. Therefore, I am in favour of this Bill.

I do not know what the application is to Scotland, because in Scotland—and also in Wales—there are special licensing laws on Sundays. I do not know whether there is one of these airports in Wales—I gather that there is not; therefore the point does not arise there. But I do not know what the position is in Scotland. I can well understand that there are some Scots who will need some reassurance about this matter—as to how far it is going to interfere with their law. But on the understanding that this Bill applies only to bona fide travellers, I think this is a good measure and should be supported.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support, very briefly, the Second Reading of this Bill, I feel that I must declare an interest, even if it is a rather remote one. I am a director of a firm of wine importers in the City of London. I am sorry that, because of inadequate commercial knowledge, I do not know—I ought to know and I ought to be able to tell your Lordships—whether my firm sells wine indirectly (I know that we do not do it directly) to London Airport. I feel that this Bill meets a sincere need. All has been said that can be said in its support by the noble Lord. Lord Man-croft, and by the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition. I certainly hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading and a speedy passage, and that it will not be too long before it is in operation.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, this afternoon, listening to what has been said in favour of this Bill, I feel that, instead of what we anticipated would be dealt with—that is, strong drink—we have been having soothing syrup. We have had it in the speeches. They were speeches of explanation which I do not doubt for a moment; I believe they are quite accurate. I am sure that they will give a good deal of relief to those who saw in this measure, as framed, the possibility of very serious consequences. Even so, I do not look upon the speeches that have been made in favour of the Bill as being a very great compliment to air travellers, who apparently are so desperately anxious to have liquor available that they will change over from an air route that includes a "touch-down" in Britain rather than be denied the opportunity of drinking facilities.

The vision that was conjured up by mention of this Bill, however, was much more serious than that. It was that by the Bill we were providing facilities for drinking at the airports that would make it possible for the British resident meeting his friends from abroad to join them in a drink. The first thing that seems to occur to quite a number of people in these islands when they meet friends is to have a drink. That possibility was looked upon with misgiving by those who foresaw a danger that a man meeting his foreign friend at an airport would have a drink and would then drive along the roads contrary to the road code. That, it was felt, would be an increased menace in respect of the possibility of road accidents. Obviously, that is not to be the case. The only point I want to put to the. Minister is that mentioned by my noble and learned Leader, the question of Scotland. Will it be possible at Scottish airports—and Prestwick is the one that most notably comes to mind as an international airport—for the general law of Scotland in this matter (and remember that Scotland has local option in respect of liquor licences) to be overridden by the provision of the opportunity for drinking? Will the local authority in Scotland in whose area an airport comes be required to provide the necessary facilities?


My Lords, I hope I do not transgress the rule that a member of the board of a public corporation should not speak upon the subject over the field of which the corporation operates; but, as a member now of the Board of British European Airways, I speak not in that capacity but only to say a word on behalf of air travellers in general, and I have in mind particularly the foreign air traveller. I should like to give support to this Bill and say that I am sure it will make a great difference to the total volume of transit traffic that the international airports of Great Britain will enjoy in future years. As the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition said, sometimes a little alcoholic refreshment is a great help before a journey if a passenger is nervous. Also, when someone has landed after a hard and harsh journey across the Atlantic and has been feeling or has been air-sick for many hours, a small dose of alcoholic refreshment is something very welcome and not unreasonable to expect or to receive.

Yesterday, in the course of trying to learn something of my duties as a new member of the Board, I spent the day at London Airport and saw for myself where the proposed bar for international travellers is located. As, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will do, I can assure the Leader of the Opposition, from my own personal inspection, that the passengers who will enjoy these facilities will be absolutely segregated. They are international travellers. They cannot enter that bar until they have passed Customs, Treasury and Immigration. They have cut themselves off from the rest of the world until they have gone through those formalities and have either come back to the normal form of life in this island or have departed to some other shores. There is no question of the general public's being able to enjoy those facilities. The bar, the "iron curtain," is a very secure one, which I believe no one but the qualified will be able to pass.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for giving this Bill such a sympathetic hearing. There is hardly need for me to say anything more because the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has really answered the questions which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, put. There is a reference in the Bill—though I agree that it may not at first be readily apparent—to the fact that the licensed premises should be "within the examination station." It is only the bona-fide traveller who can be within the examination station. With regard to Scotland, I can put the doubts of both noble Lords at rest when I say that Prestwick will be as independent of licensing rules at Ayr as London Airport will be from Uxbridge. The matter has been gone into carefully with the Scottish authorities because the law relating to liquor licensing is slightly different; but the same conditions will apply at Prestwick as prevail at London Airport. I foresee no difficulties about that. As regards Wales, that is rather an academic point at the moment because there is no international Welsh airport to fit into the provisions of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.