HC Deb 28 April 1988 vol 132 cc600-28

10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Summer Time Order 1988 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 8th March. The order has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The purpose of the order is to continue for one further year, that is for 1989, the existing arrangements for the starting and ending dates of summer time. It will mean that, as in previous years, summer time will start on the last Sunday in March—26 March—and end on the Sunday after the fourth Saturday in October—29 October. Both the starting and end times—1 am in each case—conform with the fourth directive on summer time of the European Community. All states in the Community, whatever time zone they are in, begin summer time on the same day, but the United Kingdom and Ireland end summer time about a month after the rest of the Community.

The draft order is uncontroversial, as it simply extends existing arrangements until the end of 1989, but there are other issues of which the House will wish to be aware. Because of continuing suggestions that there are benefits to be gained from a change in our arrangements, we have commissioned a substantive survey on summer time. That was announced on 31 March by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The survey seeks a response to the three options identified in a preliminary survey as being the most favoured.

The options are, first, the maintenance of the status quo, secondly, harmonisation of the ending of summer time with the rest of Europe—with the result that we would lose an hour's evening daylight in October—and, thirdly, the adoption of Greenwich mean time plus one hour in the winter, with Greenwich mean time plus two hours in the summer—which for these purposes means between the end of March and the end of September.

The third option would give us an extra hour of afternoon or evening daylight throughout the year. It would also move us into the same time zone as most other countries in western Europe. As a consequence, we would have a common time with them throughout the year.

Therefore, there are two independent issues to be considered in the consultation exercise. One is whether we should end summer time on the same day as the rest of Europe. The second, and quite separate, question is whether we should move into the central European time zone. The latter question is not a matter on which the Community has expressed a view, but it may have advantages for the United Kingdom. We need time to complete and consider the consultation already put in hand. If we decide to legislate we shall need yet more time. It seems inevitable that we shall require the status quo to be extended beyond 1989.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Minister has said that we shall need time to legislate. Given the correspondence that the Select Committee has received and the nature of EC legislation, does he agree that it is no longer within the power of the House to legislate on this matter? The necessary legislation will be enacted in Brussels and Strasbourg. Is not that correct?

Mr. Hogg

It depends very much on our ultimate decisions. We may decide that it would be helpful to adopt the third of the various options that I have outlined. That would need domestic legislation. I did not say that we would legislate. I said, "If we decide to legislate" and the emphasis was on the "if". We are consulting and until we have completed the consultation I do not know, nor can anyone know, what the decision will be. As I say, if we decide to legislate we shall need yet more time. It seems inevitable that we shall require the status quo to be extended beyond 1989. We shall discuss this matter with the European Commission.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The Minister has said that he will require the present arrangement to be extended by one year. What is the status of the fourth directive? Is the matter not subject to that?

Mr. Hogg

Does my hon. Friend mean the fourth directive or the article?

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The fourth directive.

Mr. Hogg

The fourth directive expires at the end of 1989. A further directive will be produced and I expect to see the draft in the middle of the summer. It must be in place by the beginning of next year and that is provided for in the fourth directive. The terms of that directive have not yet been settled, but we should like to see and will press vigorously for an extension of the status quo to achieve the purposes that I have outlined. I have no reason to suppose that the extension will not be forthcoming in the fifth directive.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

If it is the intention or one of the options of the Government to delay this whole business, why did they vote for the fourth directive which says quite clearly: The Council, acting on a proposal from the Commission, shall adopt by 1 January 1989 the arrangements to apply from 1990 onwards"? How does that square with the delaying option that the Minister has described?

Mr. Hogg

The arrangements provide for a derogation, as they provide for a derogation in the fourth directive that we are discussing. The fact that they seek to make provisos for forthcoming years and to achieve harmonisation does not preclude them from making a derogation in the directives, as they have done in the first, second, third and present directives. My view, for what it is worth, is that we shall have little difficulty in securing a further derogation to maintain the status quo for an extended period which will enable us to form a concluded view about the policy that is best suited to the United Kingdom. Then we can set about the negotiations, discussions and persuasion. It is against that background that I seek the agreement of the House for an extension of the present arrangements. That will enable us to pursue the action that I have outlined.

10.9 pm

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

We have two major papers before us—first, the fourth directive, and, secondly, the Summer Time Order 1988, which extends summer time, to which the Minister has referred. The directive defines the start of summer time for all member states for 1989. Additionally, it defines the end of summer time for 1989 for the United Kingdom, Ireland and all member states. This year, the end of summer time will be 29 October 1988 for the United Kingdom and Ireland, and 24 September 1988 for other member states. The Summer Time Order 1988 is mainly concerned with the start and end dates of summer time for 1989. Essentially, the order is about extending the existing summer time arrangements for another year while the matter is sorted out. In addition to that, article 5 of the EEC directive states that the EEC Council shall adopt by 1 January 1989 the arrangements, to apply from 1990 onwards. The Minister talked about his derogations in dealing with the matter. Bearing in mind that the fourth directive was voted on just before Christmas—only a few weeks ago—and bearing in mind that we have a Christmas break, it seems that the matter that was voted on in Brussels is in complete turmoil. It is quite surprising that it has been turned upside down already.

What is the order about? As the Minister's explanatory memorandum states, it is another attempt by the EEC to harmonise summer time for 1990 onwards. The purposes of the harmonisation have been expressed by various EEC documents—certainly those that I have read—in terms of benefits to transport companies. They have mentioned matters such as timetables and the improvement of trade and communications between member states. But there Is no mention of matters such as the quality of life, reducing the number of road accidents, crime, or the death of children as they go to and from school. As one is inclined to expect from the EEC these days, the motives are purely to do with the internal market.

Frankly, I am not sure about the benefits of harmonisation. I am not sure that we even need it. Of course we want to improve trade between EEC countries—that is obvious. But the order is about balancing the advantages and disadvantages of harmonisation with the advantages and disadvantages of improving the quality of life. I am talking about ensuring that, when they wake up in the morning, people are not in darkness for long periods. That gets worse further north. People in Scotland—particulary in the northern isles of Scotland—experience more darkness and misery than we experience in the south. Harmonisation must take such matters into account.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will the hon. Gentleman define two points for the benefit of the House? First, what exactly does he mean by the misery that is suffered by those in the north that would come from the harmonisation of summer time? Secondly, will he define in precise terms exactly what advantages acrue to the United Kingdom in economic and other terms by being one of the two odd men out of what is an extremely important piece of legislation for this country?

Mr. Randall

Those statements were based on the review of the earlier experiment between 1968 and 1971 and those documents referred to misery because people lived in darkness for long periods. In that sense, it does affect the quality of life, for instance, of elderly people who have to go out, and for mothers who worry about their children. In terms of the economic argument about which the hon. Gentleman asked, I will answer by putting a question to him. Would he like to quantify the benefits of harmonisation? I understand that it is not clear what the benefits would be, so I do not think that his odd-man-out argument stands up. These things cannot be quantified.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to harmonise summer time within the EEC and whether it would bring advantages or disadvantages, will the hon. Gentleman agree that if Parliament is passing over the right to decide by a majority what summer time would be applied throughout Europe, it would be helpful, convenient and constitutional for the House of Commons to be asked whether it wanted to give that power away?

Mr. Randall

The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) has leapt well ahead; I was coming to that very point a little later in my speech. This is the core of this whole debate and it is a matter that concerns me.

This is a highly emotional matter, and we are already beginning to sense this in the debate. Hon. Gentlemen laugh, but if one reads the record of the earlier debates one sees that it was extraordinary how people reacted to this. It is something about which people feel a great deal of concern and which raises a lot of emotion.

I truly believe that in terms of people who live in the north—and I do not have any interests at all there—it is the responsibility of us all, and particularly those who represent constituencies in the south or not all that far north, such as my own, to make sure that the interests of those in Scotland and the northern parts of England are taken into account.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Is not the issue that is being discussed tonight considerably more narrow than that discussed on previous occasions? Why is the hon. Gentleman so surprised that the European Economic Community should be concerned with economic issues? Does not common sense suggest that to harmonise the dates on which the clocks are changed would be a considerable advantage to those in business who are importing and exporting and rely on railway and airline timetables?

Mr. Randall

Again, I was going to come on to those points, but I want to take up the Minister's points about the options he has presented tonight. I do not want to talk about the economics because, as I have said, they have not been quantified and there is no way of putting any numbers on them. I accept that in terms of trade there would be some advantages. I am not disputing that. All I am saying is that I believe that in making this decision we have to strike the balance between the economic advantages and some of these other advantages, which we can call social advantages, and the direct effects upon the people concerned.

The Minister has referred to three options. I do not believe that we have three real options. First, he said that there would be the no-change option. Fine, we could take that course. The second is the more complicated option to describe; it is what I call the GMT plus one and the GMT plus two, and it means running summer time during winter and double summer time during summer. That is perhaps a shorthand way of describing it, but I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will appreciate that.

The third option is to harmonise the end of summer time. I do not believe that that is an option, because it would mean that we would end our summer time at the end of September, and that would be the beginning of winter. I believe that there would be absolute outrage in this country if that were to happen. I believe that we are down to two options: the first is to do nothing and the second is complete harmonisation—it is the whole lot, and that is what the EEC is after.

What will happen? The Minister has talked about his review. It is due to be completed by 30 June and people will be asked to submit comments, particularly quantitative, on these options. I am not sure what the results will be. We conducted an experiment between 1968 and 1971 and the conclusion was clear: that people did not want continuous summer time because of the effect of dark mornings. The proposal was thrown out of the House by a massive majority. Therefore, we already have good information about attitudes towards continuous summer time.

I am worried that the survey is being carried out by the Government. What do they hope to do with it? I would not accuse them of dishonesty, but we all know how these things can be fiddled and statistics can be played with. I should like to know how comprehensive the survey is. Who has been receiving these questionnaires? I wonder whether we shall see any dramatic change from the results of the earlier trial.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

To return to the question of the economic benefits, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the economic performance of the United States, which has three or four time zones, does not seem to suffer any bad effects? Does he agree that, however committed to the EEC we are, the Community does not rule the laws of geography?

Mr. Randall

I am inclined to agree with the hon. Gentleman. When I questioned the benefits of harmonisation, that was certainly an issue that came to the forefront of my mind. It is amazing that the United States can cope in this way, yet we in Europe, which is geographically narrower and smaller, seem to encounter greater problems.

Another matter of great anxiety was the point raised by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) which is that this fourth directive, which has been approved by the Government——

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Not by Parliament.

Mr. Randall

That is true, but it has been approved by the EEC. The directive was based on article 100A of the treaty of Rome. That means that the decision to adopt a 1 January 1989 deadline for establishing the long-term arrangements, those that will operate after 1990, was achieved by majority voting. We did not have a veto. The Government seem to have surrendered their right of veto which existed under article 100. Why did they do that? I cannot for the life of me understand why. It seems to be an act of folly and madness.

We have only two options: full harmonisation or staying as we are. The EEC wants full harmonisation at all costs, irrespective of the consequences. The Government study will be used as the basis for negotiations with the EEC and, obviously, the outcome is uncertain. Moreover, the Government, for all sorts of highly questionable reasons, have agreed to surrender their power of veto by not insisting on article 100. They have sold Britain down the river. They have caved in to EC bureaucrats' desire to harmonise at any cost to this country and irrespective of the feelings of the British people. I am not sure whether it is a cock-up or whether the Government are being seen off by the EEC.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I think that the hon. Gentleman may have made a mistake which he might like to correct. The European Community's proposals for harmonisation relate to the end date of summer time, and there has been no suggestion at any time that the United Kingdom should move into the central European time zone.

Mr. Randall

With article 100A, we shall be adopting all the conditions that will prevail after 1990. That is the beginning, the end of it and the whole shooting match. It is worrying that the decision will be made on the basis of article 100A. Indeed, I thought that the Minister was going to intervene on that matter. It means that we shall not have a say in the matter. The EC member States will have no desire to take into account the fact that Scotland and the north of England would prefer not to go for full harmonisation. The views of the House and the people of the country will not be considered because the European Community wants full harmonisation by 1990. I should like to know how we are going to stop this. I cannot see how we can get out of it.

The whole thing is set up so neatly that the people of this country will suffer. It is very worrying. The Government have failed miserably to make sure that the interests of our people are taken into account. The benefits of harmonisation are highly questionable, and are being given greater priority than the quality of life of British people. Money, trade and commerce are all that the Government understand.

I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government and the EC are correct constitutionally in adopting article 100A of the treaty of Rome in relation to this matter. The Select Committee on European Legislation, whose Chairman, the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), is in his seat tonight, wrote to the Home Secretary asking him why article 100A was adopted in the fourth directive. The Home Secretary said, If article 100 has in the past been regarded as the proper vehicle, there will not usually be any real likelihood of successfully arguing that article 100A is an improper treaty base. That is a remarkable answer. The Home Secretary is saying that, as we have used article 100 in the past, article 100A can be used in future and no questions asked.

This is a complex legal point, and I do not intend to go into it. I am sure that the Minister will know that Mr. Speaker's Counsel has questioned what the Home Secretary has done on this matter. I am sure that my hon. friend the Member for Newham, South will deal with the legal aspects if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I must also ask whether the Minister is satisfied that the Government, in commiting themselves to the majority voting arrangements on summer time, have made a constitutional mistake. I am sure that he will have seen a letter to the Select Committee from Mr. Speaker's Counsel.

For those of us who are unhappy about the use of article 100A, which relates to majority voting, will the Minister tell the House what steps if any can be taken to revert to article 100 when voting on the summer time arrangements that will come into operation in 1990? They will be contained in the fifth directive. I should like the Minister to answer that question because it is of the utmost importance, in particular in relation to precedent. As the fourth directive uses article 100A, must it be used in the next directive?

I believe that the decision to be made by 1 January 1989 regarding long-term summer time arrangements after 1990 should be based on balancing the merits of harmonisation of summer time against the effect that such measures would have on the quality of life for British people, especially in Scotland and the north of England. The important aspects of the quality of life include prevention of road accidents, and other matters that I have referred to. A particular example that. came up in the previous debate was of children going to school in the dark in the mornings.

Some interesting research findings have emerged recently from the Policies Studies Institute. They show that there could be fewer deaths and serious accidents if we were to operate summer time—GMT plus one—in the winter. The research was carried out by Dr. Meyer Hillman, who demonstrated that many lives could be saved with continuous summer time, although mornings would be darker. Dr. Hillman claims that under the existing arrangements during the winter months there are twice as many deaths and serious injuries among adults between 4 pm and 7 pm as there are between 7 am and 10 am. In other words, there is a tendency for more deaths, serious injuries and accidents generally in the evening. He added that there are two or three times as many deaths and serious injuries among children between 3 pm and 6 pm as there are between 7 am and 10 am. Dr. Hillman found that darker evenings are a greater killer in Scotland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom and that Scotland could expect to benefit even more from reform of summer time arrangements. Does the Minister accept these figures?

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I make an inquiry because I have not studied the evidence that the hon. Gentleman is citing. Is the analysis that Dr. Hillman has undertaken based predominantly on urban, suburban or rural areas? I imagine that that would make a difference to the findings.

Mr. Randall

I cannot answer the specifics of the hon. Gentleman's question but I am sure that there are hon. Members who can probably comment upon it. I understand that the research was comprehensive. The report shows that the findings would apply to various parts of the country. It was not a pilot study that was carried out in one city. It embraced various parts of the country.

I shall skim through the interim report that was produced by the PSI because I think that it might be of interest to the House. It reveals that some of the benefits included a reduction in the number of fatalities and injuries, a saving in fuel costs, more time for out-door sports, an extension of the tourist season and an opportunity to make all sorts of journeys in daylight. Dr. Hillman observed that journeys in daylight would benefit particularly the more vulnerable groups in the community who are fearful of going out in the dark, especially the elderly. He referred also to schoolchildren, trade with western Europe, a small reduction in burglaries and crime and an improvement in general health and well-being, both physical and mental.

Against these benefits Dr. Hillman lists two disadvantages. The first one is the discomfort and diseconomies of working out of doors in the dark for an extra hour in the morning for people whose jobs require them to make an early start to the day, such as dairy farmers, building workers, postmen and milkmen. Secondly, those who live in the northern latitudes of the United Kingdom, especially in Scotland, would be inconvenienced by the later sunrise in winter. The chief problem would be the general shortage of daylight during the heart of winter, whatever its distribution. I thought the House might find that interesting.

It is also interesting to note that the Transport and Road Research Laboratory believes that it would save lives if British standard time were to be reintroduced on the same pattern as we had between 1968 and 1971. I refer the House to Hansard of 18 April 1988, column 366. If we were to go back to the regime of British standard time, the TRRL estimates that the reduction in the number of accident casualties would be 1,340 during the winter. That is a phenomenally large figure and is highly persuasive.

I believe that what is really sticking in the gullets of many Conservative Members is that the Government seem to be aiding and abetting the EEC in introducing harmonised EEC summer time, irrespective of the wishes of the people, by supporting the use of article 100A of the treaty, which allows majority voting. The amendment put down by various Conservative Members demonstrates their disquiet.

It is important to recognise that most EC member states have no incentive to vote against complete harmonisation. They are not interested in the way in which such measures affect the people of Scotland or the north of England. They think only in terms of the internal market. The summer time experiment which took place between 1968 and 1971 was rejected massively by the House because the people did not want it. Ironically this time the Government have passed the powers to Brussels.

10.36 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I should be grateful if the Minister would answer some questions relating to an amendment which some of us put down. I am not sure whether it is being considered. I do not really wish to talk about summer time because I find it difficult to understand the views of hon. Members. When the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) was talking about the dangers, he got a rough ride from some of my hon. Friends. As an older Member, I found that strange. I can well remember that when a Labour Government brought in a measure to extend summer time they were attacked unanimously by the Conservative Opposition on the ground that children's lives would be affected and that it would do a great deal of damage. Views on summer time seem to change with circumstances.

The one thing we know is that people feel deeply about summer time. When I was Member of Parliament for a Scottish constituency there was a huge volume of protest when extra summer time was introduced. People care about the issue. Until December it seemed that the House of Commons still had control. We could decide whether we wanted more summer time, less summer time or no summer time.

I hope that the Minister will give us guidance, but what worries me is that it appears that when a decision was made on the fourth directive it was agreed that as from 1990 the Common Market Council, by a majority, could impose a universal time pattern on Europe as a whole. In other words, we in Britain could have a form of summer time which we found unacceptable. Some might think it was a threat to children's lives and some might feel that it was bad for farming or for trade, but it would be imposed on us, whether we liked it or not, irrespective of the views of the Government and of Parliament.

I hope that the Minister will indicate clearly what the score is on the fourth directive. Does article 5 mean that the Council could determine that Parliament was basically irrelevant? Some people say, "They would never do this; they are reasonable people. We are part of the club. We get on very well with them." I counsel caution because unfortunately all the assurances which we have had on these matters in the past have proved to be a sick joke.

I am fed up with hearing about extra trade with Europe when the figures show that, whereas we always had a surplus in trade with Europe before we joined the Common Market, we now have a deficit of £11,000 million. Basically, for every £2 worth of goods we send to Europe, we get £3 worth back. That creates a major problem for the country.

I am fed up with hearing assurances from the Front Bench about the new rebates which we are getting from our contributions and how our contributions are being reduced. As the Government know, this year our net contribution of £.1,500 million is the highest in history and, according to the Prime Minister, is likely to rise another £200 million—because of the recent deal.

I am fed up with hearing all the assurances about the changes which are coming for agriculture but which never come, because spending goes up and up. Despite the assurance we had at the time of the European Council meeting that our contribution would be less because we were taking more of the responsibility for food dumping, and the Common Market would spend less, we see in the budget passed last week that the amount that will be spent on dumping and destroying food has risen to £221 million every week.

We should be cautious about giving away parliamentary sovereignty in case we regret it. We must remember that, if we give it away, it will be gone for ever.

Is our reading wrong? Is the explanatory note from the Government wrong? Are the papers rushed out by the Conservative party wrong? They all seem to indicate that as from 1990 the European Council—by a majority—can decide that summer time is applied throughout the Community, and that includes Great Britain. It may all work out splendidly. It may be that we will all decide to have what we want anyway, but, on the other hand, it may not. If we take the decision to give away this sovereignty and throw away our power of veto on something that British people, rightly or wrongly, care deeply about, should we not discuss it in the House of Commons and reach a positive decision?

Hon. Members may say that it does not matter because it has happened. Nevertheless, you will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and some hon. Members who stayed up late on a Thursday night in July two years ago will remember, that when the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office was justifying the Single European Act we were given pledge after pledge that article 100A would not be used to take away rights which had been justified. We questioned him time and again about that. We asked if they would take away powers, and we were told that they would not: article 100A related only to the internal market, to trade and to transport.

We have seen in the 15th report of the Select Committee on European Legislation a carefully argued statement by Mr. Speaker's counsel in which he makes it abundantly clear that it is basically wrong to have this directive done under article 100A. He points out that article 100A is solely on the internal market, and article 100 is appropriate because of the wide nature of these measures.

That is not new. Every directive on summer time has been under article 100, and the only difference, when moving to article 100A, is that we threw away our right of veto if something was unacceptable. Of course, it also gives one more notch, presumably, for those who like to talk about 1992, to say that we have had a harmonising directive.

Mr. Speaker's counsel's advice seems to carry more weight than the Select Committee which has been given some strange advice. The Select Committee gives the impression in its reports of being treated with contempt in this matter, with wrong dates being given and with it being told that something had not been passed, although the European Parliament had discussed it a week ago. The impression is given that the Government are not treating the Select Committee seriously, and that something important has happened without the House of Commons being consulted and without it agreeing.

What can we do tonight? We have a motion, because the amendment has not been selected, just noting the summer time order, which is uncontroversial. That is not the issue. The issue is whether we are giving away a major piece of sovereignty to the European Economic Community.

If this goes through and something new comes in in 1990, people will jump up and down. We saw it happening in this House just now. Labour and Conservative Members are rushing round the House getting people to sign motions about European passports and saying that it is shocking, wrong and anti-British. That is a waste of time because the legislation went through a long time ago and there is nothing that we can do about the European passport.

My fear is that major pieces of sovereignty are being handed over without the House of Commons being directly involved and that devices are being used—quite wrongly—to put matters into article 100A.

First, by using article 100A, did the first directive take away the right of the power of veto? From 1990 onwards, will the Common Market, by a majority, tell us what summer time we have, whether we like it or not? Secondly, is it not fair, in view of all the assurances that were given during the passage of the Single European Act, that the House of Commons should be asked whether it wants to give away that sovereignty?

Thirdly, what was the matter that my hon. Friend the Minister raised in saying that we are going to ask for an extra year by having a derogation? A derogation is a splendid thing if we want it, but what happens if the Council says, "We do not think that you should have a derogation?" Article 5 seems abundantly clear. Why is my hon. Friend so certain that the derogation will happen if he wants it? Is he relying on the good will of his fellow members, and on the fact that they have always been nice guys before? Under article 100 and article 5 of the fourth directive, it seems that if the Council does not want to give us derogation we simply will not get one.

I have a feeling that not just in this area but in many areas the House of Commons is surrendering substantial sovereignty in such a way that people will later say that a mistake was made. However, it may well be the right decision. It may well be right to let the Common Market decide what summer time applies. However, the important thing is that people should be consulted and that they should be told what is happening.

It is unfortunate that we are discussing a noncontroversial order, along with Community papers, when most of our colleagues do not have the slightest idea about what is happening or about what the papers involve. It is very important that people should be told what is happening when a major decision is being made on sovereignty, and that they do not wake up later and regret it.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister not to underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue. It may be nonsense and people may be getting upset about summer time for no good reason, but I assure him, as Scottish hon. Members will, that people feel deeply about it because they believe that it involves safety and many other things. If we are passing over such a power, people should be consulted.

Those are my questions, which I hope that the Minister will bear in mind in view of the assurances given to the House of Commons on 10 July when the Single European Act was discussed.

Finally—this is an important point—if the Government take the view, as Mr. Speaker's counsel does, that it is wrong to promote the fourth directive under article 100A, is there anything that they can or that they are willing to do about that?

European constitutions are complicated and it seems to me that, ultimately, if the Commission proposes something under a particular provision, hon. Members can talk about it—but can they do anything about it? I hope that the Government will do something about it and that it will be possible to reach an agreement. We should safeguard ourselves against the majority of the Council imposing on us something that we do not want. I should like to retain article 100. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that if we simply say that, because it is article 100, article 100A applies, almost any directive on any issue could go through the Common Market under article 100A and we would lose any control or power over it.

Something rather significant has happened and I hope that the Government can give us an assurance that we shall retain some sovereignty apart from the right to argue from what might be a hopeless position

10.49 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I echo the hopes of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), but I am not so sure that the Government are in a position to give the assurance that he sought. Perhaps the people in the Common Market will give us another year, or a semi-permanent derogation year on year, as has happened on a number of other issues, but that is not necessarily the position in law.

We are concerned with the position in law in this semi-legislative Chamber. I say that because the House now has no option in this matter; nor have the Government. As the hon. Member for Southend, East said, the matter is now, for the time being at least, being dealt with under article 100A, whereby a qualified majority carries the day.

I was disappointed with the Minister's speech. I know that he has been busy recently. He has been often at the Dispatch Box, and no doubt doing many other things, apart from his constituency duties. That may be one of the reasons for his brief and incomplete speech. The Select Committee, however, has produced two reports on this subject, and there has been correspondence between me, as its chairman, and the Minister, but none of that was mentioned by him. Of course, he had every right not to mention it, but there was about his speech an aura of hoping that someone would not be here tonight. It is not good enough. I am sorry to have to say that. My explanation—charitable perhaps—is that the Minister and his Department have had a great deal to do——

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I like to be brief.

Mr. Spearing

Perhaps, but not to the point of being incomplete.

Mr. Hogg

I have a great preference for being brief. With the leave of the House, I shall have an opportunity to answer points that have been raised. It seems best to proceed in that way, so that I can reply to any points that the hon. Gentleman may wish to make.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the Minister, but he has not quite got the point. It is the Select Committee and not I that has put out two reports on this issue. The Minister did not mention them. Whitehall, perhaps because it lacks the power, is not taking notice of the Select Committees of the House in the way it should. What follows will justify that remark.

The attention of the Select Committee was first drawn to this matter at its meeting on 9 December 1987 when it had before it a memorandum, dated 3 December and signed by Lord Caithness, and the EEC document in question——9584/87, the fourth Council directive on summer time arrangements. I want to read out what the noble Lord said, so that that can be compared in Hansard with what the Minister said: Although there is growing support for a change to summer time arrangements in this country, a one year extension of the present system, as the Commission now proposes will enable us to commission and complete a major review of summer time arrangements, which will inform our position on negotiations for a long term agreement for 1990 onwards. That expresses the position more accurately than the Minister did. Would he agree with that?

My second question is: why did we receive this document after the decision had been made in Brussels? Sometimes, in price negotiations and so on, that is necessary and understood, but why did not the Select Committee get this document in time? It was dated Brussels, 11 November 1987

Our second report, HC43xv, dated 17 February 1988, states that the Committee learned that the directive was adopted by the Council not on 7 December, as we had thought, but on 22 December. The report says: The Home Secretary has now explained that it was not until 27 November 1987 that a firm proposal was received. The Committee notes that the European Parliament delivered its opinion on the Commission's proposals on 20 November 1987". That shows the discrepancy between the dates, so there was a delay in the first instance.

I wrote to the Home Secretary about the discrepancy between the dates and the matter has still not been entirely cleared up. The matter now appears to be out of the hands of the House, but the Scrutiny Committee did not receive the document until after the decision had been made. There had to be a debate on the order, but it was impossible for the House to debate the matter prior to the decision.

Article 100 has been part of the treaty of Rome since its inception and enables the Commission to make proposals for the extension of the Common Market in matters which are not provided for within the terms of the treaty and, as has been frequently stated tonight, that must be done by unanimity.

Article 100A, introduced as part of the Single European Act, which was taken through the House very quickly under a vicious guillotine, introduces another provision under which, for purposes of the internal market—note the different wording—it is possible for the Council to take a decision by qualified majority which shall be binding on all members.

That provision is capable of qualified majority and all the matters relating to the internal market are also sent round the new circuit of the European legislative round via Strasbourg. In that process, the European Parliament can, provided that it obtains a majority and the Commission agrees, modify such regulations. In other words, legislation under article 100A can attract, and often now does so, amendments from the European Parliament which takes the position of the Council. If it obtains a majority and if it so wishes, it can move amendments directly, and, if the Commission agrees and the decision is not reversed by the Council, it makes the law applicable to this land.

Other than the negotiation powers to which Lord Caithness referred in the memorandum—that is all the Government have, apart from their vote—the House has virtually no direct part in such a legislative process. No doubt the Minister will question what I have said if I have misinterpreted the issue. Although it is a complex and arcane matter, it is important to the House and the country and I have explained it as well as I can.

The choice between whether legislation should be promulgated under article 100 or article 100A does not lie with the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) quite properly asked why the Government accepted it. As I understand it, the Commission decides on which article of the treaty it shall base its regulations. This is literally foreign territory in legislative terms. The House can legislate and we do not think in terms of legislation being restricted by a constitution, although our legislation is now in European terms.

The European Commission, no doubt believing that this was primarily a matter of the internal market and of transport and business, said that it would use article 100A, but, as everyone in this country will say and as my hon. Friend said, this is a social matter and a matter of opinion, rather than a matter relating to economic issues alone. The analogy with the United States shows that clearly.

Therefore, the choice of article is of crucial importance. Had the Commission continued to use article 100, it would have required unanimity and the whole question of "negotiations" and the Government's position would have been relatively clear. I say "relatively" because they would no doubt have been under pressure, but still the Minister would have been justified in saying that we would probably get a derogation. He could have said that under article 100 we have in effect what he claims is a veto, even if Lord Cockfield would not call it that.

Therefore, we are left with the position that the Government have already agreed. Will the Minister tell us whether, when the matter came to the Council on whichever date it was, the Government voted against it, for it or abstained? The House has a right to know which of those three actions or non-actions the Government took.

The European Council legislates in secret—another great difference between ourselves and that body. The Minister should tell us how he voted. If he did not vote against it, we have no grounds of future objection to article 100A being continually used. Article 5 of the fourth directive says that the unanimity rule for summer time is likely to apply from 1990 onwards. So we appear to have missed out all the way along. Even if the Government did vote against it, there is still nothing that can stop it, other than an appeal to the European Court. We do not know what the European Court would say, but if it were asked to say that article 100A was ultra vires and it should be article 100, it could still come down on article 100A in view of the preamble to the Single European Act which it would probably use in justification.

Finally, I turn to the important annex B to the Select Committee's report written by Mr. Speaker's counsel. It is important enough to conclude my remarks by reading what he said: The Committee is aware that Article 100A is going to give rise to many questions of interpretation, both before and after adoption of measures based on it. The present case gives an opportunity to consider a particular question of the first importance: precisely what measures does Article 100A allow? The relevant passage reads:"— this is from the Single European Act— The Council shall … adopt the measures for the approximation of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market.' The internal market is the area without internal frontiers described in Article 8A. The syntax is not as clear or as elegant as we would expect from, say, our own Parliamentary Counsel; but the long and complex exchanges leading to the Single European Act in general, and Article 100A in particular, militated against good drafting. Having regard to the patent intention, and after comparing the language of Article 100 (from which Article 100A departs significantly), I offer the Committee this as the true interpretation. Article 100A empowers adoption of measuress which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market. Such measure must approximate relevant national provisions. The papers on summer time show an attempt to read the passage from Article 100A quoted above as if the words 'which have as their object' qualify not the Council's measures but the national provisions. I select just one of several reasons for believing that this is wrong: how could there be any national provisions (certainly in an unharmonised field) which have as their object the establishment or functioning of the internal market (as newly identified by the Single Act)? That seems to me a conclusive argument why article 100A is not suitable for this particular measure, irrespective of its content, and I invite the Minister to tell us why the Home Office did not put our people in Brussels on guard on that. Surely that was something to which they could have recourse instead of having apparently sold the pass on this matter.

The quotation concludes: Also, the proposition is advanced that if Article 100 has in the past been used for any purpose, then Article 100A should now be available. This seems logically unsound. Article 100 is directed to the common market—a concept to be interpreted widely in the light of Articles 2 and 3. Article 100A is directed to the narrower concept of the internal market. On the reading I offer, the true question of law on the present case is this: can the measure on summer time validly be said to have as its object the establishment or functioning of the internal market? I have quoted at length because the House will be invited to comment on further legislation based on article 100A. The Council of Ministers and perhaps the Minister or his colleagues will also be invited in the Council of Ministers to consider legislation under article 100A which the Minister, his colleagues or others might think should be determined under article 100 or some other article of the treaty.

If the persistence with article 100A continues, not only will there be legislative diktat by a qualified majority in Brussels, but there will be direct intervention, by a direct amendment, by an elected body other than this House. That legislation will be applicable in law in the United Kingdom. That has a major constitutional importance. With regard to article 100A, although we have not tampered with the Mace tonight, metaphorically by their actions the Government may have sent it to Brussels—if not direct, certainly by air freight and certainly labelled, "By courtesy of the Home Office."

11.5 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I want to contribute briefly to the debate. However, my brevity on this occasion should not be taken as a sign of the lack of importance attached to the issue in my part of the country—indeed, the opposite is the case. My brevity is more a reflection of the lateness of the hour and the fact that at least one other hon. Member, if not more, wants to contribute to the debate.

William Lyon Mackenzie King, when he was Prime Minister of Canada, once remarked ruefully that the problem with that country was that it had too much geography and not enough history. The problem, if any, with the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is that, of course, we have more than our fair share of both. We certainly have more than our fair share of geography and history in a United Kingdom context and we have more than our fair share of geography within a European Community context. I want to address my few remarks tonight less to the mechanics of the issue within Europe and the Commission, to which previous speakers have referred, and more to the matter at hand—the merit of the issue.

We can be forgiven, as an earlier speaker remarked, for feeling a degree of confusion as is so often the case with measures, drafts and directives of this type that come from Brussels. The Home Office issued a press notice on 31 March the purpose of which was to invite people to respond and participate in the consultative process. It tries to set out the parameters of what we are discussing tonight. It refers to the fact that there are three options under consideration: There are the continuation of the present position; the harmonisation of the date for ending summer time to bring it into line with the rest of the Community; or the introduction of Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour in the winter, with Greenwich Mean Time plus two hours from the end of March to the end of September. The last option would mean that the United Kingdom would be in the same time zone as EC countries except Greece and Portugal throughout the whole year. I am sure that that clarifies the issues substantially for all hon. Members present at this time of night. I tend to feel that when we are discussing that type of proposal with that degree of complexity, rather like the Greeks, we are in danger of losing our marbles by approaching it in that way.

In a pragmatic sense, there are two broad aspects of concern for anyone in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, in the north of Scotland or, indeed, in Scotland as a whole with regard to the proposal to change the clock.

The first refers to the agricultural community. When summer time was changed between 1968–71, on an experimental basis, it caused considerable difficulty to the agricultural community. I need hardly bring to the attention of the House the fact that, given the climatic variations, the harvest comes later in the Highlands and Islands area than it does in the more favourable climatic environs of the south of England. The agricultural community in the Highlands and Islands would regret the loss of an hour's daylight for harvesting. The farmers would wish their opposition to it to be recorded tonight.

Equally, the more general loss as a result of the moving of the clock and the loss of the daylight time in the morning would cause the agricultural community hardship and difficulty. That is as true of my part of the country as of other parts of Scotland.

Another problem with either of the options, rather than the status quo, is the position of schoolchildren. Just as the agricultural community would have more darkness in the morning to contend with, so would children going to school. That would affect the safety of children in the north of Scotland, and I hope that that point is not lost on the Government.

Mr. Wallace

Like me, my hon. Friend was one of those children who had to travel in the dark in the morning as a result of the experimental change in 1968–71. I found it unsettling. Is it not also true that, at certain times of the year, children travelling in the dark in the morning have to contend with ice, which is not always the case in the later part of the afternoon?

Mr. Kennedy

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. Again, for climatic reasons, the occurrence of ice is that much greater in the north of the Highlands and Islands, and it adds further danger to the children's journeys. Like him, I was one of that lost generation in the darkness of 1968–71. I am sure that some of our political critics will say that neither my hon. Friend nor I have found our way back yet, but we live in hope.

Mr. Wallace

We saw the light.

Mr. Kennedy

We did indeed, and it was the northern lights. I would hate to see the lights going out all over Lerwick, in my hon. Friend's constituency, as a result of this measure being implemented.

I have three other arguments against the change in the status quo. First, there is no reason for Britain to be at a disadvantage in being one hour out of step with the rest of the Community at certain times of the year. If the United States can operate on five different time zones, and if the Soviet Union can operate on 11 different time zones—that will not change under glasnost—there is no reason why one hour's difference should cause us anxiety.

Secondly, the geographical division in Britain is not simply between the north and the south but between the north-west and the south-east. I hope that when considering this matter Ministers will bear that important consideration in mind.

Thirdly, although I am not politically a nationalist, as a Scot, I am nationalistic. Had this debate been taking place north of the border, some of the attitudes—I do not accuse the Minister of this, although it is true of the broad debate both inside and outside the House—that are too easily assumed would be different, because people would know the reality of the position.

I shall end by quoting a curious source to pray in aid, none other than Lord Bruce-Gardyne. Writing in The Daily Telegraphthe day before the matter was debated some years ago, he said: For the majority of the population BST is a matter of indifference shading into marginal convenience. For the minority—the Scots, the country-dwellers in the north of England, the builders and the civil engineering contractors, the postmen and the farmers—it is a misery and a curse. It requires an effort of imagination for the London commuter who enjoys being bullied by his wife to go and dig the garden when he returns of a winter evening from his office to realise what it means to be a glen farmer …"— I am not sure what he means by a glen farmer; I think that he means a farmer in a glen— in my constituency to have to send his small children off on the long journey to school an hour and a half before dawn. I endorse the sentiment in that article, as I am sure does my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I speak in a personal capacity, because for geographical reasons this issue divides friends in a way that politics very often does not. I hope that the Government will stick to the status quo, because it is workable, manageable and sensible and for one hour we can dare to be different from our European Community partners without threatening 1992 and the greater cause of political integration.

11.16 pm
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

It would be a shame if the debate was smothered between the views of the Europhiliacs and the Europhobics, because the issue is far more important. Indeed, it is far more useful for us to separate the two issues and examine the case for extended daylight without the burdens of feeling about Europe and the resentment about another Parliament or institution making our decisions for us.

We all agree that the issue must be decided by a free vote of the House. The decision in 1972 to reject the experiment was by a massive majority. Unfortunately, I was not in the House at that time, but hon. Members who were will remember that there was strong public reaction to the experiment and that it was not based on scientific, objective or reasoned analysis. There was strong emotional reaction by the public, especially to an incident a few days before the House voted on the issue. There was a campaign by the tabloid press which published photographs of children wearing armbands and feeling their way along dark country lanes.

Since the vote, which was taken on entirely the wrong basis, there has been a chance to look coolly and objectively at the issue. The weakest reason for changing to extended daylight, to an extra hour, to British standard time and double British summer time, is harmonisation. A person who leaves Brussels airport at 17.45 will arrive at Heathrow at 17.45 and that is confusing. Those who have experience of doing business with the continent raise the serious objection that when they telephone people on the continent they find that they have not arrived or have gone home

There are powerful arguments in the preliminary report by Dr. Meyer Hillman who says that the great advantage, especially for the young and I he old, is in the extended use of leisure facilities in the evenings. Attendance at pensioners' clubs, boys' clubs and clubs for young people always falls off when we lose the extra hour of daylight at the time when we need it most.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) spoke about the opposition of farmers. However, at least one branch of the National Farmers Union has voted its approval for extended daylight. It is the NFU in the county of Avon. The most powerful reason was proved by a three-year experiment conducted by the Transport and Road Research laboratory. It was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). The firm analysis is a reduction of 580 in the number of fatal and other serious road accidents in a year. Dr. Hillman's final report, which will be released in a few weeks, will firm up that figure. We know that there is a relationship between the number of accidents and mornings and evenings. The ratio is about 4:1. We are talking about a massive saving in human life and human suffering. The Scottish figures show an even more dramatic saving.

I appeal to hon. Members to keep an open mind on the issue. Let us look at the evidence that will come out—it will be with us in a few weeks—and not mix it up with the European issue of who is finally to make the decision. Let us emerge from the debate when the decision is taken as friends of the light and enemies of the darkness.

11.20 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg

I am in considerable agreement with what the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has said. He said that we should approach the evidence in an entirely empirical way. That seems to me to be wholly sound. The hon. Gentleman said also that we should not allow our judgments to be clouded by, for example, prejudice that we may harbour in respect of the Community.

Several hon. Members asked me questions. I shall try to reply to them in the few moments remaining to me. First, I was asked by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), the Chairman of the Select Committee, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) whether, in my view, article 100A is the correct article. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) said, this is a complex legal subject. Therefore, I do not propose to express a concluded view on the issue, if only because I do not think that I am competent to do so. Moreover, I am conscious, as hon. Members have suggested, that the decision on that issue spans several Departments and interests.

First, I am not irrevocably persuaded that article 100A applies to the directive. Clearly, that matter requires further consideration. I most certainly do not concede that the directive is intra vires article 100A. Secondly, the fact that, on this occasion, we raised no objection to the treaty base of the directive—agreeing as we did with the policy included in the directive—does not in any way preclude us from raising an appropriate objection on subsequent occasions and in the context of subsequent directives.

I have been asked—most notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East—how we could challenge the vires of the directive and the article if we so choose. Initially, the matter is for the Commission. If the Commission is not prepared to amend a directive, of course, the Council can. But the Council can make that amendment only if it is unanimous. If the Council is not unanimous, the proceedings can be challenged only by way of procedure in the court. That is the precise answer to the question.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, West and for Newport, West, asked whether the extension of summer time throughout the year is likely to result in a reduction in road deaths and casualties. The answer is that on the best available evidence it will lead to such a reduction. Chapter 8, page 64 of the review of British standard time published in October 1970 states: There is little doubt that British Standard Time has led to an overall improvement in road accident casualties although the crude figures of savings of casualties need to be treated with some reserve. The overall improvement seems to have been even greater in Scotland than in England and Wales. That sentiment no doubt lies behind the campaign currently being mounted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in support of a campaign for the adoption of British standard time, which is summer time throughout the year.

If that be true of standard time, or British summer time throughout the year, as I believe it to be, obviously it is true of double summer time, that is summer time in winter and double summer time in summer. It may be even truer in respect of summer time in winter and double summer time in summer. So we must not mislead ourselves on this one fact. Probably a change of the kind that we have been discussing would lead to a reduction in road casualties. I am not pretending for a moment that that is conclusive, but we need to focus on that as a probable fact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East asked, properly, whether from 1990 onwards the EC, by relying on article 100A, would have the power to impose on us a kind of harmonisation to which we would object. First, I have not conceded and do not concede that article 100A necessarily is the proper treaty base for the directive. If article 100 is the appropriate treaty base for the directive, the veto applies. Secondly, even if article 100A is the appropriate treaty base for the directive, I do not think that the House should be too pessimistic.

First, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the Community would seek to impose as from 1990 an immediate harmonisation, because the terms contained in article 5 of the fourth directive are matched in article 5 of both the second and third directives, and derogations were thereafter extended. Secondly, do not forget that we are dealing with qualified majorities, not with absolute majorities. Thirdly, if it is true, as I think it is, that the preservation of our summer time ending date results in a saving of life, I should be surprised if Community countries would be willing or anxious to impose on us harmonisation of the ending date of summer time in the knowledge that that would inevitably result in an increase in road casualties. I do not feel nearly as pessimistic as some hon. Members, even if, which I do not concede, article 100A is the appropriate treaty base for the directive.

There may have been some misunderstandings on the part of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and I make no criticism. When we were dealing with harmonisation in this context, the only harmonisation that is being contemplated is the harmonisation of the end dates for summer time. From time to time in the debate it appears to have been implied that the purpose of the Community is to achieve a common time zone throughout the Community. That is not the purpose of the Community. It has never been so expressed, although, as I have already said, one of the options we shall consider is the adoption of a time regime that will bring our time regime into accordance with central Europe time scales.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Summer Time Order 1988 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 8th March.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.

  1. STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c. 20 words
    1. cc620-1
    2. AGRICULTURE 29 words
  2. DEFENCE 30 words
  3. c621
  4. HOME AFFAIRS 21 words
  5. c621
  6. TRANSPORT 20 words
  7. cc622-8
  8. Holyhead (Government Agencies) 3,217 words