HL Deb 10 December 1992 vol 541 cc312-4

3.12 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the launch of the single European market at the beginning of 1993 and the opening of the Channel Tunnel towards the end of that year, they will expedite their review of the desirability of adopting Central European time.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the European Commission is reviewing its position on Summer Time. We shall bring forward our proposals when the approach of the Commission is clear.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the Minister recall that his noble friend Lord Astor gave almost the same indication in a debate on 14th July; namely, that the Commission was conducting an early review of the matter? Has there been a further delay? If so are the Government prepared to use their Presidency of the Community to speed up the inquiry? In view of the developments referred to in my Question there is an obvious relevance in our linking up with Central European Time. Therefore, will the Government give a declaration of intent subject to suitable proposals being made?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Astor gave a similar reply. It shows that there is at least consistency in government. I do not believe that the review has been delayed. Negotiations with the European Commission on a directive for the dates of Summer Time from 1995 are expected to begin in the middle of next year. The noble Lord asked whether the Government would use their Presidency of the Commission to expedite matters. I fancy that there are pressing issues of a more substantial nature with which the Commission must deal than the altering of summer time arrangements. As regards our intention, I believe that we should wait for the review of the Commission.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the actual motions of time depend more on the degrees of longitude and the sun than on the particular convenience of persons who live at different degrees of longitude?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the whole subject is one of beastly and foul complexity to which one must address one's mind from time to time. One of the points involved is that made by my noble and learned friend. I am sure that he is right but I would rather not pursue it.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, in contrast to what the noble and learned Lord said, are the Government aware that in this country an extra hour in the evening would result in additional participation in leisure activities, much more employment and greatly increased revenues for the tourist and leisure industries?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is one of the arguments for one side of the equation and it must be taken into account.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, does the Minister recall our experiment with British Standard Time, which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead when he was Home Secretary? That illustrated the advantages of a greatly increased amount of communication time between businesses in Britain and Europe. Would that not be added to by the single market? Is it not also a fact that the previous experiment was halted as the result of a conspiracy between the Daily Express and the BBC, which hourly reported children being mown down in the streets by traffic while ignoring the fact that more children are taken to school in the morning than are collected in the afternoon and that just as many are injured in accidents in the afternoon as in the morning?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I find it difficult to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, or to agree with him. He made a number of points all of which were pertinent. However, I do not believe that the Daily Express and the BBC, powerful though they are, altered the dates and times at which we change Summer Time.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Britain is by no means alone in this respect because more than one-third of the countries in the Community do not adhere to Central European Time? They are the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Greece and the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain. Does the Minister also agree that the United States, Canada and Australia each have up to five time zones which they link successfully in their single markets?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sure that the latter part of the noble Lord's question is correct. However, as regards the number of countries within the European Community which have different time scales, that is one of the problems which the Commission is addressing in order to ascertain what commonality there may be. It may bump up with the very problem which the noble Lord puts forward.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the Minister give prime regard to the convenience of the United Kingdom in these matters? Is he aware that, as regards the statement in the Question about the launch of the Single European Market on 1st January, 75 per cent. of the single market has been in operation for 20 years and opinions are still divided as to the benefits which have been derived from that?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord asked whether we shall take into account the fact that the United Kingdom's convenience is the most important. That may well be so but the difficulty is in knowing what the United Kingdom wishes. Everyone has different views, as your Lordships have demonstrated today.

Lord Elton

My Lords, before we decide whether we want Central European Time should we not decide where the centre of Europe is, and do we know?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the answers must be yes and no. Your Lordships can choose which questions they refer to.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the present arrangements sorely disadvantage many elderly people, who are frightened to go out after dark and who are in effect curfewed at sundown? The extra hour which the proposed changes would bring would greatly emancipate and improve their lives.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that may be one of the advantages of such a change.

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