HL Deb 14 July 1992 vol 539 cc198-202

10 p.m.

Viscount Astor rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Summer Time Order 1992 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 23rd June [4th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Summer Time Order 1992 be approved. The draft order before your Lordships' House this evening has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and has been approved by affirmative resolution in another place.

In itself the order is uncontroversial in that it continues for a further two years, that is for 1993 and 1994, the existing arrangements for the starting and ending dates of summer time. This will mean that, as in previous years, summer time will start at 1 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday in March and end at 1 a.m. GMT on the Sunday after the fourth Saturday in October. Summer time will therefore run from 28th March to 24th October in 1993 and from 27th March to 23rd October in 1994. The order is consistent with the operation of the Summer Time Act 1972.

The starting and ending dates and times conform with the sixth directive on summer time in the European Community. All member states in the Community, regardless of time zones, begin summer time on the same day, but the United Kingdom and Ireland end summer time about one month later than the rest of the Community, under a derogation in the sixth directive.

The order has no direct bearing on the wider issues of summer time policy, which were examined in the Green Paper, Summer Time: A Consultation Document.

As your Lordships will know, the Green Paper canvassed opinion on three options for future summer time arrangements. Of those options the harmonisation of end dates with the rest of the European Community, thereby losing one month of summer time in October, attracted very little support. The retention of the status quo, that is, Greenwich Mean Time in the winter months and Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour from the end of March to the end of October, was the option most strongly favoured in Scotland. On the other hand, in England and Wales there was considerable support for the adoption of Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour in the winter and two hours in the summer, effectively moving to Central European Time.

Strong views were expressed on both sides of the argument, and in the light of those conflicting responses we concluded that more time for reflection was required before bringing this matter to a decision. As I informed your Lordships on 29th June, in an Answer to my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, we shall also wish to take account of a review of the future of summer time within the Community, which we understand is soon to be undertaken by the European Commission. We shall be discussing with the Commission the scope and direction of that review and when that is clear we shall reach a view and report back to your Lordships' House.

I therefore seek the agreement of your Lordships to the continuation of the present arrangements for a further two years to enable the Government to complete their consideration of the options for future summer time policy, including whether there is a case for change. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Summer Time Order 1992 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 23rd June [4th Report from the Joint Committee.].—(Viscount Astor.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, this side of the House certainly has no objection to the order and takes no issue with the speech of the Minister. He told us that there would be a further period of consultation and reflection. I may not have heard him correctly but perhaps he could also indicate to the House the drift of the Government's thinking as regards moving towards a common European Summer Time. In other words, I should like the House to know the direction of the Government's thinking.

Would the Minister care to tell the House the kind of consultation that the Government feel is appropriate and the kinds of bodies whose views will be sought in that two-year reflection period? Can he say whether the Government also have in mind that at the appropriate time there would be what I call a proper parliamentary opportunity to have a debate? That is not to say that this occasion, short as it may be, is not a good opportunity to take a tiny bite at the cherry but clearly a matter of this kind merits some time and a debate in which many people would be primed at the right moment to make helpful contributions.

Will the Minister tell the House the drift of the Government's policy, the kind of consultation that he has in mind and whether at the end of that consultation and before the two-year period is up it is the Government's intention to hold a proper debate on the issue? Other than that, we have no objection to the order.

10.5 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene for just a short moment because I think it appropriate to discuss the question of time when the clocks in your Lordships' House seem to be rather upset and we do not quite know what time it is.

I think the order is disappointing to the extent that the question to which my noble friend referred on 29th June appeared at first sight to have been overlooked and indeed ignored. Having said that, the answer given by my noble friend was perfectly understandable. To consider any form of change in this country would be premature in the light of the expected discussion with the European Commission on what it may choose to do from 1995 onwards. Therefore it would seem to me that an order of this kind covering 1993 and 1994 has regrettably to be accepted.

Having said that, I am very mindful of the question which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and perhaps I may just refer to it for a moment. He asked whether my noble friend could explain how it is possible for the European Community to know what it wants to do until it has some inkling of what we want to do. I think that is a very important point. Whether we like it or not, we are part of the European Community; and if we are, then we ought to play some part in it. If we are going to do that surely it must be acceptable for us to go along to a discussion and say to the European Commission that the United Kingdom would like to have whatever it wants.

I am not advocating whether it should be Central European Time, Summer Time, Greenwich Mean Time, or any other time that your Lordships like; that is not the issue for the moment. But I think it is important for the Government to take on board the responses to the Green Paper. I am very sorry to say to my noble friend that he somewhat clouded the issue in referring to Scotland. I have to tell him, and he knows perfectly well, that the overall response from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, was 86 per cent. in favour of adoption of Central European Time.

If that is the response, surely the Government have a responsibility to take that response on board, discuss it fairly and squarely, present it to Parliament and see what we want, and then go forward to the Commission and say,"This is what the United Kingdom wants and we will listen to what you have to say". We should do that instead of sitting back and waiting to hear what the Commission may say. It might say,"You will do this, that or the other" without our giving it an authoritative view of what we want.

I think it would be quite wrong for the Government to go to the European Commission and say what they think this country wants. I think the matter ought to be considered and debated, as the noble Lord opposite has said, and then we should go forward to the Commission with a definitive view and get the matter settled. That is the purpose of my intervention and I am grateful to my noble friend for having listened to it.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I should like just to ask the Minister whether he would agree that it would be a good idea during the period of our presidency to adopt Single Double Summer Time before it is imposed upon us by qualified majority voting.

10.8 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, makes an interesting point. Of course we have had, since 1916, a number of different times. Summer Time was introduced from 1916 to 1939. From 1940 to 1945 we had continuous Summer Time and from 1941 to 1945 Double Summer Time was added. At the end of the war we reverted to Greenwich Mean Time in the winter, with normal Summer Time; but then we went back to Single/Double Summer Time in 1947. In 1948 to 1968 we were back to Greenwich Mean Time for the winter, with Summer Time. From 1968 to 1971 we were on British Standard Time (Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour throughout the year) and since 1971 we have been on Greenwich Mean Time with Summer Time. If your Lordships are a trifle confused by that, I apologise; but of course in your Lordships' House we are at the moment on Greenwich Mean Time plus two hours, or Greenwich Mean Time minus 10 hours, whichever way one wants to read the clock that failed to work in your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked about consultation. We published a Green Paper in 1989 and the issues were examined in great detail. Before deciding on the next steps we shall need to see how the discussions and work within the European Community progress. My noble friend Lord Mountgarret was right in saying that in England an overwhelming majority was in favour of Central European Time. However, in Scotland—

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. I did not say "in England". I said that the overall response in the United Kingdom as a whole was 86 per cent. or so in favour of adopting Central European Time. If my noble friend wants the precise figures he will have to look them up for himself. I believe that in England 96 per cent. was in favour but I was merely referring to the United Kingdom as a whole.

That issue is a red herring. I am merely asking the Government to take on board the point that the Green Paper shows that apparently we wish to adopt the same time as Europe. If that is so, will my noble friend be good enough to agree that the Government will have an investigation and a debate on the matter?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, is right in saying that in total there were more representations in favour of the proposal. However, I said that in Scotland in particular, where the problem is one of latitude rather than of longitude, the vast majority were against it.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked me in which direction we are going. The Government are giving serious consideration to the matter and negotiations with our European partners on a directive for dates of Summer Time for 1995 and beyond are expected to begin about the middle of next year. However, we understand that before then the European Commission intends to conduct a review of the operation and the future of Summer Time across the Community. In order to assist that, it will hold a public hearing after the summer break.

One of the arguments put forward in favour of change is that it will enhance our communications with our European partners. Therefore, it would clearly be premature to ask Parliament to reach a decision before the Commission's approach is clear. We shall keep in close touch with developments and report back to your Lordships in due course. A change to Central European Time would require primary legislation and, therefore, a Bill would have to come before your Lordships' House. I hope that I have answered the points raised by your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and it was ordered that the Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.