HL Deb 24 November 1997 vol 583 cc820-2

7.48 p.m.

Lord Hoyle

rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Summer Time Order 1997 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 27th October [11th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Summer Time Order 1997 be approved. The draft order before your Lordships this evening has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and has been approved by affirmative resolution in another place.

As your Lordships will see, the order is uncontentious. It does no more than continue for a further four years—that is, for 1998 to 2001—the existing arrangements for the starting and ending dates of summer time. In line with previous years, summer time will start at 1 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday in March and end at I a.m. GMT on the last Sunday in October. That will mean that summer time will run from 29th March to 25th October in 1998; 28th March to 31st October in 1999; 26th March to 29th October in the year 2000; and 25th March to 28th October in 2001.

These dates are in accordance with the 8th EC Directive on summer time in the European Union. EC directives on summer time are concerned only with setting the start and end dates. Noble Lords will recall that until 1996 the UK and the Republic of Ireland had a derogation from the directive which enabled them to continue to end summer time in October rather than in September, the date preferred by other member states.

For the past two years, however, that derogation has not been required. This follows a decision by our European partners that an October end date would also have advantages for them. That has removed the uncertainty that was caused by the one-month difference among member states in the times that they altered their clocks. Travellers and business, particularly transport operators, have all benefited from this change. I therefore seek the agreement of the House to the continuation of the present arrangements for a further four years. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Summer Time Order 1997 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 27th October [11th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Hoyle.)

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order. When the Summer Time Order was last before the House in 1994, it was then the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who responded for the Opposition. Well, the cast list and the stage directions seem to have changed, for the moment at any rate, but I take the same view as the noble Lord did on that occasion. It is indeed an uncontroversial order and we shall not oppose it.

However, I shall make a brief reference to the issues related to the order, just as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, did some three years ago. There are those who would argue that this order does not go far enough—that we should have double summer time so that our trading day would coincide exactly with that of our colleagues in continental Europe. There would be special advantages, in particular for the banking and financial services sectors. We have two out of the top four banking and financial services centres in the EU within the UK, based in London and in Edinburgh.

The issue of double summer time was debated in another place in January 1996, when my honourable friend Mr. Butterfill, introduced the British Time (Extra Daylight) Bill. He pointed out the advantages of aligning our summer time exactly with that of our EU colleagues. He also, in due fairness, pointed out the disadvantages. Noble Lords will be glad to hear that I do not propose to go through that list tonight. However, without using too much of a pun, time does indeed move on. There have been two developments since we last debated the order which may have a bearing upon the issue of summer time.

First, there is the issue of EU expansion. For example, what would be the potential impact of proposals which have already been made for the extension of the EU into eastern European countries which are significantly further east than the current time zone covered by the EC 8th Summer Time Directive? Has the Minister any views about the future effect of EC expansion eastwards upon summer time directives?

The second point is connected to the powers of the Scottish parliament and was brought to my attention during the David Frost television programme yesterday morning when the issue of summer time was raised by Mr. David Frost during his interview with Mr. Richard Branson. Mr. Branson suggested that Scotland might choose to have a different time zone from that adopted in the rest of the UK, if indeed we move to double summer time. That raised in my mind the question of the powers of the Scottish parliament, now that we know that the Government are proposing to create such a body. If this Parliament were at some stage to adopt double summer time—that is, the Westminster Parliament—could a Scottish parliament require single summer time for Scotland? Further, just how desirable or, indeed, sensible might that be? I would be grateful if the Minister could comment upon those points either now or by writing to me in the future. However, as I said earlier, we do not oppose the order.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before I put a question to the Minister, perhaps I may correct the noble Baroness on one point. She suggested that all other European or EC countries are in the same time zone. That is not correct. Greece, the Republic of Ireland and Portugal are in different time zones.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. I was trying to convey the fact that such changes might occur. There are countries being brought into the EU which are significantly—and I hope that I used the word "significantly"—further east and in different time zones. The noble Lord was completely right to point out the different situation with regard to Ireland.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Of course, she made an entirely valid point about the countries coming in from further east. It may be worth noting that Portugal carried out an experiment of going on to Central European Time, but the Portuguese people did not like it so the country reverted to UK time, so to speak.

Can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government are negotiating, or proposing to negotiate, with other European governments with a view to coming to some agreement to start summer time in the middle of March rather than at the end of that month every year so as to ensure that Easter always falls upon a date when summer time is in force? I have not given the Minister any notice of that question, but it is a matter worthy of consideration.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was quite right to say that the positions have been reversed on this occasion. Indeed, I have to reply in the way that her noble friend Lady Blatch did on a previous occasion. I should like, first, to deal with the question raised by the noble Baroness; namely, what difference would there be regarding the time zones which new members of the EU might adopt? As has been said, there are already two states—Finland and Greece—which have different time zones from ours. It is a matter for consideration. However, if the noble Baroness requires further information, I am sure that we can communicate with each other on that particular point.

As regards the question of Scotland, I am aware that it has been suggested that the Scottish parliament should be able to decide its own time zone. However, I should point out that different time zones within the UK would have significant effects on transport, business and communication links. We therefore consider that whatever arrangements are in place should apply to the United Kingdom as a whole. It is also wrong to assume that there is a regional split of opinion in relation to the zones. Many in England and Wales favour the status quo, while there are others in Scotland who would support a move to CET.

As regards starting summer time in mid-March, the cold weather does of course continue well into March and onwards. That is one of the reasons why we have always felt that it would be better for us to continue with the present system.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked whether we would be negotiating with other European governments. I shall take advice on that point and write to the noble Lord on the matter. I commend the order to the House.

On Question Motion agreed to.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.58 p.m. to 8.35 p.m.]