HL Deb 04 February 1998 vol 585 cc716-36

7.58 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider changing British time so that it coincides with arrangements such as those in France and Germany.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in asking this Question, I am conscious that we are completely changing direction from what has been an extremely important debate.

As this is an Unstarred Question, to which I have no right of reply, I begin by thanking all those who are to participate. In particular, I welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton is to make his maiden speech, although I have a feeling that he is not entirely in sympathy with the ideas which I am propounding. However, the number of speakers demonstrates that there is considerable interest in this important subject. I have calculated that if one excludes the maiden speaker and those speaking from the Front Bench, there are about 10 in favour of the change and two against. There would have been even more speakers if the Liberal Democrats had not been distracted by the fact that they have a major and important party in honour of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who recently retired as Leader of their party in this House. Hence the fact that the Liberal Democrat Benches are empty at this moment.

I start by reminding your Lordships of the point that we have reached in relation to this important subject of trying to move forward the campaign for what is sometimes loosely referred to as single/double summer time.

On 11 th January 1995, my noble friend Lord Mountgarret moved the Second Reading of the Central European Time Bill. That can be found at col. 243 and following columns of Hansard. That Bill completed all its stages in your Lordships' House but never reached the other place. The next move in the saga was on 29th November 1995 when I moved the Western European Time Bill, the proceedings of which can be found at col. 660 onwards in Hansard. That Bill changed the concept slightly from that of my noble friend Lord Mountgarret in that it was a simpler measure and one which I thought had a slightly better title which was more in sympathy with what we were trying to achieve.

That Bill went through all its stages in this place and was actually introduced in the other place. However, it coincided with a Bill being introduced by the Member for Bournemouth West, Mr. John Butterfill, called the British Time (Extra Daylight) Bill which was talked out. I always feel that that was a slightly unfortunate title because of course it is not possible for us to have more daylight, although it is possible for us to have the daylight at times which provide the most economic benefit to the nation. That is what we are trying to achieve by reopening the subject this evening.

Although I shall not outline the arguments and the whole saga that we have gone through, there is no doubt that such debates explored all the advantages—for example, as regards energy saving, tourism, road safety—both in England and in Scotland—industry, commerce and banking. There is a plethora of statistical and institutional evidence to support all those sectors.

This Government, of all governments, want to be at the heart of Europe. The last government also said that, but they seemed to be rather half-hearted, if noble Lords will excuse the pun. If this Government mean to make this important commitment, with which I entirely agree, we should be on the same time as the key countries in Europe, such as France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Italy, to name but a few.

However, it has also become quite clear that initiatives to achieve the same time system as our main EU partners cannot be implemented from the Back-Benches by Private Members' Public Bills; the initiative must come from the Government. This new Government are a reforming government, with a great mandate to rule. Indeed, they are reforming all sorts of things, including your Lordships' House, although I think that that probably has more to do with removal rather than reform at this stage. But I digress.

This Government have instituted many reviews. I have already given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, that my main purpose in raising the issue was to press for an in-depth review as a prelude to future legislation on the subject, possibly a White Paper to start with; but, whatever the substance, what we need is a major review. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will be able to respond positively to that suggestion.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Desai:

My Lords, I, too, shall be brief like the noble Viscount who has just introduced tonight's debate. I am glad that the noble Viscount is not moving the Second Reading of a Bill because I notice from the list of speakers that the majority are hereditary Peers and I know that they are in favour of such a change. Therefore, if we were to pass such a Bill, we would only blame those Peers for passing yet another Bill through Parliament.

Basically, I feel that, like decimal coinage and metric measurements, all sorts of arcane objections could be made against this very simple measure. To me it is a simple and rational measure designed to co-ordinate our activities with the rest of western Europe. After all, we do a lot of business in that respect: we travel, we make calls on the telephone and we make purchases across Europe. It is an inconvenience to have such a time gap.

As the noble Viscount said, it has also been demonstrated quite comprehensively that, although we may not be able to have more daylight, this measure would enable us to enjoy more of the daylight that is available. Indeed, that is the object of the exercise. Moreover, there is also an advantage in terms of traffic and road safety. Again, I am sure that we have had comprehensive reviews in that respect, as I suspect other noble Lords will mention. If that is not so, perhaps the review that I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will promise will study such matters. If the matter is examined, I believe that it will be found that it is a simple and rational thing to do. I trust that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us a hopeful answer.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw:

My Lords, I was very pleased indeed to hear the noble Viscount ask the Minister for a review of the whole subject. That is something which is long overdue and something which is highly necessary before we can proceed further in any sensible fashion.

However, before I continue, I should like particularly to say how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, is to speak after me. I look forward very much to hearing his maiden speech and to welcoming him to this really élite band of horological Peers who discuss the ins and outs of time once in about every six months. He is also a fellow neighbour in Scotland. Indeed, it was his constituency that first got me into politics. The noble Lord was more successful in getting into the other place than I was, but I got here before him. Therefore, I am not sure who won. Nevertheless, I am very pleased to see him here this evening.

I did say that there was need for a review. I shall put forward a suggestion which I very much hope will be incorporated into such a review of the whole subject of time and Europe. There are two main types of civil time in use throughout the world today—there is local time, based on UTC (atomic time), and the World Time Zones (calculated from the Prime Meridian—that is zero longitude—at Greenwich. In this country we have a Minister for each function. They are the Minister for science for our local time scale and the Minister for the Home Office for our local time zone.

How can it arise, despite the luxury of having two government departments, each one fitted out wall-to-wall with civil servants who have access—via the International Earth Rotation Service (IERS)—to all the leading horological scientists in Europe, that this country neither has the correct time scale on its statute books nor is in the correct time zone for Europe?

Does the Minister agree that, up to 1975, the agreements negotiated at the Meridian Conference held in Washington in 1884 held good? They were that the world's time would be Greenwich Mean Time—based on the earth's rotation as calculated from Greenwich and the world's time zones defined as differences in longitude from the Prime Meridian at Greenwich.

Can the Minister who is to reply state quite emphatically, first, that, with regard to civil time, Greenwich Mean Time has not existed since 1975? I sympathised with government Ministers when I asked that question previously. It is rather like telling one's children that Father Christmas no longer exists, and that no one comes down the chimney to give presents. It is an awful responsibility to bear, but perhaps the Minister will go that far this time.

Will the Minister also confirm that all the clocks in the country are set to the so-called Greenwich "pips"—that is, Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is the atomic time and frequency transmitted by the BT transmitter from Rugby on the MSF wavelength? Will the Minister also confirm that we now have a rather strange situation; namely, that the local clock time on the town hall at Greenwich cannot be correctly expressed as GMT, but the world's time zones, which are calculated from the Prime Meridian a few hundred metres away, are expressed as plus or minus hours relative to GMT; and that that is how they appear in the BT international book and on the World Service of the BBC?

I did touch on that anomaly when I had the privilege of putting my own Co-ordinated Universal Time Bill before your Lordships. However, I realise now that I may have made the mistake of putting technical integrity before political feasibility. That might account for it not being passed in the other place. But no one wants to write Greenwich off the statute book. I believe it could remain there if my suggestion regarding a new value for GMT, which I am about to define, is taken up by the Government. If this idea finds favour with the Government, I should be happy—when the time comes—to resubmit my original Bill to the House, but with the new title of GMT [Greenwich Meridian] Bill. Alternatively, I should be pleased to support any government measure which would achieve the same result.

I have put the case for harmonisation with Europe with much force in previous debates. I shall leave other noble Lords who will speak later to do that for me this evening. Meanwhile, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Viscount's objective in his Question. But might not harmonisation be achieved more effectively by turning the situation completely around? Why cannot the western and central parts of Europe adjust their clocks to "new GMT", which would be local British time (UTC) spanning 15 degrees of longitude on either side of the Prime Meridian at Greenwich? Might this also not prove to be a much more popular and acceptable measure than the prospect set out in the noble Viscount's Question? Can the noble Viscount recall that the world's Prime Meridian for longitude and time used to pass through the old observatory at Greenwich up until 1st January? It no longer does so; it passes by somewhere else. I shall try to explain the significance of that in my Unstarred Question on 4th March. Therefore I shall not trouble with the technicalities now, although I have given the noble Viscount a sheet which will help him.

Is it not possible that during the British presidency of the European Union there will be a timely opportunity to persuade our European partners to recognise the new Prime Meridian at Greenwich as the benchmark for all local time in Europe, and to accept new GMT (Greenwich Meridian Time) as the time standard for all central and western European nations, as well as for the rest of the world's time zones? Is it not possible that the two government departments concerned with local British time and the world time zones might consider merging their horological responsibilities in the interests of efficiency? It might then be possible for Her Majesty's Government to focus more fully on the benefits which harmonisation can bring to Europe.

What is the point of spending £750 million on the construction of a temporary dome to celebrate the new millennium at Greenwich if Greenwich will not receive a permanent legacy in the field of horological science, for which it has been justly famous for the past 300 years? What better legacy could there be for Greenwich than to re-establish GMT? Greenwich Mean Time may be dead but could not GMT, reborn as Greenwich Meridian Time, find its permanent and proper place as Europe's time scale in the next millennium?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton:

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that there is a relationship between time and passion and that it is important that people try to adhere to the allotted time.

8.13 p.m.

Lord Lang of Monkton:

My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships for the first time with a sense of diffidence and trepidation that may be traditional but is in my case genuine, the more so in the light of the injunction just given by the noble Baroness opposite.

I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and my noble friend Lord Montgomery for their kind words of welcome to me. Indeed I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein for providing the vehicle to draw me to my feet. I wish only I could agree with everything he said in his eloquent and brief remarks. I know I should not be controversial. I fear that on that I may have to rest on the argument that to want to leave well alone is not controversial; that it is those who would upset the status quo who introduce controversy.

Though a Scot who for 18 years represented a Scottish constituency in another place, I do not seek to rest my case for the status quo on the well-known Scottish arguments, important though they are. My case is based on the broader, simpler premise that GMT is Britain's natural time, by whatever name it may be called. I defer to the superior wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on this matter. It is the natural time for the whole nation, including the one-third of it that lies north of Carlisle. That is why it was chosen; that is why it has survived; and that is why the 1968 experiment failed and was abandoned.

My noble friend Lord Montgomery has set this debate in the context of Europe. I say, as uncontroversially as I can, that I do not believe that Europe needs a single time zone any more than it needs a single currency. It needs deregulation and flexibility, not a strait-jacket. Why should its three natural time zones be shoehorned into one, other than for bureaucratic tidiness? There is the argument that GMT has disadvantaged our industry in its dealings with Europe. For two years I had the privilege of presiding in government over our nation's trade and industrial affairs and I have to say there was no evidence of that whatsoever; indeed, quite the reverse. For several years past our exports to Europe have scaled new heights. The growth in our manufacturing output, productivity and exports has been beating the rest of Europe into a cocked hat.

Of course, an hour gained closer to Europe would be an hour lost further away from America, which is still a major export market, still vital to our financial sector, still the biggest location of our overseas investment and still the greatest trading nation on earth, despite having no fewer than six different time zones that cut across states and counties and even, I am told, through cities. If they can manage with that, surely we can cope with a single time zone that suits our geographical circumstances and has a mere one hour's difference from most of Europe.

The fact is that this debate has a faintly anachronistic air. We are no longer a nine-to-five society. We are deregulated, flexible and free from the tyranny of much of the officialdom, the demarcation and the clock watching that used to dog us. If people, businesses or schools want to change their hours to suit the different daylight patterns that affect them, let them do so, but let them do it by choice and not as a result of legislation forcing it upon them. Modern technology and working methods have transformed our economy and our employment practices. Our best companies in services and in manufacturing operate globally at all hours and at high speeds. It is in a global context that we should view this issue.

It is the fashion in some quarters to disown our past and to revise and rewrite our history—a history that gave the world Greenwich as the zero meridian around which the whole world sets its clocks. Now we are busily building the great dome at Greenwich to celebrate the millennium, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, referred. Many have inquired as to its purpose. Could it be that it is perhaps to mark the hauling down of the flag and the abandonment of our pre-eminence as the nation that gave the world its baseline for measuring time and distance? I hope that is not the case, and it need not be so. We can leave well alone. Let us do so. Let us proclaim and celebrate our heritage and not abandon it. I hope that that is not too controversial.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Berkeley:

My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, and to congratulate him on an excellent and thought-provoking maiden speech which reflects his long and great experience in Scottish affairs as well as in trade and industry, as he has just told us. I am certain that the House will wish to hear from him on many occasions in the near future in other fora. I look forward to debating this matter with him again on future occasions.

I gather that the village of Monkton, from where the noble Lord, Lord Lang, has chosen to take his name, is close to the town of Troon. I do not know whether there is any connection between the well-known views of my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon and the noble Lord, Lord Lang, on this issue. In my opinion both those views are slightly unsound. I hope I may expand on that without being controversial. Perhaps it is something to do with the water in south-west Scotland. Perhaps I should leave it at that.

As we have heard, this matter is becoming an almost annual debate. It is an issue which raises much passion for and against. I have read the previous speeches of many noble Lords on this issue, including mine. There are many arguments for and against which we can and shall discuss. I believe that the only compelling reason for changing a time zone is the road safety aspect. It would give an hour's longer daylight in the afternoon and an hour's less daylight in the morning. That would reduce road accidents as more accidents occur in the dark and when people are tired.In the mornings children make one journey to school when they are not tired, but in the evenings they often make two journeys as they may travel to other activities after school before travelling home. That all adds up to more casualties in the dark on the way home from school. I still believe that we ignore at our peril the estimate of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory that this would save 140 fatalities a year and 520 serious injuries throughout the UK. The same report indicates that in Scotland alone there would 60 fewer fatalities and serious injuries.

Perhaps I may quote from a document of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions entitled Road Safety Strategy Current Problems and Future Options, dated October 1997. At paragraph 232 it states that the, TRL have recently completed a new study of the effects of SDST"— that is the time that I should like to see introduced— using a more refined methodology, and an alternative analysis, conducted by the Department by an independent statistician, has produced provisional estimates. Both studies show that there would be significant savings in pedestrian deaths and serious injuries, ranging from 150–400 fewer casualties". It states that those findings are consistent with analysis of the effects of clock changes in the United States. I believe that that argument is irrefutable. The reference is to 600 fewer fatalities and injuries in England alone. The numbers for Scotland are less, but that is proportional to the population.

I believe that there is one solution. Much of the opposition today comes from noble Lords who have links north of the Border. We have a Scottish devolution Bill. If the Scots do not like the benefits of changing the timescale why should they not have a separate time zone? The devolution Bill states that decisions on time should be retained with Westminster. But if Westminster can at last accept the principle of subsidiarity, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang, said, deregulation, surely the Scots should be able to decide for themselves their time zone. That would leave the English, the Welsh and possibly the Irish, whether north, south or both, to decide rationally on their preferences. I believe that they would strongly favour a change, in the interests of savings in accident rates and because it would be good for business and tourism.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Monson:

My Lords, the brevity of the first two speeches enables me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lang, on his superb maiden speech and to assure him that he is not alone in his admirable sentiments.

With his usual charm and persuasiveness, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, invites us to harmonise our time with French and German time. He innocently fails to mention that this is also the time reigning in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, and so on. In other words, it is central European time. Ten EU countries subscribe to central European time, while five choose alternative times, as one would expect from a grouping which spans 42 degrees of longitude. The Portuguese recently experimented with central European time for two or three years. They discovered that they disliked it and reverted to GMT. It is easy to see why.

Last October I happened to spend three days on the south bank of the Minho, the river which separates northern Portugal from Galicia, and three days on the northern Spanish bank. On our first morning in Spain, 10th October, I observed that it was still dark at 8.15 a.m. In contrast, in the great fortress of Valenta, which one could see across the river, on the south bank it was light in early October by 7.30 a.m. That seems a right and proper time for it to get light at that time of the year.

As most people know, the Spanish eat their meals one-and-a-half to two hours later than anyone else in Europe. It is because of this endearing eccentricity that central European time happens to suit their unique lifestyle.

But what about Brittany, noble Lords may ask, where people keep normal hours? After all, Brest lies on the same longitude as Plymouth, Carmarthen, Glasgow and Inverness. How can the mainly agricultural Breton tolerate such a late winter sunrise? The answer lies in numbers. When the phrase "central Europe" is mentioned, one thinks instinctively of Vienna, the heartland. The sun rises in Strasbourg only 34 minutes after it rises in Vienna. So the Strasbourgeois can live with central European time. But the sun rises in Brest fully one hour 23 minutes after it rises in Vienna, so the situation is not so agreeable for the Bretons. But most of the French electorate live in the eastern half of the country and it is their votes and their interests that count.

Some Europeans who know little about other continents, and care less—it has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lang—complain that when it is 8 a.m. in London, it is 9 a.m. in Paris, 240 miles away, and how inconvenient that is. But what they fail to realise is that when it is 8 a.m. in Chicago it is 9 a.m. in Detroit, also 240 miles away, but that neither worries the Americans, nor does it impede their trade and industry.

The noble Viscount is far from being a "little European". Indeed, he is a distinguished expert on Latin America. He will know that, for example, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia are all in different time zones—but that causes them no hardship. Claims have been made—they have been made today by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—that darker mornings and lighter evenings would reduce road casualties. If that is the case, why have not the health and safety obsessed Germans switched from central European to eastern European time? After all, on any day when the sun sets in Birmingham at 4 p.m. GMT, it sets in Berlin at 4 p.m. central European time. Yet the pragmatic Berliners seem perfectly happy with the status quo.

Moreover, in a written reply to my suggestion on 24th November last that summer time should start one or two weeks earlier every March, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, pointed out that this was not favoured, because of the impact of colder morning starts particularly on commuters and outdoor workers". How much worse then the impact would be on those two groups if summer time effectively prevailed throughout December, January and February.

Finally, a major British airline, Air 2000, which flies charter passengers all over the world, has written to me to oppose in the strongest terms any change in UK time from GMT which, it asserts, would cause chaos lasting several years in the global aviation system. I shall be pleased to pass the letter on to any noble Lord who is interested.

8.28 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington:

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Montgomery, said, in 1995 this matter was discussed in a Private Member's Bill promoted by my noble friend Lord Mountgarret. Some eight months later my noble friend Lord Montgomery raised the matter again; and I congratulate him on his admirable persistence in trying again today. On the occasion of the Mountgarret Bill, I found myself answering from the Dispatch Box in the enforced absence of my noble friend Lady Blatch.

I have carefully read that debate, including my reply, and I believe that all the arguments that were advanced in favour of change are as valid today as they were then. The less said about my speech the better. In all important questions there are two sides to the argument. But there inevitably comes a time when a decision one way or the other should be made. I believe that that time has come.

In 1995 I finished my speech by saying, We"— the then government— have not rejected the arguments for change, but neither are we so convinced by them that we wish to act on this matter now".— [Official Report, 11/1/95; col. 282.] Another three years have gone by and I suggest that the time for dithering is over. I was particularly struck by certain remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, which tied in with those made by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein. Those remarks referred to the fact that during the war we were on double summer time. I cannot remember a single complaint from farmers (and I was a land girl), nor for that matter from anyone else. Equally, when he was Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, introduced central European time into this country. It worked well and it is a pity that the Act was repealed in 1971 by a small majority.

The people of this country hate change; but once change has happened, they soon settle down and forget about their grievances. Perhaps I may give an example. When I was involved with Sunday Trading Bill, I remember officials from the Home Office telling me that 32,000 letters had been received against the Bill and 28 in favour—28, my Lords, not 28,000. That Bill became law and Sunday trading is now taken for granted. I believe that the Scots should make their own decision. Like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, I hope they will decide to proceed as we do.

If businessmen fear that they lose time when dealing with the United States of America, it is up to them to work the hours most suited to both partners. My son runs the London office of a San Francisco firm of lawyers. He works strange hours, but his fax machine and his e-mail address at his home keep him fully in touch and able to reply to any queries arising from California at any time.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that it is important from a road safety point of view to ensure that daylight spans the day in such a way as to minimise casualties.

I hope that this Government will bite the bullet and decide once and for all to change our time to central European time. May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, that he ignores his undoubted brief and "has a go".

8.31 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso:

My Lords, I wholeheartedly support the proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, that the time is right now for Her Majesty's Government to consider aligning the time in Britain with Central European Time. However, I do not believe that this debate should be seen from the context of whether one is a Europhile or Europhobe, but more in relation to the practical benefits of more light evenings.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety aptly summarised the position in the introduction to its brief, which stated: Manipulation of the clock relative to the hours of daylight does not change the amount of daylight we experience, but it does allow a certain amount of control over which of our daily activities are conducted in the light and in the dark". That goes to the root of this debate.

Time does not permit any of us to elaborate on the raft of statistics and projections on the advantages and, equally, the disadvantages of introducing CET. As the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, mentioned, the arguments have been fully rehearsed and debated in this House in relation to the Private Bills of the noble Viscounts, Lords Mountgarret and Montgomery, and the failed Bill introduced by John Butterfill in another place in 1996.

As a consultant to an investment bank in the City, I think it worth while to mention briefly what I believe to be a crucial advantage. My view is somewhat different to that stated by the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, in his excellent maiden speech. The noble Lord underestimates quite the degree of benefits that the financial services industry would gain from the additional hours. I can only comment as an equity salesman that it was sometimes impossible to get hold of fund managers across the waters, particularly as they were at lunch when we were in the middle of our trading day. It is also worth mentioning that, in 1996, the CBI unveiled a wide survey indicating that 75 per cent. of firms supported a shift from Greenwich Mean Time to Western European Time.

The CBI's director-general was quoted as saying that, bringing our clocks in line with the rest of Europe would be a boost to competitiveness and efficiency". Lighter evenings would also give the leisure industry a lift.

I totally agree with the call of so many who have been canvassed on this subject that time should be adjusted to meet human and social needs. In his Written Answer to the honourable Member for Cannock Chase in another place in November last year as to what plans the Government had to introduce CET, the Minister replied that the Government had none, but that they would continue to listen to all sides of the argument. The last time that the Home Office commissioned a survey of interest groups into options for Summer Time arrangements was in 1988. The excellent Green Paper,Summer Time: A Consultation Document, was published in 1989. That paper indicated a compelling and strong shift in public opinion in favour of Central European Time.

I hope that tonight the Minister can give us more encouragement that the strong views of the public will spur the Government into taking further action on this subject.

8.36 p.m.

Lord Mountevans: My

Lords, European Time is a topic on which the sun never seems to set. I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Montgomery for raising this Question on bringing our time into line with most of the rest of western Europe, thus giving us darker mornings and lighter afternoons. By coincidence, daylight today is precisely 90 minutes longer than it was at the winter solstice. The sun rose 28 minutes earlier and set 62 minutes later than on 21st December. Even nature seems to favour brighter, longer afternoons.

Harmonisation would be good for business. It would be good for communications, and it would certainly be good for tourism—in which I declare an interest. Tourism is already a £40 billion per annum industry. The change that many of us seek would add another £1.2 billion of general income to that figure, according to the Institute of Policy Studies in a report published in 1995. In turn, that would give the Treasury an additional £100 million in VAT and excise revenue, as well as boosting the 1.7 million jobs in the sector.

The tourist industry and, on a more domestic level, purely recreational activity are strongly biased towards the afternoon and evening. Spring and autumn activity in the sector would receive a special boost, which in turn would lead to a longer season. That is especially important for attractions such as historic houses, gardens and Royal Parks, which tend to close at dusk. Furthermore, an extended season would help to reduce congestion, not least on the roads—and many previous speakers touched on road safety.

Looking back at our earlier debates, the arguments against joining the Continental time band seem largely to be Scottish ones relating to the construction industry, agriculture and safety. But I wonder whether those arguments stand up. I have spent almost a fifth of my life in Sweden or Norway in latitudes similar to, or north of, Aberdeen. In winter in Sweden I started school at what was in effect 6 a.m. GMT. Even in summer, I started work very much earlier than 9 o'clock GMT. Whatever time activity went on, buildings were built, farmers farmed and safety was, as always, paramount. At any given latitude, as several noble Lords pointed out, the hours of daylight are the same regardless of time zone. It is simply our freedom to choose what we do in the hours of daylight that has changed.

I have never been very happy with the Scottish defence of the status quo. On the other hand, I am very much persuaded by arguments in favour of change. Therefore, I echo several other noble Lords in hoping that at least a review will be forthcoming.

8.39 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon:

My Lords, it is customary on these occasions to congratulate the noble Lord who introduces the debate on an Unstarred Question. On this occasion my blood ran cold when I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, refer to his campaign. The notion of a campaign suggests a continuum and that we shall hear more about this subject as time unrolls. I strongly believe that discussing a subject at least four times in three years is more than enough, and I beg for mercy. Let us have no more of this.

The normal repertory company has turned up this evening to debate this matter, as we have done so often in the past. I am glad to say that we have acquired one or two new recruits, notably the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton. It has already been said that Monkton is very close to Troon—it is no more than three or four miles away. This would have given the noble Lord the right and the knowledge to discuss the Scottish dimension in considerable detail. His arguments would have been the same as those that I have deployed over the past several years and into which I shall not go in detail now. I refer noble Lords to earlier issues of Hansard, where they will find the arguments deployed in a most compelling way.

I merely say that it is 45 minutes later by the sun in Glasgow than it is in London. If dawn were at 8 a.m. in London by proper GMT, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, would have it—I did not quite understand his speech but I shall read it later—it would be at 9 a.m. if we were to move in the way suggested by the noble Viscount and at a quarter to ten in Glasgow. I know from my experience during the war that you do not want to hang around in the dark at a quarter to ten in the morning. It does not make sense.

We are in Britain's natural time. An interesting point which the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, did not make about Sweden was that he was dealing with Sweden's natural time. It would become Britain's unnatural time. We should try to avoid that kind of change. I am not always in favour of nature, but on this occasion I am.

I have mentioned the construction industry on previous occasions and shall do so again. At the time of the discussion paper mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, it was estimated that the cost to the construction industry of the change would be £400 million at 1988–89 prices. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, could probably tell us what that figure would equate to today, but it is considerably more. There is therefore a cost to be set against the phantom costs which are said to be borne by the financial services industry under the present situation.

Construction safety is also involved. This is an interesting point which I have mentioned in general terms in the past. I shall be more specific this time and refer to the period of the experiment initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, before he had had any Scottish experience. During that experimental period of three years or so, fatalities in the construction industry rose from 13.5 per hundred thousand operatives in 1967 to 16.3 in 1968 and 18.9 in 1969, falling to 17 in 1971. During that three-year period there was an increase in fatalities per hundred thousand operatives of at least a quarter. That is not an insignificant figure. People talk of road safety statistics. In the construction industry we have a statistic which is significant and dangerous and which would certainly occur again.

When energy savings were mentioned earlier, the fact that more energy is needed in the dark of the morning was overlooked. It is a simple matter. One thing balances against the other.

In conclusion, when we talk of extended leisure activities, I must say that I prefer many of the leisure activities which I can carry out in the dark.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn:

My Lords, in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, I congratulate the noble Viscount on his persistence in seeking change to our time system. In framing his question today, he seems to be concentrating his fire on one aspect of the argument; namely, the desirability of having the same time as our continental neighbours. I am emboldened to speak for the first occasion on this subject from the perspective of having worked in the management of British Airways, which, together with other transport operators, is intimately concerned with local timings for the efficiency of its scheduling.

The problem is that we are an hour behind our neighbours every day of the year. The classic instance of the disadvantage of this is to travellers originating in Britain and flying to other European Union countries. As compared to their counterparts from those countries travelling to Britain, they suffer not a one-hour but a two-hour handicap. For example, a flight leaving Paris Charles de Gaulle at 8 a.m. will arrive at Heathrow at 8 a.m. but travelling in the other direction it will arrive at 10 a.m.

British Airways calculates that, properly managed, a one-hour advancement could benefit them by up to £25 million a year as a result of the longer effective working day for British business travellers and a better competitive position in flight timings. It also calculates that the reduction in the need to night-stop aircraft in European cities could bring an annual saving of some £5 million.

Of course, it is not just British Airways which would benefit. The previous debates here and in another place, together with the weight of commercial and financial opinion as expressed in the consultation document of 1989 and subsequently, all demonstrate that, in terms of our travel and communications within our common European marketplace, we would gain a great advantage if we advanced an hour.

Having made these points as a good airline man, I have to say that, powerful though they are, they can hardly be taken in themselves as the reason for us to change. Domestic issues are surely of greater importance. Of these the most impelling are those relating to road safety, electricity saving and the social benefits of lighter evenings. In considering all these, it seems to me that the main weight of benefit from time advancement applies to the winter rather than the summer months.

For this reason I believe that, if only we could ignore the continent, as in the days of our Imperial isolation, the truly optimal solution for our country today would be to have an unchanged time throughout the year on GMT—whatever that may mean—plus one, or, in other words, our present summer time. Our summer sunsets are surely sufficiently late. It will be recalled that this was precisely what we had during the ill-fated experimental period from 1968–71. Had it been endorsed by Parliament, it is presumably what we would still have today.

During that period our time was the same as continental time, which had never had a summer-winter split. Subsequently a summer time of GMT plus two was introduced on the continent. This excessive summer advancement has since proved highly unpopular in France, so much so that last year the French Government went to the European Commission to seek to rescind it in France, despite the acute disruption that this would have caused on their common land borders. Unfortunately, the Commission was able to quash that reversal because France had entered into a treaty for a commonality of time. Incidentally, that treaty does not apply to Britain, thus leaving the decisions on British time levels entirely to ourselves.

Had France succeeded, I believe that we should have joined her in a common Anglo-French time. That may well have graduated to a common west European time, to include Spain and Portugal in addition to Ireland. After all, there is never going to be a common time throughout the whole of the Union because the future eastern members are bound to join Finland and Greece in being one hour ahead of it.

But things being what they are and steering prudently away from the problems of Scotland, I feel that, in the balance of choice between the status quo and one hour's advancement, I support the noble Viscount in his campaign. If he succeeds, he will have revived the time we had during the last war, specifically on D-Day when his distinguished father launched an attack at 5.25 GMT. That was 7.25 in British time and, strangely enough, 6.25 in French time.

8.51 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret:

My Lords, reference has been made to my Bill of 1995, to which your Lordships were kind enough to give a Second Reading. It would be impossible and unproductive in this short space of time for me to try to cover all the points made there. many of which have not been referred to this evening. However, I should like to draw attention to one major and important point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

The noble Lord, Lord Vinson, was chairman of the late lamented Rural Development Commission, and I hold a copy of his letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, of the Department of Transport. I congratulate her on the desirability of trying to reduce deaths on the road through reducing the drink-drive limits—a totally different matter to that we are debating tonight. But we might bear in mind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. To that extent I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to col. 247 of Hansard in the Second Reading debate on 1 1 th January 1995. With permission, perhaps I may repeat what I said, which came from the Road Safety Research Laboratory statistics. In essence, it was calculated that between 1969 and 1970, 1,330 deaths and serious injuries were saved. It also calculated that had the experiment been made permanent in 1971—that is the experiment in relation to the change of time—approximately 20,000 deaths would have been saved and £200 million. If that is so—I cannot say whether it is—and if we are going to look at the drink-drive limits with the admirable object of reducing road deaths, there is a compelling argument for looking at the whole question of what we must call central European time. It does not involve just France and Germany; it involves the whole of central Europe.

There is great concern by those who live north of the Border, including the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that the Scots would experience enormous difficulty in their existence. However, my noble friend Lord Monson admirably demonstrated how we could live perfectly well with two different time zones and he quoted Latin America. The Scots being nicely devolved and being able to organise their own affairs, if they wished they could keep their own times, and we could have two time zones. It is not for Westminster to tell them what they should do. I believe it would be illogical, but that is up to the Scots. I do not believe that the Scots should turn around and say, "Though it is beneficial for England"—which it now is—"it is unhelpful to us and therefore the whole thing must fail".

Something else to which I did not refer in my Bill—this may well go down badly—but the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, nearly touched on it, relates to the fact that there are a couple of months in the year when there is an argument for having Greenwich Mean Time. At that time it is dark in the morning and dark in the evening and it would not make any difference whether we were one hour ahead or one hour behind. But today it does make a difference and we would benefit by having time one hour ahead in line with central European time.

Though the noble Baroness—perhaps I may call her my very good friend—Lady Trumpington, said that she does not wish her speech to be referred to, I cannot refrain from so doing. She was shackled because her noble friend Lady Blatch was unable to be at the Dispatch Box and therefore she had to be somewhat restrained in her enthusiasm for this measure. The noble Baroness had to say that, "the lady did not say yes and did not say no". I suggest that this is a moment when we must support the request for a serious review again by the new Government in order for the lady to know what she wants.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Levene of Portsoken:

My Lords, I have for some years closely followed the debate as to whether British time should be changed to coincide with timing in continental Europe. Indeed, I had some previous involvement in this issue during the period I spent in the Cabinet Office. But I speak now as a businessman who travels frequently to Europe and who also deals with our colleagues on the continent on a regular basis.

There has been much emphasis in recent years on the question of our competitiveness and the importance which that has for the national economy. I can think of few greater barriers to the competitiveness of the UK in its dealings with continental Europe than the divergence of time. I should like to take as a practical example the question of travel and I have done a little research into the matter. I make no apology for re-emphasising some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Gladwyn.

I have taken as an example the requirement for a businessman or woman to attend a meeting in a European business centre which starts at 9.30 a.m.—hardly the crack of dawn. I have looked at this from the point of view of business with some of our major trading partners—France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy. In every case, a business traveller coming in from any of those countries would have no difficulty in arriving at a meeting in central London at 9.30 a.m. I am working on the basis that there would be one hour's journey from the airport into the centre of the City. Conversely, however, for travellers from London to Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Zurich or Milan, in only one case— that of Brussels— would a passenger departing from London be able to achieve the same thing. In every case they would either have to insist on a later meeting or be put to the added expense of spending the previous night in the city in question.

Furthermore, for most of the cities which I quoted, a local traveller coming to London would not even have to catch the first flight in the morning, whereas our London-based traveller going to Brussels (the only attainable city) by 9.30 a.m., would certainly have to catch the first flight in the morning, which leaves London at 6.30 a.m. Bearing in mind that he needs to be at the airport half-an-hour beforehand at 6.00 a.m., one can assume that he would actually have to get up at about 5.00 a.m., or perhaps even earlier.

I have no difficulty with the question of getting up early in the morning, but I really wonder whether we are sending our business colleagues best equipped for important meetings in Europe, firstly, armed probably with very little sleep and, secondly, where in most cases they cannot even make such a meeting. If you look further afield in Europe than the cities I quoted, in many cases the London-based traveller would not be able to arrive at a meeting much before 11.30 a.m., which is almost wasting half the working day.

From the past experience I have had with this issue, I know of the problem that a change of time of this nature would raise with farmers. I have to say that I have always found this to be an extremely difficult argument to understand. I cannot understand why the farmers, and in particular those who deal with animals, need to be strictly regulated by the hands of a clockface. Surely, if a farmer wishes to handle his animals according to the time established by the sun, there is nothing to prevent him from so doing. Although I of course appreciate that the farmers must interface with other members in the community, nevertheless, their lives are far more self-contained than those of the international business community and I would have thought that, with a certain amount of adjustment, a change could be manageable.

Perhaps I may also suggest to your Lordships that if we were now on the same time as continental Europe, and it was then suggested that we should adjust our clocks to be one hour behind in order to ensure that farmers and their animals did not have to get up one hour earlier, such a suggestion would be greeted with astonishment

Therefore I hope that the Government will finally see fit to consider favourably the request of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, in agreeing to change the time in the UK to coincide with that in continental Europe, particularly now, as has already been stated, that we are in the period that this country holds the presidency of the EU.

9 p.m.

Lord Henley:

My Lords, I start by offering my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton. I was very interested to hear his non-controversial speech because I shall be joining that happy band, which includes my noble friend and the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Howie, in objecting to and opposing the suggestions put forward by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein. In saying that, I should make it clear that this is not a party matter in that I refer to those speaking on the same side as myself from the Government Benches, the Opposition Benches and the Cross-Benches. I believe the same is true for those supporting my noble friend Lord Montgomery. I should also make it clear that although I am speaking from the Dispatch Box, I am speaking very much for myself. The Opposition have no view on this matter, just as my noble friend Lady Trumpington made it clear that when we were in government we had no very strong view, though we stressed that we did not believe that the time was right to make such changes as were suggested.

This matter has been debated in the House on a number of occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Howie, referred to this as being the fourth debate in something like three years. But, as we know, it is a matter that has been up for discussion for much longer than that. We have to go right back to 1908 to the first Daylight Saving Bill put before both Houses of Parliament. My noble friend Lady Trumpington then referred to the experiment from 1967 to 1970, an experiment that was overturned by a vote in another place in 1970, and overturned by what my noble friend Lady Trumpington referred to as a quite small majority. When I look at the excellent research paper produced by the House of Commons Library I see that the vote was 366 to 81.I do not call that a quite small majority. My noble friends and I were beaten on quite a number of occasions on one measure or another in this House when we were in government. I do not think we were ever beaten by majorities quite as large as 366 to 81. I think the other place came to the right decision back in 1970 when it rejected that experiment by what I would describe as an overwhelming majority.

I want to make only two brief points as to why I oppose this measure. The first one, which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, relates to Scotland. I do not want to rehearse again, as have been rehearsed before, the arguments in favour of Scotland; but I want to make it clear as someone who lives in the north of England—my noble friend Lord Lang referred to north of Carlisle: I live north of Carlisle but in England—that it affects us in the north of England just as much as it affects a lot of people in Scotland. I think I saw something of a nod from the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, who, I believe, is also a northerner and comes from the north west. I think he would agree that it would affect him in the north west—albeit that much further south—as much as it would affect others.

My second point concerns what I would describe as the fundamental dishonesty about so many of these schemes. I appreciate that many of those proposing a measure of this kind have made it clear that we are not talking about adding any daylight to the day. If we go back to the original Act that started this nonsense of shifting the hours around—the Daylight Saving Act 1908—that was referred to as daylight saving. As we all know, not so much as one hour of daylight has been saved by that Act or subsequent Acts from that moment until now. All we are talking about is shifting the time which we call any given hour from one hour to another hour.

I am in complete agreement with the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Howie of Troon, and my noble friend Lord Lang in saying that I would prefer to stick to what is natural time. When the sun is at its zenith, that should be midday, and that is what I should like to see continuing. For that reason, with some regrets, I have to say that I cannot support my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein.

9.5 p.m.

Lord Hoyle:

My Lords, before I start—I say that guardedly because I am sure that many noble Lords will disagree with me as I am going to be neutral in what I say in relation to this measure—I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lang, on his maiden speech. We know each other from another place. We have not always agreed all of the time but we have always respected each other in what has been said. If that was his maiden speech, in which he was expressing the strong views that I know he holds on many subjects, I am sure that we shall listen with rapt attention to his future contributions. There is one thing I would say. When he is speaking, no one will be able to ignore what he has to say to us. I look forward to him bringing his knowledge and expertise of the other place and of the Cabinet to our future debates.

My noble friend Lord Howie said that we have been here four times in three years. I think he was saying something like "Enough is enough". I do think that not a lot that is new has been raised. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for providing us once more with an opportunity to debate this subject. He has an honourable track record in raising this issue in the House. He brought forward his Western European Time Bill in 1995 and he was right to say that it was overtaken by John Butterfill's British Time (Extra Daylight) Bill. Although that received a majority in the other place, it did not have sufficient support to proceed.

What we are really talking about here is whether we go over to Central European Time. Some of the arguments are familiar, but that does not reduce the potency or the firmness with which views are held on either side of the House. The noble Viscount and others have drawn attention to a number of arguments in favour of the United Kingdom adopting CET. In that regard particular reference has been made to the projected reduction in road traffic casualties. At least two noble Lords referred to that and made it a major part of their speeches. My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to it and also the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret.

They said that statistics show that there is a difference in this matter. It was related to a question concerning a new study undertaken in that respect. Although the results have not yet been published, I can say that the report confirms the early calculations for Great Britain as a whole. Despite the projected reduction in the number of deaths shown by this and the previous study, other people remain concerned about the safety of school-children and others travelling on darker winter mornings. That was one of the reasons for the overwhelming vote referred to when British Summer Time was brought in. That meant that we did not have to change the clocks at all. There was an overwhelming defeat of 366 votes to 81.

Baroness Trumpington:

My Lords, poetic licence!

Lord Hoyle:

My Lords, I liked it, too. A great deal of the debate referred to accidents to children in the morning.

Another matter was referred to by my noble friend Lord Berkeley and by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret; namely, Scotland and whether we could have two time zones. I cannot think of anything worse. I do not believe that would command universal support in this House. If we had two time zones it would have a significant effect on transport, business and communications links. It is often claimed that the current arrangement of being one hour behind much of the rest of Europe adversely affects our dealings with our European partners. That was one of the major points raised tonight. I suggest that that argument applies even more strongly to different time zones within the United Kingdom. Noble Lords may consider the disruption that would occur in one small island. Those who travel from north to south and vice versa would continually have to adjust their watches and body clocks. That would apply even to those who travelled just over the Border such as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who is so near to it. The cost to the transport sector in re-jigging timetables would be considerable.

We therefore believe that whatever arrangements are in place—

Viscount Mountgarret:

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord giving way. I would like to set the record straight. I believe that when he reads Hansard tomorrow the noble Lord will find that I did not support two time zones. I agree with every word that the noble Lord said. I said that if Scotland or the people in the north were upset by the possible suggestion of what is being debated this evening, they could take the decision themselves. I was not suggesting that we should encourage it.

Lord Hoyle:

My Lords, I apologise. I realised that that was what the noble Viscount was saying. I assumed that what was behind it was that it was possible, if Scotland took its own decision, that there might be a difference of opinion between England, Wales and Scotland. For the reasons I have given, that is why the Scotland Bill, currently being considered in another place, reserves to Westminster the power to determine time zones.

We have had a very good debate tonight. In many ways we have gone over familiar ground. I could go on to deal with the reasons that have been put forward for change such as the advantage to the business community. I have mentioned road traffic casualties. I could go on to talk about crime. There is the argument that a change would reduce it. But there are others who believe that longer hours might cause a rise in certain types of crime. We have heard of the effects on tourism, but a lot of its attractions are indoor entertainments.

There might be an energy saving, but possibly not overall because of the need to use more energy in the early mornings. Mention has been made of the effect on the construction industry. In that context, my noble friend Lord Howie made a telling point when he referred to the rise of almost 25 per cent. in fatalities in the construction industry.

Having mentioned all of those points, no one factor can determine government policy in such an important area. A move to CET would clearly have many different consequences. I know that noble Lords are impatient for action, but we believe as a government—as has been said previously, this is not a party matter—that any change must be made in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. The adoption of CET would constitute a significant change and we do not consider that there is evidence of sufficient support to justify that change.

The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, asked whether the Government would undertake a review. At the moment, we have no plans to do so. As has been said, the issue has been examined several times and we are not convinced that a further review would add to the information that is already available to the Home Office about the advantages and drawbacks of central European time. As I have said, in making any change, we would need to be satisfied that the proposal would benefit our people as a whole and that there was wide support for it across all sections of the community. At the moment, the Government doubt whether there is a good case for going over this ground again. However, I advise the noble Viscount that I shall pass on to my colleagues the request that he has made tonight. I shall bring it to their attention because other noble Lords have also made that request, as well as the noble Viscount.

In the meantime, I say again that we recognise the strength of feeling on this issue on both sides and that that is unlikely to abate. I finish by saying that I assure the House that the Government will continue to listen to all sides of the argument.

House adjourned at sixteen minutes past nine o'clock.