HL Deb 03 November 1998 vol 594 cc234-47

9.3 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Schedule 5.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 221: Page 85, line 5, at end insert—

("Exception from reservation The Parliament may require the annual reports of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Commission to be laid before it.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 221, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 222 and 223.

Those noble Lords who were involved in the Committee stage of this Bill will observe that these amendments are similar to ones we discussed and developed at that time, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. He withdrew them after an interesting debate. I retabled them because, despite the clear assurances from the Government in relation to their intentions, when I read the Minister's response in col. 1317 of Hansard I wondered why none of these items was to be placed on the face of the Bill. In each case the Minister said that the intention was to make provision through an executive devolution order under Clause 59. The question that kept coming to me was: if the Government intended to use the executive devolution order under Clause 59 to deal with these issues, why did we have so much other detail in the Bill when many of the other issues could have been dealt with in exactly the same way?

I return to these issues therefore to ask why they should not be put on the face of the Bill. Issues have moved on, as they often do, since we discussed this matter on 27th July. And I should like to take the amendments one at a time because the one in relation to which issues have moved on is the last one I should like to discuss.

In relation to Amendment No. 222, in Committee I noticed that funding direct broadcasting is currently the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland and therefore it will naturally fall to the new Scottish executive to do the same. Why will not the Government put that on the face of the Bill rather than using Section 59 proceedings? It seems to me to be a bit illogical when I look at some of the other matters that have been placed on the face of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 221 and 223 relate to the laying of reports and appointments. The Minister took those on board and said that they would be dealt with under Clause 59. But why cannot they be placed on the face of the Bill? In relation to the reports, the BBC indicated that it will lay the report before the parliament.

But I am interested in Amendment No. 223. At the risk of offending the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, I am less concerned with the Scottish membership of the Independent Television Commission; it has a different role from that of the BBC. The ITC does not deliver anything at its own hand.

We already have the devolution of independent broadcasting, both radio and television, in Scotland. The bodies which operate independent television for Scotland are bodies which are owned—probably by the various city funds—and managed from Scotland. They deal with Scottish issues and decide whether they will take part in any national programmes. They are very much on their own. That is true of what was Grampian Television and Scottish Television—I cannot remember what Scottish Television now calls itself, but perhaps that is what it calls itself now, although it used to be called STV. Both of those organisations are owned by the increasingly powerful Scottish Media Group, in which the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, was a principal player for some time. They are Scottish bodies and they make decisions in Scotland.

There was a similar situation with independent radio. Independent radio was very much the brainchild of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. In Scotland, it was built up very successfully and it was locally based. I am less worried about that than I am about the BBC. I believe that there will be a huge dilemma and potentially a huge difference of opinion between the BBC in Scotland and the BBC nationally. There are signs already that there will be considerable tensions. I doubt whether the British Broadcasting Corporation believes for one minute in devolution, despite the fact that its Scottish headquarters at Queen Margaret Drive in Scotland has for decades been the source of a lot of the propaganda in favour of devolution. The BBC in Scotland does not find much comfort when it discusses matters of devolution with its bosses in London.

I am concerned about the appointment of a national governor. I can foresee a situation where the BBC down here might say to the Government here, "To be honest, we do not much like the person suggested from Scotland; he will come down here and attempt to get far too much independence from the BBC; Culture Minister, would you not prefer to have a safer pair of hands?" I can assure your Lordships that such conversations do take place. A "safer pair of hands" is always an invitation from officials to Ministers that it would be dangerous to do the other thing. There is a danger that that could happen. I believe that putting this provision on the face of the Bill would strengthen the Scottish executive.

A recent press report will bring to your Lordships' attention the reason why I am concerned about that. Essentially, the BBC in Scotland has expressed a wish to opt out of the six o'clock news once devolution comes along and to have a news programme presented from Scotland, giving the Scottish parliamentary position, Scottish views, UK views and world views. The current situation is that at six o'clock we have the national news and at 6.30 we have the Scottish news. The position after devolution will be that a lot of things in the national news will not be in the least bit relevant to Scotland. Who in Scotland will be bothered about what Mr. Frank Dobson thinks about health? That will have nothing to do with health in Scotland as he will not be part of the same government.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Presumably he is aware that that is true at present. A lot of views generated from London are irrelevant in Scotland because the subject is already devolved administratively.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I think that I acknowledged that, but at least that was within one United Kingdom Government, whereas, after devolution, it will not be like that. Very often decisions made on health are made jointly by Ministers in the UK Government and therefore the same initiative—if it is an initiative—is developed by the UK Minister on behalf of the English health service in parallel with the Scottish health Minister. That will not necessarily happen in future because there will be two quite separate governments.

The point is that the BBC in Scotland would like to go its own way, but it is not being allowed to do so. The BBC nationally will not allow the BBC in Scotland to do that. The interesting thing is that BBC Radio has already gone its own way. In the mornings in Scotland I listen to "Good Morning Scotland" and I do not listen to "Today". "Good Morning Scotland" encompasses events happening in Scotland and around the world. It is a perfectly good programme. In fact, I think it is an excellent programme. In the evening, a programme called "News Drive" takes the place of "PM". Major world events are reported on it.

There does not seem to be a problem in radio, but there is a problem in television. One understands from a report in the Herald on Friday 16th October that there is considerable difficulty. It states: BBC governors are due to meet the Broadcasting Council for Scotland on Wednesday amid rising talk of resignation among its 12 members if London keeps control against the wishes of BBC Scotland, its controller, Mr John McCormick, and senior staff. Last night it emerged that Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar has given his conditional blessing to BBC Scotland's ambitions"— that is to have a fully Scottish-based six o'clock news— One BBC insider said: 'Donald is a reasonable man"'— we all say "hear, hear" to that— who accepts the editorial logic but his one worry is that there would be a lapse into the kaleyard". I can almost hear Donald Dewar saying that. The report continues: other Ministers are not convinced … Mrs. Helen Liddell, and Defence Secretary George Robertson. Both are noted for their strong anti-SNP stance and take the view that devolved Scottish broadcasting would give succour to the Nationalists, the strongest supporters of the proposed change, at a sensitive period in Scottish politics". I am amused to think that they do not think that devolution will give succour to the Nationalists but that devolving the BBC will.

I read from that article because I believe that it illustrates the point. Here we already have, before devolution has come along, a severe difference of opinion within the BBC between London and Scotland. In those circumstances, my concerns about the appointment of the national governor for Scotland are well justified. Despite the Minister's assurance, I can see that there may be pressure not to use the executive devolution order under Clause 59 on the issue. In fact, as far as concerns the appointment, it will just be a matter of the Scottish executive being "consulted".

On the last occasion, the Minister said:

I hope that that goes most of the way to meeting the intentions of the noble Lord".—[Official Report, 27/7/98; col. 1317.] That is probably true; indeed, it goes most of the way. However, it is the little bit further that it does not go that bothers me. It means that if the Government down here do not like, or are persuaded by the BBC that they should not like, the suggested name from Scotland, they will look for someone else and will not appoint that person. There is no point in the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, looking puzzled because that is the reality of what happens inside government: powerful departments try to have their way.

Although I suspect that there may be a huge argument going on—and there is currently according to press reports—I believe that a bigger argument may arise in the future. If that is the case, the danger will be that, if the Scottish executive puts forward someone who is very sympathetic to this idea and wants to see BBC Scotland having some devolved powers and allowed to opt-out as I mentioned, the Culture Secretary—I presume—will bend to pressure from the BBC and decide to look for someone else in Scotland. That is why I should like to see the appointment being an exemption from reservation so that the appointment to the BBC and the ITC will be made entirely at the behest of the Scottish executive. In that way, the Government of the United Kingdom would have no way in which they could decide not to accept the proposal. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, on these Benches we are immensely flattered that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has decided on Report to adopt for his side the amendments which we moved in Committee. For our part, we felt that we had a pretty good debate at that time when we went into such matters. I wait with interest to hear the Minister's response as regards current amendments.

As someone who has been playing a sort of Back-Bench spectator role for the most part in the proceedings on the Bill, I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, that his brilliance in debating is one of the things that made some of the longueurs of this affair tolerable. Indeed, it is interesting to note that we should be discussing this subject at the end of the Report stage.

I believe that it comes down to whether such matters—these which were thoroughly debated in Committee—those dealing with on the face of the Bill, or whether they can be dealt with more adequately without accepting the amendments which, for our part, we were ready not to press on the last occasion. On the three matters which are mentioned in the current amendments, I shall turn, first, to the annual reports of the BBC and the ITC. As we were reassured in Committee, there is no doubt that when the parliament is established and the executive is working such reports will be laid before the Scottish parliament. We do not need material on the face of the Bill at this late stage to bring that about. I cannot imagine that the Scottish parliament, in which I have very great confidence, will be slow in wishing to debate the important issues raised by the noble Lord. Indeed, I agree with very much of what he said on some of the issues regarding broadcasting in Scotland, especially BBC broadcasting.

Again, having regard to the stage that we have now reached with the Bill, the question of the promotion and funding of Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland comes to my mind. I wait to hear with interest what assurances the Minister can give us in that respect. On the face of it, it seems rather dotty that Gaelic broadcasting could be a reserved matter to be dealt with by those people knowledgable about Gaelic broadcasting in the various recesses of Whitehall. But that is not the reality of the matter, and I hope to be reassured.

However, I turn now to one of the most important matters. It was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as being one of the most important aspects of his amendments; namely, the appointment of the national governor for Scotland and the appointment of a Scottish member of the Independent Television Commission.

I cannot speak with any knowledge of the BBC's procedures but it was certainly always my understanding as an interested party that the national governor for Scotland at the BBC—the polite phrase is, "after consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland"—was someone whom the Secretary of State for Scotland was ready to approve as a member of that governing body. That situation, which has existed for many years, will now, of course, be transferred to the First Minister for Scotland. I have no doubt that that will be the underlying reality.

I did not quite understand something that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said. I think he may have misunderstood the position as regards the Independent Television Commission. I cannot speak with total accuracy about the latest situation but in my time the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which was the predecessor, had an important Scottish member. To my knowledge that appointment had to be approved by the Secretary of State for Scotland and will undoubtedly require the approval of the First Minister for Scotland. That does not require a provision on the face of the Bill, although I should be happy to have it if one wants additional reassurance. However, it is not necessary of itself.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is probably mistaken about the situation with regard to commercial radio in Scotland. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, will correct me if I am wrong. I believe there is still a United Kingdom Radio Authority and I am happy to say it has not inhibited the Scottishness of Scottish independent radio. Therefore it does not seem to me at this stage that the case is made out—in terms of draftsmanship of the Bill—for putting all these matters on the face of the Bill. However, I shall await to hear whether we shall be totally reassured by what the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has to tell us on the substance of the matter that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised.

I wish to make two general comments. My starting point is that I agree and sympathise with what the noble Lord said although I am bound to say—I hope that he will not take this amiss as it is intended to be a compliment—that the Conservative Opposition's approach to this Bill began with a negative attitude towards devolution. Much of the proceedings on this Bill in Committee—led with brilliant debating skill by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish—have outflanked all of us in enthusiasm for Scottish devolution. I can see no case for Scottish BBC television not having its main news bulletins as Scottish news bulletins dealing with the United Kingdom, the news from Scotland as a nation, the news from the United Kingdom, as a state of which we are all members, and the international news, but viewed through Scottish eyes. I think there is a battle to be won on this matter within the bureaucracy of the BBC. I sympathise totally with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, had to say about this.

However, I utter a cautionary note although I am not sure I shall carry all my colleagues with me on this. I regard the degree to which the United Kingdom broadcasting system—that is, the BBC, ITV, and the other new developments including Sky News and so on—has a United Kingdom dimension to be one of the vital cements that holds the United Kingdom together and creates a climate of opinion that there is a United Kingdom climate of opinion.

Therefore a tricky professional balance has to be struck between having a United Kingdom broadcasting system that makes us all feel members of the United Kingdom and at the same time has the vitality in Scotland to make us all feel proud of Scotland and Scottish broadcasting. That is the professional challenge ahead of us.

Subject to what has been said, I do not feel that this matter requires a lot of new wording at this late stage in the Bill. What is needed is to follow through the realities of the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with Amendments Nos. 221 and 223. As is well-known and appreciated, the BBC is governed by its Royal Charter, which was renewed in 1996. As I indicated when we last considered this part of the Bill, some changes in procedures will be made in relation to appointments and annual reports reflecting the establishment of the Scottish parliament and executive. The Royal Charter provides that the Board of Governors of the BBC should include a national governor for Scotland, selected on the basis of his or her knowledge of the culture, characteristics and affairs of the people of Scotland. It has been custom and practice for the Secretary of State to be consulted in advance of that appointment. When the Scottish executive is in place, the appointment of the national governor for Scotland of the BBC will be made after consultation with Scottish Ministers, as both noble Lords identified. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, is right. That sort of consultation basically means someone who has the support of the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised the possible dangers—for instance, that some awful radical might want to seize more for BBC Scotland than the BBC might wish to concede on a UK basis and that pressure would be brought to appoint a "safe pair of hands", a phrase with which I am now familiar. I should have thought that the pressure to appoint a safe pair of hands could be more effectively applied under the present arrangements, whereby the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are members of the same Executive. It would be rather difficult to apply that sort of pressure when there are different executives, when the First Minister will be consulted and will give his view. It would be rather difficult for the Secretary of State for Culture, dealing with the head of what is effectively another executive, to be able to obstruct and thwart the nomination of the Scottish executive.

The Royal Charter provides that the annual report of the BBC shall be sent to the Secretary of State, who lays the report before both Houses of Parliament. That is the present arrangement. In future, the report, together with the annual review of BBC Scotland, will also be sent to Scottish Ministers, who will in turn lay those before the Scottish parliament—exactly the procedure envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. I am sure that members of the Scottish parliament will take a keen interest in broadcasting in Scotland and will wish to debate it. It will be for the Scottish parliament to decide whether it wishes to invite members of the broadcasting community in Scotland to submit reports or appear before the parliament or a committee of it. My understanding is that broadcasters will be willing, indeed keen, to give evidence to the Scottish parliament.

For the Independent Television Commission, we intend to make provision through the executive devolution order under Clause 59 to secure that the annual report will be laid before the Scottish parliament as well as at Westminster. We shall similarly provide that the Scottish member of the Independent Television Commission is appointed only after consultation with Scottish Ministers.

I move to Amendment No. 222, which relates to Gaelic broadcasting. As we have said before, the promotion and funding of Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland is clearly a matter of primarily Scottish interest. In practice, the funding is a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland, but in line with the usual arm's length approach to broadcasting the funding of the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee is made through the Independent Television Commission. The function of funding Gaelic broadcasting will be transferred by the executive devolution order under Clause 59 to the Scottish Ministers, who will be answerable to the Scottish parliament. It will be open to them, subject to the agreement of the Scottish parliament, to vary the annual allocation of funds to the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee.

I do not believe that the amendment would bring about any improvement or increased accountability for Gaelic broadcasting. By executive devolution, government funding for Gaelic broadcasting will be a Scottish responsibility, albeit within the unified regulatory framework for broadcasting for the United Kingdom. That is the key to the Clause 59 procedure, which is a means by which executive devolution is achieved within a framework where the function itself is reserved. I believe that that is the appropriate way to tackle the problem rather than to bring it on to the face of the Bill.

With those assurances, which I hope I have made as persuasively as I made them in Committee, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for reiterating the Government's assurances on these three amendments and perhaps going a little further than he went in Committee.

Just as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, seemed flattered by the fact that I had picked up his amendments, I feel a little flattered by the words he said about me. We need to be careful not to have too much of a love-in between these Opposition Benches, or the Government Front Bench might become worried.

I am content with the explanation, although I still think it is a little odd that some matters have to be put on the face of the Bill while others can be dealt with by executive order. However, at this late stage of the Bill, the matter is not worth pursuing.

I looked carefully at the schedule which tells me what happens to orders. I notice that orders of this kind are Type A orders, which means that they will have to be approved by resolution of both Houses at Westminster and of the Edinburgh parliament. We shall therefore have an opportunity to debate these issues when they are brought forward by the Minister under Clause 59.

I am not sure that the noble Lord totally allayed my concerns with regard to Amendment No. 223 regarding the appointment of a national governor for Scotland. I was interested to hear that he recognised the phrase "a safe pair of hands". I remain a little concerned, although I am reassured by having his views on record that in the new circumstances it will be a great deal more difficult for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to decline to accept a nomination of the Scottish executive than it might be under the current situation, where the Secretary of State and the Culture Minister are members of one government and the matter can easily be resolved in the corridors of Whitehall. I understand that point. I suppose that in the real world, if there were a dispute, we would soon read about it in the newspapers, and I suspect that the Government would quickly be told that they were about to create a big issue in Scotland and that they should back off. Almost reassuring myself, adding to the Minister's reassurance, I am content and I look forward to the debates we shall have when these orders are, in the fullness of time, laid before your Lordships. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 222 and 223 not moved.]

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 223A: Page 85, line 39, leave out from ("authority") to second ("to") and insert ("with mixed functions or no reserved functions,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 224: Page 86, line 25, leave out from ("Timescales") to end of line.

The noble Lady said: My Lords, the House may be surprised that I have returned to this matter when a somewhat similar amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, was disagreed with in the Division at Committee stage. This amendment is slightly different in that "Timescales" have been left out; that is to say left in the reserved matters. I believe that the inclusion of them in the previous amendments may have been a sticking point with the Government and with some noble Lords. Having had an explanation of what the timescales are from the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, at the Committee stage (at col. 1331 of the Official Report of 27th July) I am persuaded that they should continue to be reserved matters.

As I am sure all your Lordships are aware, the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, has announced his intention to introduce a Private Member's Bill next Session to do, as I understand it. virtually what this amendment does. But the reason for his Bill is the opposite of mine, according to a letter from him published in the Telegraph on Saturday 24th October. He would like to have British Summer Time in winter in England because he believes that it would lead to a reduction in crime, give more time for outdoor sports and help trade and tourism. He fears that the introduction of this will always be blocked by the Scots, who do not want it.

On the other hand, I am a Scot and live in the north of Scotland, where we found British Summer Time in winter quite intolerable during the experimental period between 1968 and 1971, when it was inflicted upon us. On the 21st December, the winter solstice, there is a difference of 42 minutes between the time of sunrise in London, which is at 8.04 and the time of sunrise in Aberdeen, which is at 8.46. There is another 22 minutes difference between the time of sunrise at Aberdeen and the time of sunrise at Lerwick, which is at 9.08. That means that with British Summer Time sunrise in Aberdeen would not be until 9.46 and sunrise in Shetland would not be until 10.08. I suspect that if faced with darkness until fourteen minutes to ten or eight minutes past ten in London, Londoners might not be quite so enthusiastic about summer time in winter.

It is much more difficult to get up and get going in the morning when it is dark. The body's built-in clock rebels. No non-nocturnal animal in its right mind does a thing like that. I have heard that this can contribute to clinical depression.

The Government's opposition to this aspect of the amendment is very short-sighted. Far from being another nail in the coffin of the United Kingdom, this should help to avoid the break-up of the United Kingdom. If we Scots are contented we are very much less likely to wish to be independent from the United Kingdom than if we are unhappy, as we assuredly would be should the Government try to impose summer time on us in winter.

A report has been published in the past few days which suggests that if we had summer time all the year round, 100 fewer people per year would be killed on the roads. I am afraid that, sooner or later, the nanny Government will act on that report and inflict summer time in winter on Scotland, taking the line that nasty nannies take: "It's good for you, so you'll just have to learn to like it." I beg to move.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, I greatly support what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is attempting to do. During all my time in another place I was very much in favour of Greenwich Mean Time in the winter. Indeed, when we had a Bill before us some two or three years ago, we were very much in the lead in defeating it. I feel it is most important that we try to remain a United Kingdom in dealing with this matter. I have read what my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare intends to do but I would gladly have quite a big bet with him that he will not get his Bill through either House of Parliament.

I live as near the Border as anyone in this House and I know how totally impossible it would be if we ended up having two timescales in the United Kingdom. I really could not chop and change my watch three or four times a day, and that would go for many of my former constituents and many of those who live in Cumberland but come to work in Dumfries and Galloway. In addition, there are all the chaotic issues of train and airline timetables and so on.

Many people tend to forget that longitude is as important as latitude in dealing with Greenwich Mean Time. Few people seem to realise that Edinburgh is west of Liverpool and that the country has a very westward lean. The further west one goes, the worse it becomes. If one is in Stornoway, it is a very serious situation even as compared with being in Aberdeen. We have to bring it home that the whole issue of summer time must remain on a United Kingdom basis. I would be most disappointed if any United Kingdom government tried to introduce different timescales within the United Kingdom or, more importantly, underestimated the serious impact it would have on Scotland if we went to summer time in winter—not that we seem to get any summer time any time. But the position is so desperately different in Scotland. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has rightly said, we must not be carried away by emotional arguments about the time of children leaving school in the evening relative to their going to school in the morning. Many other statistics can be produced to show just how serious it would be if we changed to summer time in the winter.

So I hope that this will remain a United Kingdom responsibility and I trust that whichever government are in power they will ensure that we have one timescale throughout the United Kingdom and will bear in mind the representations they will receive from the Scottish parliament that we must not go away from Greenwich Mean Time in the winter.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Monro. I understand very well what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is saying and what her aspiration is but I would just point out to her that, should this matter be devolved to the Scots parliament, it would be very much easier for the rest of the United Kingdom to decide to change the arrangements. They would then be changed without having to consider Scotland and then Scotland would be obliged to follow suit. We would be more likely to get the wrong answer by having the matter devolved than we would at the moment. At the moment, the United Kingdom Parliament is hanging on to the present arrangements largely out of consideration for Scotland. If the matter were devolved, it would not have to do that. Therefore, I think that what the noble Lady is saying might well prove to be counter-productive. So I do not think I can support her.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I rise to speak on this subject yet again with a certain feeling of dismay, as we have discussed it five times in the past four years. There is a kind of repertory company which always appears to debate the matter. However, we have so far managed to kick it away into the far distance.

I should very much like to support the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun—I know what she is trying to do—but I do not think I can, if only for consistency—something for which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, keeps asking. I say that because a Private Member's Bill a year or two ago proposed precisely that. We managed to torpedo it in another place and it disappeared.

The noble Lord, Lord Monro, makes a salient point. He states correctly that this is a matter of longitude rather than latitude. Edinburgh is in the extreme east of Scotland and is further west than Bristol—let alone Liverpool—which is in the west of England. Often it is forgotten that the country is tipped over in that way and it is not simply a north-south question.

I am tempted to support the amendment moved by the noble Lady for one reason; namely, that if this were devolved to a Scottish parliament it would prevent the United Kingdom Parliament from doing anything so daft as to abandon GMT in favour of Central European Time. Oddly enough, this is one of the very few occasions on which Britain is not out of step with the rest of the world; it is the rest of the world that is out of step with Britain. (Noble Lords should not chortle so quickly.) Strictly speaking, France and Spain should be in the same time zone as Britain: Greenwich Mean Time. For reasons best known to themselves, they have adopted the Germanic system and joined the Teutons in following Central European Time, whereas they should be in the same time zone as Britain. The Portuguese also adopted Central European Time for a short period but quite sensibly gave it up.

What I should like to gain from this debate is an assurance from my noble friend Lord Sewel that whatever happens to this amendment, the Government, of which he is an outstanding member, will not under any circumstances abandon GMT in favour of Central European Time.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I might well have been in favour of this amendment since it is not moved by the clan Mackay. But I believe that we must stick to one time in the United Kingdom. The argument advanced by my noble neighbour Lady Carnegy of Lour (not "Lower", for the benefit of those on the Front Bench) is correct. The disadvantage of having any form of separation in timescale would be excessive. That point has been made by the noble Lord who has just spoken. In spite of its origin, I cannot support the amendment. Britain must have one simple timescale. I have been considering the arguments that have been adduced about accidents at night as compared with accidents in the morning. I believe that that must be taken into account when considering timescale, but that it must be a British timescale I have no doubt.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, has observed, we have debated this matter on a number of occasions. Previous debates usually reveal differences inside the clan Mackay. My fellow clansman, the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, is one of those who is vigorously in favour of Central European Time. Unfortunately, he is not here and so the clan is united this evening. I am not entirely sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, joins our clan. Clearly, one of his forebears could not spell correctly and got it slightly wrong.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, described people like me as non-nocturnal animals; namely, that they have severe difficulty in getting out of bed on dark winter mornings. I far prefer the daylight.

The danger of the amendment was spelt out by my noble friend Lady Carnegy. It is that, if the Scottish parliament were to have the decision for itself and the Parliament of the United Kingdom were no longer responsible for Scotland in this regard, the pressure which your Lordships and Members of the other place from Scotland and the north of England could exert on the UK Government might be diminished. Those foolish voices that would like to put us in a time-zone in which nature has not put us may win the day, which would be difficult for Scotland.

I would prefer to put an arm-lock on this issue and say that the United Kingdom Parliament could make no change unless the Scottish parliament agreed. That would put a double-nelson on the whole issue. The Bill does not contain such a provision, but between now and Monday we might look at that as a way of enabling the Scottish government to have some control over the issue.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has made her point. The danger is that, with Scottish pressure off this place, it might decide to go its own way. That would he extremely difficult because much of Scotland is to the west and the further west one goes the more ridiculous is Central European Time. Equally, as the European Community expands to the east the more ridiculous Central European Time will be for people at the far end, especially if the argument about children going to school in the daylight and coming back in the dark is true.

The United States manages to run a sophisticated, successful country with a number of time zones which do not inhibit communication between one side and the other. Neither is it a problem in the Soviet Union. I believe that we should stick firmly in the Greenwich time-zone where God put us. The issue should be left to the United Kingdom Parliament, perhaps with an arm-lock from the Scottish parliament. Perhaps between now and Monday the noble Lady will consider how to apply the arm-lock.

Lord Hardie

My Lords, as a new member of the repertory company referred to by my noble friend Lord Howie, I regret that, for reasons already outlined, the Government are unable to accept the amendment. We are anxious to have common standards throughout the United Kingdom. For that reason, timescales, time-zones, the calendar and summer time have been reserved.

Reference to the recent announcement of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, conjures up a situation which, putting aside the obvious cynicism, concerns many people in Scotland. The possibility of Scotland ending up in a different time-zone is horrifying and the thought of commuters having to adjust their watches every time they crossed the Border from say, Carlisle to Dumfries, does not appeal to us.

The Government do not support the view that because it happens in America, Australia or Russia, it should happen in the United Kingdom. As regards Central European Time and its possible introduction into the United Kingdom as a whole, a number of Scottish factors would have to be borne in mind if it were to be considered again. I would expect them to be given the weight that they deserve before any United Kingdom decision was reached at Westminster.

In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lady to withdraw her amendment.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I have listened carefully to what has been said for—very little for—and a very great deal against these amendments. Incidentally, before I go any further, I think I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, that I feel very unsure that the United Kingdom Parliament would consider Scotland's interests in the future after a Scottish parliament has been established. I really do feel very unsure about that. I think that is wishful thinking.

Under the circumstances, I think that I am going to withdraw the amendments but I am going to come back next Monday at Third Reading with exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, suggested. I think it would be a great pity for Scotland and England to have separate time zones. Provided that Scotland is not going to be lumbered with British Summer Time in winter, Central European Time, or any other foreign nastinesses of that kind, I would be perfectly happy for Scotland and England always to have the same time zones. But I think that we must take some steps at this stage to try to make sure that we are not going to be lumbered with British Summer Time in winter in Scotland. So I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

Lord Selkirk of Douglas moved Amendment No. 226: Page 86, line 34, at end insert—