HL Deb 11 February 1999 vol 597 cc321-3

3.8 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is their intention to harmonise with the European time zone before or after entry to the European monetary union.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, we have no present plans to change our time zone.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed and informative Answer. Is he aware of the Government's report which concludes that, by not implementing the switch to single-double summer time or European time for lighter evenings in winter, the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Office is directly accountable for the preventable deaths of approximately 138 pedestrians on British roads every year? Can the Minister inform the House why Report No. 368 of the Transport Research Laboratory was commissioned by the Department of the Environment and not the Home Office, which is the department responsible for the nation's time standard?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the Home Office is responsible in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, indicates, but not every aspect of every conceivable human activity falls within the remit of the Home Office—yet. The appropriate department commissioned the research. There are arguments one way or the other about central European time. Some sections of our community favour it and others do not. When a Bill introduced by Mr. John Butterfill was before the House of Commons not very long ago the views of the other place were virtually evenly divided. There are different views about the introduction of central European time.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, is it not a fact that the report by Dr. Jeremy Broughton to which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, refers shows that on the basis of his own recent investigation and previous reports the number of deaths and major injuries arising from road accidents as a result of the current change to winter time is about 150 and 350 respectively? Is this not a very serious consideration? Should not the Government be looking again at the issue in order to save lives next winter?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, as I have said, different sections of our community have different views. Plainly, the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is extremely important but not necessarily determinative of the final outcome. At present we have no plans for change in this area.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, do the Government agree with the general proposition which is accepted by many of us that noon is when the sun is south of the observer in question, and therefore since noon in Berlin—this is about Berlin time—is almost an hour earlier than on the Greenwich meridian, it would be very wise to follow our present system of time? After all, that is certain. The question whether lives would be saved or lost if we changed to Berlin time is entirely speculative.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am always happy to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and I expected it by stressing twice that the alternative was central European time. Many people in this country believe that a number of aspects of our traditional way of life, including GMT, are matters to which we should adhere. That is a significant feeling that any sensible and well-informed department like the Home Office takes into account.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no such thing as European monetary union and that the correct term is "economic and monetary union", which is rather different? Does he also agree that there is no such thing as a single European time zone? There are three time zones in Europe—four if one includes the Azores. Does the noble Lord agree that those who think like my noble friend Lord Tanlaw would do well to study the United States, Canada and Australia, all of which have several time zones, none of which impedes the prosperity or efficiency of those countries?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I was just about to mention that. There are differing time zones in the United States. The United States seems to be prospering quite well and its economic record at the moment is first rate. Its unemployment is also gratifyingly low as in this country. There are different views on this matter. People feel passionately about different matters. There is no such thing as Greenwich Mean Time any more and, if necessary, I shall be happy to explain that observation to noble Lords. I repeat that some people like the way that we have traditionally operated in this country. They do not believe that the present arrangement has any significant disadvantages. I repeat that we have no present plans for change.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that I introduced the Western European Time Bill at the same time as John Butterfill's Bill was introduced, and at that time opposition to the change came mainly from the Scots? In those circumstances when arrangements alter in Scotland later this year will the position change again?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the mere fact that the Scots oppose something is not necessarily definitive in coming to a conclusion in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. From my many conversations with the noble Viscount on this matter, I am aware of his passionate and enduring interest in the changes that he has identified. The question of time and zones is reserved to the Union Parliament here.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House whether the question of time harmonisation will be included in the questions in the referendum on the European currency?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, not as far as I am aware.