HL Deb 23 July 1999 vol 604 cc1265-80

3.14 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Some form of the Bill has come before the House on several occasions. It has been championed by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein. There is a slight difference on this occasion; namely, that since it last came up, Scotland now has its own Parliament. That is something the Scots have wanted for many years and I was delighted that that Parliament has opened with such success. But now that the Scots have their own Parliament, I cannot understand why it is not possible for them to make a decision such as this.

I shall try to refute arguments as well as to put my case. The first one, which will come up again and again, is that it would stupid and silly to have a different time in Scotland from that in England. If England chose a particular time or decided to stay on European time or summer time, whether or not to do the same would be Scotland's choice. My belief is that it would follow suit.

Perhaps I may point out that in 1888 there were different times in Scotland from in England. It was only the rail timetable that brought the times together. So this is not a precedent—I do not suggest that—but it is of immense common sense, not least because of the time zones in the rest of Europe.

My second reason is a populist one. I do not apologise for that because I realise that in this House a populist is a rare animal. I am not ashamed of it, I am by nature more of a commoner than a Peer. I fear that I shall go to my grave that way. But opinion polls in London, in which I have a slight interest, show that 88 per cent of Londoners do not want to put the clock forward.

I come now to those who would support my cause, were they Members of this House. They have made their position clear, either in their annual general reports or in public statements. First, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has made it clear that it would like an extra hour's sunlight—that is, daylight in the evening—so that the number of accidents would come down. On what figures did it rely? It relied on statistics from the Transport Research Laboratory and the Government, suggesting that 120 lives would be saved if we allowed this. I should have thought I could sit down now and that the whole House would leap in the air and say, "Let's do it". I should have thought that that reason alone was enough to see the Bill go through.

But added to that, not satisfied with the Government's figures from the Transport Research Laboratory, the Child Accident Prevention Trust came out and said that it backed the idea as well. It did so because schoolchildren going home in the dark at 3.30 p.m. and 4 p.m. are more likely to be hit by a vehicle than if they were able to go home in the daylight.

Who else supported the idea? The Sports Council. Why? Because it wanted young people and even some of those who are not so young to be able to participate in games in the early afternoon and not have to pack up at 3 o'clock and blow a whistle because they can no longer see the ball. Not every school or club can afford great lights on their pitch so that they can go on until 5 or 6 o'clock. One would have thought that on that basis alone those noble Lords still capable of leaping would have leapt up to support the Bill.

We come to crime prevention. As one chief superintendent said to me, there are not as many muggings first thing in the morning as at night, and those who do it cannot wait for it to be dark at 3.30 p.m. Figures were produced to show that crime would drop if we had an extra hour of light. Once again, one would have thought that, on that basis alone, people would be happy to support the Bill.

I return to the Government's figures. The Bill would result in financial savings, and produce the value for money about which we know the Government feel so strongly. The estimate is that £250 million would be saved. I hope that now the Front Bench will leap up to support the Bill. Perhaps I undermine the position of the Minister and at any moment he will leap to the Dispatch Box to say that the Government believe that the Bill is wonderful, that he will not bother to add any argument but will merely send the Bill on its way to Report as quickly as possible.

The British Tourist Authority has said that it wants the extra hour of daylight. On that alone, I should have thought that the Minister would leap up to support the Bill.

The next supporter of the Bill—perhaps bigger still—is the Confederation of British Industry. The CBI, which is responsible for all business associations and business representatives throughout the land, has begged for this change. Why? It wants business to be able to deal and compete with the major European markets according to the same hours.

I have paid the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, the compliment of reading his most recent speech on this subject. I ask noble Lords to hold their breath while I produce my ace to trump the day. To my surprise, I am supported by the Scottish National Chamber of Commerce. Obviously, it felt that the Government's figures and its own were so compelling that it would back this Bill.

I do not stand here to demand something for England, as only a small-minded person would do so. Scotland has its devolution and a form of independence. Let Scotland make that choice. But why should we have to go along with so much discomfort simply to placate the Scots? Is there a possibility that because the Cabinet has in it a Scottish Foreign Secretary., Chancellor of the Exchequer, Defence Secretary, Financial Secretary and, despite devolution, a Scottish Secretary of State—whereas we in London have only two Cabinet Ministers—my Bill will be stamped firmly upon in a back room in No. 10 Downing Street, even though 88 per cent of the British people want it?

I look forward to hearing the Minister, not least because last week he kindly leapt to the Dispatch Box and supported me 100 per cent, for which I am grateful. With his support, the Football (Offences and Disorder) Bill shot forward. I stand here today hoping for the same backing, because I believe that not only is this Bill needed by the country, but that it is welcomed by the entire nation.

If the Minister says from the Dispatch Box that Her Majesty's Government cannot support the Bill, I do not want him to think that it will end there. I intend to join the legion of my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein and to bring the issue back again and again. As long as such a vast majority of the British population want this provision, I shall not let the matter slip away. Were I to have the privilege not only of being a noble Lord but of representing the people of London, I should bring into the Chamber the backing of 88 per cent of 7 million people, and ask that the change be made. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare.)

3.26 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, when I saw the Bill on the Order Paper I shuddered with dread. After the noble Lord's remarkable performance, I tremble with fear at the threat of this issue returning over and over again for as long as time stretches out before us.

As the noble Lord hinted, we have been over this ground once or twice before. Just as the sun rises every morning and sets every evening, a debate of this kind turns up in ever faster cycles. And the noble Lord promises us more in the future. Fairly recently, in January 1994, we had an Unstarred Question advocating central European time. In January 1995 a Central European Time Bill was presented by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, which suggested central European time for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, excluding Scotland, much as the noble Lord, Lord Archer, wishes. In November 1995 the Western European Time Bill, ably presented by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, changed Central European Time to Western European Time. That was more exact. The Bill was wrong, but the noble Viscount was right in that respect. The noble Viscount and I were on opposite sides then. I have a strong feeling that we shall be on the same side today.

More recently, last July and November amendments were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, to the Scotland Bill, the Bill which brought devolution into legislative form, which would have had the effect that the noble Lord, Lord Archer, wishes. They gave the Scottish Parliament the power to deal with time zones.

The Bill presents us with a little difficulty. Although it is set against the general argument about time zones, it is really about devolution. I recall describing the Bill of the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, which excluded Scotland, as bizarre. I have to confess that in a later debate I described it as idiotic. I shall not be so impolite today. I merely say that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, is misconceived.

The noble Lord mentioned the coming to Britain of unified time in the last century. As he rightly said, it was a matter of railway timetables. But it was not then a matter of bringing Scotland and England but the whole country into conformity. In those days one had different times in London, Reading, Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle, as well as in Scotland, and so on. That was a step forward. The Bill would be a step back.

I have four reasons why we should not proceed with the Bill. First, this is a national problem that should he dealt with by a government. It is wholly unsuitable for a Private Member's Bill. I would go so far as to say that it is vainglorious to bring in such a measure as a private Member. It is quite reasonable to try to persuade the Government to introduce such a measure, but it should be for the Government, not a private Member, to introduce it.

My second reason for opposing the Bill is that having a time change at the border would be rather silly. Even after devolution, we are still geographically one island. From my experience of travelling north from time to time, I think that Virgin Trains has enough problems without trying to cope with a time change just after Carlisle, or at Berwick on the way south.

Thirdly, I am not sure what the effect on Northern Ireland would be. We could conceivably have a European time zone in England, while Scotland and possibly even Wales remained on Greenwich Mean Time. What about Northern Ireland? Would it be coerced into the English arrangement, leaving an hour's difference between the time in Belfast or Londonderry and that in Glasgow, which is on approximately the same latitude? Sligo in the Irish Republic is also on almost the same latitude, but there would be another hour's difference there. That compounds confusion.

Lastly, the issue was fully debated when we discussed the Scotland Bill in July and November last year. The noble Lord, Lord Archer, announced then that he was going to produce a Bill on the subject. The issue was made a reserved power. The Bill is not about time, although the underlying reason for it is time. The Bill is an attempt to achieve English independence in time. The noble Lord is following the flag that was waved so raucously by his leader William Hague just the other day. I am all in favour of English nationalists and I do not mind them waving St George's flag, but there are places where it is appropriate and places where it is not. This is one where it is not.

There is no need for me to go over the old ground of the arguments. They are all in Hansard. I was happy to hear the noble Lord refer to one of my speeches, although I did not hear him refer to anything that was in it, which was a pity because it would have helped him a bit. We know the arguments about Scotland and about time. We also know the arguments about road safety, although they are more confused than the noble Lord suggests. Part of the difference in the statistics is due to breathalysers and similar matters rather than daylight.

The experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s—which lasted for three years at first and was then extended by a further two—came to a sudden and dramatic end when a number of children on their way to school in the dark of the morning in Stornoway were hit by a bus. That is exactly what one would expect.

London is a long way from Stornoway, as is Glasgow. I remember being a student in Glasgow while we had the double summer time during the war. That was a miserable and daunting experience. In those days Glasgow was not delightful even in the daylight, and it was a sight worse in the dark. The Scottish dimension does matter. I have mentioned before that the construction industry is a dangerous business with workers on scaffolding constructing buildings on icy mornings. Postmen do not like it; farmers do not like it; anyone with any sense does not like it.

In so far as this measure has a hidden agenda to make England move to continental time under another name, either Western European Time or Central European Time or whatever, I remind the House that this is one of the few occasions when Britain is in step rather than out of step with her neighbours. It is our neighbours who are out of step with us. The Greenwich time zone passes through Britain, but a good deal more of it passes through France, Spain and Portugal. In fact, it is the French, the Spaniards and the Portuguese who are out of step, and they should join us rather than we join them.

Lord Monson

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that Portugal did experiment with a move to Central European Time for a couple of years. They found they disliked it intensely and are now back on the same time as us.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I was about to make that very point, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who has shown great interest in the subject over the years, agrees with me. The Portuguese tried the experiment and abandoned it as soon as they reasonably could.

I wish to refer to the CBI. I have nothing whatever to say about the Scottish Chamber of Commerce, of whom I know nothing. The CBI argued that British businessmen were at a disadvantage compared to their continental competitors. That was partly because of the time lapse, but also because the continentals started work earlier in the morning. Therefore British businessmen lost two hours of business time. That can be remedied. Our businessmen could start work at eight instead of nine o'clock. They would then catch up one hour without meddling with the clock and inconveniencing the rest of us.

I have nothing more to say at this point, except to ask why the Bill has appeared now. We are in the last two weeks of this part of the Session. There is little likelihood of progress being made before we go into Recess next Friday. There is not much more chance of the Bill thriving in the spillover period in October. The Bill seems not to be a serious attempt at legislation. This is gesture politics, of a kind which hints at electioneering. I am not against electioneering in its proper place, but I do not think it is seemly to electioneer in this Chamber.

We do not vote against the Second Reading of such Bills. However, I sincerely hope that if we give it a Second Reading the Bill will then vanish into the sand in exactly the same way as previous attempts to make such changes have done and that we shall hear no more about it, despite the threats of the noble Lord to bring it up again, again and again.

3.39 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howie, mentioned that he and I have been here before. He is quite right. The noble Lord and I are what might be called part of the original cast, going back some years, having participated in several debates and in the proceedings on several Bills. I started by agreeing with what he said, but as he progressed I found that he got up to his old tricks and had failed to understand some of the nuances of the aims of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare has introduced a Bill that tries to reverse a matter that has already been reserved. It is a valiant attempt to do so, although it does not have much chance of succeeding at this stage. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, made an important point when he said that we are one island and, therefore, we should have one time. The problem with the Bill is that it might create two time zones. As my noble friend Lord Archer said, there was once a different time in Scotland, but that was before the advances in communications, such as railways, roads, telephones and faxes. We are very much one, quite small island.

To devolve this power might be very difficult. My noble friend Lord Archer produced some good reasons, which have been rehearsed before, why we should move to unify time with our continental neighbours—a much more important objective. In other words, we should have GMT plus one in the winter and GMT plus two in the summer. I have no objection, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said, to my noble friend using the Bill to introduce that measure, because at this stage in our proceedings it is almost impossible to have an Unstarred Question or any other type of debate. The introduction of a Bill on a Friday is an interesting vehicle for what I think should be the main object of today's discussion—consideration of measures that could be taken to unify our time with that of Western Europe.

In his catalogue of previous debates on the subject, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, omitted to mention a debate in which we both participated in February last year. That was a small debate, which I initiated to try to press the Government to conduct a new study of the issue. I did that some six months after we had a new, reforming government. At the time, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn—had said that the Government would try harder and satisfaction would be guaranteed. In subsequent correspondence, when I drew this matter to his attention, I have not received much satisfaction.

The arguments in favour of moving to GMT plus one in winter and GMT plus two in summer are overwhelming. We need not go over them again, because they were well rehearsed by my noble friend Lord Archer. They include a reduction in traffic accidents, the saving of life, and an increase in time available for tourism, leisure and business. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is not in his place, but he has been vociferous on the subject of the reduction of accidents that the change would achieve. Many more accidents happen in the early evening dark hours than in the later dark hours of the morning, because people wake up fresher in the morning than they are in the evening.

The main thrust of the argument should be to get us on the same time as Western Europe. I use the term Western European Time instead of the general usage—Central European Time—because it is more meaningful. Whatever we may think on this island, we are part of Western Europe and that would seem to be a more sensible nomenclature. The powerhouse countries of Europe, such as Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries, are all on the same time and we should be, too.

Unfortunately, the Bill presents a considerable dilemma. If the matter were devolved to Scotland, then England, Wales and Scotland could be on different times. In a small island, that would be absurd. That is an obstacle. On the other hand, if the matter were devolved to Scotland, England would be able to move forward to more sensible arrangements. There is a clear dilemma which the Government need to address.

I return to a proposal which I have made on previous occasions; that the time has come for the matter to be studied again. There are overwhelming arguments in favour of moving to the process which I proposed, but the Government must take action. The noble Lord, Lord Howie, is right that we must have Government action, but so far there has been Government inaction. The matter should not need reviewing in detail because we have had so many reviews already, but it needs action. Surely, that is the main thrust.

If the noble Lord, Lord Archer, returns to the subject again and again, I hope that he will eventually succeed because we need to be one island united with the continent of Europe. If the noble Lord does bring the matter back, in view of other legislation I shall not be here to pursue it. However, I am sure that there will be many opportunities when I shall be able to pursue it outside the Chamber, as I have done with the noble Lord, Lord Howie, in more convivial surroundings. No doubt, there will be other occasions when we shall continue to disagree. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from the Government that there is to be action to move the whole of the United Kingdom into unison with our European neighbours.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, in my view, the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, has done us a service in introducing this Bill and thus publicising a problem which is both chronological and chronic, much to the reiterated dismay of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. It is a problem which will not go away and which directly affects the daily lives of the entire population.

The problem is that the majority of people in Britain would prefer to pass winters in GMT plus one, but in the North, and in Scotland especially, that majority becomes progressively reduced. Many people in Scotland would privately prefer darker mornings and lighter afternoons, but the issue has become so politicised that such a change would be regarded as yet another Sassenach intrusion, to be resisted for patriotic reasons.

The noble Lord, Lord Archer, may have Londoners very much in mind in framing his Bill. Some unkind critics have suggested that it may be described as an electoral ploy. But it is evident from the passage of the Scotland Bill that others have the same idea, too. In the long list of matters reserved to Westminster, six are described as "miscellaneous". They range from major subjects, such as equal opportunities and the control of weapons, to relatively minor subjects, such as judicial remuneration and the Ordnance Survey. The six also include matters relating to space and time.

Of those six, only the issue of time exercised the Conservative Opposition during the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, tabled a probing amendment seeking to extract all aspects of time from the matters reserved to Westminster and to devolve them to Edinburgh. After a short debate, the Committee divided and the amendment was rejected by 37 votes to 15. Then on Report, my noble friend Lady Saltoun of Abernethy tabled an amendment to devolve only that part of the regulation of time which applied to time zones; in fact, the identical proposal before us today.

After debate the noble Lady withdrew her amendment. However, a week later she came back with a vengeance and moved a new clause by which, although time zones would still be a reserved subject, the Scottish Parliament could have a unique right of veto. That shocking proposal, supported by the Conservative Front Bench, was rightly defeated by 103 votes to 42.

The noble Lady's final fling reveals the essential difference between the movers of the earlier amendments and the provisions in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Archer. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, as well as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, wanted time zones to be devolved to Edinburgh because they believed that the Scottish Parliament could thereby, if it so wished, prevent any change proposed by Westminster. They assumed that Westminster could not possibly alter the time for England unless Scotland's time altered identically; so if Scotland refused to budge, England could not move.

The noble Lord, Lord Archer, on the contrary, wants this devolution because he assumes that if England decided to change, Scotland would be obliged to follow or face the consequences of split time zones in Britain. Here we are in the realm of high politics, a game of poker played for high stakes. Would Westminster dare to change England's time? On the one side is the spectre of Scottish nationalism. What British government would gratuitously feed that monster by provoking such an issue? On the other side is the lazy lion of England, which might turn nasty and force the issue the other way.

Hitherto England has bowed to Scottish susceptibility in this matter. The pattern was set in 1971, when the three-year experiment of year-round GMT plus one was overwhelmingly defeated on a free vote in another place. It is true that many northern English Members helped to secure that defeat, but it was clinched by the tragedy of the Scottish children killed by a bus in the morning darkness, which blotted out any reflective consideration of the lives that had been saved by the afternoon light.

Anyway, all that was a generation ago, and social habits have changed a great deal in the past 30 years. Most recently, in 1995, a Private Member's Bill to advance standard time by an hour was introduced in another place. The then Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, ensured its defeat by arranging that all government Ministers should abstain, save only those of the Scottish Office, who voted against it.

In debating the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, it is worth considering whether it would be possible to have two time zones in Britain. No country in the European Union has more than one time zone, except that the Canary Islands are retarded by one hour from mainland Spain. No autonomous region within those countries has authority over its own time.

However, Britain is not bound by any European treaty in respect of its standard time. We can do what we want. We are bound only by the summer/winter change dates, which are common throughout the EU. Undoubtedly, a zonal frontier would cause great anguish in Berwick-upon-Tweed. It would be very awkward for the schedules of airlines, trains and road transport. Generally, there would be an economic disbenefit, mainly for the Scots. Being the smaller community, they would be much more exposed, and being one hour behind England, they would always be running to catch up.

I deduce from that that the Scottish Parliament would be most unlikely to opt for a separate time zone, but there is no reason why it should not do so if it wished, and accept some economic loss for the benefit of perceived quality of life. The same, incidentally, would be true of Ireland. I do not mention Wales, because I cannot accept that there is any geographical necessity for devolving time to the Welsh Assembly or any future English regional governments.

The controversy about standard time is largely confined to what happens in the winter and the use of precious, limited daylight. As regards the summer, the argument for change is not so much social as economic; namely that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, said, we should be on the same time as our continental neighbours. But given that for England, as for Scotland, the issues are not solely economic, I do not see why England should not revert to the 1968–71 experiment of GMT plus one, year-round. If Scotland's time remained unchanged from now, it would produce the happy solution that for seven months of the summer there would be a single British time, and only in the five months of winter would there be a divergence.

As a hereditary Peer, this is my swan song in your Lordships' House. My summertime has run out. But I look forward to reading on the website the future debates on this timeless subject, with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, forever bemoaning their repetitive futility and the cunning Clan Mackay weaving their way between tribal loyalty and political expediency, as I expect they have done for many centuries past.

3.55 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I am a novice on this subject, but it seems to me that the question of time zones for the United Kingdom has, as a subject, taken the place of the British Empire, on which—as your Lordships will be well aware—the sun never set. It does not exactly now never set, but it continues to insist on setting at different times.

This is the first time that this ever-recurrent debate has taken place since devolution. It is as well to remind ourselves that the setting of time zones in the United Kingdom is a reserve power of the Westminster Parliament. Primary legislation, such as the Bill presently before the House, is required to alter that status.

As your Lordships are continually reminded, the problem is that the further west one goes, the later in relative terms are the hours of daylight, and the difference in hours of daylight as between winter and summer increases the further north one goes. Since Edinburgh is west of Bristol, the majority of Scotland lies not only to the north of England but to the west. Therefore, the real concern, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, pointed out, is the incidence of dawn in the winter. The extension of summer time is therefore unpopular with northern farmers—as we know—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie, reminded us, with the construction industry. It is also unpopular with other industries with a practice of starting early, but popular with such bodies as RoSPA, already referred to by my noble friend Lord Archer, because motorists, tired at the end of the day, are more likely to be involved in road accidents in poor light at the end of a day than at the beginning.

Many of the arguments advanced have similar pros and cons. It would be a waste of your Lordships' time to rehearse them here. The argument that anyone transacting financial business must have continental business hours ever before him can be countered by the argument that a shift to continental time would result in less of an overlap with North American office hours.

The narrow, nationalistic two-nations argument has been mercifully absent from this debate. However, I leave your Lordships with one thought. Time zones may be described as either "tall and thin"—like Chile—or "squat"—like continental Europe. The United Kingdom falls into the tall and thin category. The taller and thinner, the greater the argument for a unified time zone within that area.

I have looked at various places in the Central European Time zone. The difference between Stockholm and Madrid is 19 degrees in latitude and 21 degrees in longitude. The difference between London and Ullapool is eight degrees in latitude and five degrees in longitude. On both counts, that is markedly less than the Central European Time zone. If the disparate nations within the Central European Time zone can manage on a single time, it is surely ridiculous that two component parts of the United Kingdom with far less maximum distance between extremities should seek to have separate ones. After all, the problem is one with which communities in other countries have learned to live. I make it clear that I am not arguing against our joining the Central European Time zone but against having a split between two time zones in the United Kingdom, as proposed by the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Archer.

There is a more basic reason for not supporting the Bill. Although I speak on this occasion for myself, I am aware that—as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has reminded us—on these Benches we proposed that the question of time zones should he devolved to Scotland. That argument was lost. Now that devolution is with us, the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition is to make it work effectively. That means not only do we wish all success and effectiveness to the Scottish Parliament but also we want to preserve the delicate balance of the precious relationship between the four countries that make up the United Kingdom.

Under the Scotland Act, the powers to fix time zones in the United Kingdom were, as I have said, expressly reserved to Westminster for good reasons, some of which I have alluded to. To tinker with the balance between the two Parliaments and the Welsh Assembly so soon after devolution—less than one month—I suggest would cast doubt on the serious intentions of the Government's commitment to the devolution process. It would also send the wrong message not only to Scotland and Wales, but to the whole of the United Kingdom.

On the matter of whether the United Kingdom as a whole joins the Western European Time zone, I am broadly in sympathy. As a first stage, I suggest that it is necessary to win over Scottish opinion to the idea. In that respect, I am interested in the reference by my noble friend Lord Archer to the Scottish chambers of commerce. I am not sure how the statistics work, but if 88 per cent of the country wants this change there must be a considerable majority in Scotland also in favour of it.

If Scottish opinion can be won over, there may be a chance of an all-party consensus on the matter in Westminster. I hear that the intention of my noble friend Lord Archer is to continue this fight. I hope that he will continue it on the basis of a unified time zone in the United Kingdom falling in with that of Europe.

I cannot support the Bill, but in accordance with the custom in your Lordships' House, I shall not vote against it.

4.1 p.m.

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Archer, on his success in introducing this Bill. It deals, if only indirectly, with a subject which I know is close to his heart. The noble Lord promoted the Football (Offences and Disorder) Bill, with which I agreed. He knows that is a matter close to my heart.

The House has debated the question of time zones, arid whether the UK should adopt Central European Time, on numerous occasions. The noble Lord's Bill has introduced a new element to these now familiar arguments, for which the House is grateful.

The noble Lord has made it clear that he is a keen advocate of Central European Time, at least for England. As the House will know, this is a subject on which the Government traditionally take a neutral position. However, the introduction of Central European Time is not the purpose of the Bill. The noble Lord proposes that the three nations of Great Britain—England, Scotland and Wales—should be able to choose their own time zone, and set their own summertime arrangements. On that essential purpose of the Bill, I part company with the noble Lord.

Before I turn to the substantive arguments, I shall deal first with some basic points. Under the Scotland Act 1998 and the Summertime Act 1972, time zones are reserved to the Westminster Parliament. The Bill seeks to remove those matters from the list of reservations. However, I remind the House that amendments to do just that were defeated during the passage of that legislation, only a few months ago.

Furthermore, we believe that the Bill is defectively drafted in its application to Wales. It purports to rely on the powers in Section 25 of the Government of Wales Act. However, that deals with transfer of property to the Assembly, not transfer of functions. But, in any event, there are no ministerial functions, as regards time zones or summertime, which could be transferred to the Assembly under existing mechanisms.

Devolving the subject matter of the Summertime Act 1972 would also cause difficulty. As your Lordships will know, the 1972 Act provides a mechanism for setting the period of summertime. For several years that period has been agreed by EU partners and is the subject of EC directives. There has been complete harmonisation of both start and end dates of summertime since 1996. The Westminster Government are responsible for negotiating those directives on a nation-wide basis and will continue to be responsible for their implementation. As it stands, the Bill is at odds with that.

But we see other problems with this Bill, in both principle and practicality. If enacted, it would enable Scotland and Wales to set their own time zones. The United Kingdom is a small island which does not span the sort of area where there is natural movement from one time zone to another. Countries like the USA and Australia are so vast that they can comfortably accommodate different time zones. None of our EU partners has more than one time zone, even those significantly larger than us, such as France and Sweden. Separate time zones within Great Britain would be an artificial construct, and could cause unnecessary fragmentation. In fact, I fear that this proposal would do nothing to support or strengthen the Union—rather the reverse.

This is not to deny that there are geographical differences within the United Kingdom which can affect people's lives. It is clear that with his Bill the noble Lord is seeking to deal with the objections that are sometimes raised in Scotland to the possible adoption of Central European Time. This is not, as far as I am aware, an issue of controversy in Wales. The adoption of CET would mean that we all experienced an hour less of daylight on winter mornings but an hour more in the late afternoons and evenings.

I understand that even under GMT there are areas in Scotland where in winter the sun does not rise until after 9 a.m. Concern about the potential effect of CET on various aspects of Scottish life is therefore understandable. But the amounts of daylight available in the morning also vary from one part of England to another. Indeed, some areas of England, particularly those near the Border, may have winter mornings as dark as some in Scotland. We also have to remember that time zones are a consequence of longitude rather than latitude. Simply drawing lines around the constituent countries of Great Britain and enabling them to operate their own time zones would not, in my view, be a sensible way to proceed. It is a fact of life that whatever the time zone in a given area, people will be affected differently depending on their specific geographical position.

With regard to the points made by my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, I agree that this is a national issue and that it should remain that way. In relation to the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, it is my view that the issue of Scotland has been resolved; and that is the way, at this point in time, it should remain.

The adoption of CET would constitute a significant change. We do not consider that there is evidence of sufficient consensus to justify that change; but the Government remain willing to listen to all sides of the argument, which I have no doubt will continue to be made.

As I have made clear, we have difficulties with the noble Lord's Bill. Some of these are technical, but there are also real matters of substance here. We do not believe that this measure would be in the best interests of Great Britain or its people. For the reasons I have outlined, the Government therefore feel that they would be unable to lend their support to this Bill.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords for taking part in this debate and the Minister for his reply. If he will forgive me, I shall turn to his reply at the end and begin with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, who, in a moment of breathtaking disbelief, told us that this was not a House in which to have a political debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, has been a feisty fighter for causes his whole life. Has he suddenly arrived on the Red Benches as some wimpish pawn who no longer wishes to fight for a cause? No. For he then gets up and fights for his cause with all the energy we have grown to expect from him, so we must dismiss that thought. I have every right to bring a political debate to this House and I have every right to fight for a cause in this House in a rough and ready, and indeed populist way.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I have no objection to the noble Lord referring to me in those vigorous terms, but I do wish that he would refer to what I said as opposed to what he would prefer me to have said. I did not say that we should not have political fights in this Chamber; indeed, we have had them for a very long time. I said that this was not the place for electioneering, especially of a blatant sort.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I can only say to the noble Lord that he should start roaming around the Corridors of this building because he will see the most blatant electioneering for which Members will remain here in a few weeks' or a year's time than I have seen in the back streets of any constituency.

The noble Lord also said that this Bill had come up again and again in different forms, as if that was some excuse for it not being considered. However, we all remember that having seat-belts in cars came up in the Commons again and again until, finally, the government thought that it was right to bring it in and make it law. I have never met anyone who has suggested that having seat-belts in cars was wrong and that we should now reverse it. I suggest to the noble Lord that bringing up a matter again and again is not a bad thing—except, perhaps, that it takes a little time. Indeed, it may take me the rest of my life to convert the noble Lord to my cause.

Then, in stentorian tones, the noble Lord added that it was vainglorious for a Back-Bencher to bring forward such a Bill. I should remind him that I brought forward a Bill earlier this week which went straight through because the Government wanted it to do so. Perhaps I may also remind him that I brought forward the primogenitor Bill in this House and the Front Bench liked it so much that they asked me to withdraw it so that they could introduce it. Surely Back-Benchers have the right to bring forward anything. I was simply hoping that the Minister would say, "We don't totally agree with this Bill, but we will bring our own version to the House". Again, I would have left the House this evening a very happy man.

Then the noble Lord asked, "Do you really expect people to be able to travel from Carlisle into Scotland and master—handle—how to move the clock forward one hour or back one hour"? They are doing it every day in the Channel Tunnel—the same intelligent people. Is he suggesting that there are no Scots travelling through that tunnel managing this magnificent piece of science?

However, I must apologise to the noble Lord because he did ask, while looking at me with a smile, whether remembered Glasgow during the war. I must confess to him that I do not. Although this has nothing to do with the Bill, I am bound to say that I find Glasgow a most attractive city; indeed, I was not surprised that it was the European cultural city of the year. Over the years that I have seen it, it has become one of Britain's most attractive cities. Therefore, I am unable to agree with him on that matter. Nevertheless, I look forward to debating this subject with the noble Lord.

I turn now to the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Montgomery, who has studied this subject in depth. I was delighted to hear him go over the arguments. Of course, I should like one time zone for the whole of Britain. It was an excuse to bring the Bill before the House. I think it no more than common sense; indeed, I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Minister that I give way to that completely. It has to be one time zone. I believe that the Minister referred to some unbelievable part of Scotland, which is almost off the map, where there are probably three sheep, a dog and one shepherd. However, this has to influence 8 million people in London. I think that the Minister is pushing his luck.

I should like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, how sorry I am that he feels that this is his last speech in the House. I am sure that all of us are glad to be here to hear him and to thank him for his support. I hope that I may make one political point to him. He rightly says that we must not allow this to become—the Minister also mentioned this—a division between the four nations. He rightly said that we cannot afford to have that kind of division when we have only just had devolution. I am bound to say to him that if in his lifetime he sees the Scottish Nationalists take over the Scottish Parliament, people will ask why we should do exactly what Scotland wants when the Scots have made it clear that they want their own country and independence. Noble Lords will see me back here fighting twice as hard for this Bill if the Scots demand independence. Frankly, if they get independence, the argument that we should all be in line will not have the same strength and the same validity.

I must apologise to my noble friend on the Front Bench for misleading him or being inarticulate. The figure that 88 per cent of people support this change emerged from a poll that was taken in London, not in the whole of Great Britain.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I am most grateful.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I felt sure that the noble Lord, Lord Howie, would give us the figures relating to Scotland, but he did not. I have kept them up my sleeve. Some 57 per cent of people in Scotland are against this Bill and this concept; 43 per cent are in favour.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, before my noble friend continues, I am sure he will realise that on all occasions that we have tried to move this cause forward to achieve a unified European time; it has only been the small Scots lobby that has caused it to fall.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I am left in no doubt of the power of the small Scots lobby. I pointed out the domination of Scots in the highest levels of the Cabinet. I realise that the chance of this measure being accepted while the Scots hold so many positions in the Cabinet is small. However many people thought that I had won the argument, by the time the measure reached the Cabinet that fact would become insignificant.

I turn finally to the Minister's speech. I thank him for his courteous and kind remarks. He paid me the compliment of saying that I take this Bill and this concept extremely seriously. I recall the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, about the dreadful accident in Scotland in which children were killed. However, I have to weigh against that other accidents that have occurred at other times. These terrible things happen but at the end of the day you have to weigh up what may save the most lives. I take that point seriously.

I was disappointed that the Minister was not able to tell my noble friend Lord Montgomery that an inquiry into this matter would be carried out and that he would consider returning to this issue. He failed to answer my noble friend's point on that. I would have gone home a happier man tonight if he had said either that the Government intended to bring forward their own Bill—which was obviously asking for too much—or that the Government take this matter so seriously they will conduct an inquiry and present the results to the House. I say to my noble friend that I back his idea 100 per cent.

I thank the Minister for his comments. I hear his arguments and I understand his political position. I even accept that the excuse with which I brought the Bill forward has its weaknesses. However, I do not believe that the argument is any less convincing for that. It is for that reason that I shall not disappear into the mist and forget that this debate ever took place. I shall return to fight another day. I invite the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past four o'clock.