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Mr. Teddy Taylor : The matter is even more serious than that. According to the Home Secretary's letter, which is published in the report, he does not argue that it comes within article 100A. He states simply that he finds it difficult to argue that it does not fall within article 100A and that even if it did he would not win the case before the Council of Ministers. As the Government are allowing it to go through--not because they agree with it but because they think that it might be difficult to prove that they do not agree with it--does that not mean that a much wider scope of legislation will be passed from this Parliament to Brussels?
Column 947important area to my next point. The correspondence that I have had with the Home Secretary--published in our latest report, HC43-xxxviii--reproduces in length what the hon. Gentleman has just said. The Home Secretary said :
"To understand how the Fifth Directive would contribute to the establishment and functioning of the internal market, it has to be read alongside earlier Directives in the series, especially the First Directive of 2 July 1980/737/EEC, the recitals of which clearly indicate that the objective pursued is to facilitate transport and telecommunications between Member States."
As I have just demonstrated, transport is not impeded by a time zone boundary. A ship or an aeroplane does not stop at a boundary for an hour or so, or even for a day, and then proceed on its journey. All that it does is to change the time. Similarly, there is no impedance, other than electrical, in the electric current of the airwaves or those of the telephone. There is no immediate interruption or pause, as there is at a boundary.
The Home Secretary went on to say that the presidency had been helpful in delaying matters to allow time for the Select Committee to look at the matter and to allow the debate to take place, but the Home Secretary does not dissent from the belief that this regulation is well founded on article 100A, whereas the Committee believes that it is not.
I hope to persuade the House--whatever we do about this particular regulation--that the Home Secretary is wrong and the Government are wrong and had they gone to the EEC Court they would have had a very good argument. If we look at countries which cover a very wide latitude and constitute a single internal market, whether or not it is regulated-- particularly the United States of America, the USSR or other countries divided by fewer commercial or political boundaries--it is clear that physical requirements require them to have a time zone because of the latitude that they occupy. However, nobody would suggest that that impedes the claimed economic effectiveness of a single internal market.
How can the existence of time zones intrinsically affect the internal market? It may be that people are inconvenienced socially. It may mean that a man in Paris or a man in London may find it less convenient to telephone at a particular time, but no doubt he would find it inconvenient to telephone Madrid at lunchtime, even if they were in the same time zone. That is a social inconvenience which has nothing to do with time zones or statutes. It is a matter of social habit.
In conclusion, the Government have not, in the view of the Select Committee, made a good case for article 100A. In fact, they have made no case at all. If they have been content to allow article 100A to go through on this matter, when in our view there was an excellent case to resist it, why and on what basis are they accepting article 100A on many other issues in the Cockfield package, and no doubt in the years ahead, without saying, "No, we object to that. It must come under another article where the Government's powers will be stronger and we are not likely to be outvoted by the Council of Ministers." That is the nub issue. Is it that the Government have not woken up to the fact that the choice of treaty base is fundamental to determine whether the House or the Council of Ministers decides? If they have not woken up to that, they had better do so pretty quickly. If they have, why did they let article 100A through on summer time when we believe that the case was minimal? There must be an answer to that, and the answer bears fundamentally on
Column 948the constitution of this nation, on the freedom of its subjects and on the power of the House to decide on laws in the United Kingdom. The debate has arisen, as it were, by accident at an unexpected time, but I believe that the issues are fundamental ones with which we have been attempting to grapple. I do not believe that the Government have understood them, and they certainly have not grappled with them inside the Council of Ministers. If they had, we would not be debating the issue here tonight.
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : This has been an important debate and, ironically, it has been quite short, given the two important matters which it raises. The extremely important question of summer time causes a great deal of concern, especially in Scotland and in the north and west of Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) have touched upon those points. The debate also raises a very important constitutional issue for the United Kingdom which the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) have raised. It is ironic that the proponents have changed, that those who support the measure are not here tonight and it looks as if the Minister is on his own. I wonder whether the Government are using this measure, which is uncontentious in certain parts of the country, as a bridgehead and as an experiment to see the reaction of the House to the use of article 100A. It is setting a precedent which worries many of us.
The proposal illustrates the perils of centralisation. I believe that we are being pushed towards accepting what is best for the centre of Europe after 1993, rather than having regard to the needs and wishes of all parts of the United Kingdom.
The Commission at least has accepted that there is a problem and that the case for change is not proved. We have a breathing space of some three years to debate the matter further and to decide what to do. The directive proposes no change for three further years, and to that extent we are certainly not opposed to it.
Before examining the merits or otherwise of summer time, may I say that a preliminary point has been raised at some length by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South. The directive is made under article 100A, which is directed towards measures which have as their objective the establishment and functioning of a single market. However, the article seems to be a catch-all, rather like a breach of the peace in criminal law. If one cannot get someone under something specific, one can go for breach of the peace. The idea that a common time system is part of the scope of the single market, and an essential part of it, seems a very broad interpretation and lends weight to the belief that this measure is being used as a bridgehead to try something out.
The 38th report of the Select Committee on European Legislation, dated 2 November, states :
"The Committee continues to doubt the general appropriateness of Article 100A as the Treaty base for Summer Time Directives. Whilst it notes the arguments advanced that the objective pursued is to facilitate transport and telecommunications between Member States, it finds it difficult to accept that time differences per se either constitute an impediment to such services or to free movement or
Column 949constitute internal frontiers'. If this contention is accepted, it is consequently difficult to see how such proposals can have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market', the test for recourse to Article 100A as a Treaty base." Of course, that is absolutely right. It is difficult to see why article 100A has been relied upon by the Government except that it provides a bridgehead and means that it is extremely difficult for us to go against the Commission were it to decide against us. I remind the House that article 4 of the directive clearly states :
"The Council, acting on a proposal from the Commission, shall adopt by 1 January 1992 the arrangements to apply from 1993 onwards." That means that, no matter what may be the wishes of the House, no matter what the Government may care about it, the Commission can do what it likes. The Commission is in Brussels, and I believe that, in common with the ideas in this country being dictated from a certain corner of the United Kingdom, what comes from the EEC is often conditioned by the way things are seen from Brussels rather than from anywhere else. We must have some regard to that and it should be a matter of some concern and I hoped that more hon. Members would have paid attention to it. If article 100A is to be used in such a broad manner, it has significant implications for the sovereignty of this Parliament.
I was not here when the Single European Act and other European measures were debated, but I wonder whether right hon. and hon. Members appreciated what they were doing, and in particular the impact of article 100A. As the hon. Member for Angus, East spoke in the debate, I must stress that there is a clear indication of how preposterous is the notion of Scotland within Europe. If we are subject to article 100A under which majority voting decides, the very idea of a country with three votes having any great influence is utterly preposterous. I very much hope that the hon. Member for Angus, East will tell his chums when he sees them later that what they are proposing is preposterous and does not stand up.
Mr. Andrew Welsh : I must point out the alliance between the Conservative party and the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman is echoing the statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland when he was rudely dismissive of Denmark, Greece and other nations in Europe. What is important is that Scotland has a direct voice, unlike the present situation in which we are represented by delegates of delegates. It is important that Scotland is in Europe in its own right, and the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that.
Mr. Darling : The short answer is that if Scotland was an independent country it would have only three votes and would still be subject to the majority wish. If the majority was against Scotland, it could do nothing about it. Now that we are in the EEC and have subjected ourselves to article 100A--there is no reason to believe that all member states will not be subjected to it--we are surrendering much of our sovereignty to that body.
Column 950decisions, many Scots have been represented in both Conservative and Labour Governments? When a Labour Government are in office, it will contain many Scots.
Article 100A has been discussed at some length. I hope that the Minister will reply to the points that have been made and that the House will have an opportunity to discuss the matter again. One's view of British summer time or double summer time depends on whether one lives north and west of a line running from Devon to Teesside--a new variation of the north-south divide. There are two options for change : first, to adopt the continental end date of September. I see no advantage in that. The longer nights will start one month early. It will hit tourism, prove difficult for industry, add to costs and affect the safety of children who live north of the line running between Devon and Teesside. Some of us still think of September as summer. The only justification for adopting a common end date in September must be the blinkered view that everything should be the same throughout Europe. If there must be a change, the end date should be in October.
The second option needs more attention because I suspect that that is the one towards which the Government are trying to edge us. That is to have British summer time in winter and double summer time in summer. It sounds good, but on closer examination I wonder whether it is. In December, from south-west Ireland to Berwick, the sun would not rise until 9.35 am and would set at about 5 pm. In Oban, the sun would rise at about 9.55 am and in Lerwick it would not rise until after 10 am and would set at 4 pm. In the south-east of England, the sun would rise at about 9.10 am and set at about 5 pm.
Many people would be travelling to work or going to school and returning in darkness in the north and west of the United Kingdom. That worries many people and the Government will have to consider it seriously. It is not good enough to say, "It will be fine for the majority of the country who live in the south and east. Never mind the rest." It is important to recognise the serious risks to people travelling to work in the morning, and especially children travelling to school, on roads that are still covered in ice.
It is not as though our later mornings will be compensated for by longer evenings in the winter. For much of the winter, the sun will set at 5 pm or 6 pm, which means that children and people coming home from work will do so in darkness, or at least when the light is fading. As my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles said, people were badly hit by the change in his constituency. No wonder that an attempt was made to establish Stornoway time instead of the time to which the rest of the United Kingdom was operating.
I am sceptical about the benefits for leisure and safety. The case for safety has certainly not been proved and much more work must be done. The idea that in the winter we shall all be outside playing games and enjoying leisure activities is preposterous. No matter what one does with the time, we can do nothing about the British weather. For much of the year, especially in winter and sometimes in summer, it is not especially pleasant to be outdoors in the evenings.
Column 951Lest some may say that I have taken an example in December, when the evenings are darker anyway, let us consider the position in February. West of a line between Penzance and Edinburgh, the sun will not rise until after 8.20 am, so the position will not be that much better.
It is worth examining the arguments deployed in favour of double summer time, although we have heard none tonight. That emphasises again that the result will not be longer hours of daylight in the evening. We are told that there would be a reduction in the number of fatalities in road accidents, and that the increase in accidents in the morning will be more than offset by the likely reduction in the latter part of the day. That is no comfort to someone who may be injured in the morning. The Government should consider the experiments conducted in Sweden, which have found mornings to be the peak time for injuries and fatalities in road accidents. The fact that most people live in the south and east of England, where the mornings are lighter, twists the statistics for the United Kingdom as a whole.
Another argument is that there will be a small reduction in the number of burglaries and other criminal offences. That is wishful thinking.
The Government and those in Brussels argue that the change would create a substantial improvement in all aspects of trade and travel. But their argument does not stand up. If a British business man wishes to telephone his counterpart in France or Germany, it is not too difficult for him to arrange matters so that he telephones at a time when that person is at his desk. The United States struggles by with five time zones, yet no one has said that its economic performance has been adversely affected. The USSR manages to struggle by with 11 time zones.
It is nonsense to suggest that we should have the same time across Europe. We are encouraged not to use our telephones before 1 pm, and most people are used to arranging their affairs so that they speak when they know that people are there. It is a mere excuse for tinkering with the present system. What about the British business men who want to speak to people in Japan or to do business on the New York stock exchange? Should we have a world time?
The argument about harmonisation is flawed. There is no problem in having a Europe with great differences, whether they are cultural, political or based on time. No one is crying out for a change, so why do it? It is ironic that a Conservative Government, who are supposed to be about conserving things, want to change the present system. Even in July in Greece it gets dark at about 7 pm--that is one of the nice things about it. No one suggests that the Greeks should change their system to get longer evenings, even if that were possible. The case for change has not been made. There are strong arguments that must be considered, and I hope that the Minister will tell us who has been consulted and the progress of his review. Most of the people to whom I have spoken on both sides of the House believe that the review is being carried out in a less than open manner. To whom is the Minister speaking, and in which areas of the country? Will he bear in mind the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles that organisations that function in Scotland and are based in London may not be the best ones to consult? I want an open period of consultation during which everyone in the United Kingdom can make his views known. Many people are unaware that this measure is being discussed tonight.
Column 952Many hon. Members are unaware of the debate. The Government will have to give more publicity to the fact that a change is contemplated. For many people, especially those living in Scotland and in the north and west of England, the changes will have a great impact.
I hope that the Minister will deal with the basis on which the directive was made under article 100A. What happened when Ministers discussed the matter in Brussels? The exercise seems to be shrouded in secrecy. Of course, that is a characteristic of the Government. Little that they do is open, especially when they do not want us to know about it.
The Minister has a duty to tell the House what fight was put up and to give a categorical assurance that, before any other directive on summer time comes forward, the House will have an opportunity to debate at length the premise on which the matter comes forward, based as it is on article 100A, and the merits of summer time. If he gives such assurances, we shall certainly not divide the House. If he does not do so, he can rest assured that the matter will come back again and again, because of its serious implications for the way in which people live and for the constitutional issues that it raises. 8.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : I begin with an apology--an apology that I owe tmy hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). I regret to say that I came into the Chamber a trifle late. Although I heard, I think, 95 per cent. of his speech, I missed the opening few sentences. I profoundly apologise to him. I hope that he will accept that I intended no discourtesy.
The House will accept that my hon. Friend set the tone of the debate. The points that he made have been echoed by several hon. Members, and they need to be addressed today and subsequently. My hon. Friend began by stressing the importance of the matter we are debating, and, in particular, focused on the choice of article 100A as the treaty base of the directive. The House has heard his arguments, and I shall seek to deal with them shortly.
My hon. Friend's arguments were supported by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who is concerned about the choice of article 100A as the appropriate treaty base. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East understandably drew attention to the concern of the peoples of Scotland and England, and in that particular he was powerfully supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling). The people of Scotland's concern about this matter is serious, and we clearly must address it before we come to final conclusions.
I hope to explain why the Government have decided to take the action that we are now taking, and I hope that I will be able to reassure several hon. Members. But, before I address the particular points that I intend to address, it would be helpful if I were to spell out the nature of the directive and its consequences. The proposal does not require that we make any change to our arrangements for summer time during the lifetime of the directive. It provides that the status quo shall continue for a further three years. Moreover, and because we are carrying out a review of our summer time
Column 953arrangements, the directive enables us, if we so choose, to depart from the status quo and harmonise our dates with other member states during the lifetime of the directive. But again I stress that the choice is ours.
The directive provides that, for a further period of three years, 1990, 1991 and 1992, the existing arrangements for starting and ending dates of summer time will continue throughout the Community. Thus, as now, summer will start throughout the Community on the last Sunday of March, but, in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, it will end on the last Sunday after the fourth Saturday in October. In other member states, it will end on the last Sunday in September. Continuation of the status quo in that way means that we are out of phase with other members states in two respects. First, we end summer time one month later than others, except the Irish Republic. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central has made observations about that matter with which I have considerable sympathy. Secondly, the effect is to place us in a different time zone from continental member states. We are, with the Irish Republic and Portugal, one hour behind central European countries.
The European Commission and other member states have never pressed us to change in that respect, but, because the Government have detected a widespread feeling in this country that more summer time might be beneficial to us, we have commissioned a review in which one option would be to move into the central European time zone. That would give us more summer time and, at the same time, enable us to harmonise time with the Community throughout the year. But that is an idea--we could properly describe it as an option--which the United Kingdom Government have brought forward. It is not an idea--it is not an option--which the Commission has either proposed or advocated. However, if adopted, it would enable us to meet the Commission's objectives of all states finishing summer time together if we left October as it now is.
Mr. Spearing : It might be right to clear up a point that I made, from which the Minister has not dissented. Whatever may happen between now and 1992, is it not a fact that, if we do not voluntarily harmonise in the way in which the Minister is suggesting may or not be possible subsequent to that date, by use, if it were chosen, of article 100A, we would be subject to the majority decision on the matter, as I outlined at the beginning of my speech? Is not the cessation of the regulation at the end of 1992 just as much an important feature of the proposal as any other?
Mr. Hogg : I can entirely understand why the hon. Gentleman raised that point. It is a bit premature to speculate on what might or could happen at that time. Clearly, several possibilities exist. One possibility is that, of our own volition, we might decide to move to central European time, in which case we would consider primary legislation. Another possibility--I stress that these are only possibilities, to meet a question from the hon. Gentleman--is that we might consider the possibility of moving the end date forward one month. That would require secondary legislation in this place. We might--it is another possibility--decide to maintain the status quo. In that event, we would, it is true,
Column 954require a directive to achieve that objective, but we might very well achieve it by persuasion. I would be surprised if we were unable to persuade member states to adopt a view which, in the end, we would wish to put forward.
There is a range of possibilities. As yet, the Government have come to no firm conclusion. The nature of the possibility that emerges at the end depends upon constitutional consequences. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I cannot go down the road that he pointed me to, but I hope that I have given a fair indication of the kind of options that the House will have to consider after the expiration of the directive.
Mr. Darling : The Minister talked about the various options that the Government are considering, and the various options that might come forward. Can he tell us a little more about who is being consulted and what the nature and scope of the review is, or is it something that Ministers are discussing among themselves? Our concern is that all parts of the country are not being consulted and therefore have good cause to be concerned.
It is our intention to publish a consultation paper within the next few months, which will include the options that I mentioned in reply to the question from the hon. Member for Newham, South. We will publish the consultation document, which will open the discussion wide and will involve anybody, and I hope everybody, who has a view that they wish to express. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central asked me to give an assurance that there will be a wide discussion. There will be a wide discussion on the basis of the consultation paper and the Government will once again display their skill in their desire to ensure open debate on matters of major importance. The treaty base underlying this directive is, I believe, the concern that has motivated hon. Members who have spoken in this debate. There have been other questions, but article 100A has been very much to the fore of the debate. It might be useful to remind ourselves that the first three directives were introduced under article 100, and, as the House knows, article 100 provides for unanimous decisions. The fourth directive and the present draft directive have been brought forward under article 100A which, as hon. Members have rightly pointed out, calls for and provides for a qualified majority.
As I have always believed in the power of persuasion, and I made my living from it for some time, I am not so pessimistic about these things as some hon. Members appear to be. It is worth reminding the House that the object of article 100A, as the hon. Member for Newham, South rightly pointed out, is to deal with measures that have as their object the establishment and function of the internal market. That is the phraseology that the House is bound to have in mind when we consider the appropriate treaty base.
Inevitably, the present draft directive and the fourth directive have to be read in the context of the first and second directives. Hon. Members will, I know, have studied this, particularly the hon. Member for Newham, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East. They will know from their study of the first and second directives that in the preamble express reference is
Column 955made to the objective of facilitating transport and communication. That is the background against which we have to focus our considerations.
We have to ask ourselves whether we can sensibly say of this draft directive, or indeed the fourth directive, that it has an objective different from that which was the objective of the first and second directives, which we accepted. The House will, I think, accept that when one poses that question, one has to conclude that the objective of the present draft is the same--it must be the same--as the stated objective of the first and second directives and consequently what we are debating today is a draft directive that has as its purpose, or one of its purposes, the facilitating of transport and communication.
When I wound up the debate on the Summer Time Order 1988 on 28 April 1988, I said--I have made this point before--that I was not "irrevocably persuaded" that article 100A was appropriate to the directive. However, I also said that the matter needed "further consideration". I shall be candid, as I have always tried to be candid with the House. I was not then willing to make a concession as to the vires of article 100A. I had formed clear preliminary views, but I wanted to test those views once again before I made a concession, which I recognise is a concession that is likely to bind us, certainly with future directives of this kind, and perhaps with other directives. Therefore, I was extremely cautious because I did not want to make a concession from which I might feel that I subsequently had to resile.
We have done what I said that we would do. We have considered carefully the vires of article 100A, and whether or not this directive falls within it. Our careful, considered view is that the directive falls within the scope of article 100A. If we were to win and assert the contrary, as the hon. Member for Newham, South and my hon. Friends the Members for Tayside, North and for Southend, East want us to do, we would have to be able to say that the purpose of the directive was outside the scope of article 100A. We would have to prove that it was ultra vires. That means to say that we would have to establish that it was not a measure for the approximation of provisions laid down by law, regulations or administrative action in member states which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market.
I do not believe that we could prove that article 100A was ultra vires partly because, in our judgment, it is intra vires, partly because, as a matter of evidence, we are stuck with the preambles to the first and second directives, and partly because, when we come to consider the consultation document, the House is likely to find that the views recorded in that document are to the effect that the present system of time is a constraint on travel and
telecommunications. That will be a recording of other people's views and not necessarily, at that stage, the considered view of the Government.
Mr. Darling : Is the Minister already anticipating that, as a result of the review that we have not yet had, the majority of people will argue for the change that I suspect he wants? Surely, when we are considering the vires of this directive, it is for those who are promoting it to prove that it falls within the vires. I cannot see how the directive facilitates communication or transport, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments. So far as I can see, it makes no difference.
Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman is not focusing precisely on the question. The consultation document is only a consultation document. It is designed to open the debate as wide as possible, but it likely that a substantial number of views will be recorded in the consultation document to the effect that the present time systems are a constraint. I know that, because I have a broad idea what the likely terms of the consultation document will be.
This is yet another evidential problem in our way because, when there is a recording of views to the effect that the present time system is a constraint and we accept, as we must do, that the first and second directives have as their objective in the preamble the facilitating of communication and travel, we have great difficulty in arguing that this directive is outside the scope of article 100A. If we have to challenge that, we have to prove that it is ultra vires. The business of any Government is to form a view. The view that we have formed is that the appropriate treaty base is article 100A. That is not to say that it would be ultra vires article 100. It may be within article 100, but it is not ultra vires article 100A.
Mr. Bill Walker : As a non-lawyer, I sometimes find it difficult to follow what is ultra vires and what is intra vires, but does my hon. Friend accept that a change in the time system, so that we have a longer period of darkness in the morning in Scotland, will mean that we have more black ice on the roads? That is the greatest constraint of all on travel and transport. We have to face that every winter and, if we have one more hour of darkness, I can assure my hon. Friend that that constraint will be visible and noticeable.
Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North puts his case with considerable force. However, he would be well advised, before he rests on that argument, to consider in detail the views of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and to consider the documents that were available on British standard time in the early 1970s. The one point that was plain--which was mentioned in the last debate--was that British standard time resulted in a saving of lives and a reduction in injuries overall. It follows a fortiori that if British standard time had that effect, changing to central European time would have an even more pronounced effect.
Mr. Spearing : The Minister will probably agree with me on one point. Now that we are under a written constitution, the choice of articles and their interpretation are major legal matters. In justifying his choice of article 100A by earlier use of article 100, is the Minister suggesting that the two are conterminous? If they are conterminous, why is there a need of article 100A for derogation? That shows clearly that, in theory at least, there is some difference between the two articles, otherwise there would be no need for the A.
The Home Secretary sent me a letter dated today in which he said : "In our survey of summer time, we have received evidence, particularly from organisations dealing with Europe, that the present arrangements, and in particular different ending dates for summer time, impede transport and telecommunications."
That is the nub of the Government's case. Does the Minister agree that the present arrangements do not physically impede transport and telecommunications, because they cannot? They are an inconvenience and may
Column 957be a social inconvenience. Habits may be an inconvenience between countries in the same time zone. However, impedance does not mean physical obstruction.
Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman is fixated with the phrase "physical obstruction". The words he should use are "constraint" or "fetter" and constraints or fetters can take a number of forms. I have no doubt that in certain circumstances a difference in time zones which makes communication difficult or makes travel more complicated is a constraint or fetter that is capable of interferring with the proper performance of the internal market.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the letter he received from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which makes my point that there is evidence. Evidence will be appearing in the consultation document and that will make it extremely difficult, once that evidence is recorded as a fact, to contest the vires of article 100A.
In making his second point, the hon. Gentleman was being less subtle than he is normally. Words such as "conterminous" are splendid, but they do not add up to much. But this point does add up : the preambles to the first and second directives state the specific objective clearly--the facilitation of communications and travel. That concept brings us four square within article 100A and this is within its scope.
Mr. Macdonald : Does the Minister accept that his words about what he expects will be in the consultative document have sent a chill through the Opposition and Conservative Members with a knowledge of Scottish constituencies? I shall return to my constituency and tell people to prepare for a Government directive--on which the Minister has already made up his mind--that will attempt to foist central European time on the people of Scotland. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Government will not impose central European time against the majority will of the people of Scotland? I hope that the Minister will take the votes of Scottish Members as an indication of that majority will.
Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman does both me an injustice--although I do not suppose that he cares about that--and his constituents, because he intends to deceive them about the position. I made it wholly plain. I said that we were about to publish a consultation document which would set out the options. They include doing nothing, which is maintaining the status quo, bringing the end date of summer time one month forward or going into the central European time zone. The Goverment have come to no conclusion. We are putting out the options so that people can express their views and Parliament and others
Column 958can form a clearer opinion as a result. If the hon. Gentleman speaks to his constituents as he has just spoken to the House, he will be deceiving them which I hope he will not do.
Mr. Hogg : I have given way sufficiently often and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is getting cross, which I have always found a compelling reason for sitting down. On that happy and conclusive note, I commend the Government motion to the House and ask the House not to accept the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East. 9.16 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor : With the leave of the House, I shall be brief. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his usual courtesy in establishing the position. It is frightening constitutionally and means that the Government are saying that it must be article 100A if we cannot prove that it is not. That opens up a huge range. Secondly, they are saying that it is article 100A although the directive makes no changes and establishes the status quo. The Minister has been honest enough to tell us what the score is.
This is an important night for the constitution and I hope that every hon. Member, following the lead given by the Select Committee, will realise the dangerous constitutional issue that we now face and the whole series of legislation which is now sadly being transferred from here to Brussels. I hope that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) will not warn his constituents about what a Conservative, Labour or Liberal Government may do, but will tell them that, sadly, in three years' time, irrespective of what transpires, the decision on what happens to them will be made by the Council of Ministers by majority vote. That is the real issue tonight and it is a worrying one.
Again I thank the Minister for being so clear. My five colleagues who signed the amendment are coming to the House at 10 o'clock for the debate and it would be discourteous to them to force this to a Division in their absence, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 7876/88, on Summer Time arrangements ; and supports the continuation of the existing arrangements for a further three years to enable the Government to consult and give careful consideration to future summer time arrangements.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : As I have heard that the Minister to reply to this debate is cross, I may temper some of my remarks because it will be twice in two consecutive weeks that I shall see him cross and I do not want that.
I welcome the opportunity to draw attention to a matter which is dangerous in a Northern Ireland context--as it would be in any other context--and that is the results of what is known as the Snaith report in relation to the abandonment of some rural roads in the north of Ireland. First, I should put the term Snaith in context. Those who have an abiding passion for the turf will remember the days when there was a jockey of that name, who never rode from the front, always won his races from behind and was never seen by the other jockeys until the post, when they were pipped. This one seems to be akin to the jockey. He seemed to come from nowhere, produce a report that nobody knew anything about, cause mayhem among the rural community and evaporate into thin air.
This is a dangerous report because it recommends to people in rural areas that some roads which they have used for generations will be closed because someone came from England, had a look and decided that farmers and people living there did not particularly need them. Perhaps I put the case cynically, but that is how it is viewed by those affected.
Several of my constituents were surprised, to put it mildly--shocked would not be an overstatement--when they got word from the roads executive that the road on which their house was built or adjacent to their land was being abandoned and that--believe it or not--they had a right of objection, although no one told them what would happen if that objection was received.
Somebody who replied to a parliamentary question about the Snaith report on behalf of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that it was to investigate the implications of adopting a positive abandonment policy in respect of low trafficked rural roads. Like many other people, I have great difficulty envisaging what a positive abandonment policy might be. It seems a remarkable contradiction in terms. It seems that a great deal of brain power has been used to arrive at such a definition of something as simple as abandoning roads and refusing to maintain them.
The idea of abandonment is bad for the simple reason that the North of Ireland is a rural country. Our biggest industry is farming. Most people who are employed--not that many are employed, of course--are employed in farming, and rural areas have always been the most stable part of the North of Ireland.
Among civil servants and others who advise Ministers in the North of Ireland, there has always been tension between spending on urban areas and pushing people into towns and keeping the rural infrastructure maintained.
Those of us who have lived to see the debacle of the creation of the new city of Craigavon, or rather the attempt to create a new city of Craigavon- -a Milton Keynes in the middle of Northern
Ireland--realise how silly and expensive it is and how
counterproductive it is in
Column 960human terms. Among all the economic and security problems and the problems of division, the rural community is one of the real stabilising factors.
I am glad that the Minister is here, as he is one of the people in the Northern Ireland Office who has realised the importance of what I and many others are saying. I should like to take this opportunity to thank him for taking a courageous decision about people in a very disadvantaged area of my constituency. They did not have a mains water supply. He made the sort of courageous decision that is required. Guidelines laid down by the Department are only that. They are designed to guide ; they are not absolute. I ask the Minister to have a good close look at the Snaith report. If there is anything of advantage in it, that should be discussed. Above all else, he should discuss the issues.
I have here a copy of a letter which Armagh district council sent to the divisional roads manager in the Craigavon area. The divisional roads manager is assiduous in helping people and replying to queries, but he is in difficulty--he does not understand the Snaith report either, or he does not understand its context. The letter is dated 10 November. A reminder was sent by the clerk on 28 November, but there has not yet been a reply. I do not blame the divisional roads manager for that.
The letter asks three questions, the first of which is whether the traditional arrangements will be adhered to, and whether, if the district council receives objections to an abandonment, the proposal will simply stop. Secondly, is Armagh district council area being used as a pilot scheme? Thirdly, why were there no discussions with district councils and public representatives about something which was seriously to affect the lives of people, especially at a time when the whole thrust of EC directives is towards helping those in disadvantaged areas? I have no doubt that, following this debate, a reply will be received by Armagh district council. Will the Minister address his mind to those three specific points because they are the kernel of the matter and will be crucial for us all?
I was shocked when I received the figures for the road closures as of 31 October 1988. I want to compare like with like and shall use the figures for areas which are as rural as Armagh. I found out that one road was closed in Down district council area, two in Limavady, two in Omagh, three in Fermanagh, two in Dungannon, one in Ballymena and 23 in Armagh district council area. That seems to be more than a coincidence.
For that reason, people on Armagh district council--as I am--the clerk of the council, myself as Member of Parliament and all those affected are asking what we have done to deserve the attention of Mr. Snaith. I know that we are guilty of many sins of commission and omission, but I do not know of any that would merit this type of comparison with other district council areas. Will the Minister make some observations about that?
The matter does not stop at abandoning a road. It concerns people's livelihoods. As we know, farming nowadays is not a matter of driving a horse and cart up a lane. It is a mechanised industry, with combine harvesters. When the milk is collected, great tankers have to use the roads and if a road is abandoned it deteriorates quickly. What do farmers do then?
They are also being denied the provision of street lighting because of what I regard as a most remarkable anomaly in the administration of the North of Ireland. I want to take this opportunity to point the matter out to the