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Lord Howie of Troon: Three-quarters of an hour; play the game!

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I stand corrected. As I said, the noble Lord brought tears to my eyes when he mentioned the Glaswegian who would suffer three-quarters of an hour more darkness whereas, as was made clear in the summertime consultation document which was published as long ago as June 1989, there are innumerable advantages in changing this measure. The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, referred to those when he introduced his Bill so succinctly. As far as one can gauge, the general opinion is moving very much in that direction and in favour of the change. That change could be made almost painlessly. It is merely a question of changing the clock for two hours instead of one on a particular occasion.

What puzzles me in all of this is not so much the views of the majority but the continuing uncertainty in Government circles. The noble Viscount referred to the fact that we had been told in this House earlier this year that the Government were still considering the matter. On 30th October this year in another place it was stated that:

Therefore, up to 30th October the Government's position was that they were still considering the matter, no doubt much to the satisfaction of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon.

As usual, one has to go to the press in order to find out what is really going on in government circles. According to The Times of 24th November 1995, which is slightly later than 30th October, the Home Office has not yet decided whether to back the Bill of Mr. John Butterfill, and the Treasury is known to support the change, as is the Department of Trade and Industry. It adds that a large number of businessmen are also prepared to do so.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us what were the views of the Scottish Office.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I am always ready to oblige. The article states:

    "However, the Scottish Office is extremely resistant to the idea".
We knew that anyway.

I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to respond when the various government departments are going to get together to reach a unified view on this matter. We can see why the Department of Trade and Industry should be in support. I am delighted that for once the Treasury should be in support of something as positive as this proposal. Why is the Home Office so reluctant to go ahead with this idea, bearing in mind that

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according to the information in the Green Paper to which I referred there will be a reduction in crime because most crime is committed in the hours of evening darkness rather than morning darkness, and there will be a reduction in accidents and fatalities on the road and all the advantages to which the noble Viscount referred?

We need a little enlightenment as to the Government's thinking on this matter. The matter is continually debated. The arguments are advanced very firmly by a clear majority in favour, with a vocal but absent--the noble Lord has gone--minority opposed. We have now been through this process three or four times. Presumably they will also go through it in another place. Therefore, we should very much like some enlightenment from the Government tonight.

9.23 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, I am very pleased to be taking part in this debate, particularly as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, seemed to doubt whether I should because on a previous occasion I had declared an interest as being a consultant to the British Horological Institute. I can inform the noble Lord that that is an honorary position. A number of other noble Lords also have that duty. I am not paid anything, but occasionally I award prizes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am delighted to say to the noble Lord that I am sorry that I doubted that in any way. Of course, holding an honorary position, he is entitled to take part in the debate. Indeed, the debate is enriched by his contribution.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, it is very kind of the noble Lord to say so. In case other skeletons fall out of the cupboard, I can declare an interest. Twenty years ago my company was responsible for stopping and starting the great clock at Westminster, known wrongly as Big Ben. I also designed the timing devices that noble Lords have been using for the past 20 years. That may be unknown to your Lordships because I have never mentioned it before.

I should like to declare my interest because I wish to say that I know something about the subject. I am able to correct noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Howie, by saying that the earth goes round the sun and not vice versa. That may be helpful in a debate on this subject, especially as we have covered the area a number of times before.

At this late hour I do not intend to repeat the facts and figures in what has now become almost an annual general meeting on the subject of Central European Time. The details can be found in past debates: the Unstarred Question of the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, on 14th January 1994; the Summer Time Order debate on 18th October 1994; and the Central European Time Bill on 11th January of this year.

I have not changed the views expressed in those interventions, although I was hoping that this debate might give me an opportunity to withdraw a statement that I made when venturing briefly off script at col. 267

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of Hansard on 11th January when I described the attitude of Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition parties towards harmonisation of the time standard with Central European Time as "pathetic". I used this somewhat unparliamentary epithet at the time to express my frustration, combined with many others outside Parliament, about the total lack of progress in this area. The current situation is no different, as this Second Reading debate of yet another Private Member's Bill implies; and I see no reason to withdraw my statement at this stage but merely to underline it.

I therefore repeat the question, as I have done on other occasions to noble Lords who sit on the Government Benches, as to why this important issue was not included in the Queen's Speech and was purposely left, as it has been on previous occasions, to a noble Lord's Private Member's Bill which has little or no chance of reaching the statute book through lack of support and time allocated to it in another place. Exactly the same is true for the other identical Private Member's Bill under the name of John Butterfill to which I shall refer later and which I suspect will suffer precisely the same fate as the noble Viscount's Bill.

I must also ask noble Lords on the Opposition Benches why, in so far as I am aware, they have not remarked on this important omission in the Queen's Speech; and why, in so far as I am aware, they have not included Central European Time as an essential plank in their pro-European policies. Can it be that there has been some collusion between the two main party managers in letting the issue of Central European Time once again fall by default? Does the forthcoming general election have any bearing on the matter? Is there not, therefore, a serious defect in our parliamentary system of government when an issue such as the time standard, which affects every man, woman and child in the country, is deliberately and consistently not allowed proper time for inclusion in the Queen's Speech or in the Opposition parties' manifestos?

I can think of no other issue where the gap between party political expediency and the reality of everyday life is greater. Why is it apparently so difficult for active politicians to address themselves to real events which take place outside the Palace of Westminster? In the past debates on the subject in your Lordships' House the Government and the Opposition Front Benches have consistently proclaimed that Central European Time is not a political issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, so stated at col. 198 of Hansard in winding up the debate on 18th October 1994.

If that is so, why cannot Members of both Houses of Parliament obtain the much-needed update on the inconclusive and outdated consultative document of 1989? Could it be that the latest evidence is being withheld from us because it will clearly indicate the necessity of harmonisation of the time standard with Central European Time?

Could it be that both Her Majesty's Government and the Opposition parties do not wish to admit to the electorate just before a general election that harmonisation will be on the statute books--just in case

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it affects voters at constituency level? I shall need a great deal of persuasion that the delay in addressing the issue by both main parties is not a "political issue". If it is not a political issue, is it some sort of party political fix?

By that I mean why has not more been done by both the Government and the Opposition parties to educate the electorate on this rather complicated subject? As there has been little or no enthusiasm to encourage a public discussion of the advantages or disadvantages of harmonisation with CET, is it surprising that there is an inevitable and natural hostility towards altering the status quo?

This is a genuine view which has been supported by some of my noble friends and other noble Lords in past debates, and no doubt they will do so in this debate. That in turn seems to reflect the national rather than rational attitudes in Scotland, combined with the misplaced patriotism of those who prefer to live in "little England" south of the Border. Whether those views have evolved out of ignorance of the true facts or simply by ignoring them, I do not pretend to know. But can anyone be in a position to say so until there has been a national referendum based on a trial period of actual harmonisation with Central European Time?

Perhaps noble Lords on the Opposition Benches can at least clarify part of the situation this evening. If they are in a position to deliver devolution for Scotland and Wales after the general election, can they say categorically that Standard British Time, regardless of whether it is harmonised with Central European Time, will continue to be controlled by Westminster and be applicable throughout the land, as it is now? Alternatively, will it become a devolved issue to be settled in Edinburgh or Cardiff, with the extraordinary possibilities and consequent anomalies that will be created by different English, Scottish and Welsh time standards? Have the party managers of the Opposition parties addressed themselves fully to the question? If so, what is their considered opinion?

I have read reports in the media on 24th November, thanks to our excellent Library service, about the good fortune of the Private Member's Bill of Mr. John Butterfill MP. It is identical to the noble Viscount's Bill in many ways, as I understand it. Apparently, the honourable gentleman will be allowed a free vote. But the chances of the Bill getting on to the statute book must surely be remote, unless the Government back it and insist on the support of the Scottish Office, which I understand is against the Bill. I ask the Minister to say whether the Government will support it. Can noble Lords on the Opposition Benches say whether the Scottish Opposition Members of Parliament will support the Bill as well on a free vote or will they vote against it? If they do support it, why then is harmonisation with Central European Time left to the chances of the ballot and not included in the Queen's Speech?

I suspect that the Butterfill Bill is no more and no less than an all-party delaying tactic. That is, unless the noble Earl who is to reply can persuade me otherwise, or noble Lords on the Opposition Benches.

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What is Her Majesty's Government's excuse for not supporting Central European Time? Is it simply due to lack of foresight or just dogged implementation of laissez-faire on all policies connected with Europe? I suspect that it could be the latter. Has it not taken more than 15 years since the initiation of the Channel Tunnel for a high speed rail link Bill to be included in a Queen's Speech?

Therefore, how much longer will it take the Government or, for that matter, the Opposition party, if it becomes the Government, to recognise that it is equally necessary to eliminate the time differential currently acting to the detriment of the travelling public and the business communities in the City of London? Will it be 10 years or 20 years? Perhaps the noble Earl who is to reply can give us a proper explanation as to why a number of leading international banks have suddenly decided to abandon the City of London as their traditional financial base for Europe and have moved instead to Frankfurt. Is the air so much purer there than the motor-polluted atmosphere of London? Possibly. Or is it because they can enjoy a full day's trading on the financial market without the time and travel restrictions imposed by British Standard Time which can reduce their daily trading turnover by as much as 30 per cent.?

I shall not go back to answering the noble Lord, Lord Howie, on the point. The statistics were not mine; they were taken from the CBI and various other organisations. Therefore, he may argue with them. The Confederation of British Industry has in the past submitted papers showing that its members are in favour of harmonisation with CET. It has done so again--in fact in the same papers as it sent out last time in supporting the noble Viscount's Bill. However, I regret that some of the more recent papers which have been circulated by the CBI to noble Lords on European travel seem to have excluded the issue of Central European Time. I think that that is a pity. It is a rather strange exclusion when the travel industry will gain approximately more than £1 billion per year if harmonisation were in place.

I wonder whether the CBI should not start to be more aggressive in its support for Central European Time by representing its members in Scotland and England more forcefully. Should it not try to bring politicians more up to date than we are at the moment with the real statistics that operate in the business world? I hope that the CBI will cease sitting on the fence, especially in Scotland. If the main political parties are not prepared--for what can only be party political reasons--to give a commitment one way or another on the subject, and if, for the same party political reasons, the electorate is not allowed an opportunity to express its views through a referendum, what can be done?

Will the noble Earl who is to reply not agree that there is now a case for doing two things? The first would be to get all-party agreement to instigate a trial period of harmonisation with Central European Time. It has been done before; what is wrong with doing it again? For surely it would allow proper statistics, particularly in regard to road safety and crime figures, to be gathered scientifically. Is that not more preferable than using the

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device of failed Private Members' Bills as an excuse for doing nothing? Secondly, would not an all-party agreement on a referendum be a correct basis for this controversial subject? The whole population would have experienced the effects of harmonisation with Central European Time in reality and would be in a position to judge it accordingly. Is that not a far more preferable and democratic input than the feeding out of doubtful, dated and possibly politically-biased statistics, which is what is happening now?

A referendum following a trial period would also scuttle once and for all the rather dubious arguments put forward by the Scottish NFU and the Scottish construction industry, which are against harmonisation with Central European Time. The NFU still seems to fail to recognise, first, that arable crops do not grow in winter but in spring, summer and autumn; and, secondly, that modern animal husbandry is undertaken mainly indoors in northern latitudes in a controlled environment. Animals left out on a hill do not feed until daylight and are quite oblivious as to the time on the face of the hill-farmer's clock.

The Scottish construction industry, on the other hand, makes what appears at first glance to be--I believe the noble Lord, Lord Howie, made this point on a number of occasions in the past--a good safety point against harmonisation with CET. Its owners indicate dangers to workers exposed to the elements on open scaffolding, as well as their having to ascend icy ladders in darkness during the winter months. But how is it that more modern construction industries in North America, Canada and Scandinavia can carry out their building work in far harsher winter conditions by protecting their workers in completely controlled environments?

Therefore, are not the poor conditions for workers described by the Scottish construction industry equivalent to those prevailing when boys were sent up to sweep chimneys in the time of Dickens? Should not these outdated practices be scrapped forthwith, regardless of whether the United Kingdom harmonises with Central European Time?

In conclusion, would not a trial period of Central European Time, followed by a national referendum based on experience throughout the United Kingdom, answer this question once and for all? The usual problem as to how referendum questions are to be posed fairly could be overcome by asking the electorate one very simple question: "After living in a trial period of CET, do you wish harmonisation with Central European Time to be permanent? Yes or no?".

Will the noble Earl who is to reply say what is wrong with this not entirely original suggestion, and why it was not put forward as a practical solution to this problem long before now? Will he say why he thinks that two identical Private Members' Bills, that originating in this House which is before us this evening and the other to be debated next month in the other place, will offer better solutions than the one I have proposed?

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