Devolution (Time) Bill [HL] — Second Reading
10:00 am

Moved By Lord Tanlaw

That the Bill be read a second time.

10:05 am
Photo of Lord Tanlaw

Lord Tanlaw (Crossbench)

My Lords, I thank the Government for allowing time to debate the Second Reading of the Devolution (Time) Bill. I would like, with the leave of the House, to declare in full my interests and qualifications before moving this Private Member's Bill, which would remove time from the reserved category in the Scottish and Welsh devolution legislation. First, I declare myself to be a Scot, who spent most of his early childhood in South Ayrshire and who, according to the speech references in this House of none other than the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was the only boy to wear the kilt at his prep school in Glenapp.

As this Bill is about the choice of maximising the period of daylight during the long winter months, it may be of interest to declare that, like most householders in south-west Scotland, we made our own electricity until 1951, when the grid eventually came to our glen. Before then, people in houses without an auxiliary generator used paraffin lamps to read and cook by and accumulator batteries to power the wireless sets. Later on in the 1950s and early 1960s, I fought three parliamentary by-elections as Liberal candidate for Galloway, which was, and still is, the largest Scottish farming constituency, of approximately 1,500 square miles. Therefore, I like to consider myself to be reasonably familiar with the problems connected to Scottish farming, and I can assure noble Lords that daylight saving to provide lighter evenings is definitely not one of them.

Secondly, my qualifications concerning time in general are based on my hobby as an amateur astronomer and horologist, for which I have been granted fellowships of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Horological Institute. Just for the record, I used these skills to design for the then Black Rod in the 1970s the first speech timer clock, which may not have been popular in some quarters when there was no timed limit to speeches. I was also personally responsible, as proprietor of the company which maintained the Great Clock in the Palace of Westminster, for switching the country from summer time to winter time, and vice versa.

The Devolution (Time) Bill is a very straightforward piece of legislation, perhaps one of the shortest to come before your Lordships for some time. Its primary purpose is simply to rectify the apparent anomaly included in the devolution Acts for Scotland and Wales, which keep time as a reserved subject for them, whereas Her Majesty's Government have not considered it to be a reserved subject in the Northern Ireland devolution legislation. The Bill sets out to level the playing field for all parts of the United Kingdom, including England, with regard to all three devolved Governments having a choice of timescale best suited to the needs and geographical co-ordinates of their local electorates. It does not advocate any particular timescale.

I look forward to the Bill finding favour with both the coalition Government and Her Majesty's Opposition in that it seems, on the face of it, to be well in keeping with the objectives of the current Localism Bill and the Scotland Bill that is soon to come before us. Both these Bills hand certain powers back to local people with the exception of a choice of a timescale by their devolved Governments. Therefore, I am puzzled that both the coalition Government and Her Majesty's Opposition might apparently wish to oppose the Bill on the slightly absurd ground that it will, "break up the United Kingdom". I will deal with that point later.

Meanwhile, it may be worth while for noble Lords to read in Hansard the differing political views on time as expressed on 3 December last year in the other place during the Second Reading of Rebecca Harris's Private Member's Bill, the Daylight Saving Bill. It will be seen that the Scottish National Party MP for the Western Isles even prophesied that daylight saving would plunge the Scottish people into darkness. However, he did not specify whether it was temporal or eternal. Nevertheless, the MP in question, Angus MacNeil, may have a point. We have all been fearful of the dark at one time or another since childhood and we are always susceptible to fears of this kind even as adults and especially during long winter power cuts in south-west Scotland.

However, we cannot complain when communities in more northern latitudes have to live through the winter without natural daylight. They do so in Norway and Sweden by having well-lit streets, flood-lit football pitches and indoor sports and farming facilities. Farming and forestry in Scotland also use modern indoor systems to maintain the livestock and forestry. Building operations are flood-lit. The dark is no longer a danger if modern lighting systems are in operation at the work site for postal workers, builders or rail track engineers who work only through the night. In fact, current health and safety regulations require that facility. In northern latitudes, there will always be many hours of darkness in the winter months during the working day, due to celestial mechanics over which we have no control. It has now been clearly established in the other place that political solutions cannot increase the hours of winter daylight; they can only adjust to them by choosing a timescale best suited to a local community and its geographical co-ordinates.

However, previous Private Members' Bills, including my Lighter Evenings (Experiment) Bill, have foundered in the House of Commons on the political stance adopted by mainly Scottish MPs for no better reason than that their constituents might not accept a timescale imposed on them from south of the border, regardless of any facts that prove whether it would be beneficial to their constituents. I have no doubt, unless the coalition Government will support my Devolution (Time) Bill, that Rebecca Harris's Bill will suffer the same fate as previous Private Members' Bills on the same subject for the same reasons.

However, if the coalition Government see fit to support the Bill before us, which imparts responsibility for the choice of timescale to the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales, I see that as a problem solved. In fact, the Devolution (Time) Bill is a prerequisite for the safe passage not only of the current Daylight Saving Bill but any future legislation on the subject. An interesting side-effect of the successful passage of the Bill before us is that it would specifically allow English electors to decide on a timescale best suited to their needs without suffering from mischievous political interference from Scottish or Welsh MPs, who would then have the responsibility to decide their own electorate's timescale. However, as noble Lords well know, Members of the Westminster Parliament with Scottish or Welsh constituencies would still carry the right to vote on the issues. In this case, I would assume that the political party managers could ensure that they would abstain on any vote connected with a timescale relating purely to English constituencies. Perhaps the noble Baroness could confirm that, and that that would also apply to Northern Irish MPs under existing legislation.

It is necessary to emphasise again what the Bill is not about. It is not about devolved Governments arbitrarily changing the timescale in different parts of the United Kingdom. It is about only the right to do so if their electorates require it. No Government, devolved or otherwise, will take that decision lightly or unilaterally unless it is considered to be in the best interests of their electorate.

The Bill is not about supporting one particular timescale in preference to another. Nor will it create conditions to bring forward an independent Scotland, as is believed in some quarters. Does the noble Baroness agree that that can be decided only by referendum, not by a change in the timescale? However, I am pleased to report that I understand that this devolution Bill has the support of the Scottish National Party, for the democratic reasons that I have set out. In fact, the Scottish National Party is the only political party, as far as I am aware from my preparations for this debate, which seems to understand the importance and full implications of the Bill, and does not confuse it with a referendum for independence. I could not get any response from the Welsh nationalist party, whose telephone seems to speak only Welsh.

The coalition Government must surely be aware that, as the law stands, the Northern Ireland Assembly has the power to decide its own timescale unilaterally, without reference to Westminster. That is unlike Scotland and Wales. At first sight, it is difficult to foresee any internal circumstances which might cause that to happen, although, as I shall explain, there could be pressures from beyond its borders which might cause the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconsider its position. Does the noble Baroness agree that there could be a situation in which that power might be exercised, such as one where the Republic of Ireland decided to switch to Central European Time because it was thought that it might assist in relieving its current economic crisis? In those circumstances, is it not realistic to assume that Northern Ireland would follow suit by harmonising the timescale with their brethren south of the border?

Can the noble Baroness tell us whether there is any agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that would prevent such a timescale change taking place under those or any other circumstances, a change which united the north and south of Ireland in sharing a timescale different to the one in operation in England, Scotland and Wales? If that were to happen under existing law, would Her Majesty's Government decide to follow suit, thus forcing the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales to do likewise without prior consultation of their electorate? Alternatively, would Her Majesty's Government attempt to remake time a reserved item through amendments to the Northern Ireland devolution Act, thus preventing any change in the timescale of Northern Ireland without prior reference to Westminster? If a Devolution (Time) Bill were on the statute book, would the noble Baroness be content to let the English electorate and the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales switch to timescales of their own choice?

I accept that, if that situation arose, it might just tempt an opportunist Scottish nationalist Government to go it alone for political rather than horological reasons, despite the risks involved, but I am not sure that it would necessarily be advantageous for the Scottish people to remain on GMT plus one, which they seem to prefer today, when the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland selected GMT plus one and two as their time, for many good reasons, including better trading links with countries inside the European Union and the saving of electricity.

In conclusion, can the noble Baroness confirm that, when power was originally granted to the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide its own timescale, the Bill in question was not considered as undermining the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom? If so, can she also confirm that therefore there can be no reasonable objection to granting precisely the same powers to the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales under the Devolution (Time) Bill.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)

The noble Lord has spoken powerfully as a Scottish astronomer with the support of the Scottish National Party. Has he had any indication of any interest from Wales, as half the Bill relates to Wales?

Photo of Lord Tanlaw

Lord Tanlaw (Crossbench)

I am so pleased that the noble Lord asked that question. As I was saying just before we assembled in the Chamber, I have been trying for a week to get hold of a spokesman from the Welsh nationalist party. I could only get recordings on telephones in Welsh. I have tried the House of Commons and the Welsh Assembly. Either the Welsh nationalist party must improve its communications or it does not have any views whatsoever.

Let me just repeat where I had got to, as we lost the track there. If in fact it is all right for Northern Ireland to choose its own timescale and it was not considered to be destructive to the union, can the noble Baroness confirm that there can be no reasonable objection to granting precisely the same powers to the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales under the Devolution (Time) Bill before us this morning? Will she allow the Bill a safe passage through Committee in this House and on the Floor of the House of Commons for further consideration and debate? I beg to move.

10:21 am
Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon

Lord Howe of Aberavon (Conservative)

I commence by immediately congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on the tenacity with which he has pursued for so long the cause that is at the heart of this Bill, although it is not directly covered by it. I fully understand that this Bill is a more sophisticated sub-clause of his main case. I do not share his pride in being Scottish. I am a quarter Scottish, a quarter Cornish and half Welsh, and I am proud of that, but I would not attempt to translate the case into Welsh for him. I will leave it on one side.

I wish to address primarily the cause that has been in the forefront of his campaign for daylight saving compatible with our joining the central European time zone. I am a little uneasy about how that prevailing central cause can be presented alongside the devolution case that he is making today. That cause is daylight saving allowing us to enjoy what we enjoyed for a brief period during World War II, namely sharing with our continental neighbours summer summer time and summer winter time. I confess that I can do that perhaps a little more easily than he can because we Welsh are more tolerant than the Scots of any inconvenience that might arise from having to share an English time zone. More seriously, I think there is a very strong case for avoiding the avoidable hazard of too much diversity within a community, not just on time but-I must be forgiven for making this point-on units of measurement as well.

The campaign that I seek to put forward with as much enthusiasm as the noble Lord puts forward daylight saving is the campaign for completing the metrication system in this country. I do that with a particular sense of guilt because I was the Minister for Metrication in the Heath Government, and we carried it forward successfully. When the Thatcher Government arrived in 1979, we predictably set out for a bonfire of quangos, and the Metrication Board had the unwisdom to say that it had almost completed its cause, so I gladly swept it on to my bonfire pile, and I have regretted it ever since.

I shall say a word more about that because it seems to me that there is an intrinsic absurdity in Britain almost alone insisting on having a set of units of measurement incompatible with almost the whole of the rest of the world, excluding perhaps the United States and Myanmar. It is damaging in itself to go on doing that. We live in a country in which we measure petrol consumption in miles per gallon, but buy the petrol in litres. We drive along motorways that have road signs set in miles, but have mysterious posts set at 100-metre intervals, therefore measuring them in kilometres. I am not at all clear why that has been allowed to persist. I look with admiration at the way in which Ireland has undertaken metrication alongside the continent, and I admire Canada, which has undertaken metrication.

That is a digression. My main concern is to reassert the noble Lord's fundamental case for uniformity as widely as possible and in time zones as well. A very extensive time zone with different degrees of convenience for different parts of that zone that has existed for a long time is in the People's Republic of China. It may seem curious when one is there. I remember being up in the north-west province of Xinjiang. I think I was with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on that occasion. We were taken to an evening cinema show and emerged at just short of midnight to find the sun shining brightly. That did not cause the people of China any concern. It is perfectly possible to live in a large time zone with the same time in different parts of it as long as people get accustomed to it that way. That is a pretty extreme example of large-scale integration, but for Britain to be aligned alongside our central European neighbours in the central European time zone, enjoying that pattern of summer sunlight above all and safety from winter hazards to children, is by no means second to that.

I therefore speak with a rather reserved attitude towards this Bill. I hesitate to seem so unenthusiastic when speaking alongside such an enthusiastic champion as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. I would be prepared to concede his case if I were confident that by so doing it won his central case. I could not find much happiness in having to change my time zone every time I crossed the Severn Bridge. It simply is not as easy as all that, so with great regret I welcome enthusiastically the noble Lord's tenacity in seeking to achieve the central case for a central European time zone embracing the United Kingdom, and I understand the case that he has put so clearly-that it is necessary in the context of our rather less than wholly United Kingdom-but if he feels that in order to achieve that it is essential to qualify it along the lines suggested by this Bill, I should not wish to stand in his way. Whether he secures success or failure in this case, I hope he does not falter on the crucial case for a much wider time zone, with Britain belonging to it. It is unnecessary, but if he feels that that qualification is the price to be paid for helping us to move towards continental sanity, I welcome his Bill, just as I welcome his presentation of it today.

10:27 am
Photo of Lord Addington

Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, when I looked at this Bill, I was reminded of the last time I got involved in debates on this subject. My objections then were very largely those that have been so subtly and gently put forward by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe. Is the upside of having an extra time zone between Wales and England or England and Scotland or Scotland and Wales creating some sort of job creation scheme for bureaucrats trying to synchronise activity? Is it a way of irritating people who are trying to order things over the phone from various sorts of economic activity? When we go into it, the arguments are there. Practically, a comparatively small area having different time zones is an irritation we do not need.

Photo of Lord Tanlaw

Lord Tanlaw (Crossbench)

That is not what the Bill is about. It is simply about the right of the devolved Governments to choose, should they so wish. The Bill does not say that they will choose. Northern Ireland has not changed its time zone since its Bill was created. It is just the right to choose. It is nothing more than that.

Photo of Lord Addington

Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat)

The right to choose is a wonderful thing, but what would the practical result be of using that right? We are always starting down a line of progress. This is a line of progress. If we go down it, there would be a consequence to the Bill being used. I do not think there is too much disagreement between us there, so we have problems. I thought about this, and I realised that I had not taken this argument to its logical extension: the BlackBerry and the mobile phone. Let us make it just that little bit more complicated than it needs to be. Having one time zone is basically a good idea; let us make the world more user-friendly by having one time zone.

However, on the main drive, there are probably more winners than losers by going to the extra time zone that the noble Lord is driving at, but there are losers. Let us not forget that. Let us talk about the elephant in the room for once. More people probably gain than lose, but people will lose. If you have a rush hour in the evening in the light, you have a rush hour in the mornings for X number of months of the year that is in darkness. The morning rush hour is more fraught than the evening one and the traffic safety lobby, which argues about this, might not have taken that into account. I suspect so, but I have no evidence to back it up other than having travelled in the rush hour.

On the basic thrust of the Bill, it is a nice principle but not one that I think has a practical base to it. That is where I start and probably where I finish. I was given a quote from people in our Whips' Office from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so".

How we use time is infinitely more important than where we set the clock. The noble Lord was right about certain places in the world where you have to adapt to having no light at times. Going back to my student days I remember that in Scotland at this time of year there was a certain wonderful manic quality about parties during the summer resulting in not quite enough sleep. Maybe that is a good thing and we should encourage that by telling people to go on holiday in Scotland in some months of the year. We cannot really do very much. I believe that the Bill might be something of a distraction; it might lead to a slightly more complicated world. We do not need that. I appreciate where the noble Lord is trying to get to, but this is the wrong route.

10:32 am
Photo of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie (Conservative)

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will be pleased to know that I intend to speak only briefly to Clause 1 in this extraordinarily large, extensive Bill-but that does not mean that I think that Clause 2 should be rejected. If I may say so, with the exception of its prescription charges decision, it seems to me that the Welsh Assembly has not been terribly bright in thinking this one through. Wales has a convoluted border with England and the Assembly should have thought this through more carefully. Nevertheless, it seems to me that over the years the Welsh Assembly has behaved with a degree of rationalism that is markedly greater than the romantic pretension of the Scottish Parliament. I shall give one example.

The Scottish Parliament thought that the House of Commons was so stuffy that it would refer to people instead only by their first names-so that world was whizzing round with Jacks, Jimmys and so on. My late friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish used to make some quite convenient pocket money by explaining who Jack or Jimmy was, because nobody knew. The purpose of using "honourable Member" in Westminster is not only to calm people down but to identify who the person is for people outside, who have a right to know what we are doing and exactly who is doing it. If they are simply told that it is Jack or Jimmy, they will not know who it is.

I think that we should give the Bill a fair wind. This matter of the time across the United Kingdom falls into what I would describe as a sort of petty unionism which separates us from a real understanding of the main fibres that hold us together, and that is what we ought to be trying to work out and identify. I know from my own political party in Scotland that we are not doing terribly well at present-and that is to understate it. The Lib Dems are not doing much better.

A noble Lord:

Worse.

Photo of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie (Conservative)

Just watch them. Last night was not a great night for either of us, but that is by the bye.

We should get rid of all these petty things. In a perfect world, time zones should logically be divided into 24 segments, like a chocolate orange, so that lines are drawn. But the Channel Islands, for example, are to the west of France but an hour behind it. We are clearly not looking at it in terms of pure time, with the earth moving round the sun; we are dealing with it politically. As I understand it, the date line, which is in the Pacific and already has a funny jiggle in it, is being reconsidered.

We should be looking at time zones not only longitudinally but also latitudinally. The idea that they are all the same is simply not true. It causes infuriation in Scotland that such decisions taken in England seem to be for the benefit of England and show complete disregard for what is happening in Scotland.

As I recall, when this experiment was first introduced in the 1960s and early 1970s, it was felt that there were two very powerful arguments in favour: that farm workers would be working for two hours in the dark at the beginning of the day, and that children going to school would be killed. On the latter point, irrefutable evidence shows that more children are killed on the way back from school than are killed in the early morning when-although they might claim to be rather sleepy and dozy-peoples' reactions are better. It is not as if people returning from work are drunk or anything like that; they are just tired and their reactions a bit slower. There is irrefutable evidence to that effect. The other argument deployed was farm workers. I cannot understand, particularly against the background and principles of localism, why we have not negotiated different hours for farm workers in Sussex or Shetland, for example, so that they do not have to work for two hours in the dark in Scotland.

Photo of Lord Cormack

Lord Cormack (Conservative)

Does that mean that we would have little flashing signs outside every town saying not that your speed is 30 mph but that the time is now 3 pm, and that in the next town it is 4 pm? There is an absurd logic to my noble and learned friend's argument.

Photo of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie (Conservative)

I did not say that, and I do not say that. My understanding is that time zones originally were introduced to exactly reflect the position before the introduction of railway timetables-so that if you had left London at 8 o'clock in the morning, you might arrive in Oxford at 7.30 am. It had to be rationalised, and that is what needs to be done now. We need to understand that there is a latitudinal as well as a longitudinal problem that must be resolved. I cannot see why that cannot be done in Scotland. Why on earth are Orkney and Shetland put in the same time box as the Channel Islands? It seems absurd.

However, the noble Lord is right-this ain't no easy decision. Although the Bill gives the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly only an opportunity to decide on these matters, it will not be an easy decision for Ministers to take. Although farm workers in Orkney or Shetland might think the proposals extremely good, there might be yelps of fury-my noble friend is absolutely right-from the financial institutions of Edinburgh, Glasgow and, more particularly, Aberdeen, if they find themselves at variance with the time set for the financial institutions of London. They would be deeply concerned about that. However, we have to let them make the decision against the background of the principles, as I say, of localism.

I do not think that it is as difficult as some people think. We all get on planes every now and again, and the time at your destination will be shown along with the duration of the flight. You know when you fly from A to B that the time difference might be eight hours although you are flying for only five, or possibly the other way round. There is no great debate about that. Alternatively, your telephone directory will tell you the time in Auckland or wherever it may be. This is not like the old days before the railway timetables, when people kept different times in different towns; it is completely different. However, we need to recognise that latitudinal as well as longitudinal changes need to be made. It is not an easy decision but we should give the opportunity to both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to make it.

10:40 am
Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in the gap only because of a failure in communications, but when I read the word "devolution" in the Bill I became extremely curious. Whenever I see that word, my heart races as I think of all the wonderful debates we had in the 1970s and beyond. I was a full participant in those, usually held in draughty public halls in the University of Wales, where I was educated, and elsewhere. However, I confess to the noble Lord that throughout all those heady debates, I did not once hear the words "summer time" raised by any of the advocates, even the most extreme of separatists. So the starting point is that the debate on devolution has moved on and now there is an extremely broad consensus in favour, partly because of the reasonableness of the Welsh Assembly, which the noble Lord mentioned. Normally, people characterise us in Wales as poets and romantics and the Scots as dour engineers, but it is we in Wales who are the reasonable ones in respect of this matter. The debate has moved on and there is no public concern in Wales about this. Indeed, if the Bill were to make progress, I would certainly move for Wales to be excluded from its scope.

Photo of Lord Tanlaw

Lord Tanlaw (Crossbench)

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He has missed the point, as was the case on the other side of the House. This Bill just provides the choice for Scotland and Wales so that they can decide whether to change. I see no reason for Wales to change, and there is no obligation for it to do so under the Bill. It is a choice. Without that choice, the electorate may feel that it is being unduly pressurised by Westminster.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)

I can assure the noble Lord that there would be no sense of being cheated or of losing out in Wales if we were not given the choice. I was intrigued by his test of public opinion in Wales, which comprised one failed telephone call-

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)

There were seven failed telephone calls to Plaid Cymru, which with all respect to my good friends in Plaid Cymru, is not, according to the public opinion polls taken during the recent Assembly elections, the most representative party in Wales. I do not think that there is any measure of interest in this in Wales. If there is no interest, there will have been no consultation, and I am sure that there will be no attempt to make a choice, even by those who look for every possible opportunity to find differences between Wales and England-between Hay-on-Wye and Hereford, or wherever. Whatever case there may be in Scotland and Northern Ireland because of the factor of latitude, there is no case in respect of my own country of Wales.

10:43 am
Photo of Lord Gilbert

Lord Gilbert (Labour)

My Lords, this is the first time since I arrived in this august establishment that I have sought to impose on your Lordships by speaking in the gap. I merely want to say how much I support the Bill and the sentiments behind it. I remember well a brief period when I was Minister for Transport in another place, and I was instructed to devolve everything possible to the new authorities. So I said, "Let them have speed limits". You have no idea of the horror this produced, as though the Scottish authorities and the authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland were not capable of deciding what speed limits they wanted. The situation we find ourselves in at the moment is a very immature one. I am fully in favour of giving the Scots and the Welsh, if they want it, full discretion to decide their own time zones, where their boundaries should be, and what times they want to set.

10:45 am
Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Conservative)

My Lords, perhaps I, too, may speak briefly in the gap, and I apologise straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that I was not able to be in my place when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I want to make it clear that it has my strongest possible support and I hope that it will go further and become law. It is entirely meritorious, and the noble Lord is to be praised for the way that he has pursued this issue over many years. He now has a legislative form for it which makes a great deal of sense.

There are many problems with devolution, but I am not going to go into them. Indeed, there are many problems in the relationship between Scotland and the wider European kingdom at the present time, but one great benefit of the fact of devolution would be for your Lordships to seize the opportunity to support this strongly, and for the issue and this excellent Bill to be taken up by the Government.

10:46 am
Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Labour)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on promoting this debate. As the sun streams through the windows, I thought that this would be rather a pleasant little outing. However, having listened to the debate, I have decided that George Gershwin got it nearly right. I shall paraphrase his words: "It's summer time, and the decision ain't easy". My apologies to Gershwin.

I must admit that, if the Bill were to go through, I do not feel that it would be a slippery slope, but I suspect that it would face a number of difficulties. The case was very well presented by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. I liked his use of the phrase "celestial mechanics". I had not thought of the issue in that way. He is right to say that the poll taken in Scotland a while ago by the Lighter Later campaign found that a majority of people were in favour of change. I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that there is not much evidence on the question of child safety. I thought that all the studies have shown the opposite. I can understand that if one is opposed even to the possibility of change, but I did think the arguments were getting a bit threadbare when we were told to worry about the impact on BlackBerrys. I can think of a whole range of things, but that-

Photo of Lord Addington

Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, it may not be worth worrying about people with their mobile phones and BlackBerrys, but look down any street and see how many spend so much of their time on them. I just said that it was a hassle; I did not say that it was the end of the world.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Labour)

I hope I did not suggest that the noble Lord said that. I just thought it was a strange example to introduce to this argument. However, the questions of child safety and working times are valid. Even farmers in Scotland are not actually coming out in opposition these days, as they did previously. Those of us in the Chamber who can remember the experiment with standard time that was conducted in 1972 may regret that we did not continue with it.

I think that this is a perfectly valid debate and I commend the honest and candid approach of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. He made it clear that this is an opportunity to make progress. However, throughout almost the whole of the debate there has been a presumption by those who do not like the tenor of the Bill that it inevitably would mean that everyone would have to move to a different time. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, has said, people can make up their minds on the basis of what they feel is appropriate. However, I was somewhat surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said that he knew that I was going to oppose the Bill because I had sent him an e-mail saying something slightly different. I thought that I was being a bit more hopeful than that.

I am exceedingly interested in hearing the Government's response. The previous Private Member's Bill did not go very far in the Commons. Might a Government who, as so many noble Lords remarked, at least ostensibly believe in localism be prepared to recognise this as an opportunity for that to operate? I wait with interest to hear the Minister's response.

10:50 am
Photo of Baroness Wilcox

Baroness Wilcox (Conservative)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, for bringing this matter for debate to the House today and for making a terrific speech, clearly explaining the reasoning behind wanting to see the measures of his Bill come into force. The issue is very much a live one and closely related to the ongoing debate on summer time and the movement of the clocks-a subject that the noble Lord has made his own. I have often answered Questions from him before.

Opinion on the issue of summer time in general and the movement of the clocks has remained divided for some time. Evidence has been produced on both sides of the argument for moving the clocks, demonstrating the economic benefits and highlighting the cost. The issues are indeed complex. We discuss this at a time of year when it is light before all but the most nocturnal of your Lordships are awake. Yet in winter, when the impact of changing the clocks is most felt, a change to the current arrangements by moving the clocks forward would mean-as we have heard so many times-trading off darker winter mornings for lighter summer evenings. There is no question that the impact of darker mornings would be most significant in Scotland.

The measures of the noble Lord's Bill differ slightly from those that we have seen in your Lordship's House on previous occasions. Most of the Bills on the issue of summer time have tended to talk about moving the clocks within the UK to align with central Europe-that is, to put the clocks forward an hour of where they are currently. The noble Lord stressed that his Bill is only on the right to choose. We recognise that the provisions are designed to give Scotland and Wales the right to choose but, as my noble friend Lord Addington asserted, if they exercise that right then the United Kingdom could end up with different time zones, the consequences of which we do not underestimate. Rather than addressing the merits of moving the clocks, which the noble Lord has set out at length on many previous occasions, the Bill simply proposes to devolve responsibility for changing the clocks to Scotland and Wales-just as it is currently devolved in Northern Ireland.

As we know, responsibility for time in Great Britain is a reserved matter under the current devolution arrangements. As noble Lords may be aware, when the Scotland Bill was debated in the other place, an amendment was tabled by Angus MacNeil MP designed to achieve the exact same outcome that the noble Lord is trying to achieve here today-that Scotland should have its own responsibility over which time zone it should sit in and that that power should not sit with Westminster. In the debates on that amendment, it was felt that not only did the proposal run contrary to the spirit and effect of the Scotland Bill but it also went against the Government position of the whole of the UK remaining in the same time zone. As such, the amendment was heavily defeated.

The Government do not support the devolution of responsibility for time to Scotland and Wales, and the possibility of different time zones operating within Great Britain. The crux of the matter is quite simply that we are far too small a nation to have, within the British Isles, more than one time zone. There are obvious practical difficulties in having separate time zones for both Wales and Scotland. Transactions between Scotland and England, and between Wales and England, would take on an unwanted complexity unnecessary for so small a country. The level of disruption caused should not be underestimated were the three countries to end up on different time zones. Those who live on the borders with either Wales or Scotland would be significantly disrupted if commuting between countries on a daily basis. Implications for travel in general should also not be considered lightly.

On the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on Northern Ireland, although it has the power to choose its own zone, in recent conversations with our colleagues there-which are always ongoing-they have no desire to change their time zone to be out of sync with the rest of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has made it quite clear-this position was also explained during Second Reading of the Daylight Saving Bill in the other place-that Great Britain as a country should remain in a united time zone. As such, it would be inappropriate for me to express anything other than reservations about this Bill, given that it is not in line with that policy.

10:55 am
Photo of Lord Tanlaw

Lord Tanlaw (Crossbench)

My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken in the debate. I accept the differing views that have been made. My only comment is that there have been misunderstandings. The Bill does not mean a change of time zones when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, goes across the Severn Bridge. I doubt that Wales would change its time. The point is just that it would have the option to do so.

On the question of mobile phones, it is not beyond the wit of the makers of mobile phones that also have GPS in them to find out where you are speaking from and adjust the time zone-as they do when you go to France. On party politics in Scotland, have Her Majesty's Government and the Minister really worked this out? They have not been doing well north of the border. This attitude may not help much in any future elections that may take place.

We have had an interesting debate and I hope that the Bill will now be allowed to go forward. I beg to move.

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