I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This is my third speech of the evening and I plan not to take too much time about it. Tom Greatrex asked whether we could have the past five hours back. For most of that I blame Mr Donohoe, who took up more than half that time.
My ongoing dispute with the assignation of time in the UK is firmly on record, with three speeches in Hansard over the past few years. It is my intention with the new clause to put an end to my shouting at the sun that happens periodically in this place. The new clause has more to do with how we deal with the amount of sunlight that we have in Scotland and how that relates to time. It deals with any changes to the clocks in the UK.
As anyone north of Manchester knows, the northern part of the island known as Great Britain and the islands to the west and the north of Great Britain are subject to very odd sunlight patterns at times, owing to our longitude and latitude and the alignment of our islands. We have very different periods of daylight in the UK, both summer and winter. Our winter days are short, with sunrise not happening till 9 am, so we must be able to adjust our clocks for the best use of time. Over the past few centuries, politicians have been bringing forward proposals to address the issue, with the most recent proposal occurring in this Parliament as a private Member’s Bill, when Rebecca Harris demonstrated that there is still a drive to change the clocks unilaterally.
At present, 65% of Scots are against changing the clocks, according to a YouGov survey in February 2010. However, if fewer than 300 MPs at Westminster voted to change the clocks in the UK, those MPs would change the lives of millions. The Government can make these changes and the Scots Parliament has no redress. It has been and will continue to be argued that it will be impossible for someone in Scotland to call someone in England because of the time difference, which is bunkum, or that it will not be possible to take a train, because it is beyond the capability of the human mind for someone to adjust their watch by an hour—again, bunkum. I have faith that everyone can adapt to the slightest change.
I am not sure why the hon. Gentleman has changed his position from the one that he took in the debate on
“Unfortunately, we cannot go down the two time zones route. . . We cannot have two different time zones in the UK.”
When pressed by some amazed MPs, the hon. Gentleman repeated that
“we cannot operate two time zones”.—[Hansard, 26 January 2007; Vol. 455, c. 1733.]
He said a third time in that debate that he could not support two time zones in the UK, but his new clause would allow precisely that. I wonder why he has changed his position.
My position has not changed. The point of the new clause is to make sure that nothing is foisted on Scotland. It will also put the brakes on any attempt to introduce two time zones.
No one is more against the proposal to change the time zones than I am, because I lived through the previous experiment and it was awful. However, the hon. Gentleman said that he did not want two time zones, but if his new clause was accepted and the UK Parliament voted to change the hours, the effect would be just that—two time zones.
My new clause would make it unlikely—or even impossible—that a time change could be foisted on the people of Scotland, because of people’s fear of having a change in time zones.
More astute Members will know that my new clause does not call for a separate Scottish time zone. What I am saying is that if the UK Government make a decision regarding time systems, the Scots Parliament should have the right to make the best choice for Scotland. That is not a revolutionary or novel suggestion: the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont has that power, as does the Parliament of the Isle of Man. I note that they have not yet changed their time systems, even though they have the right to do so to address the needs of the people of Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man. The Scottish Government should have the same powers.
My constituency would be significantly affected if there was a different time zone just down the road from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that in many ways he would make it easier for the UK Government, looking at the matter from an English point of view, to create a time system that was unwelcome in Scotland, because English MPs could say, “Well, Scotland can do what it likes. We’re doing what’s best for England”? With the large of number of English MPs, he might finish up with precisely the results that he most fears.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but the realpolitik of the situation would make that highly unlikely. It is far more likely that something that the Scottish people did not want would be foisted on them.
I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he prefers the possibility of a time zone that the Scots do not want being foisted on them to having two different time zones in the UK. I would prefer the Scots to be able to control their own time zone to the possibility of something being foisted on them, so that they had the same power as the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont and the people of the Isle of Man.
I genuinely do not understand how the hon. Gentleman has changed his position from the one that he took in 2007. His new clause would not give Scotland a veto power; it would give it the power to decide on time zones and the subject matter of the Summer Time Act 1972. He is bringing the possibility of having two different time zones closer, as Sir Alan Beith pointed out. The hon. Gentleman’s new clause would not give Scotland a veto power, and if that is what he wants, why has he not tabled a new clause that would?
The question of a veto goes both ways. I would not seek to veto what the good people of England might want to do, but they would be far less likely to do it, given the realpolitik of the situation, if the people entering the argument on both sides had that power. I am seeking to give the Scots Parliament the same authority as Stormont—an Assembly that seems to have a number of dispensations, including on corporation tax and, in this case, time—and the Isle of Man.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise, first, that this was not a power that was specifically sought by the Assembly at Stormont? Secondly, the freedom that he seeks through the new clause implies the ability to exercise it. However, I cannot think of anyone in Northern Ireland who would wish to exercise it, for all the reasons that have been given so far, the main one being the disruption to movement between the two parts of the United Kingdom.
It may or may not be a power that people in Northern Ireland wish to exercise, but it is a power that they have. It would probably not be a power that anyone would choose to exercise in Scotland either, but it would certainly make the Scottish hand an awful lot stronger in any negotiations with Westminster, as the complexion of the Government changed over time. What I would ask the hon. Gentleman is whether he would wish to surrender that power to Westminster or whether he would keep it.
I do not think that anyone in Northern Ireland would give two hoots whether the power was surrendered or not, because if we are never going to exercise it, why would we worry about losing or gaining it?
I say to the hon. Gentleman, tongue in cheek, that it is “Maybe surrender” from the DUP.
The point is not about using that power, but about the authority that comes from having it. It is about having that club in the golf bag or in the locker. That speaks to a wider problem with devolution: the UK Parliament can potentially take damaging action against a nation of the Union, but that nation’s Parliament or Assembly has, in the main, no redress and must accept the action. This might sound a bit drastic, but the way the Scotland Act is designed ensures that the UK Government, for better or worse, have unilateral power to make substantial decisions for the entire UK, regardless of what another part of the UK thinks.
Of course, Members should be reminded that “UK Government” does not mean this Parliament, as we saw with the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, which affected 6,000 square miles of Scottish waters, as was mentioned earlier. I understand that the current Government are not committed to changing the clocks, but I would sleep much better at night if we could ensure that a clock change would have to be agreed by the Scots Parliament and that we had that power in Scotland before it took effect. It speaks volumes that the opposition to independence, and even to full fiscal autonomy or control over time, is full of the politics of fear.
No, you’re fine.
If the Government and the Unionist parties truly believe that this is an economic arrangement that is in the best interests of the people who live in the islands, they have nothing to fear by giving Scotland control over clocks, coastguards, elections and fiscal autonomy—the whole gamut. There is usually nothing but dogma blocking good sense.
It is with a heavy heart that I rise to oppose the new clause tabled by Mr MacNeil—I hope my pronunciation is acceptable. As he mentioned, we had an interesting debate on the private Member’s Bill on daylight savings before Christmas. He and I, along with an eclectic mix of Members, went into the No Lobby to oppose it. I agree with him about the effects that central European time or double summer time, whatever we call it, would have on Scotland, on other parts of the UK and on various categories of workers in different industries. I am at one with him on that and have great sympathy with his motives, but I cannot agree with the methodology he uses to arrive at his conclusions. I agree with my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith, who noted that the new clause, if successful, would make it easier for the House to approve a move to central European time or double summer time and that we would end up with two time zones in the UK.
Before moving on to some of the practical difficulties that such a move would entail, I caution the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar against opening up head L5 of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, because along with
“Timescales, time zones and the subject-matter of the Summer Time Act 1972”,
a host of other matters are reserved, including
“The calendar; units of time; the date of Easter”.
We are already in enough trouble with Cardinal Keith O’Brien about other matters before we start tinkering with the date of Easter, so I urge some caution in going down that route.
As Members have explained, it would be hugely impractical to have different time zones within the UK. Other countries, of course, do have different time zones: Australia has four, Canada has six and Russia has eight. However, Australia is 2.9 million square miles in size, Canada 3.8 million square miles and Russia 6.6 million square miles. The UK is 94,000 square miles in size. To have different time zones in a relatively small geographic area is ludicrous. I can think of all sorts of practical difficulties that that would entail, particularly for people living in areas on either side of the border. People in Carlisle and Dumfries, for example, would have all sorts of problems adjusting their clocks as they went back and forward over the border. Would “News at Ten” be subject to the Trades Description Act if it did not broadcast as “News at Ten (but Nine o’clock in Scotland)”?
If there had been a different time, would the news of the Barnsley by-election result have arrived sometime in the middle of the morning?
The hon. Gentleman mentions an important reason why we should resist such a measure. I recall his state of excitement and sleeplessness as he awaited the result, and he might have had to wait a little longer to receive the information that he sought.
I certainly shall, Mr Benton. The hon. Gentleman tempted me down an interesting path.
Members who were present yesterday when we debated clause 26, which relates to the definition of a Scottish taxpayer, might recall our discussions about how to define a Scottish taxpayer based on their place of residence at the end of the day. I expressed some concern for my friend who would be travelling on the Caledonian sleeper and mentioned the uncertainty that would arise if he boarded the train in Glasgow or Edinburgh at, say, 10.30 pm and was in Scotland at the end of the day as far as that was concerned, but the train crossed the border at midnight. I asked, would he be in Scotland or England for tax purposes? We would now add in a different time zone.
I take it, then, that the hon. Gentleman’s friend would be terrified of taking the Eurostar to France.
The devolution of tax powers to Normandy or Brittany is slightly outwith the scope of this Bill, so I will not risk the ire of Mr Benton by going down that route.
If there were a different time zone and England were an hour behind Scotland, my friend could board the train in Glasgow before midnight and arrive in England before midnight, so goodness knows what tax status he would incur for that journey. We often hear of the Bermuda triangle, but I do not want to introduce a Beattock triangle.
I am grateful for that information. Unfortunately I ceased to study physics after higher grade, so I am not qualified to go down that route.
The example I cite is perhaps slightly silly but there is a sensible point. It illustrates the practical difficulties that would arise if we had different time zones in a small geographical area. Although I am at one with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar in opposing the introduction of central European time or any other Europeanisation of our time in this country, I must reluctantly oppose the new clause. I urge him and other Opposition Members to continue to oppose any moves in this place to introduce such a time zone in Scotland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
I will be brief. My hon. Friend Mr Davidson mentioned something that is not a pastime of every Scot, despite what some people might think. It relates to drinking hours and what would happen if we operated in two different time zones.
I think back to many years ago when the pubs in Scotland used to close at 10 pm, whereas in Carlisle and in Cumbria, on the border, they closed at 11. We saw people walking down the road at 10 o’clock closing in Scotland and heading for the first hotel to partake of their pastime in Cumbria, so Mr MacNeil needs to be very careful.
My new clause does not call for two time zones. Having lived in Gretna, I should like to know how long it would take me to walk from there to Carlisle for a pint. I suggest that it would be more than an hour, and that the bars would be closed by the time I got there.
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we have moved on: we now have trains, buses and taxis, so people would not necessarily walk.
I want to get back to the debate on the hon. Gentleman’s new clause, because I want the House to have time to debate new clause 19 as well. Iain Stewart said that the hon. Gentleman’s proposal was ludicrous; I would go further and say that it is sheer lunacy. In January 2007, the
Energy Saving (Daylight) Bill was introduced by Mr Yeo. Many Members might have considered supporting it, but for the fact that it contained a nasty clause that gave the devolved Administrations the opportunity to opt out. I ask the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and others who support his proposal to consider how the drivers in a small haulage business based in two locations—let us say Carlisle and Dumfries—would manage the tachograph when moving from one side of the border to the other.
The new clause makes no sense whatever. I hope that, rather than dividing the Committee on the proposal, the hon. Gentleman will see sense. His proposal would make it more likely that we would end up with two different time zones. I urge him to withdraw the new clause.
I will make my contribution brief as well, although I shall not speak at quite the same speed as Mr MacNeil. He reminded me of a child who needed to go to the toilet as he delivered his speech so terribly quickly. Iain Stewart said that he had risen to speak with a heavy heart. I am rising with a sore head, and that is not just about the sleep deprivation that I mentioned earlier. It is because I honestly cannot understand what possessed the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar to table this new clause. He cannot bring a proposal before the Committee and then not want us to discuss its possible implications. He cannot tell us what any Scottish Government, even his own, might choose to do with such powers, given that he voted against the sell-off of the forests in England while his Government tried to sell off the forests in Scotland. It is essential that we scrutinise the implications of the new clause. It exposes the fact that the SNP is good at minority reports and at gesture politics, but not good at government.
I will take entirely personally the hon. Lady’s positive comment about minority reports. I took part in a debate on the issue of time zones a few months ago, and I was struck by the strength of feeling among many Government Members who represent English constituencies who would really like to see the time zones in this country change. My worry is that that would plunge my constituents into darkness on winter mornings, meaning that they would have to contend not only with icy roads and low temperatures but with limited amounts of sunlight. A Scottish Government would have no room in any negotiations on that matter, should a Government in this place choose to impose a change to the existing arrangements. As I understand it, the whole point of my hon. Friend’s new clause is to strengthen the likelihood of maintaining the existing arrangements, not to undermine them.
I am still struggling to follow this argument. The SNP is asking for a power that it says it has no intention of using because the effects would be undesirable. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar seemed to say that, should the time zone change here, he would recommend that the Scottish Government fell in line with such a decision as he had no intention of having two different time zones. It has already been pointed out that we are far more likely to end up with two time zones if we devolve this power. It would be easier for such a decision to be taken simply on the basis of taking English concerns into account.
Absolutely; I could not have put it more simply. My headache immediately disappears and we have clarity.
There are some questions that I would like the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar to address. First, has he spoken to Microsoft or other PC manufacturers about their systems and whether they would be able to cope with this change? Has he considered the implications for travel? It is possible that I could leave my constituency and be in this place before I had left. I wonder how the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority would respond to time travel and thinking that I came to this place in a Tardis. We have already heard about television and radio schedules. These are serious concerns, and they are the implications of what he is asking for. We might get the 10 o’clock news at 9 o’clock or 11 o’clock, we might know the results of the national lottery draw in Scotland before it is made in England. I have seen SNP Members holding their heads in their hands as we put forward these various possibilities, but if the hon. Gentleman is going to push the Committee to vote on this matter, he has to consider the ramifications.
Let us be clear about this: the SNP is no good in government in Holyrood, is no good in government in local authority areas, and in this Chamber it is putting forward a most ridiculous proposal that I hope the Committee will oppose.
I want to make two observations based on an example taken from either side of the Committee. Under this proposal, the Minister from the Scotland Office could be taken in his Government car from his very nice house in Moffat down to Carlisle and then go back in time an hour to catch a train that had left Carlisle an hour earlier.
I think that the hon. Gentleman, along with other Members, is confusing the instruments we use to measure time—clocks—with time itself.
I think that the hon. Gentleman’s time is up.
Alternatively, my hon. Friend Mr Brown could leave his house, travel the 12 miles to Carlisle train station, and find that he is catching a train an hour earlier than he left his house. That is ludicrous.
I am puzzled by this obsession with train times. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that for many years Switzerland, in the centre of Europe, had a different time zone from all the countries round about, and had trains going through on both sides? They did not vanish into thin air—they went in one end and came out the other. There is no problem about measuring time; this is utter nonsense.
The hon. Gentleman takes me back to our debate on the railways. It might be helpful to certain Members to know that the railways are the reason we have a unified time zone across the United Kingdom. Up until the Victorian era, which certain
Members clearly wish to drag us back to, there were different time zones in the west country, for example, from those in East Anglia. That was a ludicrous way to run a transport system, and that is why this is a mad idea from a fairly mad individual.
The other logistical issue touches on the point made earlier about Barnsley. In a general election, there could not be any exit polls or opening of ballot boxes until every area’s voting had closed at 10 o’clock. The people of Scotland would have voted from 7 am until 10 pm, according to their time, but in England it would have taken place from 6 am until 9 pm, so we would have to wait another hour before the opening of the ballot boxes, which brings us back to the debate about telling on the following day.
That goes to the heart of the fact that this is a nonsensical argument from a party that is trying to get independence. All SNP Members’ arguments about other countries arise from the fact that they cannot win the debate at the ballot box. They are going to be beaten in May harder than certain people were beaten in Barnsley last month, and this is another of their back-door efforts that should be rejected out of hand.
I will start with a question. If the new clause is passed and Mr MacNeil goes to the other place, will that make him a time Lord? I hope that he presses the matter to a vote, because I can think of nothing that characterises the SNP more than this proposal for separate time zones.
As far as I can see, there are only two ways in which this new clause can operate. If the United Kingdom Parliament decides to change the time, it would give the Scottish Parliament the opportunity not to do so, in which case there would be separate time zones. Alternatively, the Scottish Parliament could decide to change the time on its own without the United Kingdom Parliament doing so, in which case there would be separate time zones. I see no logic for giving this power to the Scottish Parliament, except if one wants separate time zones. It is ludicrous.
The comments of Sir Alan Beith are key in this argument. The new clause would make it much more likely that this Parliament, with an overwhelming majority of English Members, would vote for what suited it and leave the Scots to either follow or not. That would undermine the position of Scottish MPs in representing their constituents’ interests in this place. The proposal is absolutely and utterly absurd.
We must also take into account what I consider to be the al-Megrahi argument. Part of the reason for the release of al-Megrahi was simply to show that the Scottish Parliament could do it. It had a power and wanted to show that it could use it, so it did. Giving the
Scottish Parliament the power to change the clocks would present it with a strong temptation to do it just to show that it could, and to drive as big a wedge as possible between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a very real danger.
We should consider what sort of time difference the SNP would want. I think that it would probably go for something like—
Perhaps it would be a century, but I think that it would be just under an hour and a quarter. In that way, when it was noon by Greenwich mean time, it would be about 13.14 in Scotland. Scotland would constantly be on Bannockburn time. I think that the concept of Bannockburn time is what the nationalists are after: “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us. A lot of them are deid now right enough, but we do actually remember them.” This proposal is simply about seeking division for its own sake.
Iain Stewart was very helpful in reminding us that schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 covers more matters than just time. It also covers the calendar. I am sure that the idea of a public holiday on Alex Salmond’s birthday will be a recommendation from the SNP. We have had the Julian calendar and a variety of different calendars. A nationalist calendar is the logical consequence. Why should an independent country be stuck with the same calendar as England? There are logical arguments for that, but the SNP is not the party of logical arguments; it is the party of passion, of Bannockburn and of “Here’s tae us, let’s be separate.”
I think that there is a real difficulty in all of this. I very much hope that the SNP does not chicken out here. I hope that it puts the new clause to the vote so that we can see just how ludicrous its proposals are, and the extent to which it is treating the Scotland Bill as nothing more than a joke. We are trying to improve the governance of Scotland; the SNP is trying to create divisions. The proposal to have separate time zones is absurd.
I am starting to be very concerned about the extent to which I agree with Mr Davidson. Indeed, the hon. Member for the Western Isles has done something remarkable this evening—he has led me to agree 100% with Mr Brown, which is a very rare occurrence. I could not have put it better—the new clause is sheer lunacy, and Members on both sides of the Chamber have set out why.
It is important to reflect on the findings of the Calman commission, which highlighted the importance of cross-border institutions and functions of the UK Government that bind the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK in a “social union”. It stated its view that a consistent British isles time zone was an important aspect of that. Of course, the SNP wants to destroy that social union. As has been said in the debate, having two separate time zones in the UK is one way in which it would seek to do so.
I think it was Mark Lazarowicz who pointed out the contradiction in the position of the hon. Member for
Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who has spoken passionately against any proposal to change the time, but who has now tabled a new clause that makes the change that he says he opposes much more likely.
From the outset, this Government have said that they would not consider adopting single/double summertime, central European time or any variation on them without the agreement of all nations of the UK. The Prime Minister has been unequivocal in stating that having different times operating concurrently in the UK is not an option. On Second Reading of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend Mr Davey, made clear the Government’s opposition to the Bill. Additionally, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles will be aware, at the time of the publication of the UK Government’s tourism strategy on
Were the new clause to be accepted, Scotland would have the power to determine its own time zone. As the hon. Member for Glasgow South West pointed out, that would give the Scottish Parliament the capacity to make a change just for the sake of being different. The contribution to the debate that I thought was most illustrative was the one from Northern Ireland, from Sammy Wilson. He indicated that although the power in question was available there, nobody would wish to use it. That brings us back to the dogma of the SNP in making proposals, as I have said before, either because it sees them as a way of breaking up the UK or simply for the sake of having power.
If Scotland were to have a different time zone from the rest of the home nations, daily transactions between Scotland and the rest of the British Isles would take on an unwanted added complexity. Importantly, it could put Scotland at an economic disadvantage. It could certainly disadvantage my constituents, and those of the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway and the Secretary of State for Scotland, which should not be countenanced.
The new clause would be detrimental to the Union between the people of Scotland and those of the rest of the UK, which is clearly why it was tabled. It runs contrary to the spirit and effect of the Bill and the views of the Calman commission, which put at the heart of its work the retention of the United Kingdom. Anyone who has a commitment to retaining the UK should oppose the new clause.
The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South and I agree on many things, and have together worked to fight off the forces of darkness who are trying to force central European time on us—they call it Churchill time, but we call it Chamberlain time, because it is definitely appeasement. He can rest assured that the date of Easter will remain the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox, which perhaps brings me neatly to Mr Davidson. He is not keen on Bannockburn time, but I wondered whether he was working on moon time given some of his interventions and suggestions.
I am calling not for the time zone to change, but for the power to ameliorate if London makes a change. We in Scotland want to keep the time as it is. The danger is that London will foist something on Scotland that we do not want. The new clause is about giving the power to Scotland.
That is very useful, but we do not know how long the Government will stand. How long will the Liberals and Tories remain in this embrace? We know that one Government do not bind another, and certainly that one Parliament does not bind another. This Government will probably not even bind themselves for much longer, but who knows? We want to give Scotland the power that Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man have.
Fiona O'Donnell has moved from what might once have been called rapacious socialism to a great concern for Microsoft—with not so much concern for the darkness of her constituents. Could Microsoft cope with the new clause? Yes, I think it could.
Mr Brown seemed to be happy for the time difference to be foisted upon us and for us not to have a say. Many countries throughout the European continent—there are about 50—including small countries, have such a power. They choose to work together, but they feel that it is better to have the club in their bag. They find stability in that. There is instability here because Members from the south of England are ganging up and, because of amnesia of the last 30 or 40 years, changing the time zone on us.
I have a note here on Thomas Docherty—it says simply that I am disappointed in him. It is more likely that we would have different time zones in Europe if different countries did not have such a power. People tend to work together, but we should ensure that everybody has the same thing to take to the table. If we do not give Scotland this power, and if the time zone changes and we want to keep it as it is, the guilty will be all around us.
On a point of order, Mr Evans. Has it been established that all Members were aware of the time at which the vote was held? I understand that two of the nationalists will be here in about an hour and a quarter.