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Moved by Lord Whitty
That this House takes note of the Report from the European Union Committee on the Commission Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC (COM(2018)639, Council Document 12118/18) (22nd Report, HL Paper 200).
My Lords, I shall speak to both Motions in my name at the same time. In some ways, this is a slightly esoteric Motion, but the subject matter concerns every single citizen. I thank the members of my sub-committee and the Select Committee for their help in producing this draft reasoned opinion and presenting it to the House tonight.
It is important to recognise that the decision this evening relates to the issue of subsidiarity and whether this House wishes to submit a reasoned opinion. It is not on the subject matter itself. The subject of the report is obviously the Commission’s proposal to replace the obligation to apply seasonal changes of time—to turn the clocks back or forward—with an obligation to discontinue this practice. We have probably all heard over the years different views on whether that would be a sensible thing or not for different groups in different parts of the country. This House has debated the issue several times over the years. But the issue tonight is whether we consider that the Commission’s proposal is in order in terms of subsidiarity and in terms of the persuasiveness of the assessment that the Commission has made on single market grounds.
The timing of this proposal is important. It would see the end of changing the clocks. Member states would retain the discretion to choose which time zone they operated in, but there would be no seasonal clock changes. Effectively, member states would be required to opt for permanent winter time or permanent summer time—presented to the people, there is no choice between those, but in effect that is what it means. The Commission’s intention is that this would come into force in April next year. That means in the proposed transition period, which, if the UK and the EU reach a deal, means that it would clearly apply to the UK. Even without a deal, the proposal could have significant implications, particularly for the island of Ireland.
I come to the proposed reasoned opinion. Since the coming into force of the treaty of Lisbon, national parliaments have a formal role in the scrutiny of EU legislative proposals, notably through examining compliance with the principles of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is defined in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union like this:
“the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.”
National parliaments then have eight weeks from the transmission of a proposal to issue a reasoned opinion. Each parliamentary chamber has the ability to do so. If the vote is agreed by more than one-third of all the votes allocated to national parliaments, the Commission is obliged to review its proposals. That is the so-called yellow card procedure.
The decision to send a reasoned opinion must be agreed by the whole House. That is a rare proposition. The last time that the House agreed to send a reasoned opinion was in January 2016 on a proposal on reforming EU electoral law. The House of Commons is clearly also considering this proposal. The appropriate committee has not yet reached its conclusion but will do shortly and, if it is agreed, the Motion will be put to the whole House.
I emphasise that the report and hence the decision are on the question only of subsidiarity and not of policy. The policy of summer time arrangements has been the subject of many domestic and parliamentary debates. Noble Lords may well have received even in the last few days representations from safety organisations and representatives of the agricultural and construction sectors. But because of the importance of this, our Select Committee has treated the question of subsidiarity as a preliminary matter. If this proceeds further, there may be a point for the sub-committee to consider the objective benefits or otherwise of the detailed policy, but the yellow card procedure, checking that the Commission has observed the principle of subsidiarity, is a very important first step.
The proposal’s subsidiarity statement, which is the first of the three main points, is that under Protocol 2 annexed to the treaties, draft legislation,
“should contain a detailed statement making it possible to appraise compliance with the principles of subsidiarity”.
The Commission’s proposal, in our opinion, does not meet that obligation. The subsidiarity statement is very limited and cites “increased questioning” of the current arrangements, although there is not much evidence of that, but we note that this mainly seems to arise because of an opinion poll conducted across the EU. The vast majority of responses came from three countries—indeed, 70% of the responses came from Germany, where for some reason it has been a live issue for debate in recent months. The proposal also referred to various studies and reports on the application of summer time arrangements, but none of those cited reports ended up recommending abandoning the current system.
The second issue is that Protocol 2 requires the Commission’s consultations to,
“take into account the regional and local dimension of the action envisaged”.
In the case of this proposal, the impact of losing summer time arrangements varies considerably between and within member states due to the interplay between longitude, latitude and time zones in determining daylight hours. That is particularly important for the UK, where it is well known that the benefits and drawbacks of permanent summer time or permanent winter time would significantly differ between the northern and southern parts of our kingdom.
The potential implications for the UK are exacerbated by the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland under which the setting of the time is a devolved matter, which is not the case for Scotland and Wales. Indeed, we note that in a no-deal scenario, if Great Britain as a whole decided to maintain summer time arrangements, Northern Ireland would separately have to choose between having a one-hour time differential for half the year either with the Republic of Ireland or with Great Britain.
My last point concerns the internal market objective. The Commission’s proposal points to the importance of harmonised summer time arrangements for the functioning of the internal market under Article 114. However, harmonisation is already provided for under the current arrangements. Very sensibly, a few years ago, the Commission proposed and it was adopted that where we switched time, the date of switching had to be co-ordinated for the same day, which is of great benefit to the transport sector and for those of us who, for a few weeks of the year, were completely confused as to what the difference either side of the channel was going to be. That was a sensible calling into question of the previous arrangements under internal market arrangements. But the Commission has not adequately explored in this context an additional option, which is the possibility of allowing member states to choose whether or not to observe seasonal clock changes, but requiring co-ordination for the date for those that do so.
Towards the end of the preparation of this report, we received an Explanatory Memorandum on the proposal from the Government. I understand that the Minister concerned is Sam Gyimah, a colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. The committee was familiar with Sam Gyimah because we recently received a useful contribution from him in relation to the Galileo project. He is obviously a busy chap, as he is responsible for time as well as space. His Explanatory Memorandum agreed that the harmonisation was already provided for under the current arrangements, and that the Commission had not demonstrated how its proposals would enhance that. Therefore, the Government are broadly on the same side as us on this. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, will explain their position later. They also highlighted that the proposal would require a huge exercise to assess how a permanent switch to summer time or winter time would affect all sectors and regions of the UK’s economy. Given the timescale of this coming into effect, there would be very little time for that to be carried out.
For those reasons, the report concludes that the Commission’s proposal to discontinue seasonal changes of time does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity and does not sufficiently make the case under internal market rules. Considering that geographical and other factors come into play for the UK in particular, that leads us to the conclusion that the member states are best placed to determine whether seasonal changes remain appropriate within their jurisdiction. On this occasion, we conclude that the Commission has failed to observe the principles of subsidiarity and has exceeded its powers. I therefore beg to move.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the staff and clerks of this House for drawing up this reasoned opinion, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for chairing the sub-committee so well and presenting this reasoned opinion to the House.
I do not intend to use this debate to promote the merits of retaining or abolishing daylight saving time. The House of Lords has debated this matter on several occasions and come to its conclusions. It is quite clear that there are different opinions across the United Kingdom. However, the principle of whether abolition should be within the competence of the European Union is at the heart of the matter for debate and decision here today.
As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, says, this reasoned opinion debate opportunity presents itself to the UK as we are currently full members of the European Union. If the timetable for the European Union legislation implementation, as outlined in the draft directive, is followed, then the proposed European law would come into effect in March or April of next year, meaning that the UK—should we leave the EU with a deal—would be obliged to implement it during the transition period. If we fail to change this legislation at this point, and if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, then the potential for time differences between the UK and Ireland, and thereby also across the Northern Ireland border, would vary for six months of the year.
The European Union believes that it has competence to bring forward this proposal to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. This debate and decision—because this House has one vote in the European Union, as does the House of Commons—if given appropriately, could mean that the European Union would have to change its mind if sufficient numbers of parliaments across the European Union agree. The purpose of this debate is, first, for Parliament, and the House of Lords, to assert that matters regarding major time changes should be left to member states; and secondly, to pass the reasoned opinion, then build agreement with other member state parliaments so that a yellow or red flag can be raised, causing the Commission to think again.
The principle of subsidiarity serves to regulate the exercise of the Union’s non-exclusive powers. It rules out Union intervention when an issue can be dealt with effectively by member states at central, regional or local level, and means that the Union is justified in exercising its powers when member states are unable to achieve the objectives of a proposed action satisfactorily, and added value can be provided if the action is carried out at Union level.
Under Article 5(3) of the European Union treaty, there are three preconditions for intervention by Union institutions in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. First, the area concerned does not fall within the Union’s exclusive competence; that is called non-exclusive competence. Secondly, the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states; that is necessity. Thirdly, the action can therefore, by reason of its scale or effects, be implemented more successfully by the Union; that is added value. It is on the second of these preconditions—necessity—that the case is being made to Parliament today.
First of all, I want to deal with the counterargument that might be put to us by the European Union: that the United Kingdom agreed to synchronise daylight saving changes across the European Union under a European Union directive, and therefore, they would maintain, the competence required by the European Union has already been demonstrated.
Apart from the legal base of this legislation over the 2000 directive, here I must turn to the principle of proportionality: that actions must be limited to what is necessary to achieve the objectives set. Unfortunately, the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum is woefully thin on this matter. It is quite thin gruel, because it places the principle of proportionality under the heading “subsidiarity”, which is of course a separate principle. However, putting the Explanatory Memorandum aside for a moment, the argument from the European Commission is that it is safeguarding the proper functioning of the internal market in respect of time arrangements through harmonisation. But we already have harmonisation of time: our clocks move to and from daylight saving time at the same time as those of other member states. The Commission fails to adequately explain why the abolition of daylight saving time would bring proportionate benefits to the internal market beyond the harmonisation we currently have.
As well as that, a change from daylight saving time harmonisation to abolition altogether is a major change to the arrangements in this country, and indeed in other member states which operate daylight saving time alterations twice a year. Put simply, moving the date at which we altered our clocks to a common date meant we shifted our clocks a week or so differently than we had been used to. Something we already did every year was subsequently done on a uniform date: a relatively minor change with little meaningful negative impact. However, abolition altogether would mean a different time for six months of the year, which I maintain is a major change to our arrangements. I believe that this House can justifiably argue that the change proposed breaches both the subsidiarity principle and the proportionality principle under which the European Union operates.
I turn now to the evidence which the Commission has provided. It cites as evidence of the need for change an assessment paper on the impact of the 2000 directive harmonising the dates for daylight saving time for the European Parliament, and a paper outlining the results of a public consultation. I will take each of these in turn.
The assessment paper helpfully points out that,
“EU legislation did not introduce summer time in the EU, but instead harmonised existing national legislation”.
That is a very important point, because that argument again strengthens the case for subsidiarity. The document further states:
“No EU government has called for a change to the current DST provisions”.
This is another argument which poses no question about the necessity for intervening with member state governments.
The paper makes further conclusions which are relevant to this debate. First, it concludes:
“DST benefits the internal market, leisure activities and generates marginal energy savings”.
Secondly, it says that,
“the impact of DST on various other sectors … remains inconclusive”,
and, in terms of health, the evidence is mixed, with some good and some poorer effects. Obviously, if you change the arrangements, there will still be some good and some poor effects. Taking these factors together, the current system has not given rise to significant complaints, either economic or social.
The public consultation seems to be one of those surveys where the questions asked—and to whom they were asked—give rise for concern. There were 4.5 million respondents, of whom 3.1 million came from Germany. The next biggest responding country was France with 393,000 respondents—about one-eighth the size of the German sample. Given the small numbers from other large member states, including the United Kingdom, it seems obvious to me that two factors were at play. First, clearly an effort was made in Germany to achieve a high response, through whatever methods, which was not emulated elsewhere. My second conclusion is that the relatively low numbers for the majority of member states indicates that those with concerns were more likely to respond than those who were happy with the status quo. I hesitate to mention one of the five questions that was put. I ask myself, what is the obvious answer to the question, “Would you prefer permanent summer time or permanent winter time”? Answers on a piece of paper.
The reasoned opinion drawn up by this House illustrates these matters well and explains the case for powers over time changes remaining with member states. Here and in the European Union, we are well organised on the current daylight saving time arrangement. The clocks go forwards and back at a time we all know; the airlines have their schedules ready and use them accordingly. The status quo is working. My plea to the Government is to assist in getting the support of other Parliaments to provide reasoned opinions as well. I request the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to understand what steps this House will take, having passed this reasoned opinion, to promote it to other Parliaments in the short timescale left. I support both Motions before us.
My Lords, I support entirely the contents of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord German. I ask myself, where did this all come from? I do not know where the issue was initiated. I did not even know about it until I saw it on the Order Paper; it had not reached the EU sub-committee I serve on and I did not see any reference to it in the media. It looks like the kind of diktat that really puts people off the EU.
I am an avowed remainer; I will vote remain whatever the deal. I do not care; I will not vote differently. When David Cameron went to negotiate, I said, “Whatever he brings back, I will vote remain”. That is it. It gets up my nose that somebody somewhere in Brussels had this little idea and rigged a consultation of sorts, quite clearly. It beggars belief that 70% of the responses came from one country. I find that amazing. It does not make sense. It is a one-size-fits-all argument, typical of Brussels to the core. There was no real consultation. In any case, there is no time for a genuine consultation on this major change because after this weekend, that is effectively it. This is what the EU is after. The change will come into force in April next year. It is also the time of the Euro elections. Where has all this come from? Why the rush? I do not understand.
I have read the select committee report a couple of times. The reasons for the change are entirely spurious. I do not accept either the proportionality argument or the argument for the internal market, given what I know about the EU. Obviously, we are talking about the report. I must make it clear that I support the move to permanent summer time in principle. I have no argument with that. There is overwhelming evidence for it: energy savings, fewer accidents, less crime, more leisure and sports and more tourism. Even the NFU in Scotland supports it, although the NFU for England and Wales is neutral. Techniques and everything else have changed since it was done earlier.
I will not go into the details but there is overwhelming evidence that it would be advantageous. In fact, RoSPA put the case for not just one, but two, extra hours, as well as for trialling it. I know that there was a trial back in the 1960s; I vaguely remember it. However, this diktat comes along with virtually no warning, no general support across the EU for it, no debate about it—certainly not in this country—and all of a sudden, we are expected to go along with it. I simply cannot accept that the EU is dictating for all the wrong reasons. That is what the report is about. I support the committee and the recent amendment. As I say, in any event, we should be allowed to trial this on a time basis. There was a two-year trial, I think, in the 1960s; I would probably trial this for five years.
Above all else, this is a matter for member states, not the EU Commission. I want the UK to remain a member state but supporting the EU when it comes along with issues such as this really gets up my nose. I support the committee.
My Lords, I am grateful that the debate is sufficiently late in the evening for it not to have provoked a long list of people wanting to debate the issue of summer time and winter time changes rather than the specific report.
As a member of the committee, I confess that I had some doubts about the decision to produce this report on a reasoned opinion. I rather felt that, notwithstanding the forceful remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the issue of subsidiarity had been effectively established. After all, years ago we accepted the EU’s right to instruct us, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, to synchronise our dates for moving to and from summer time. If we think that the EU can tell us when to do that, what is different about its right to tell us to make a decision about which time zone we want to be in and to stick to it for the whole of the year? Effectively, the EU established its power and influence on this in past years. Maybe the Minister can reflect on that in his response.
However, I share the concerns that this is not the time to do this. In particular, I have very serious concerns that the lead-in period to this change is very short—unrealistically short—because there will be practical issues. There are transport timetables that have already been sorted out for the next year, for example. Then there is the technology of all the systems in our homes that are set and timed to change twice a year. I assume that will all need adjustment in due course if this change were to be introduced. When I was young, when summer time and winter time came in you went and solemnly changed the hour on the clock. Then we went through this nightmare scenario where you had to read an instruction book of about 100 pages first so you could work out how to change the hour on your digital clock or heating system or whatever it was. Now, thank goodness, we have gone through to a phase where these changes happen automatically, but I assume that someone has to tell them to do that automatically, and that they are set to do it in a particular way. If we are going to change the way we do things, there needs to be a substantial lead-in time so that technological solutions can be found.
There is justifiable criticism of the response to the consultation by the EU. It is worth saying that this was the largest ever response to any EU consultation, so I do not think you can criticise the numbers. What you can criticise is the lack of balance in the number of respondees. Germany responded enthusiastically because there was a lively public debate on this, but its interests on this are very different from those in the very north of the EU and particularly different from those in the very south. Therefore, it is important that every country has a number of respondees to represent the interests of that concern from their country.
Although I think synchronisation with the rest of the EU is desirable in many ways, there is, at the very least, an important issue about delaying it for a proper and lively debate, so that this is something Europe looks to in maybe three, four or five years’ time rather than within the next calendar year.
I reflect on the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord German about Ireland. The problems on the Irish border—if this goes ahead and we are not members of the European Union—will be compounded by being in a different time zone from the rest of the EU for part of the year.
The evidence from across the world demonstrates that the impact of time differences on the ability to trade effectively is considerable and that is what the EU was aiming at: to improve trade circumstances. If we could trade as easily with the USA and Australia as we can with the EU, then, clearly, we would have a much higher proportion of our trade with those two countries, but the time zones make a big difference. There is an issue of common sense here. Why have Turkey, Norway and Switzerland—three countries that are not members of the EU—aligned themselves with the EU in changing their time from winter time to summer time on the same dates? They have done it because it suits business and, I dare say, we would continue to do the same thing in future, so it makes sense to simplify our time zones and reduce our differences with our trading neighbours.
However, what we are doing to ourselves over Brexit is equivalent to putting ourselves on the other side of the world in terms of time. Pragmatically, and in reality, we need to concentrate on the issues that are of most concern to us at this time and we do not need to be distracted by this particular concern.
I am prepared to accept that we should not sign up to this initiative, at least not at this time and without better preparation. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, ring true with me that this is not the time to do this. The issue of summer time, winter time and those changes is hugely divisive across the country, between the north of Scotland and southern England. At this moment, our country is bitterly divided on Brexit, and the last thing we need to do is add to those divisions by messing around with the clocks.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitty for his introduction to the EU Committee’s report on discontinuing seasonal changes of time and for introducing this Motion on the same subject. Tonight is my first time at the Dispatch Box.
EU legislation on summer time arrangements was first introduced in 1980 with the objective of unifying existing national summer time practices and schedules, thereby ensuring a harmonised approach to the time switch within the single market. On this side, we recognise that some benefits could be obtained from the removal of member states’ seasonal time changes, although, in reading the European Commission’s directive, I am far from convinced by how great those benefits would be.
More importantly, we believe that member states should always be central to determining whether seasonal time changes remain appropriate in their own territories. As my noble friend Lord Whitty’s committee has demonstrated, ending seasonal changes of time does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, touched on this, citing the earlier change in alignment of when the clocks were changed. I suggest that the changes proposed are fundamentally different and would have a larger effect on more parts of the United Kingdom, so the subsidiarity issue is relevant.
Within the UK, we must always consider the strength of feeling across each of the home nations, despite the issue being reserved to Westminster for Scotland and Wales. Furthermore, we must be conscious that there are no equivalent reservations or expectations for Northern Ireland. Are we really considering, as touched on earlier, the possibility of Northern Ireland being out of alignment with the rest of the United Kingdom and/or the Republic of Ireland for six months of the year? Further consultation is clearly needed across the board on whether discontinuing seasonal changes of time is the right route for the United Kingdom.
One further concern lies in the fact that this proposed EU directive appears not to have considered all the possible scenarios and options. Does the Minister agree that other possible changes should be explored before any final decision is made?
In a similar vein, the report talks about various studies on how the use of summer time arrangements works, yet none of those reports mentioned in the proposal says that we should abandon the current system of seasonal changes of time. In looking at the detail of the proposed changes, in particular considering the interplay between longitude, latitude and time zones on determining daylight hours, we are very concerned to note that a move to a permanent winter time or a permanent summer time would have differing ramifications for different parts of the UK.
Having to choose between a permanent summer time or a permanent winter time has both benefits and drawbacks depending on whether we are talking about the south-west of England or the north-east of Scotland, Orkney or Shetland. If the UK chooses a permanent summer time, it would mean lighter evenings; however, in Scotland, where there are shorter winter days, children and adults would have to travel to school and to work in the dark. Having longer, lighter mornings has been supported by many morning workers, including postal workers, the construction industry and farmers. Can the Minister point me to any recent research about the various options which may be considered? Do the Government agree that any changes under consideration should be preceded by a consultation with each nation and region of the United Kingdom?
The Government’s Explanatory Memorandum highlights that public consultation and an assessment would be required on how a switch of time zones could affect all sectors of the UK economy. Will the Minister give the House an assurance today that the Government will give consideration to the strength of feeling of those workers and industries which would be most impacted by any change?
As my noble friend Lord Rooker touched on earlier, RoSPA has taken the argument a stage further and asked whether we could adopt a “Single/Double British Summertime”, or SDST. SDST would mean that we adopt GMT plus one during the winter months and GMT plus two over the summer period. This, RoSPA argues, would allow lighter evenings all year round, and would result in fewer people being killed and injured in road accidents. Unfortunately, we currently see an increase in the number of pedestrian deaths due to darker evenings in winter months. Do the Government agree that more time is needed for the UK to decide what the best option is?
Finally, do the Government also accept the powerful arguments made by our EU Committee that it would be better if the EU gave more weight to the principle of subsidiarity and ensured that member states were able to decide seasonal time changes within their own territories?
My Lords, I take this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for a second time to the Dispatch Box, because it will be a rare moment for him to take part in a debate where there is quite such a degree of unanimity—in this House—on EU matters. I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, put it, that we get unanimity in another place in due course, and that that will strengthen the Government’s hand. For the benefit of the Chamber, I will set out the Government’s position in due course.
The final questions from the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, are important and need to be addressed at some point in the future, but they are not a matter for this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I have my views, he has his views, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has her views—we all have our views, and at some point they will have to be discussed and the benefits argued in relation to accidents, energy and a range of other issues. It is very important that we in this country do it, because, as the noble Lord made clear—I know where he is from—there are different views in the north of England and in Scotland. It affects Northern Ireland in a different way. On top of that, there are the complications that arise because this is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland but a reserved issue in Scotland or Wales.
There is a host of complications. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, this is not the moment to discuss them. Just as a diversion, however, I remind her of her former noble friend Lord Tanlaw, who, I think, was also my noble friend for a while, and a noble friend of the Cross Benches for a time. He had very strong views on the subject of clocks and timing, and on a very regular basis brought them before this House. That is not a matter for today.
I start by saying a few words about the backdrop to the proposals before setting out the Government’s views and what we wish to do. We have been aware for some time that several member states in the eastern part of the EU have been lobbying for the abolition of daylight saving. It was reported just over a year ago that Poland was planning to scrap daylight saving unilaterally, but in the end that did not happen. In response to lobbying from those member states and the European Parliament, however, the Commission agreed to review the summer time directive. That review included a public consultation, which took place in July and August this year.
The noble Lord, Lord German, spoke about that consultation and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made other comments in more robust and Rooker-esque words—I think he said that he felt it had possibly been rigged. But as the noble Lord, Lord German, made clear, there were some 4 million responses, with some 84% favouring the abolition of daylight saving, but they were disproportionately from Germany and one or two other countries. We felt that the high number of responses was partly due to two citizens’ campaigns, which encouraged people to vote to abolish daylight saving. Following this, President Juncker moved quickly to confirm that the Commission would bring forward proposals regarding the summer time directive. Those were announced on
I turn, as the Commission did, to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord German, felt that we had confused or muddled the two together in our Explanatory Memorandum. In areas of shared competence such as that which we are discussing, the European Union can bring forward proposals but must do so within the constraints established in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union. These are that the European Union may act,
“only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States”,
“the content and form of Union action shall not exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties”.
European Union action in this context must be both necessary and add value in such a way that it would not be better achieved by the member states.
The Government do not doubt the European Union’s competence to bring forward proposals on this subject. Indeed, the European Union has been regulating this area via multiple directives since it first introduced legislation on summer time arrangements in 1980. However, the proposal we are discussing differs from its predecessors in a crucial way: while the others sought to advance the harmonisation of time in line with the objectives of the treaties, this new proposal starts from an existing position of harmonisation. In this context, any proposal seeking to change the current arrangements should be supported by evidence that clearly demonstrates the benefits for the Union, member states and their citizens. We believe that the Commission’s proposals fall short on this point.
The Commission states in its own proposals that the current body of evidence is inconclusive on energy saving, overall health impacts and implications for road safety, and that technological advances in agriculture have largely offset the disruptive effect of biannual time changes. Providing a reasonable timeframe for member states to carry out a proper consultation and impact assessment would have gone some way to remedy this lack of evidence. Yet under the current proposal, member states are expected to have concluded this work and all the necessary domestic measures required to implement the directive by
On these points, the Government share the concerns of the committee. The European Commission has not presented a compelling case for the need to legislate on this subject matter to further advance the objectives of the treaties. The Commission affirms that the proposal “does not go beyond” what is,
“necessary to achieve the objective of continuing to safeguard the proper functioning of the internal market as regards time arrangements”.
Yet the existing directive already ensures harmonisation of time across the Union and the Commission does not demonstrate how the proposal under discussion would enhance that.
The Government recognise the benefits of harmonised time arrangements with our neighbours, which the evidence supports. But when we take those as our starting point, we should be cautious about initiating change in the absence of scrutiny and analysis proportionate to its potential impact. Again, I make it clear that the Government fully support what the committee has said. I am grateful for its work on this and I hope that the noble Lord will move his second Motion.
My advice is that another place will consider this matter shortly. I hope at that moment my honourable friend—referred to by the noble Lord as the Minister for time and space—will be able to respond in a similar manner.
I give an assurance that we will continue to work with other member states. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made clear, the views of other member states and other member state parliaments are crucial. In fact, I will be travelling to Austria for a meeting of one part of the Council in the next week to make this point as vigorously as I can. Possibly I will not be allowed even as long as eight minutes to speak, knowing the constraints of how Councils tend to operate. But we will be trying to persuade other member states to see the light on this and I hope we will be able to persuade the Commission to see daylight on this.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his support for the committee’s position. We have a high degree of unanimity in this Chamber. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I was very pleased to be present at my noble friend Lord McNicol’s appearance at the Dispatch Box. He seems as if he is going to do a decent job. He once took a job that I once had, and he was quite good at that too.
I hear what my noble friend Lord Rooker said that, effectively, this is the sort of proposition that gets the Commission a bad name. I agree with him that despite what we might individually think about the substance of this, this is not an appropriate way of proceeding.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—who are both members of the committee—for their support on this and, indeed, in the discussion that we had on the committee. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for underlining the proportionality argument, which perhaps in retrospect I did not emphasise enough. That is an important dimension and probably answers some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. While this may potentially be within the remit of the Commission, subsidiarity requires that you adopt a proportionate approach and decide that this cannot best be pursued within the individual member states.
The noble Lord, Lord German, asked how we will pursue this with other parliaments. The timescale is short, but I assure him and the House that the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, the chair of the main committee, and I will try to ensure that our parliamentary contacts are aware of the importance of this issue to the United Kingdom and the difficulty of proceeding at the kind of pace that the Commission proposes, without trial and without notice. I hope we will get a response from our parliamentary colleagues. The Minister has indicated that he will pursue it with his ministerial colleagues in the other member states. I hope this is an occasion on which unanimity will be broader than within this House and another place and will actually prevail.
It is, of course, an historic occasion in that this could be the last reasoned opinion that this Parliament puts into the legislative process before Brexit. I congratulate all noble Lords present tonight for contributing to what I hope will be a significant intervention by Parliament, indicating that national parliaments do, indeed, have an influence on the way in which Europe operates. Having said that, my thanks again to them and to the staff who have helped produce this report.