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British Summer Time

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 25 May 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will further consider the practice of changing the clocks between British Summer Time and Greenwich Mean Time.

My Lords, we have been changing the clocks between British Summer Time and Greenwich Mean Time for a century in order to benefit from lighter evenings. The dates on which we do so are now fixed by the European Community directive on summer time, so there is no scope for change.

I sort of thank my noble friend for that, but is she aware that no relevant organisations now support the turning back of the clocks in the autumn? In other words, they all favour more daylight time, with the possible exception of the Government of Scotland.

Yes, I am of course aware that many organisations throughout the country would like to see a change. However, other industries—the construction industry et cetera—really do not. I am sympathetic to many of the arguments but, as the Prime Minister has made clear, we can make a change only if there is consensus throughout the United Kingdom, which, of course, includes Scotland.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. In our tourism debate on 27 January, a number of us argued in support of the Lighter Later campaign to extend the useful hours of daylight. The Minister replied:

“We are all agreed that the issue deserves more discussion. My right honourable friend the Minister for Employment Relations made the offer during the Private Member’s Bill currently going through the other place to publish a review of the evidence and to start a dialogue with the devolved Administrations, because there appears to be a growing body of opinion about daylight saving”.—[Official Report, 27 January 2011; col. 1150.]

Will my noble friend please report on the progress of these discussions?

My noble friend asks an important question and I can answer it, so that is very good. We know about the Private Member’s Bill that is going through at the moment and we know about the Lighter Later campaign, which suggests that there may be great benefits for a move to Central European Time. However, much of the evidence points both ways when you start looking at it. In the end, it comes down to whether you like lighter evenings in summer more than you dislike dark mornings in winter. We cannot support the Bill that is going through as it is presently formed, but we will take back any suggestions that are made today. We are constantly looking at this, because it affects the whole of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I am a bit puzzled by the Minister’s first Answer. Is she saying that we could not adjust our time to that of the bulk of western Europe without permission from Brussels? Surely we could do that of our own volition.

On changing the date, the EC ninth directive on summer time harmonised for an indefinite period the dates on which summer time begins and ends across the united Union, in order to make sure that everyone is certain when the start and end dates occur and to avoid obvious risk of confusion, especially for cross-border trade and travel. As the directive is enforced across the EU, it would not be possible for the United Kingdom to change the dates.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Northern Ireland Assembly has been granted bold powers to select a timescale relative to its geographical co-ordinates and the will of its electorate and without reference to Westminster, whereas the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales do not have these powers? Will the noble Baroness rectify this apparent anomaly by amending the forthcoming Scotland Bill accordingly? Alternatively, will the coalition Government accept my Private Member’s Bill, the Devolution (Time) Bill, which allows both Scotland and Wales to choose timescales best suited to their people and their geographical co-ordinates?

The noble Lord has made himself clear on this subject many times in this House, as he is entitled to do. We know that Northern Ireland can make its own decisions, but the Prime Minister is certain that we should make a change only if there is consensus, and we will work very hard towards achieving that. The noble Lord may of course continue to press this matter, but for the moment the answer is no.

Is my noble friend the Minister aware that the People’s Republic of China, large as it is, is able to work successfully with a single time zone throughout the entire country? Is it not quite sensible, therefore, that all our European neighbours—with the exception of Portugal—do the same? Would not joining the Central European Time zone be much the most sensible thing for us to do?

We consult regularly on this. The Central European Time zone, which is the area that we would come into—with France, Germany, Holland and Spain—is one thing, but there are two other zones, which have different times. We are very concerned, as we are a tiny country, not to have too many changes as we cross over borders. That would be far too confusing for business, let alone for everybody else. As far as China is concerned, I do not believe that it is a democracy. People there have this imposed on them and I am not quite sure what the average Chinaman would say if I asked him.

My Lords, will the Minister cast her mind back to the 1960s, when we had a two-year experiment involving a change to British Summer Time, which was voted for overwhelmingly by Parliament? Does she recall that two years later Parliament voted overwhelmingly to go back to the status quo, because the experience was very depressing? Even in rural Somerset, I used to take children to primary school in the dark. Back then, we all walked—I shudder to think of the effect of people rushing to school in the dark in cars. It was a total disaster.

The noble Baroness is quite right. I have a timeline here that expresses exactly what she has just said and I am completely with her on this.

My Lords, may I strongly support the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that the question of time zones should be a devolved matter for Scotland? That would allow England to join the Central European Time zone, which, as has been shown, would lead to fewer deaths and to economic benefit.

My noble friend expresses himself clearly and I can express myself clearly, too. We have no actual evidence for all that and, as the Prime Minister has made very clear, he does not want us to change until there is consensus throughout the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland.