HOUSE OF COMMONS
Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
DRAFT SUMMER TIME ORDER 1989
Tuesday 16 May 1989
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairman: Sir John Stradling Thomas
Boateng, Mr. Paul (Brent, South)
Burt, Mr. Alistair (Bury, North)
Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth (Lincoln)
Evans, Mr. John (St. Helens, North)
George, Mr. Bruce (Walsall, South)
Gilbert, Dr. John (Dudley, East)
Hogg, Mr. Douglas (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Lord, Mr. Michael (Suffolk, Central)
Maclennan, Mr. Robert (Caithness and Sutherland)
Malins, Mr. Humfrey (Croydon, North-West)
Marshall, Mr. John (Hendon, South)
Marshall, Mr. Michael (Arundel)
Mates, Mr. Michael (Hampshire, East)
Neale, Mr. Gerrard (Cornwall, North)
Nicholson, Miss Emma (Torridge and Devon, West)
Randall, Mr. Stuart (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Walker, Mr. Bill (Tayside, North)
Wise, Mrs. Audrey (Preston)
Mr. C. D. Stanton, Committee Clerk2 3 Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments,&c.
[MR. JOHN STRADLING THOMAS in the Chair]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Summer Time Order 1989. In response to popular request, I intend to move this order in less than 30 seconds. The Government hope to publish a consultation document next month. The House discussed the substance of this matter on 1 December last year. The order will extend for a further three years, from 1990 to 1992, the present arrangements for the starting and ending dates of summe time. If hon. Members want to make up their diaries now, I can given them the dates later.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West): I should love the Minister to tell us where the popular request came from, because some aspect of this instrument worry me. I shall be brief, but I believe that some fundamental principles are involved. In particular, I believe that the order is flawed. I am sure, Sir John, that you have the same difficulty as I have with all these EEC documents. There are so many of them. Sometimes they have sections, and one does not know what has overtaken what. Then there is Her Majesty's Government's bit at the back, and one does not quite know what it is all about. Although the Minister has said that the time has been fixed for three years from 1990 to 1992, I am not sure that that is the case. If Conservative Members assume that it is, I question it, as I am not sure that it is. A document which hon. Members will have been able to obtain from the Vote Office—the notes on the fifth directive—suggests that the order might be incorrect, because the EEC might decide that there is to be a change in the summer time arrangements before that. For us to brush the order aside so quickly would be wrong. We must make sure that we understand the possibilities for the British public. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) will agree that the purpose of these Committees is to find out what the position is. Therefore, I shall not allow this matter to be dismissed as quickly as the Minister suggested. I do not know what the reference number of the document is. It is headed "COM(88) 401 7876/88". The "88" must be 1988. This document, which was submitted by the Home Office at the end of September last year, refers to steps to harmonise the ending date of British Summer time as being very unpopular. It goes on in paragraph 2: 4 "The proposed (fifth) Directive is for a continuation of the present arrangements for a further three years"— that is in the order— "and provides for the UK to adopt the continental end date at any time during that period should we so wish." That is not in the order.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: Article 3.3.
Mr. Randall: It is interesting that the Minister has said that, because paragraph 3 of the order says: "In relation to the year 1990, the period of summer time for the purposes of the Act shall be the period beginning at one o'clock, Greenwich mean time, in the morning of 25th March 1990 and ending at one o'clock, Greenwich mean time, in the morning of 28 October 1990 instead of the period specified in section 1 of the Act." That must be it.
Mr. Hogg: No. The hon. Gentleman is looking for the article in the directive that enables the United Kingdom to change the provisions of the order. He will find them in article 3.3.
Mr. Randall: I cannot find article 3.3.
Mr. Hogg: Let me hand it with a nice mark to the hon. Member. I have asterisked the article.
Mr. Randall: That is interesting. I now have a document with a different typescript.
Mr. Hogg: It is the directive.
Mr. Randall: It is dated 4 January 1989. Who has this document? It has not been made available to the Library of the House, nor is it in the Table Office. We seem to have an order that has been obtained from the Table Office. I asked whether there were any explanatory notes; I am baffled. The Minister explained it well. He is now saying that the document that I have now, which was submitted by the Home Office to the European Community—I hope that the Minister knows which document I am talking about—suggests that there could be a change of time within the three-year period. Will the Minister explain, because I am confused, whether it is possible to change the timing arrangements within the three-year period?
Mr. Hogg: Yes, it is. We have the right under article 3.3, as I have twice pointed out, to do that. The directive was before the House on 1 December last year.
Mr. Randall: The information in the order seems badly prepared. Accepting what the Minister said, nothing in the order states that the times could be changed. It is a serious matter to have an order that does not contain that information. Is the document valid? It seems misleading. The Minister is good at explaining, and I appreciate his explanations, but there must be some other legislation that provides the means of invalidating what is written in the document.5
Mr. Hogg: Under the directive, we have the power to vary the terms of the order that is before the Committee. The mechanism for doing so is to lay a fresh order.
Mr. Randall: Again that is perfectly clear. We have an order that we may wish to change; we do so by issuing a new order. How would that come about? It would be as a result of the EEC invoking majority voting through article 100A.
Mr. Hogg: No.
Mr. Randall: The Minister disagrees. Is it not the case that if article 100A was used and the majority of members of the appropriate body in the EEC decided to harmonise the end date of British summer time, that would force the United Kingdom Government to go along with it?
Mr. Hogg: There are two different questions. The first is whether at a future date outside the three years provided in the order a qualified majority could be used against us. The answer to that is yes, although we do not think that it will happen. The second question is whether during the period covered by the directive and order we can be forced to change our summer time arrangements during that lesser three-year term by a majority or by any other means. The answer to that is no.
Mr. Randall: We have established, therefore, that if there was a qualified majority on the EEC which deemed it desirable, the order could be overturned through the voting procedures. The Minister says that that will not happen. Some people say that Labour will not win the next general election. Such things can happen and, being a wise man, Sir John, you will understand that. It is important that hon. Members understand that, as it stands, the order does not say that its provisions could be changed as a result of pressures within the EEC. I can understand that that might not be contained in the order because it makes bad drafting but if that is the case there should have been an explanatory note.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that article 100A relates to a move to improve the internal market? Does he not agree that, just as the United States has a satisfactory internal market within its five different time zones, there is no reason why the United Kingdom should not have a different time zone from other countries within the Community?
Mr. Randall: It is interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman arguing the merit of the case. I am not inclined during this meeting to do that, because, as the Minister rightly points out, it has been debated on the Floor of the House and it would not be productive for the Committee to spend time repeating that. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) is not correct in his understanding of article 100A. He talked about it being about the internal market, but it is part of the treaty, which has 6 been amended. The House of Commons background paper No. 220 says: "The important Article 100A remains, providing for directives to be adopted unanimously". That allows the veto to be applied. Further down it goes on: "But it is supplemented by new Articles 100A and 100B providing for the Council to adopt by qualified majority". The majority voting mechanism is involved, and I challenge the Minister when he says that that is unlikely to happen. As a member of the Government he spends his time flitting off to talk to these people, which I welcome; but we in our national Parliament here are divorced from the EEC. We do not have any insight into those talks and there are pressures, which I shall examine. I cannot understand why we are taking so long. As the Minister has pointed out, there was a review at the end of 1987, and a brief assessment was carried out by the Government. I did not see the terms of reference for that, and I am not sure how long it took and who was involved. Certainly I did not see the outcome—I presume that it was an internal Home Office document. There was then consultation upon the three options—and I shall not debate the merits that started in March of last year and for which submissions had to be received by June. The Minister has suggested that the arrangements will stay the same.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: Three years.
Mr. Randall: Quite rightly so. He said that clearly to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) in a written answer on 8 May when he was asked by that hon. Gentleman: "if he will make a statement spelling out the differences in summer time by comparison with last year in consequence of the Summer Time Order, 1989; if the order stems from a decision of the European Community; and if he will make a statement." The Ministers reply is germane to this debate: "The Summer Time Order 1989 is necessary to set out the dates of the summer time period for the years 1990 to 1992 inclusive. It also gives effect to the Fifth Council Directive on summer time arrangements in the European Community which wass formally adopted by the Council of Ministers in Brussels on 21 December 1988. The effect of the order is to continue the present summer time system for a further three years."—[Official Report, 8 May 1989; Vol. 152, c.283.] The Minister says that it will continue for three years, but we now know that that is not so; the Minister says that it is unlikely—
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman said that before. I thought that I had made the position plain. During the three-year period covered by the order, this House has the capacity to change the arrangements. The European Community does not have a capacity to change our domestic arrangements during the three years covered by this order.
Mr. Randall: The Minister has made it clear that if there was a majority vote in the Council of Ministers, that could not impel the British Government to bring out a new order within that three-year period. I appreciate that. It is impossible, therefore, that if there were a majority vote, it would 7 be introduced one day after the three-year period. There is no way in which that could happen. The Minister says "unlikely", and it was unlikely based upon the decision of Her Majesty's Government. That is the point that he is making. I question that. I understand that there are pressures on the Home Secretary for change because of 1992. I should like the Minister to tell the Committee from where the changes will come. The Minister says that it is unlikely that there will be a change within the three-year period, but I should like him to tell us about the pressures that are now on the Home Secetary to introduce change. As I said earlier, we have the consultation document, but there will be a Green Paper in May, so we have carried out the brief assessment and consultation and now we shall go to a Green Paper. What are the Government about? What will they do on this? I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether it is true that there could be a Summer Time Order in the next Queen's Speech. The Minister said clearly today that it is unlikely that there will be a change of the order within the next three years. A Green Paper precedes a White Paper, and a White Paper usualy precedes legislation. How does the Minister explain his statement that it is extemely unlikely that there will be a change of our summer time arrangements within the three-year period, when we are carrying out this consultation, with a Green Paper in May, and a fair wind behind the chance of having a Summer Time Order in the next Queen's Speech? We need to know that. It is a measure of the pressure on the Home Secretary. There are considerable pressures on the Home Secretary to start making changes to the existing arrangements. Given 1992 and the talks that we are having about that, the Home Secretary might feel compelled to act. Forgive me, Sir John. I was looking for a press cutting—perhaps I have dropped it. Anyway, I have noted from many newspapers that the Home Secretary is under pressure and that there has been a change in public opinion. Will the Minister tell us whether there has been such a change and whether the Government's earlier views have changed, what came out of the reviews carried out and what will be the scope of the Green Paper? Will it talk only about the harmonisation of the end time or go further? For example, will there be an acceptance of the option of summer time in the winter and double summer time in the summer? We should like to know. I seem to recall that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) was present when I spoke on the subject in one of the first debates on the matter in the House. One of the main points made in my speech then was "What about the people of Scotland?" We must be careful not to allow that kind of order to prejudice the interests of the Scottish people. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be speaking on that later and, being a man known to support Scottish interests vociferously, will make those points. What pressures are there? May I also ask the Ministr what the benefits are? It seems to me that we have had pressure on the 8 Minister from outside and have now got 1992. The Policy Studies' Institute has carried out research suggesting that there is a possible saving of 600 or 700 lives by changing the time. I argued that case. But for a politician, it is always difficult to protect the Scottish interest, which we must do, and, at the same time, recognize—assuming that the research is correct—that one can save lives. I shall be interested to hear how the hon. Gentleman, who will be talking about that, will reconcile his interests for the Scottish people to enjoy good quality of life in lovely sunshine with the loss of life or saving of life that could ensue if we moved to one of these other options. I end by saying that I am baffled by the Minister's line on this matter. He thinks that it is unlikely that we shall have any change. I am glad that he was so forthright—he always is, and that is good when it comes to these matters. He shows a generous spirit, and he is challenging, though sometimes his tailored shirts do not always fit properly—[hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] They are rather expensive ones, probably made in some expensive shop. I go to Marks and Sparks myself. However, that is beside the point, and I do not want to go down that path. If I attempted to, you would drag me firmly back into line, Sir John, being the excellent Chairman that you are. But I should like to know how the order squares with a couple of things that I read in the newspapers this morning on the train. We shall not be able to assess what the Government do with the order unless we can understand what the Conservative party's thinking is these days. That is relevant to the order. There is conflict in the Conservative party. We all listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). An article in The Independent today states: "The danger that Britain could be left behind by the European Community was in the Government's mind all the time, Sir Geoffrey Howe said yesterday." It is remarkable that the Foreign Secretary had to make that kind of assertion. I should have thought that it was axiomatic. Clearly it is a very defensive statement. I shall quote only a small part of another article, which says: "Plumb to defy Downing Street on vision of EC The President of the European Parliament, Lord Plumb, will today stoke the growing Conservative row over Europe, dismissing Margaret Thatcher's vision of the Community and implicity accusing her of 'petty national protectionism'. In a speech approaching open defiance of the Prime Minister, Lord Plumb will take issue with every one of her grievances with the European commission and other EC states, first outlined by her in Bruges last September and reiterated in the House of Commons. With only a month until the European elections, Lord Plumb's message will spotlight the divisions in Tory ranks on the European issue. In recent days the former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and the former minister, Michael Heseltine, have both publicly berated her EC policy."
The Chairman: Order. We are debating the draft Summer Time Order 1989. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that he is going far too wide, although I understand the linkage that he has quite ably tried to establish. I am sorry, but that is my ruling.9
Mr. Randall: I would never contradict your ruling, Sir John, and I accept it completely. I am glad that I got to the end of that quote, although I wanted to make some other points. I am glad that you appreciate the linkage, Sir John. I am making those points because we do not know what will happen to the order. If the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) were on this Committee, he would be jumping up and down and would be absolutely furious.
Mr. John Marshall: That is why he is not on the Committee.
Mr. Randall: The hon. Gentleman said it—that is why he is not on the Committee. One could argue that the Government Whips—
The Chairman: Order. This is going too wide. It is not for us to debate what machinations—I think that that is what is implied—are got up to by Government or Opposition Whips. We must stick to the order.
Mr. Randall: Again I accept your ruling without question, Sir John. 1 shall therefore end by saying that I believe that there is terrific uncertainty about the order. We do not know what is going on in the Government's mind. I accept that these are broad points, but although they may sound rather political, they serve to show that whether we accept the order as it stands or whether, as the Minister has rightly pointed out, it is replaced by a subsequent order is very much open to question. I should never again suggest that the Minister was attempting to mislead the Committee, but I believe that the variation of interests to which I attempted to refer could result in the order being revoked and that legislation in the Queen's Speech could nullify all the work that we are doing here today.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North): Before the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) says anything, my shirt was bought in Hong Kong for about 1. I also—
The Chairman: Order. We are not debating the hon. Gentleman's shirt. We are debating the draft Summer Time Order 1989.
Mr. Walker: Thank you, Sir John. I am merely responding to the hon. Gentleman's comments.
The Chairman: Please keep in order in doing so.
Mr. Walker: I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to take the opportunity to doubt my integrity, which I thought was implied in what he was saying. I wanted to remove the scope for him to do so. I am very much in favour of what the Prime Minister has been saying about Europe. I do not agree with some of the other comments that I have read in the press, which are unworthy of comment. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend the Minister has said about the popular request. The order seems to continue the arrangement that the United 10 Kingdom has enjoyed and is a continuation of what we were seeking in the debate that took place on the proposals from Europe to amend and harmonise the United Kingdom times. Am I correct?
Mr. Hogg: Yes.
Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend the Minister was right to say that it was a popular request. In my constituency a petition is going round that will come to Parliament. It is being carried by all political parties and sponsored by me. It states that people in Scotland wish to continue the present arrangements. The order before us is welcome in Scotland. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) said that he would like to hear the voice of Scotland. It is very clear—Scotland wishes to continue the present arrangements, as the order proposes. Therefore I welcome it. My hon. Friend the Minister listened carefully to the debate in the House on the matter. He will confirm that he and I have had conversations about it since. I have had favourable responses from him and from the Government about the problems that Scotland faces, which are not imagined, but real.
Mr. Randall: In case the Minister is not inclined to answer my question about including a summer time order in the Queen's Speech, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he thinks that it will be included?
Mr. Walker: I cannot say what will be in the Queen's Speech. The political situation in Scotland can at best be described as delicate. The United Kingdom, which has been the most successful union of any citizens anywhere on the planet, has worked and continues to work. Anyone who thinks that that is not at risk today is not living in the real world. Silly little orders such as this could damage the United Kingdom. I do not mean this order, because it is satisfactory and happy, but it would be astonishing if it were suggested that any future order to change the times in Scotland—so that children had to go to school on dark mornings and commuters and road transport faced black ice and fog—would help the operation of the single market. I have never been able to understand how black ice and fog, from which Scotland suffers extensively from November until Easter, could help road transport; nor can it be argued that it helps farmers with their livestock. The matter will become a political hot potato if we are required to change the arrangement by directives from Europe. My hon. Friend the Minister has shown his understanding of the problem. The goading from the Opposition Benches is similar to asking, "when did you stop beating your wife?" I have no idea what will be in the Queen's Speech, but I am certain that anyone who thinks that European legislation can be introduced and inflicted upon Scotland with no political impact is not living in the real world. I hope that in the fragile position, not only of the Conservative party—we have not been losing seats, but won a by-election against the Scottish Nationalists in my constituency last week—11
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member is straying too wide.
Mr. Walker: I know that I am going wide, Sir John. I hope that, as you come from another part of the Celtic fringe, you will understand that people in Scotland take these matters seriously—
The Chairman: Order. The Chair takes the matter seriously and has a duty to maintain order. We are debating the Draft Summer Time Order 1989, interesting though by-elections are.
Mr. Walker: This order is very welcome. That is why we take it seriously, Sir John. I am sorry that you did not give me the opportunity to finish, because I intended to say that I welcome the introduction of the three-year provision by my hon. Friend the Minister in circumstances that could be called tricky for United Kingdom Government negotiations. By laying down this three-year period and acknowledging that this can be changed only by another order in this House which would require a further debate—my hon. Friend has made the situation clear to the Opposition. I welcome this and it will be very welcome in Scotland.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) was not, I think, present during the debate on 1 December 1988. Had he been so he would have discovered that most of the points that he made in his 24-minute speech today were covered rather more concisely by his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) on that occasion. The Government propose to issue a consultation paper, which will probably be published next month. It will set out three possible options—the maintenance of the status quo; the harmonisation of end dates; and the possibility of, in effect, entering 12 central European time, which would be the consequence—if one decided to do it—of having a GMT plus one in winter and GMT plus two in summer. I want to make this wholly plain. The Government have a wholly open mind on this matter. They have not come to any policy conclusion. They want to know what people feel about those options. There has been no decison of any kind to make any change to the order now before the Committee.
Mr. Randall: Does the Minister recall the statement in the Sunday Times of 26 March 1989 that: "The Home Office favours joining the Western European zone"? How does he square that with the open mindedness that he has just referred to?
Mr. Hogg: Because I speak for the Home Office, not for the Sunday Times. I am telling the Committee that we have come to no policy conclusion. We favour no particular option. It is a genuine consultation exercise. We are awating the response from the public to the options that the consultation paper will contain. When we have those responses we shall have a clearer view as to what, if any, changes one might seek to propose to this House. I hope that I have laid the hon. Gentleman's concern to rest and that I have been able to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker).
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Summer Time Order 1989.
Committee rose at eight minutes past Eleven o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Stradling Thomas, Sir John (Chairman)
Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth
Hogg, Mr. Douglas
Marshall, Mr. John
Marshall, Mr. Michael
Walker, Mr. Bill