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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am always happy to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and I expected it by stressing twice that the alternative was central European time. Many people in this country believe that a number of aspects of our traditional way of life, including GMT, are matters to which we should adhere. That is a significant feeling that any sensible and well-informed department like the Home Office takes into account.
Lord Monson: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no such thing as European monetary union and that the correct term is "economic and monetary union", which is rather different? Does he also agree that there is no such thing as a single European time zone? There are three time zones in Europe--four if one includes the Azores. Does the noble Lord agree that those who think like my noble friend Lord Tanlaw would do well to study the United States, Canada and Australia, all of which have several time zones, none of which impedes the prosperity or efficiency of those countries?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I was just about to mention that. There are differing time zones in the United States. The United States seems to be prospering quite well and its economic record at the moment is first rate. Its unemployment is also gratifyingly low as in this country. There are different views on this matter. People feel passionately about different matters. There is no such thing as Greenwich Mean Time any more and, if necessary, I shall be happy to explain that observation to noble Lords. I repeat that some people like the way that we have traditionally operated in this country. They do not believe that the present arrangement has any significant disadvantages. I repeat that we have no present plans for change.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that I introduced the Western European Time Bill at the same time as John Butterfill's Bill was introduced, and at that time opposition to the change came mainly from the Scots? In those circumstances when arrangements alter in Scotland later this year will the position change again?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the mere fact that the Scots oppose something is not necessarily definitive in coming to a conclusion in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. From my many conversations with the noble Viscount on this matter, I am aware of his passionate and enduring interest in the changes that he has identified. The question of time and zones is reserved to the Union Parliament here.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I recall the remarks to which the noble Lord draws attention. If he looks at the context in which they were made he will see that it was the debate on the occasion that he cites and it related to all debates that I expected to have during this Session on the Bill on the first stage of reform that will reach your Lordships' House in due course. As to the membership of the Royal Commission, as it is the purpose of the Bill that is passing through another place this time to exclude the hereditary peerage from being Members of Parliament I do not believe that it would be logical to invite them to take part in considering the longer-term position of the second House.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, without dissenting necessarily from what the noble Baroness has just said, does she agree that most people might be of the view that if one planned to reorganise part of a parliament that had over 700 years to its record the kind of people one would want to provide advice would be experts on constitutional law and the history of the constitution? As far as one knows, neither category is represented in the names that have emerged so far.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I must differ with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, not about his original premise, with which I agree, but the names of those involved in the Royal Commission. I suggest that, for example, both Professor Anthony King and Professor Dawn Oliver fall into the category he described. Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth, as a very long-standing member of the Clerks' Department of your Lordships' House, is a very appropriate person to take part in the discussion on the history and traditions of this House.
Lord Peston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the most important characteristic of anyone who sits on a Royal Commission is the ability to take evidence and consider it dispassionately? As I understand it, there is nothing in the remit of the Royal Commission to cause its members to say that they do not wish to receive sensible evidence from hereditary Peers or any other experts that anyone may want to consider. The notion that one must have expertise to be on the Royal Commission seems to me to be quite preposterous. Am I not right?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the simple answer to my noble friend is, yes. However, he is right to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact--I was slightly remiss in not mentioning it in my response to
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree with me that this is probably a once-in-a-century opportunity to examine the composition and functions of your Lordships' House, and in particular its relationship with another place? If she agrees with that proposition, does she agree equally that it is important that the Royal Commission be seen by the public to have examined the question in all its aspects; and that therefore it is important for its deliberations to be made as public as possible and for as much evidence as possible to be heard in public?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount's point about it being an important opportunity to discuss the matters he raised. Those are explicitly mentioned in the terms of reference of the Royal Commission.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, of course it will be for the Royal Commission to decide on its deliberations, but my noble friend Lord Cranborne was clear in asking the opinion of the Government. Would the noble Baroness the Leader of the House like to consider her reply? Do the Government believe that the Royal Commission should take evidence from the public; and that that evidence should be in public?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, of course the Government would be happy for members of the public to give evidence to the Royal Commission. I hope that that was included in the answer I gave to my noble friend Lord Peston. How that evidence is acquired, the form in which it is given--whether written or in person--is appropriately a matter for the chairman and his colleagues.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Leader of the House still hoping that the Royal Commission will report by 31st December of this year? Taking into account the wide range of issues that will have to be considered, the evidence that the commission will have to take and the diversity of opinions that members may have among themselves, does the noble Baroness think that the commission will be able to complete its work by then, bearing in mind that every Royal Commission in living memory has taken longer to do its work than expected?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the intention of the Government, and the request we have made to the chairman of the Royal Commission and the members, is that they should report by the end of the year.
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