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Lord Lang of Monkton: My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships for the first time with a sense of diffidence and trepidation that may be traditional but is in my case genuine, the more so in the light of the injunction just given by the noble Baroness opposite.
I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and my noble friend Lord Montgomery for their kind words of welcome to me. Indeed I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein for providing the vehicle to draw me to my feet. I wish only I could agree with everything he said in his eloquent and brief remarks. I know I should not be controversial. I fear that on that I may have to rest on the argument that to want
Though a Scot who for 18 years represented a Scottish constituency in another place, I do not seek to rest my case for the status quo on the well-known Scottish arguments, important though they are. My case is based on the broader, simpler premise that GMT is Britain's natural time, by whatever name it may be called. I defer to the superior wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on this matter. It is the natural time for the whole nation, including the one-third of it that lies north of Carlisle. That is why it was chosen; that is why it has survived; and that is why the 1968 experiment failed and was abandoned.
My noble friend Lord Montgomery has set this debate in the context of Europe. I say, as uncontroversially as I can, that I do not believe that Europe needs a single time zone any more than it needs a single currency. It needs deregulation and flexibility, not a strait-jacket. Why should its three natural time zones be shoehorned into one, other than for bureaucratic tidiness? There is the argument that GMT has disadvantaged our industry in its dealings with Europe. For two years I had the privilege of presiding in government over our nation's trade and industrial affairs and I have to say there was no evidence of that whatsoever; indeed, quite the reverse. For several years past our exports to Europe have scaled new heights. The growth in our manufacturing output, productivity and exports has been beating the rest of Europe into a cocked hat.
Of course, an hour gained closer to Europe would be an hour lost further away from America, which is still a major export market, still vital to our financial sector, still the biggest location of our overseas investment and still the greatest trading nation on earth, despite having no fewer than six different time zones that cut across states and counties and even, I am told, through cities. If they can manage with that, surely we can cope with a single time zone that suits our geographical circumstances and has a mere one hour's difference from most of Europe.
The fact is that this debate has a faintly anachronistic air. We are no longer a nine-to-five society. We are deregulated, flexible and free from the tyranny of much of the officialdom, the demarcation and the clock watching that used to dog us. If people, businesses or schools want to change their hours to suit the different daylight patterns that affect them, let them do so, but let them do it by choice and not as a result of legislation forcing it upon them. Modern technology and working methods have transformed our economy and our employment practices. Our best companies in services and in manufacturing operate globally at all hours and at high speeds. It is in a global context that we should view this issue.
It is the fashion in some quarters to disown our past and to revise and rewrite our history--a history that gave the world Greenwich as the zero meridian around which the whole world sets its clocks. Now we are busily building the great dome at Greenwich to celebrate the millennium, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw,
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, and to congratulate him on an excellent and thought-provoking maiden speech which reflects his long and great experience in Scottish affairs as well as in trade and industry, as he has just told us. I am certain that the House will wish to hear from him on many occasions in the near future in other fora. I look forward to debating this matter with him again on future occasions.
I gather that the village of Monkton, from where the noble Lord, Lord Lang, has chosen to take his name, is close to the town of Troon. I do not know whether there is any connection between the well-known views of my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon and the noble Lord, Lord Lang, on this issue. In my opinion both those views are slightly unsound. I hope I may expand on that without being controversial. Perhaps it is something to do with the water in south-west Scotland. Perhaps I should leave it at that.
As we have heard, this matter is becoming an almost annual debate. It is an issue which raises much passion for and against. I have read the previous speeches of many noble Lords on this issue, including mine. There are many arguments for and against which we can and shall discuss. I believe that the only compelling reason for changing a time zone is the road safety aspect. It would give an hour's longer daylight in the afternoon and an hour's less daylight in the morning. That would reduce road accidents as more accidents occur in the dark and when people are tired. In the mornings children make one journey to school when they are not tired, but in the evenings they often make two journeys as they may travel to other activities after school before travelling home. That all adds up to more casualties in the dark on the way home from school. I still believe that we ignore at our peril the estimate of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory that this would save 140 fatalities a year and 520 serious injuries throughout the UK. The same report indicates that in Scotland alone there would 60 fewer fatalities and serious injuries.
Perhaps I may quote from a document of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions entitled Road Safety Strategy Current Problems and Future Options, dated October 1997. At paragraph 232 it states that the,
I believe that there is one solution. Much of the opposition today comes from noble Lords who have links north of the Border. We have a Scottish devolution Bill. If the Scots do not like the benefits of changing the timescale why should they not have a separate time zone? The devolution Bill states that decisions on time should be retained with Westminster. But if Westminster can at last accept the principle of subsidiarity, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang, said, deregulation, surely the Scots should be able to decide for themselves their time zone. That would leave the English, the Welsh and possibly the Irish, whether north, south or both, to decide rationally on their preferences. I believe that they would strongly favour a change, in the interests of savings in accident rates and because it would be good for business and tourism.
Lord Monson: My Lords, the brevity of the first two speeches enables me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lang, on his superb maiden speech and to assure him that he is not alone in his admirable sentiments.
With his usual charm and persuasiveness, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, invites us to harmonise our time with French and German time. He innocently fails to mention that this is also the time reigning in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, and so on. In other words, it is central European time. Ten EU countries subscribe to central European time, while five choose alternative times, as one would expect from a grouping which spans 42 degrees of longitude. The Portuguese recently experimented with central European time for two or three years. They discovered that they disliked it and reverted to GMT. It is easy to see why.
Last October I happened to spend three days on the south bank of the Minho, the river which separates northern Portugal from Galicia, and three days on the northern Spanish bank. On our first morning in Spain, 10th October, I observed that it was still dark at 8.15 a.m. In contrast, in the great fortress of Valenca, which one could see across the river, on the south bank it was light in early October by 7.30 a.m. That seems a right and proper time for it to get light at that time of the year.
As most people know, the Spanish eat their meals one-and-a-half to two hours later than anyone else in Europe. It is because of this endearing eccentricity that central European time happens to suit their unique lifestyle.
But what about Brittany, noble Lords may ask, where people keep normal hours? After all, Brest lies on the same longitude as Plymouth, Carmarthen, Glasgow and Inverness. How can the mainly agricultural Breton tolerate such a late winter sunrise? The answer lies in numbers. When the phrase "central Europe" is
Some Europeans who know little about other continents, and care less--it has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lang--complain that when it is 8 a.m. in London, it is 9 a.m. in Paris, 240 miles away, and how inconvenient that is. But what they fail to realise is that when it is 8 a.m. in Chicago it is 9 a.m. in Detroit, also 240 miles away, but that neither worries the Americans, nor does it impede their trade and industry.
The noble Viscount is far from being a "little European". Indeed, he is a distinguished expert on Latin America. He will know that, for example, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia are all in different time zones--but that causes them no hardship. Claims have been made--they have been made today by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley--that darker mornings and lighter evenings would reduce road casualties. If that is the case, why have not the health and safety obsessed Germans switched from central European to eastern European time? After all, on any day when the sun sets in Birmingham at 4 p.m. GMT, it sets in Berlin at 4 p.m. central European time. Yet the pragmatic Berliners seem perfectly happy with the status quo.
Moreover, in a written reply to my suggestion on 24th November last that summer time should start one or two weeks earlier every March, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, pointed out that this was not favoured,
Finally, a major British airline, Air 2000, which flies charter passengers all over the world, has written to me to oppose in the strongest terms any change in UK time from GMT which, it asserts, would cause chaos lasting several years in the global aviation system. I shall be pleased to pass the letter on to any noble Lord who is interested.
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