This is the text of Sir George's speech in the House of Commons, supporting Tim Yeo's Private Members Bill.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the balanced and thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). It was a significant contribution because the hon. Gentleman is from north of the border and he implied that the arguments are much more finely balanced there than the interventions from some of his colleagues suggested. He also said that he would like the Bill to progress to a Standing Committee. For that to happen, he will have to support the measure if there is a vote. I hope that his eloquence persuaded some of his colleagues who represent Scottish constituencies, and who have not, so far, been swayed by the oratory of those who support the Bill.
I want to add a brief footnote to the excellent speech that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) made in introducing the Bill, which I am happy to sponsor. The House is grappling with a basic chronometric question: do we value daylight more highly at the beginning or the end of the day? To put it in the religious terms that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) used, how do we best realign the hours of daylight that the Almighty has given us with the human activities that we undertake now that we are no longer constrained by whether it is daylight? It is my modest observation that more human activity takes place at dusk than at dawn. It therefore follows that realigning daylight hours along the lines that my hon. Friend proposes would be beneficial.
In the summer, when the days would be longer, we would have more daylight in the evening, when we tend to be awake rather than in the morning, when we tend to be asleep. Of course, that generality does not hold for some minorities. For example, we heard about agricultural workers and I shall deal with that point shortly. However, as my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Stafford said, in the past 40 years, the balance of the argument has shifted decisively.
I was Secretary of State for Transport the last time the matter was seriously considered. I was strongly in favour of the measure then and I remain so. I would be amazed if the advice that I was given 10 years ago is different from the advice that Ministers receive today. Indeed, I almost recognised some of the passages from the brief that I had some 10 years ago in the extract from Hansard that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk quoted.
Any Secretary of State for Transport who takes road safety seriously would grab with both hands the opportunities that the Bill affords to reduce the tolls on our roads. In an uncharacteristic intervention, the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Competition Policy, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), implied that either we accepted the Bill or we found other ways of reducing the toll on the roads. It is not an either/or situation. We should do both. I hope that the Minister will put the matter straight later.
An extract from the 1989 Transport and Road Research Laboratory report was quoted earlier. Let me read another extract:
“The groups which benefited most from the change were those aged 5–15, pedestrians and those living in Central England and Southern Scotland.”
Some Labour Members who intervened represent southern Scottish constituencies and I hope that they will be influenced by the TRRL’s comments.
The position of the Secretary of State for Transport should be clear. However, there is an added complication in that the Secretary of State for Transport for England is also the Secretary of State for Scotland—a dramatic personification of the West Lothian question. Does he put first his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Transport for England and thus support the Bill, or his residual domestic responsibilities as Secretary of State for Scotland and thus, I fear, oppose it?
Mark Lazarowicz: The Bill’s sponsors are doing their best to lose their support on the Labour Benches with several of their comments today. The right hon. Gentleman should be corrected: the Secretary of State for Transport has responsibilities that include the inter-city rail network in the UK and road traffic law, which is the same throughout the UK and is directly relevant to the debate.
Sir George Young: That is a helpful intervention, but I am not sure that it answers my question: what is the position of the person who is both Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland? Will he be in favour of the Bill or against it? I hope that his position can be made absolutely clear in an intervention from the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Martlew: Surely the dilemma for that Secretary of State would be made easier were the opt-out not in the Bill. Does the right hon. Gentleman support the opt-out in the Bill?
Sir George Young: I shall come to that point. I very much hope that we end up with one time for the United Kingdom. That would be my ideal solution. I have no objection to the clause in the Bill that gives people in Scotland the opportunity to decide whether they want that solution. If Labour Members look at the Nigel Beard Bill, I believe that they will see that it had exactly the same provision for an opt-out as this Bill. This is not some Conservative conspiracy to reopen old wounds; it is a repetition of a provision in a Bill introduced by a Labour Member of Parliament.
In passing, let me say that I very nearly was Secretary of State for Scotland. In 1979, the Downing street switchboard confused me with our late and much loved friend George Younger, and I was summoned to take a much higher position than the one with which I eventually ended up.
My point is on the issue of balance. The components of the argument have remained virtually unchanged for the past 100 years, but I strongly believe that the balance of the argument has shifted decisively over the past 40 years. As has been pointed out, the numbers working in agriculture have continued to decline. One can contrast the relaxed attitude of the NFU today, as exemplified in the extract from the letter read out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk, with the strong views of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, as reported in 1970 in Hamish Gray’s maiden speech. That shows that the strong feelings of 30 or 40 years about agriculture have diminished.
There has been an enormous growth in leisure time, both as the numbers of hours worked have declined, and as longevity has increased. People typically engage in those activities at the end of the day, not at the beginning. The importance of tourism as a domestic earner has been mentioned. According to one estimate, tourism earnings could increase by £3 billion were the Bill introduced. Mention has also been made of obesity, which was simply not an issue the last time that the House considered the matter. Were there a free vote on the Bill today, I believe that the outcome would be dramatically different from that of the free vote in 1970.
Perhaps the most important shift has been in concern about climate change. Again, 30 or 40 years ago, that was not right at the top of the agenda. All the studies show, however, that my hon. Friend’s Bill would lead to less peaking of demand, with important consequences for the capacity of generators. A 3 per cent. saving in energy consumption is a real contribution to meeting some of our environmental targets.
All the factors against the Bill have diminished in importance over the past 40 years. We have heard about postal workers, and my general observation is that post is delivered slightly later in the day now than 30 or 40 years ago. Of course, postal workers still have to get up in the dark, but more of their deliveries now take place later.
Mr. Beith: What is happening is that each postman is delivering to more areas. The right hon. Gentleman’s post is later because, during the dark hours, the postman has delivered to a great many other places.
Sir George Young: I do not think that that contradicts my point that the centre of gravity of the delivery round is now later than it was 30 or 40 years ago.
The final factor that has changed in the past 30 or 40 years is devolution. I do not want to impose on the Scots a time regime with which they do not feel comfortable. I do not want the Scots to impose on England a time regime with which it does not feel comfortable. As I made clear a few moments ago, I would prefer one regime for the whole of the country, and I hope that that is the outcome.
On the Scottish position, the Library has found a paper from the Centre for Technology Management at Cambridge, which put it delicately:
“Many Scots remember the experiment from 1968 to 1971 as causing an increase in road accidents. Folk memory is at variance with the evidence…increased accidents in the morning were offset by a much greater reduction in the evening”.
“The available evidence is strongly in favour of Lord Tanlaw’s proposed Bill”,
which is the same as my hon. Friend’s.
I strongly hope that the House will support a pilot, which will enable us to get more conclusive, definitive evidence to allow us to take a step that should have been taken many years ago.