By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday, a Private Member's Bill by Rebecca Harris, the Member for Castle Point, which sought to move British clocks forward by an hour all year round, was brought before the House.
The Government was supportive of the Bill, and there was a strong turnout with wide cross-party support for the proposal. However, a small group of Members, mostly Conservative, managed to talk the Bill out of Parliament. As a result of the Bill not being passed yesterday, the Government has decided not to allow further Parliamentary time for its consideration, and the Bill is now dead.
The main objection to passing the bIll is summarised by Christopher Chope (Christchurch)'s contribution to the debate. He argued:
"[T]he Bill’s Achilles heel is that it has been redrafted in such a way that it would enable the United Kingdom Government to change the time zone in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. We know that the Scottish Parliament, and MPs representing Scottish constituencies, do not support a change that would make winter mornings in Scotland even colder and darker than they are already. … my concern is that if this Parliament changes the time zone for the United Kingdom against the wishes of the people of Scotland, it will give extra ammunition to those people in Scotland who are campaigning for independence. We would be playing into their hands if we forced the Bill through."
Over the last few days, North East Somerset MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has called for Somerset to have its own timezone. This was part of the run-up to yesterday's debate. Mr Rees-Mogg attempted to amend the proposed Bill to make considerations for Somerset, in order to delay its passage. Although his amendment was not selected for consideration, Mr Rees-Mogg did play an active role in opposing the Bill. Mr Rees-Mogg's contributions were very varied and lengthy, but I have chosen a few of his more remarkable comments:
- "It is worth pointing out that the coming power of the next century, China, has only the one time zone, and as we know from Noel Coward, China’s very big."
- In reply to Tom Harris MP: "I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman and, had I thought that he would welcome it, I would have supported his candidacy for the Labour leadership in Scotland. I kept very quiet about that, however, because I thought that I might do him more harm than good."
- "At one point, I felt that much of the Bill was aimed at lie-abeds—those who do not get up very early in the morning, but snooze on, remaining fast asleep in a relaxed and happy way."
- "On that occasion I meant the majority party in the Scottish Parliament, but I see the hon. Gentleman’s point, so perhaps we should have two representatives from Scotland, which means we must also have two from Somerset, because Somerset would feel let down if the numbers were not maintained with the rest of the Union."
- "The relevant Secretary of State and President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), is known to be one of the wisest men in Parliament. Lenin’s brain after his untimely death was kept for scientific research to see how such a great brain could operate and why it was different from other brains, and I am sure that this will happen in the sad event of the death of the President of the Board of Trade—may that day long be put off."
- "I wonder further whether my hon. Friend thinks that if we did have a big fight with Brussels over this, it would increase the happiness of the nation."
- "I just wondered whether my hon. Friend had noticed the time on the clock, because had the Bill already come into force, the debate would by now have ended."
The debate drew strong reactions from frustrated Conservative Members at times, including:
"Angus MacNeil (SNP): We could reduce the inconvenience to 20%, and I am fairly confident that, once we introduce those three months, once we have the attendant misery and once we see what comes of that, lighter evenings will not be seen to have such great benefits after all. We will get the taste of the inconvenience without going through the utter misery of an entire winter period.
Bob Stewart: Why is the hon. Member for the islands of Scotland, where I, too, came from, once, confident that the month of November will give him the results that he expects? He does not know, and the best way of finding out is to have a flipping trial.
Mr MacNeil: Well, if the hon. Gentleman—
Jacob Rees-Mogg: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will you rule on whether the word—if I may utter it myself—“flipping” is parliamentary?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Do you know, I think that that word is on the cusp—a bit. It offended me, a little, but I must say that in the heat of the moment I have heard a lot worse in this place."
Sir Peter Bottomley decided to compare Mr Rees-Mogg – unfairly – with a previous effort to delay legislation:
"Jacob Rees-Mogg: There are 28 amendments in this group. If my hon. Friend were to devote just five minutes to discussing each one, it would take two hours and 20 minutes. Surely that is what we want—a proper discussion of all the issues, amendment by amendment.
Mr Chope: I shall come on to the other amendments seriatim, but I doubt whether I shall speak at such length as my hon. Friend suggests.
Sir Peter Bottomley: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), because the attitude of the latter was the kind of thing that helped to delay the abolition of slavery for generations and stopped Samuel Plimsoll from getting a white line painted on ships to make sure that they did not turn over because they were overladen. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is right; he should get on."
Other Members who successfully helped stop the Bill included:
- Steve Baker (Wycombe)
- Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
- Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal)
- Philip Davies (Shipley)
- Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock)
- David Nuttall (Bury North)
- Matthew Offord (Hendon)
- Henry Smith (Crawley)
- Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South)
- Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (Liberal Democrat)
- Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
- Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP)
- Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)
The full debate can be read here.