Orders of the Day — Summer Time Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th March 1947.

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Photo of Sir A.P. Herbert Sir A.P. Herbert , Oxford University 12:00 am, 4th March 1947

The convenience of Moscow was not present in my mind; they, unfortunately, have ruined the whole thing by having permanent single summer time. My second objection has already been referred to by another hon. Member. I think that summer time, single or double, is the most frightful confession of weakness of which the human race has ever been guilty. By all means let us change our habits according to the seasons. Even the dumb animals do that. Even the uneducated cock does not crow at the same time all the year round. But let us change our habits without necessarily changing the clocks. I do not see why it is not possible for us to get up one hour earlier because it is good for us, because it is good for trade, or even because it is good for the country, but it is possible if we are deceived by a silly mechanical trick with the clock. That is an idea which must be repugnant surely to anybody who has the smallest respect for the human race. Surely, in the normal times to which the Home Secretary referred—I do not say now—especially when the Government either run or control so many things, it should be the simplest thing in the world for the Government to say that, from a certain date, all Government offices would begin work one hour earlier, and it was hoped that industry would follow suit. The only snag, I quite agree, would be the railway timetables, but in normal times, when there is more paper and less panic, that would be fairly easy to get over by having a second timetable.

Thirdly, what about the navigators, and the great position of this country in the world of navigation? An hon. Gentleman deprecated, with my hearty agreement, the possibility—and it is a possibility—that the Government may, under this Bill, at some time bring in permanent single summer time. A great many people in this country want that, and I believe that Russia and possibly other countries have already done it. Suppose all the countries of Europe decided to do that, decided, in other words, to abandon Greenwich time. Let them do it—we cannot stop them—but surely this country should be the last to abandon Greenwich mean time? It is no small thing that the prime meridian runs through a small but historic suburb in the East of London. It is no small thing that you can steam seven miles down the river from this House and pass from West to East longitude. It gives me a thrill every time I do it, and I invariably draw the attention of my passengers to the experience which they are enjoying. It is no small thing that all the navigators and seamen of the world fix the position of their ships and aircraft by reference to Greenwich and Greenwich time. The stars themselves are fixed by reference to Greenwich time. [Laughter.] They are. In a humble amateur way, I am a deep sea navigator, and I tell the House that all over the world navigators at this moment are turning up their tables and finding the Greenwich hour-angle of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars. That is a terrific thing; it is not a thing to throw away lightly.

Suppose, as I say, that the whole of Europe decides that it will have permanent single summer time and we, because of our fuel crisis, decide to do the same thing. I am sure that, if Hitler had conquered the world, the first thing he would have done, being a man of some imagination, would have been to say, "The prime meridian shall run through Berlin and not through Greenwich." And, of course, the same thing could be done in another way. If you want to have permanent single summer time it is quite easy to do it without changing the clocks. It can be done by changing the maps and putting the prime meridian 15 degrees to the West, out in the Atlantic. But then we shall talk not of Greenwich time but of Iceland time or of Teneriffe time. I will not go on with this, but it is the kind of thing which ought to be gone into by some committee sometime before the end of next year.

Quite apart from all these very practical affairs that we have been discussing, do not let us get it into our heads that Greenwich mean time is just some pedantic scientific nonsense which does not really matter. It is one of the great glories of this country that all the nations have agreed that Greenwich and Greenwich time shall be the centre of all astronomy and navigation. It would be a terrible thing if we got into the habit of saying that it does not really matter, although I suppose that not one among a million citizens really knows what Greenwich mean time means. Indeed, I wonder about this House. I hope that the next speaker will briefly explain what is meant by "Greenwich mean time." I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider my Amendment, which I think is a better Amendment than those of the right hon. Gentleman, with the exception of his Amendment to leave out Clause 1 (2), because the other Amendments do accept the principle of summer time. I want this House, at the end of next year or the beginning of 1949, to challenge the whole principle. Let us believe that Greenwich mean time means something. That Greenwich is the centre of astronomy and navigation is a thing that we must not throw away; let the Empire go if you must, but cling fast to the Prime Meridian.