BRITISH STANDARD TIME BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd January 1968.

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Photo of Mr David Ennals Mr David Ennals , Dover 12:00 am, 23rd January 1968

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Every visitor to this country tells us— as if we did not already know—that we do not get enough sunshine. Perhaps that was why there was a pretty negative response to the proposal that what the Bill calls British Standard Time should be called permanent Summer Time. It is not just that we do not have enough sunshine. Our geographic position ensures that we do not get enough daylight during our long winter months. The further north and east we live, the more this is so. In midwinter, London has only seven hours 51 minutes between sunrise and sunset. In Inverness, there are only six hours 36 minutes. Daylight is so precious that we must make the best use we can of it.

The Bill does not legislate to give us more daylight—one might suppose from the arguments of Sir Alan Herbert in The Times that we were seeking to reduce the hours of daylight. But it does recognise that ways of life have changed since 1884, when Greenwich mean time was established. We are now, like it or not, primarily a town-dwelling society, increasingly dependent upon overseas commerce. There have for many years been indications that the old time system, framed for a different type of community, was becoming less suited to our needs and that the time was approaching for a change such as the Bill introduces.

It is, in fact, the culmination of a long process, starting with adjustments made originally purely for the summer. Hon. Members will be aware that it was Mr. William Willet who first conceived the idea of advancing the clocks by one hour. He was the real pioneer in daylight saving. It was as a result of his persistence that in 1908 a Bill, called the Daylight Saving Bill, was laid before the House and found its way to a Select Committee which reported favourably on the Measure. However, despite the untiring efforts of Mr. Willet and his supporters—there were repeated attempts to introduce such Measures—the proposal did not receive sufficient support. Legislation was eventually passed only in 1916, as a war time measure primarily to save fuel. The system was designated Summer Time, and so it has remained.

Since then, although the period has varied, there has not been a break in the operation of Summer Time for almost 52 years, and few of us in the House— certainly not I—will admit to being able to recall the time—over half a century ago— when our clocks kept Greenwich mean time throughout the year. During the last war Greenwich mean time did not operate at all. Summer Time was extended throughout the year and in addition, for a time, there was a period of double summer time.

In 1947, during the serious fuel crisis, an Act was passed which provided for the period of summer time laid down in the Summer Time Acts of 1922–1925 to be varied for any year by Order in Council. In recent years, this power has been regularly used, and it is in use now, so that the clocks will be put forward —permanently if the Bill is passed—on 18th February. We are now enjoying—or perhaps I should use the neutral word, "experiencing"—the very last month of Greenwich mean time.

In recent years there has been growing public support for a longer period of Summer Time. It was the inquiry undertaken in the winter of 1959–60 which originally sparked off the Bill. About 180 organisations, representing a wide variety of interests all over the country, were consulted. The replies indicated two outstanding preferences: first, that there should be Summer Time all the year round, and second that the period of Summer Time should begin earlier and end later.

Numerically, there was a slight preference for the first, but those against this choice included some important special interests, the chief of which I shall name, so as to illustrate the profound shift of opinion that has since occurred. In addition to agriculture, the majority of the trade unions were—at that time— opposed to change; so, too, were the majority of the educational interests and the electricity generating industry, which feared for the effect on the morning peak load.

It was thus decided, partly as an experiment and partly to test public reaction, to stop short at an extension of Summer Time, to operate from the end of March to the end of October, seven months. The public having tested this, increased pressure arose during recent years for yet a further extension and indeed for Summer Time all the year round. Further consultations were, therefore, undertaken in the winter of 1966–1967 to bring up to date the views obtained in the earlier inquiry. These consultations covered both the social and economic aspects of a change.

Views were obtained from about 80 organisations, including those representing both sides of industry and agriculture, teachers, local authorities, sporting interests, the police, the Consumer Council and various women's organisations. It is as a result of these consultations that this Measure is being introduced. It was clear that there had been a substantial shift of opinion, with a mounting desire for a change, particularly for social reasons.