HC Deb 12 December 1960 vol 632 cc140-52

8.36 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, in pursuance of the provisions of Section 2 of the Summer Time Act, 1947, praying that the Summer Time Order, 1960, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 30th November. Perhaps it would be convenient to the House if I explained briefly the circumstances under which this Order comes to be laid. Summer Time is at present governed by the Summer Time Act, 1922, as amended by the Summer Time Act, 1925. Under that Act, Summer Time at present runs from the Sunday after the third Saturday in April until the Sunday after the first Saturday in October. An exception to that is when Easter falls on that Sunday in April, and on that occasion Summer Time starts a week earlier.

The House will recollect that during the last war Summer Time existed for the whole year and that there was, in fact, a period of double Summer Time. It will also recollect that in 1947 the House approved an Act which had the effect of providing for Summer Time from 16th March to 2nd November and also for a period of double Summer Time. That Act was introduced on account of the fuel crisis and it was used until the year 1952, when the use of the Act lapsed. However, the 1947 Act made provision, for the first time, for Summer Time to be changed by Order in Council. The Order before the House tonight is, in fact, laid under that Act.

In more recent years, public opinion has expressed itself in favour of an extension of Summer Time—in the Press, in the House during last Session, and in letters to the Home Office. I think that that expression of opinion has come partly from the tourist industry, to a great extent, I think, from those interested in recreation and sport, and to a more limited extent from those engaged in industry and commerce. On account of this expression of public opinion the Government sent a questionnaire in the autumn of 1959 to all the organisations thought to be interested in this question. In fact, 178 organisations were consulted, of which only 16 have failed to reply.

The replies were, as I once said in answer to a Question, much of a mixed bag, but, quite clearly, they indicated two particular preferences—first, that there should be Summer Time all the year round and, secondly, that there should be an extension of Summer Time in the spring and autumn. Numerically, there was a preference for the first choice, but, on analysis, it seemed that there were many advantages in extending Summer Time in the spring and autumn which would meet the wishes of those who wanted Summer Time all the year round without, at the same time, giving effect to the disadvantages which arise from having Summer Time all the year round.

The Government have, therefore, decided that for the year 1961 they would favour the second choice, namely, an extension in the spring and autumn of three weeks each, a total extension of six weeks' Summer Time. Therefore, under the Order Summer Time for 1961 will begin on 26th March and end on 29th October—that is to say, it will start three weeks' earlier than it would have done and will end three weeks' later. Since this announcement was made in answer to a Question in the House, there has been very little reaction in the House, in the Press or in letters. My right hon. Friend rather assumes that that is because this extension commends itself to the public. I hope that that will be the view of the House in endorsing this Order.

For the future, this Order applies only to the year 1961, and, therefore, a fresh Order will have to be laid for another year. What we have in mind is to ascertain even further the reaction to this experiment during 1961 and then either to relay the Order for 1962 or, as might be the case, to enact it in some more permanent form. It may well be that the public, having tasted this extension, may wish the further extension of Summer Time all the year round. That does not arise tonight. The Order is simply in respect of 1961 and it provides for a six weeks' extension in that year. I commend it to the House.

8.41 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

I want to intervene very shortly in reply to what the Minister of State, Home Department, has said. Over the years, there have been differences of opinion with regard to the advantages and disadvantages of Summer Time. We now no longer have Double Summer Time. What the Order does is to extend for about two or three weeks at each end the period during which Summer Time exists. That seems to me at least to be useful, and I see no objection to it.

The Minister, however, said that the Government had, quite rightly, taken the precaution of ascertaining the opinion of a large number of organisations, and he mentioned some 178, of which all except 16 have replied. Whilst I see no objection to the Order, before I at least will be prepared formally to agree to its passing, I should like from the right hon. Gentleman an indication of the points of view expressed and what were the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal canvassed on either side among the expressions of conflicting opinion. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give an indication of the proportion of opinion which was in favour of the extension of Summer Time which the Government now propose.

The Minister said that the Government have not excluded from their minds the possibility of having Summer Time right throughout the year. I do not know how that would affect angricultural interests, schoolchildren or workers in factories. I should like an indication of the consideration which the Government have given to this matter. As I say, I am not myself aware of any fundamental objection to this modest Order which would lead me to think that it was necessary to register opposition to it in this debate. Before finally deciding, however, I should be grateful if the Minister could expand his opening speech a little, providing that the House gives him permission to speak again.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I do not want to take up many minutes, but I wish to put a point of view which, probably, most hon. Members will regard as heresy. I believe that the whole question of Summer Time has been brought about because most of us are mesmerised into the belief that Summer Time helps. It is extremely difficult to convince animals and young people of the necessity for changing the times. In particular, dairy farmers and mothers of small children have extreme difficulty twice a year in carrying out what is required of them by messing about with the clock.

The suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State of Summer Time all the year round would at least solve the problem of the changes of the clock which that type of person cannot understand and to which he takes a long time to adapt himself. Incidentally, if we get to the stage of having Summer Time all the year round, this means that we depart from Greenwich Mean Time, by which the world takes its time from us. If we give the impression that we are no longer interested in keeping to Greenwich Mean Time, this might have certain results.

If this proposal is for only one year—1961—there is no reason why we should not make the experiment. However, I would urge, first, that we should seriously consider cutting Summer Time out altogether, because in agriculture, I believe, it makes no difference at all. The dew still has to dry off the crops before a farmer can start harvesting. Some people say that Summer Time makes a difference, but I believe that, on balance, it makes no difference at all. If we cannot cut Summer Time out altogether and have Greenwich Mean Time stabile all the year round, I think that the second best thing is to have Summer Time all the year round.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I am very pleased to give this Order my support. I have before in the House pressed the right hon. Gentleman on this extension of Summer Time. He has always been very courteous in his replies. We have waited a long while for this modest Order, but it has come at last. It is being discussed in a far from full House, and it may not seem very important, but I believe that it is important to millions of people. I wish that the extension were longer, but I think that this extra six weeks of Summer Time, three weeks in the early spring and three in the early autumn, will give enormous pleasure to the people.

It will give pleasure to the gardener. It will mean that he can come home from work in the office or factory and can still dig his garden and indulge in his hobby there, and that will give him joy. It will give pleasure to the young people who play tennis in the spring, or football in the autumn, and those who train for other sports will have the advantage of the extra hour of daylight in the evening.

I think that it will also give pleasure to the holiday makers. After all, holidays now extend into October. It must be a bitter disappointment to those who have to take their holidays late, should they get a sunny day, suddenly to find that it is cut short by the putting back of the clock. This has been a bad autumn, but there are autumns when there are sunny days. It is very disappointing to people on holiday to find that it is getting dark at 6 p.m. because of the alteration of the clock. This extra three weeks into October will mean a great deal to those who have to take their holidays late, such as railwaymen, policemen and Post Office workers, who cannot always take their holidays during the summer months.

It will mean a great deal not only to them, but also to the hotel industry. Whether they keep hotels, boarding houses or hostels, this extra three weeks on to their season will be of benefit to them in making their business pay. That is another reason why we should welcome this Order.

There is another point, which I have put to the right hon. Gentleman before. I think that this Order will help in cutting down the number of road casualties. That is why I should like to see Summer Time extended beyond October, for I think that, if we get that extra hour of daylight, so that people leaving their factories, whether by motor car or bicycle, are able to go home in daylight instead of in the dark, and equally, of course, people who travel by bus, and the bus drivers, have the extra daylight, it should prove a big factor in reducing the number of road accidents and deaths. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will get from the Minister of Transport figures of road accidents during the two periods, the three weeks in the spring and the three weeks in the autumn, next year, so that we may see whether this Order contributes to reducing the number of road accidents and deaths at those times. If it does help to reduce them, then, on that ground alone the Order will be welcomed.

I have heard it said in the House, though not tonight, and definitely by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), that the agricultural industry is opposed to this Order. When I raised the matter, I think about three years ago, and that point of view was put forward, I had letters from farmers in many parts of the country saying that the extra hour of daylight in the evening in October was not a hindrance, but a great help.

If the opinion of those who are engaged in agriculture were sought, I do not think that it would be found that there was any definite opposition to this proposal in all parts of the country. This extra hour of daylight in the evenings will enable millions of people to go home from work in the light instead of the dark in October. It will also be of great benefit to thousands of people who enjoy tennis, football, cricket and other sports. I am pleased to give the Order my support.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

I was very much hurt by the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby). He even advocated the possibility of the abolition of Summer Time. I was equally anxious about the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, that there might be a possibility of making this arrangement permanent throughout the year. I would object strongly to either proposal. The Order is admirable as it stands. The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) said that this was a trivial matter.

Mr. Hunter

No, I said that it might seem a small matter to many people.

Mr. Gower

I think that it is a tremendous matter. When Summer Time starts it is the beginning to me of the most wonderful thing in the world—the British summer. I begin to look forward to long days of sunshine. Every year I have this hope. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes would deprive me of the hope by abolishing Summer Time altogether, and my right hon. Friend would deprive me of it possibly by making Summer Time permanent.

Seriously, I hope that we shall retain this arrangement. It is the beginning of something in the hopes of many of us every year. We begin to think of lovely days spent in watching cricket and playing tennis and we do not think of the rain that will fall and of our having to shelter under the trees. Only those who lack imagination could think of either abolishing Summer Time or making it permanent.

Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)

Can my hon. Friend tell me what is his reaction when the clock is altered in the autumn?

Mr. Gower

I am prepared to endure the unhappiness of seeing the signal for winter, provided that I have the happiness of seeing the signal for spring and summer. The advantage of the Order is that it brings the date of my yearly hopes earlier. My illusions will be apparent earlier each year.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

Why not in January?

Mr. Gower

No, this is the proper date. In January the whole thing would be impossible. In March one might feel that the illusion is real, and again in the autumn the evil day is postponed by this Order. I appreciate the views of those to whom the dark early morning is a hardship. I should like my right hon. Friend to say, as he has been asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Sockice), what is the latest opinion expressed, for example, by farmers. Have they modified what earlier was in many cases their opposition to the extension of Summer Time? What reaction has my right hon. Friend found among those who deliver goods such as milk in the early mornings, and what has been the reaction from organisations connected with education? These are pertinent questions, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to elaborate in the way suggested by the right hon. and learned Member.

While I appreciate the views of those who have objections to what is proposed, I think that on balance, as the hon. Member for Feltham suggested, Summer Time has given a tremendous amount of pleasure to the great majority of the people of the country, and it has served and been tried by experience. As it has been tried by experience. I think we are doing the right thing now in proposing to extend it in this way.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

After the very personal confessions of my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), I hate to think that I shall hurt him again. I am at least glad that he did not respond to the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) to tell us what his mind turns to in the autumn. We have heard what his fancy turns to in the spring.

I am sorry to say that I can give only a very qualified welcome to the Order. I should like to start by expressing my horror at the suggested possibility that we might have Summer Time all the year round. I hope that the Minister will not attach too much weight to the expressions of opinion of some organisations about this. There is an extraordinarily widespread belief, which appeared throughout the speeches of the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barry, that this Summer Time Order brings extra daylight.

Mr. Gower

I did not suggest that.

Mr. Bell

The hon. Member for Feltham referred constantly to the extra 60 minutes of sunshine which my right hon. Friend was bringing to the people. My hon. Friend the Member for Barry spoke of the rapture which stirs in his soul, hitherto in April but now it will be in March, at the thought of the long days of sunshine lying ahead which are the product of the Order.

Mr. Gower

I do not think that either the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) or I suggested that the Order created an extra hour of daylight. What we say—and it is a fairly obvious fact—is that for large numbers of people they make the hours of daylight available at a time when they can use them for recreation.

Mr. Bell

Perhaps I might just point out to my hon. Friend what is also perhaps a fairly obvious fact, that the daylight is there and can be used by anyone who chooses to use it. If one adopts the quite absurd suggestion of making Summer Time last all through the year, all that one is really doing is making noontide one o'clock, and every other alteration is, in effect, done in precisely the same way. This really is the most idiotic and farcical operation that one could imagine. The fact that we should seriously be discussing it in this ancient British Parliament appals me.

Mr. Gower

But my hon. Friend is doing so.

Mr. Bell

I have to, because it is the subject before the House. All that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower has to do if he wants to enjoy the daylight is to get up one hour earlier. When the clock is advanced an hour under this Order, that is precisely what he does.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

And everybody else does it as well.

Mr. Bell


Before we had Summer Time, which was an expedient adopted during the First World War, we still had people getting up an hour earlier and the hours of work beginning an hour earlier in the summer than in the winter. There is introduced every year, quite independently of this arrangement, the railway summer timetable, and that is the opportunity and the method by which we can introduce, in the absence of this arrangement, a device for an hour earlier starting when summer comes. To my mind, this is a more logical point of view.

However, if there is this tremendous and widespread desire to effect the same object by changing the clock, I am not greatly resisting that, though I am sorry to see this extension. The hon. Member for Feltham talked about the reduction in accidents and saving of life that might result from this extra hour of daylight, as he called it. I would point out that if the people go home in daylight they will be going to work in the dark, and so what one gains at one end of the day one loses at the other. The hon. Member said that he was very sorry that this arrangement would stop in October and that it should go right on in order to reduce road accidents. Of course, this is the very latest time we could take under this Order without incurring an exactly corresponding disadvantage in the morning.

It has always been strange to me that we in this country should adopt this peculiar practice considering the meridian from which we take our time. It is not only the prime meridian—but it also happens to run through the eastern portion of the country, so that nearly the whole of the country has a lot of daylight saving even if we have Greenwich Mean Time.

I see that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) is present. He seems rather engrossed, but he has the Adjournment debate, which is no doubt why he is here. But his constituency enjoys about 20 minutes' daylight saving throughout the year without any of these statutory provisions.

Mr. Donnelly

We make good use of it.

Mr. Bell

In some cases. Hon. Members who represent constituencies on the West of Scotland have even more daylight saving and, of course, Northern Ireland has about half an hour. Twice a year, when the equation of time is working in that direction, it is three quarters of an hour, quite apart from statutory intervention. By this device, we are giving parts of the kingdom one and three quarter hours' distortion from the clock time.

There may be an argument now from precedent in favour of this and nothing is more powerful or irresistible in this country than an argument from precedent. But, in principle, I dislike this, and I think that someone like my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) should restate the simple principle that this is, after all, only monkeying about with a clock, that the method by which we keep time is not a purely private and domestic affair, but is, on the whole, an equable arrangement whereby people should work on the time of their meridian, within reasonable belts on either side of it, and that this kind of thing is confusing and, looked at broadly, rather foolish. I hope that we shall keep it within as narrow limits as we can.

I have described my objections to double Summer Time going throughout the year as being self defeating, because the fraud which we work on ourselves would be exhausted if we did not have this change. If we did not have the change we would be back where we were before. Under the present system of introducing it in spring and taking it off in the autumn, I do not see how we are to get staggering of working hours and ease transport.

Staggering almost inevitably means some people going to work earlier than the rush—more than those who will go later than the rush. By extending the beginning of daylight saving into March we shall destroy any hope that London Transport may have had of getting some offices in London to start work at 9 a.m. instead of 9.30 a.m., or at 8.30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.

We shall squeeze the rush into an even tighter and more highly compressed period, mainly in the morning but also, to some extent, in the evening. Whilst I accept this order as inevitable, because it has gone so far, I wish to record my protest even against this extension of Summer Time, and I hope that there will be no question of extending it further next year.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Vosper

By leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I will reply to the points raised in this debate. I thank hon. Members who have expressed their views. The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) asked if I would give further information about the replies received from the bodies consulted.

To give the overall analysis, 26 of the organisations asked for no change to be made; eight asked for an extension in the autumn; 38 for an extension in the spring and the autumn; 74 for mid-European, or Summer Time all the year round; 16 made other replies which could not be classified in any of the other categories; and 16 did not reply. Numerically, therefore, there was a majority for what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) does not want.

As I have said, we did not favour that majority view, because, on analysis, there seemed to be much substance in the argument put forward by the very large organisations in the second category—those who wanted an extension in the spring and autumn. The bodies covered a wide variety of interests. The Urban District Councils Association asked for an extension in the autumn until after the last Saturday in October, and an earlier start in the spring—the substance of the Order. The Association of Municipal Corporations had a majority favouring the adoption of mid-European time, but the views expressed by the minority favoured variously an extension in the autumn, an extension in autumn and spring, and no change.

On the other hand, the County Councils Association favoured merely an extension in the autumn until after the last Saturday in October. The Rural District Councils Association asked for mid-European or Summer Time all the year round. The Trades Union Congress made a rather interesting reply. A majority, 21 organisations representing 2,280,000 members, favoured mid-European time; ten organisations, representing 2,160,000 members, favoured no change; 11 organisations, representing 467,000 members, supported an extension in the autumn and spring. The decision behind the Order therefore favours the moderate opinion of the Trades Union Congress. The British Employers Confederation was equally divided between mid-European time and an extension in the spring and autumn. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce, on the other hand, favoured mid-European time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) asked particularly about the farmers. The National Farmers' Union of England and Wales said that it would not oppose a modest extension in the autumn, but said that there was a strong body of opinion in favour of no change. Scottish farmers, who are concerned with the Order, opposed any change whatsoever. The National Union of Agricultural Workers also favoured no change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry also asked about the teaching profession. The National Union of Teachers asked for an extension in the autumn and spring, as did the Joint Committee of the Four Secondary Associations. Those were some of the replies which we have received, and I think that the decision to make an extension for three weeks in the spring and autumn of 1961 was therefore the right decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) complained about the alteration of the clock twice a year. That was a consideration mentioned in many of the replies and one of the things which we had in mind. It also bears upon the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South. One of the reasons why those engaged in commerce wanted mid-European time was to be rid of the present anomaly between ourselves and mid-European countries. With the exception of Hungary, we are the only European country which makes this change of the clock, and those engaged in international commerce find that uniformity of hours with European countries has considerable advantages.

Our main consideration in reaching this decision—and we had regard to the views of the farmers and the fuel industry and possibly education on the one hand who did not want a large extension and the views of the tourist industry and the recreation industry and, to some extent, those engaged in industry and commerce on the other—was that we wanted a fairly large if not complete extension, and this Order for next year is a compromise decision as an experiment.

I must place on record the continuing interest of the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) in this problem. He raised the question of transport and said that a rather larger extension in the spring and autumn would be in the interests of transport and probably of road safety. However, there comes a time when, if the extension is greater than three weeks, the hours of darkness in the morning during Summer Time are greater than they are in the depth of winter. A period of three weeks was chosen to try to prevent that from happening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry is an optimist in his views about the summer. Nevertheless, I understood him to support the principle of the Order.

As I have said, this is an Order for one year. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will value the contributions made by the House tonight and by the public in respect of this Order as to what should be done for 1962. Meanwhile, I am grateful for the support for this Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, in pursuance of the provisions of Section 2 of the Summer Time Act, 1947, praying that the Summer Time Order, 1960, be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 30th November.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.