HL Deb 16 May 1916 vol 21 cc1039-48



My Lords, taking advantage of the Motion which has just been made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Summer Time Bill. This Bill is a modest attempt to establish a closer correspondence between the hours when people are awake and at work and the hours of daylight. In principle, no doubt, that correspondence is supposed to exist already. We thank the wise Providence who gave us— … earth and heaven, darkness and light; Who for toil the day has given, for rest the night. That is the principle to which we all pay lip service, but in practice we are very far from abiding by it. We are in practice the slaves of conventions, which lead us to misuse both the light and the darkness. At one end we treat the hours of daylight as if the sun had not risen; at the other we spend millions upon artificial light which, because it is artificial, is inferior to and is obviously much more extravagant than sunlight, which costs us nothing. It has often been said that if in this country any one were able at five o'clock on a summer's morning to lift the roofs off the houses he would see that, in spite of bright daylight, the greater part of the population was sound asleep with closed shutters; that if, again, he were able to perform a similar operation at ten o'clock in the evening, he would find a great part of the population using artificial light in order to make up for their own mismanagement earlier in the day. The object of this Bill is to introduce a small measure of additional Common sense into these arrangements.

This question is, of course, very far from being a new one. Indeed, one was reminded of its antiquity by a very interesting letter republished in the Observer of last Sunday and written by Benjamin Franklin in the year 1784. That letter puts the whole case almost for daylight saving, and I would like to read to your Lordships two sentences from it which seem to me to sum up the whole question in a nutshell. Franklin was then living in Paris, and his letter was addressed to the people of that city. He ended his letter in these words— They are as well instructed, judicious, and prudent a people as exist anywhere in the world, all professing, like myself, to be lovers of economy; and, from the many heavy taxes required from them by the necessities of the State, have surely an abundant reason to be economical. I say it is impossible that so sensible a people under such circumstances should have lived so long by file smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles if they had really known that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing. That really is, in a few words, the case for this Bill. Your Lordships may be aware that this question came before a Committee of the House of Commons in the year 1908 That Committee reported in favour of the measure which I am now proposing, or of a similar measure. In 1909, another Committee of the House of Commons reported against the Bill by a majority of one; but it is to be noted that their adverse opinion was founded not so much upon the merits of the case as upon the fact that there existed a great diversity of opinion with regard to the measure and that it was likely to cause inconvenience to many important interests. The House of Commons as we know it to-day has taken a much more courageous view of the question, and the Bill which I am asking your Lordships to read a second time was read a second time in that House without a Division.

One may make some rather interesting conjectures as to the ill-success of this proposal in its earlier days. That ill-success was probably due, in the first place, to apprehensions that we should disorganise our own business arrangements at home, and also to the apprehension that it might lead us into complications with other Powers with whom we are in business relations. I shall say a word about that part of the case in a moment. But I imagine that the real obstacle to the change was to be discovered in what I should almost call the innate conservatism of the national temperament. We do not like changing our habits, still less do we like changing them under instructions from Acts of Parliament. Such changes are always a facile prey to ridicule, and it is easy to make cheap jokes at the expense of a Daylight Saving Bill. Besides that, I think many people were probably convinced that there was something impious, almost sacrilegious, in laying hands upon an institution so venerable as Gree wich mean time. To many of our fellow-country[...] Greenwich mean time probably looks like something that stands upon the same level as the British Constitution or the Thirty-nine Articles. But I need not remind your Lordships that our arrangements for describing time are purely the result of a series of conventions. Local time, as we have it in the provinces, does not, of course, bear any correspondence with true or solar time. Local time, instead of varying all over the country, is made to accord with Greenwich mean time. On the other hand, Greenwich mean time is, I am informed, itself the result of a convention. I confess that I always imagined that noon at Greenwich was determined by the fact that the sun was at that moment over the Greenwich meridian; but I learn on further inquiry that the sun himself is by no means to be trusted in these matters, and that all careful astronomers base themselves not upon the movements of the sun but upon certain movements of the stars. I venture, therefore, to think that we need have no scruple whatever in laying hands upon an arrangement based upon such a foundation as that.

In these days we take a rather stricter and more matter-of-fact view of these problems. The real justification of a Bill of this kind, particularly when we ask Parliament to agree to it in time of war, is that it is a measure which conduces to efficiency and economy, and there can, I think, be no doubt whatever that this Bill will have those results. Our proposal is that in the five summer months we should push on the clock by one hour, and thereby encourage people to begin the day and the night earlier than they have hitherto been in the habit of doing. The arguments in favour of the proposal seem to me fairly obvious. It is, of course, the case that the hours of daylight are limited, and it seems to follow that it is our duty to turn them to the best account that we can. I understand that the result of this Bill will be that during the summer months 130 additional hours of daylight will be available in consequence of it. It is not less true that this Bill will have extremely valuable results in that it will give art additional hour in the evening when the days are long for purposes of [...]creation. All of us must have been struck of late years by the wonderful increase in the number of parks, open spaces, and recreation grounds in the vicinity of London and of all the larger cities, and it is surely no small thing that we should be able by an arrangement of this kind to put it in the power of the people who frequent these parks and recreation grounds to use them for an additional hour every day of their lives during the summer. I think the same argument applies not less strongly in another case—that of the people who have gardens or allotments in the country, and whom most of us have often seen perhaps at the end of a hard day's work in the fields enjoying their short spell of leisure by working in their own little plot.

With regard to the question of economy, I will not take upon myself to name to the House the sum which it is believed will be saved to the country by this change in the law. The estimates must obviously be very conjectural. I have seen it placed as high as £10,000,000 a year, but I should be sorry to assume any responsibility for that or any other figure. It is quite clear, however, that if we can get people to consume sunlight instead of electric light and lamp light, the national bill for illuminants must be reduced to a material extent. I may mention another reason for which I think the change may be made without any misgiving. Foreign countries, which at one time apparently paid as little attention to this question as we did, are now most of them adopting a change of this kind. In the French Chamber of Deputies a resolution in favour of it was unanimously passed. Holland is also about to adopt the change. Denmark has adopted it; and I understand that in Germany and Austria something of the same kind is about to be done. These precedents are, of course, very valuable, not only because they are precedents but because they show that we need no longer have the same apprehension that we used at one time to entertain—the apprehension, I mean, that by altering the time here we should find that we were out of accord with the people with whom we are in business relations abroad. At home the Associated Chamber of Commerce have advocated the measure. The Committee which is now watching over for the Government the question of the consumption of coal attach great importance to it and have recommended it to us. The Post Office raise no objections; and I am given to understand that the Stock Exchange, whose mysteries I have never been able to fathom and which was at one time very adverse to the proposal, now at any rate regards it with equanimity. I need not say more of the arguments in favour of the Bill.

With regard to the arguments against the Bill, I will only say this. So far as I am able to see, the only practical inconvenience which is likely to be occasioned to any one at the moment of transition will be a very slight and momentary inconvenience. It comes to this, that people will be expected to get up a little earlier at the beginning of the summer season, and they will not get back the hour of sleep that will be owing to them until some time in the month of October. With that exception, the transition from the old to the new system ought to present no material inconvenience; and I think it may be fairly argued that to any one who has been in the habit, for example, of passing from this country to Ireland, where the mean time is different, or, still more, to any one who has travelled across the Continent of America and found himself obliged to alter the time of his watch as he went on, this slight disturbance will not appear very formidable. I believe it is the case that there are some industries in which the alteration of the time may cause some inconvenience. That is likely to be the case in regard to the fruit-picking industry; and, to some extent, also, in regard to the dairying industry; but I would only say, as to that, that these are people who have been already to a considerable extent accustomed to turning night into day, and who probably will not greatly mind if they find a few additional hours of work before sunrise imposed upon them. But, at any rate, I venture to say that any of these local or special inconveniences ought not to be weighed in the balance as compared with the general advantage to the whole public which we believe will result from the passing of this Bill.

It is sometimes asked why it is necessary to legislate at all, why you cannot leave people to make these changes for themselves. I am sure that any one who pauses for a moment to reflect will realise that no change of this kind can be carried out unless it is made general and universal. Why did we resort to Greenwich mean time. Because of the inconvenience of having one time in one part of the country and another time in another district. Just in the same way social arrangements of all kinds would be absolutely impossible if there were a kind of go-as-you-please system in force, under which some people could adopt the new arrangement of time while others adhered to the former plan. A change of this kind obviously ought not to be imposed upon the country if there were any reason for supposing that the country was reluctant to accept it. All the evidence which is in our possession leads us to suppose that the country is ready to accept it; certainly that it is ready to accept it in view of the condition of things under which we are living at this time. This Bill, as your Lordships know, will have effect only while the war lasts. It may therefore be regarded in the light of an emergency measure, and as an experiment. If the public are dissatisfied with the results produced, the Bill can easily not be renewed at some future time.

I have only one word more to say. It is this. On account of the number of notices which will have to be issued to persons concerned all over the country it is most important that, if the Bill is to come into operation, as we hope it will, by Sunday morning next, no time should be lost in passing it into law. It is for that reason that we have adopted the unusual course of asking your Lordships to take both the First and the Second Reading this evening; and it is for that reason that we shall put the Bill down for Committee to-morrow, in the hope that if the House approves of the Bill it will be allowed to pass through the remaining stages on that day.

Moved (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended), That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)


Lords, the closing words of the speech of my noble friend opposite will have explained to your Lordships, what I do not think any of you had realised till that moment, that we are discussing, not the First Reading, but the Second Reading of this Bill. That remarkable circumstance has arisen from the fact that at the beginning of business, on the Motion of the Leader of the House, as is usual when we are asked to legislate nowadays, our Rules were suspended; and we have been called upon to legislate upon a Bill which technically we have never even seen. That is the present position. Indeed, there was a moment of extreme anguish—not witnessed by many of your Lordships—when we were almost on the point of reading the Bill a second time before it had actually reached your Lordships' House. For some reason it lingered in the passage, and was only delivered just a second or two before my noble friend rose to his feet. I cannot take this Bill very seriously, and therefore I cannot pretend to use tragical accents in describing how your Lordships' House is being treated in the matter of legislation.

The Bill itself is an experiment. My noble friend explained at the end of his speech that it is a temporary measure to be passed for the period of the war. It is recommended upon general and upon special grounds, and the special grounds are that it will contribute to economy and efficiency, which are so much required at this moment. For these reasons, if for these reasons alone, I think almost all your Lordships would be willing to give the Bill a trial. Anything which ministers to economy, considering the situation in which we are placed, ought to be, accepted by your Lordships' House even if it is trivial and even if it is inconvenient. With respect to the rest of the case, my noble friend anticipates all sorts of wonderful results from the passage of this Bill. I cannot say that I am equally sanguine. I do not believe it will prove of very great permanent advantage to the life of the people.

My noble friend said that, as far as he had access to any evidence, there was a general consensus of opinion in favour of the Bill. He did not tell us what the working classes thought about it. That is what I should like to have heard. As regards the upper mid middle classes, I do not think they ought to come to Parliament for a Bill of this kind. If they want to go to bed earlier or to get up earlier, why do they not do so? Personally I have not much sympathy with a Bill of this kind so far as they are concerned. But if this change really would be an advantage to the working classes, that would be, a great argument because they are not free agents in the matter; they cannot alter their hours to suit themselves, but are bound by all sorts of conditions which make it incumbent upon them to trust to general rules. My noble friend did not mention any evidence of the wishes of the working classes. He did not tell us of any view expressed by the Trade Union Congress, or of any resolution passed by a Trade Council. I dare say there is such. I do not urge the point strongly because, for my part, I should not suggest any opposition to the Bill, on the ground which I put forward at the beginning of these few remarks—namely, that if it is felt by the Government that this Bill will minister to economy in this time of war then I think it should be tried as an experiment. But let it be quite understood that it is an experiment. Do not let it be said when the war is over, if people have found the change an inconvenient one, that there will be any inconsistency in going back to our old adherence to the clock. I am sorry that my noble friend, who generally speaks respectfully of every one, spoke rather disrespectfully of the sun. He said the sun was no more to be relied upon than the British Constitution.


No; I did not say that.


Not quite so low as that?


My noble friend has mixed up two different parts of my speech. What I said was that some people had come to think of Greenwich mean time as if it were on a par with the British Constitution or the Thirty-nine Articles.


I will not say anything about the Thirty-nine Articles. But any one who places any reliance on the British Constitution at this time of day is likely to be very much disappointed. So far as this Bill is concerned, I do not think that in any quarter of your Lordships' House opposition will be offered to it as a temporary measure. My noble friend said that it is important that it should be passed at once, that certain notices have to go out by Sunday. There always are these desperate reasons why your Lordships' House should legislate at breakneck speed. The notices, no doubt, are prepared and ready to be issued, all dated for Sunday, and therefore it is no good crying over spilt milk. If, therefore, your Lordships are willing to pass this Bill into law in the course of to-morrow, I do not think any of us on this Bench will resist it. But we cannot, pretend to approve of procedure which makes legislation somewhat of a farce.


My Lords, I have not had an opportunity of seeing this Bill, which it is stated is a temporary measure. But I should like to ask the noble Marquess whether it can be extended merely by Proclamation or by Order in Council, or whether for the purpose of extension it will have to come back to the Legislature. Although Constitutional matters are not regarded as of much weight nowadays, I entertain great objection to legislation of this kind being extended by Proclamation. I do not know whether that principle is embedded in this Bill, and therefore I have ventured to ask the noble Marquess a question on the point.


My Lords, the answer to the noble and learned Lord's question is this. In Clause 2 it is laid down that the Bill is to be in force in the year 1916 between the two limits of time mentioned. Then the clause goes on to provide that His Majesty may, in any subsequent year, by Order in Council made during the continuance of the present war, declare the Act to be in force during that year. Therefore the Act can be renewed for one year only, and then only if the war is still in progress.

May I say a word with regard to what fell from my noble friend Lord Salisbury as to the views of the working classes? I am not able to produce to him any authoritative statement proceeding from ally great body of working men, but I am able to tell my noble friend that the Labour Members in the House of Commons supported the Bill—there was no Division against it—and my noble friend, who knows the House of Commons better than I do, knows quite well that the Labour Members are not likely to support any measure which is calculated to outrage the feelings or interfere with the convenience of their constituents. I should be inclined to go further and say that obviously this Bill is advantageous to the working classes, because they are the people of all others who are likely to gain by getting the extra hour of daylight in the summer evenings.


But they lose an hour's sleep in the morning.


Their day will not really be any longer. They will spend a certain amount of time in the open air instead of indoors. There is only one other point. I have heard it suggested that this Bill might be the occasion of much more overtime work being done; but there, again, I think one may safely trust the working classes of this country to see to it that they are not deprived by any side wind of the advantage which this Bill undoubtedly gives them.


My Lords, the noble Marquess referred to the industry of fruit-growing as one which would be placed under some disadvantage by this Bill. I should like to point out that these people will in wet weather lose probably an hour in the morning if not two, but they are going to lose very likely another hour in the evening. It has been the habit of the railway companies to close their goods yards in fruit-growing districts at rather an early hour, and if they close them an hour earlier still after this Bill becomes law the hardship inflicted on this industry will be very great. In the past it has been extremely difficult to get fruit to the railway goods yards in time; and I would ask the noble Marquess whether the Board of Agriculture could not bring some influence to bear on the railway companies so as to secure that in fruit-growing districts the goods yards may be kept open for a reasonable time.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for his suggestion, and I will make representation on the subject to the President of the Board of Agriculture.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.