HL Deb 20 March 1929 vol 73 cc764-9

LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they would consult the railway companies as to the desirability of introducing the twenty-four hour system, a change recommended in The Times by a distinguished body of signatories on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion relates to a matter which I have thought for many years ought to be dealt with, but I should not have ventured to bring it before your Lordships' House had it not been for two letters which appeared in The Times, one in December and one in February. The letters were signed by Sir Frank Dyson, the Astronomer Royal, and by the Rev. T. E. Phillips, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and Professor Turner. I may say that this matter is not brought forward for the first time now. Forty years ago at the instance of some American authority it was proposed that the twenty-four hour day should be substituted for the present cumbrous system of a.m. and p.m. That proposal forty years ago was endorsed by the then Astronomer Royal. Eight years ago the Home Secretary set up a Committee to consider the matter and that Committee approved the introduction of the twenty-four-hour-day system for official and public purposes. For some years past scientific societies such as the Meteorological Society and the Seismological Society have had a, twenty-four-hour system. Their twenty-four hours started at midnight. The astronomical societies also had a twenty-four-hour system, but that started at noon, because, as their work was done chiefly at night, they naturally did not want a break in the very middle of their proceedings. In 1925, however, the International Union of Astronomical Societies brought themselves into line with the other scientific societies. They saw that, although the twenty-four-hour day beginning at noon was a convenience to them, it was desirable to have the same day as other scientific bodies. Therefore they count their day from midnight to midnight, and by so doing they have brought themselves in line with the "National Ephemerides" That means those astronomical tables dealing with the daily position of the heavenly bodies, and I think it is a publication issued by the Board of Trade.

Having thus cleared the way for all scientific and learned and national purposes these three gentlemen connected with astronomy whom I mentioned as having written to The Times thought it desirable that they should ask the railways whether they could not conform to the system. They wrote to Sir Josiah Stamp, the Chairman of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and he very courteously approached the general managers of the other railways. Their reply was that they would not oppose the introduction of the system, but they did not think it was their place to take the initiative. The astronomers on their side did not see how they could go any further than they had gone. The result of their first; letter to The Times was to create a considerable amount of correspondence. They classified the result of this correspondence, and they found that twenty letters were written in favour of the change, and six against it. One very notable letter showed the difficulty of planning a through railway-journey from the South of England to the North of Scotland or to Ireland owing to the present cumbrous system, and showed the particular difficulty in the case of journeys from the Continent.

I need hardly tell your Lordships that since the War both the Navy and the Army have adopted the 24-hour system. It has been in use for some time on the Indian railways, the Continental railways and in the United States, and I should imagine that the various aviation companies serving the Continent have either adopted it or are about to do so. I am told also that the Southern Railway uses the system in relation to Continental traffic. I would remind your Lordships that my proposal deals only with railways, and not with the general details of our ordinary life. I should like to lay stress upon the point that people who fear great inconvenience and complexity should remember that the system deals only with one half of the day, and that the first half remains as it is. It is only for the hours from noon to midnight that there would be any change. I am quite confident; that the system will be introduced at no distant date, and I do not know why, since it would solve the problem so readily, it should not be introduced now for the benefit of the public. I hope that I shall have a satisfactory reply from the Government. I beg to move.


My Lords, my noble friend's Question is of a very simple and modest character and I should like to say a word in favour of it. At the same time I do not altogether understand why the Government should be dragged into this question at all. It would not make any difference to my view if I heard—I will not say that some noble Lord on the Front Bench, but that the Home Secretary, for instance, was in favour of this change. That would not affect my opinion at all. It seems to me that this is a question which might very well be decided by the authorities themselves, without dragging His Majesty's Govern- ment into the discussion. The railway managers appear to be a singularly modest collection of persons and, for some reason or other, they seem averse from moving in this matter unless they obtain what I suppose may be described as official support. I have never taken any particular interest in the question, but I have read some of the correspondence regarding it, and I observed that there are only two arguments advanced against it. The first argument is that the mental effort of calculating on a 24-hour basis is so great that it is beyond the capacity of the ordinary person, let alone the ordinary traveller. I was surprised to find this argument addressed to me by a member of this House. A noble Lord remarked to me that, it would be a most inconvenient thing if, for instance, I invited him to luncheon at 13.30 o'clock, and that he would find it exceedingly difficult to make the calculation. Of course there is no necessity, as my noble friend has pointed out, for doing anything of the kind.

The only other objection that I noticed in the Press came from an ultra-patriotic gentleman who said in effect: "For Heaven's sake do not let us do this. If we do we shall be doing the same as everybody else." He said we should be doing the same as every other country, including the Dominions, and for the credit of this country we should retain our system and be different from everybody else. I think he concluded his letter with the words: "Let England to herself be true." These ultra-patriotic views do not make much impression upon me or, I think, upon anybody else. There is no question of interference with the ordinary mode of expressing time, or with engagements. It is merely a question of altering time-tables. All I can say on that subject is that a British time-table—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Monks-well, if he were present, would agree with me—is a sort of statistical jungle in which it is most difficult to find your way about and very easy to go wrong. On the other hand, the Continental timetable is simplicity itself, and for that reason I hope that, if His Majesty's Government are going to use any moral influence—and I do not suppose that they can use anything else—they will use it in favour of my noble friend's proposal.


My Lords, the noble Lord behind me has raised a subject of a certain amount of interest, and it is very unfortunate that it should come before your Lordships at this very late hour. I think that my noble friend who has just spoken has really answered the Question that was put by the noble Lord, Lord Lamington. In the speech in which he introduced this Motion Lord Lamington told your Lordships that this matter had been the subject of letters which had appeared in The Times in the recent past. He gave us a short history of the matter, showing that it had been before this House on more than one occasion. But I hardly think that the noble Lord will claim that very much interest has been demonstrated throughout the country in regard to it, nor has any pressure been brought to bear for the introduction of this system. The noble Lord has told us that two letters have recently appeared, one in The Times of December 6 and another, I think, in the month of February. From the former letter, which was signed by some very eminent names, it can be seen that an approach had already been made to the railway companies and that the reply that they gave was not really a very encouraging one. It was to the effect that they had no objection. Without committing themselves to any definite approval of the 24-hours principle of time notation, the railway companies stated that they would not oppose any steps that were taken with the object of facilitating its introduction into their time-tables. That really does not give the encouragement for the movement which the noble Lord's speech would lead us to expect.

Speaking for myself, I am quite sure that I should value very much the simplification of time-tables, and I am certain that most of your Lordships would take exactly the same view; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has said, this is really a matter for the railway companies themselves. If they decided to alter their time-tables in the direction suggested by the noble Lord, I am quite sure that none of us would object. We should congratulate them upon the steps that they had taken. In the Question which the noble Lord put to me he asks the Government to approach the railway companies again, and I think he will agree with me on reflection that as the railway companies have been asked their opinion once there is no further object to be gained by their being again approached by the Government, when I feel sure they would furnish us with exactly the same answer. The noble Lord at the end of his Question moved for Papers, but I am not quite clear what Papers he is asking for, as the Question confines itself merely to asking whether the Government will approach the railway companies, and I think he will agree that, as the railway companies have already expressed their opinion, no good object can be served by the Government acceding to the request of the noble Lord.


I agree with my noble friend that there may be no Papers. I thought the reply of the railway companies to the distinguished astromoners was very encouraging indeed, and I thought also that, with very little encouragement front the Government, the railway companies would see their way to adopt the change. That change is bound to come sooner or later, and I think the sooner the better for our convenience. I have no wish to delay the House, and I will therefore ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.