§ LORD LAMINGTON asked whether His Majesty's Government have come to a decision as to the introduction of the 24-hour system according to the undertaking given on May 6. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will not trouble the House for more than a few moments at this hour, as we had a debate upon this matter when the question was brought forward by my noble friend Lord Newton not, long ago. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Marley, who, I understand, is going to reply, will be able to give a definite and favourable answer. In his speech on the occasion to which I have referred he really raised no objection to this proposal, except that the Government did not think there was any great public demand for the change. I agree it is not a matter that excites the masses of the people, but I think everybody who has had any experience of the working of the 24-hour clock approves of it. It has been introduced into the Army and Navy and Air Force, and on the Continent it is universal. Therefore, although there may be no great public demand for it, I do not think it would be objected to by the public. The only valid objection that I have heard was the opinion expressed that it would cost the railways something if introduced on the railways. I am very unwilling that any act of the Government should put a further burden on the railways in addition to those burdens which have been imposed in past years, but if a good time limit were given there would be no objection.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
The noble Viscount, Lord Churchill, said on May 16 that if the Government would give a lead 998 he would not object. I think this is a case where the Government might well give a lead by introducing it into their post offices, and having envelopes and telegrams stamped on the 24-hour clock principle. I think that would be a very great convenience. I believe that cable-grams already are stamped on the 24-hour system, and, therefore, it might well be adopted for ordinary letters and telegrams. Under the present system, one often has difficulty in deciding at what time a letter has been posted. It is generally badly stamped, and you cannot find out whether it has been posted a.m. or p.m. If you had one time to deal with it would simplify the matter. I trust this afternoon that we are going to have a favourable reply from the noble Lord, and that this 24-hour system will be adopted as regards the Post Office.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I promised when I dealt with this question a few weeks ago that the Departments concerned should re-examine the matter. The Departments have re-examined this question, and have taken into account the discussion which took place in your Lordships' House the month before last. I am bound to say that I personally very much regret that as a result of that re-examination the Government have decided that they are not able to take any action in the direction of changing the present method of expressing time. In coming to this decision the Government were influenced by the fact that they have no evidence of any general or widespread desire for the change suggested. They do recognise, however, that a number of very distinguished authorities have expressed themselves in favour of the change—persons like the Astronomer Royal, for instance—but they also have to recognise that other authorities have also expressed themselves in a contrary sense, and that is one of the difficulties which any Government have to face when there is no widespread desire for a change.
The Government have further taken into account the question of the railways, and it is a fact in this country that there are very few journeys of sufficient duration to make the use of the 24-hour system in time-tables a real necessity. Of course in regard to Continental travelling the matter is entirely different, 999 and I understand this system is used in certain Continental time-tables printed in this country. As regards the railways here, however, it is felt that there is nothing to prevent the railway companies, if they particularly want this change, making it themselves without any question of Government intervention. The railway companies really said that they are prepared to accept it if the Government wished to make a move, but are not particularly anxious to have it. Of course your Lordships know that I feel—and there is no doubt—that the proposed change would be advantageous, but, on the other hand, it would cause worry to a number of people whose mathematics are very weak. I do not, of course, refer to members of your Lordships' House in that connection. Perhaps when the school-leaving age has been raised and children have more facility in mathematics a different interpretation may be given to the question. Personally I hope so, but I am sorry that we cannot do anything more at the present time.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lord's statement with mingled surprise and disappointment. I have been engaged in polities now for many years, and I ought to be inured to disappointment, but I confess that when the noble Lord not so long ago expressed himself in favour of the change and assured the House that it would be considered in a careful and, above all, a sympathetic spirit by the Departments concerned, I did hope that something really was going to happen. I can only say that I have never listened to a more unconvincing statement than that which has just proceeded from the noble Lord. This is an obvious and a petty proposal against which there is nothing whatever to be said. It is admitted that it is conducive to accuracy in all exact operations. It was unanimously recommended by a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament something like 13 years ago. It has been adopted by all the Forces of the Crown. It is in operation in all European countries. And when the noble Lord advances as an argument against it that it would be hard on the railways, he must, surely, have forgotten the fact—of which I hoped I had been able to convince him—that the railways actually want it. The railways know as well as 1000 the noble Lord that it would cost them something, but the point is that they are quite prepared to incur that expense in consequence of the greater convenience which would result. I quoted from railway authorities in support of this statement. Therefore, that particular argument falls to the ground altogether.
He has two other arguments. When I say "he" I presume he represents the view of the Cabinet—a Cabinet which seems in some respects to possess a very retrograde nature. He says that there would be difficulty in calculation. There is no more difficulty in calculating the time of day under the 24-hour system than there is in calculating what half a crown means. He might just as well say that if you use the term half a crown, nobody would know that you meant two shillings and sixpence. There is just as much force in the argument. Then he had a final argument, that there is no demand for it. I admit that there has not been any demonstration at the Albert Hall or on Tower Hill or in Hyde Park or anywhere else. Nobody has gone to prison and nobody has gone on hunger strike in favour of this 24-hour day. But is the opinion of scientific authorities and the experience of professional men to count for nothing? Are the Government only to be influenced by processions of people carrying red flags or black flags or symbols of that kind? Surely equal attention might be paid to persons of experience and common sense who have had a proper education. There is really no argument of any sort or value that can be adduced against it. The only argument that suggests itself to me is that the Government have been influenced by a desire to placate—a perfectly hopeless undertaking—people like my noble friend Lord Banbury. That really is the only explanation I can think of for this apathy. This proposal is so sensible, so simple and I may add so cheap—it is not going to cost anybody anything except the railways—that it is bound to come. I hope my noble friend Lord Lamington will persist in this crusade and continue to worry the Government on the subject. I can assure him and the noble Lord opposite that if he does not do so I shall be quite ready to take his place, and I shall hope to see it in operation before I depart this life.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, as nobody has said a word on behalf of the Government on this occasion, may I be allowed to congratulate them on the conservative spirit in which they have treated this important question? Personally, I am one of those placated by the speech of the noble Lord. I much prefer to have my day cut up into a.m. and p.m., as I have been in the habit of doing for so many years, and not have to make mathematical calculations. I do not say that I cannot, with the assistance of pen and paper, find out that 15 h. is really 3 p.m., but prefer to see 3 on the clock or in the time-table. We are told that the railway companies want it, but there seems to be some confusion there. I gather that the railway companies would acquiesce in it, but are not clamouring for it with red, black, green or white flags which the noble Lord advocates to press the cause. The noble Lord said that it was no more difficult to understand that 15 h. meant 3 p.m. than that half a crown meant two shillings and sixpence. Perhaps it is not, but I am surprised that he should use the half crown argument because we are told that cur coinage system is as bad as our time and that we ought to divide our coinage into decimal parts. Therefore, when one got half a crown it would be two shillings decimal five or something like that. Then the noble Lord said there was no great demand for it. Is not that a good reason for the wise decision come to? If there is no demand why upset everybody's habits? I should like to express my agreement, not with the noble Lord—because I do not think he was in agreement with himself—but with the very wise advisers he has behind him.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
May I, by leave of the House, ask the noble Lord whether he has any definite statement from the Post Office Advisory Council on this matter?
§ LORD MARLEY
Perhaps I ought to wind up this by saying that the question was not referred to the Post Office Advisory Council, but it was carefully considered by the Postmaster-General. Personally, in many ways, I would much rather placate the noble Lord, Lord Newton, than the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, if I have to placate somebody. I wish I had more influence in this matter. 1002 I find myself in total disagreement with the noble Lord who supported me in what he said in this connection. There are several Departments concerned and one of the difficulties when several Departments are concerned in a matter is that very often they do not see eye to eye. I do not agree that this is a petty proposal. I think it is an important proposal, and the Department in which I work—the War Office—has shown that it does not consider this a petty proposal by actually adopting it. Nevertheless, the position is, I am sorry to say, as I have already stated, and I can only hope that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, will go on hunger strike. By that means, perhaps, we shall get a further move in this matter.