HL Deb 10 March 1947 vol 146 cc197-210

2.36 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in introducing this Bill to your Lordships perhaps I might adopt an opening which is sometimes used by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and say that although I do not like the Bill, and although very few people like it, the circumstances are such that it is necessary to proceed with it. One has to admit that considerable upset will he caused both to industrial and to social and domestic life, and, not least of all, in agriculture.

I would like to emphasize what has already been expressed in another place—namely, our sense of gratitude and appreciation for the public Spirit shown by those in agriculture. The Government fully realize that the burden laid upon the agricultural community by the changes which they have proposed is a heavy one, and it is one which they would not contemplate imposing were the situation not so critical. The Government greatly appreciate the public spirit shown by the President of the National Farmers' Union when their decision was made known to him. He entered a protest against it, as he was fully entitled to do, but said that he trusted that, with the full co-operation of the workers, agricultural output would be maintained in the face of these new difficulties.

In that connexion perhaps I might also draw your Lordships' attention to the attitude taken up in another place by Captain Crookshank, who was leading what one might call the opposition to the Bill. He said: That is the whole issue—that this year is a year of crisis. Whose fault it is is another matter … Let us in this House accept the fact that, through one reason or another … we are in a position of really serious industrial difficulty. Therefore, it is up to the Government to make proposals … to mitigate the position. He went on to say: I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept our assistance in facilitating the Bill …. That was the spirit in which this Bill went through another place; all the difficulties and disadvantages attendant upon it were admitted, but the position was accepted that without it matters would be very much worse indeed. The last remark which I have quoted referred to the proposed extension, in Clause 2 of the original Bill, to another year. Noble Lords will see that in Clause 2 (2) the Government have met the opposition and have there interpolated a provision ensuring that before any extension is made to another year the Order in Council shall first of all be laid before Parliament so that it may be there discussed. The announcement in the Press recently that Summer Time would be extended to another year is without foundation. There is no intention whatever of extending the operation of the Bill to the winter months.

The Bill proposes that as from Sunday next, March 16 (it seems something like a perverted sense of humour to talk about Summer Time on Sunday next) to April 12 the day shall be extended by a single hour, or what is known generally as Summer Time, and from the morning of April 13 until August 10 it shall be extended to Double Summer Time, or two hours. That is briefly the position. I need hardly trouble your Lordships by going through the Bill clause by clause. Clause 1 details the hours by which it is proposed to extend the day when Summer Time comes in, and Clause 2, as I have already mentioned, wholly meets the criticism raised in the other place by honourable members there.

As regards the meaning of "the period of summer time" in the Road Transport Lighting Acts, that is not interfered with at all. Under the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1927, lighting-up time for vehicles is (as respects the period of Summer Time under the Acts of 1922 and 1925) the time between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise, and as respects the remainder of the year, the time between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise. Those periods by virtue of Clause I (3) remain untouched by the Bill and stand as at present. I think that is all I need trouble your Lordships with at this moment with regard to this very brief Bill. It is an unwanted child but one which we feel, owing to the circumstances, we are bound to adopt. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ammon.)

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has been good enough to present this Bill to us has done it in non-extended time. It is just as well that we should realize that, except in time of war, we have never had Summer Time for so long a period; and that neither have we had before, except in time of war, what is called Double Summer Time. It is just as well, if only briefly, to consider why we need it now, because this Bill gives permanent power to the Government to propose, subject to affirmative Resolutions of each House of Parliament, Summer Time and Double Summer Time, not only for this year but for ever, so long as this Bill is not repealed.


If Parliament approves.


I think I have used the right form of words. The Bill entitles the Government to make proposals to Parliament for its approval without any further powers. I think it is relevant to draw attention, now that we are considering this as a permanent Bill, to what the Minister of Fuel and Power said when this crisis was suddenly disclosed to the public. I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT: I have to repeat that the conditions now to be put into operation are entirely attributable to the short-fall that we have experienced in the past week and that we are likely to experience next week. It is hoped that this will not last longer than three or four days or, at the most, for a week. We must give ourselves a week …. Well, it is some comment—and I think one is justified in making it—on the foresight of that Minister, that here we are only a month after he made that statement in another place, bringing in a permanent measure because of the shortage of electric power in this country.

I suppose there are really two underlying reasons for this measure. The first is the shortage of coal, and the other the shortage of electrical generating plant. Now this Bill is, at the best, a stop-gap measure, and what one wants to see is what affect it will have on the basic reasons for its being brought forward. It has been frankly admitted in another place by the Secretary of State for Home Affairs that it will not save us very much coal. It is calculated to save us only 150,000 tons of coal during both Summer Time and Double Summer Time. That, I believe, is the production of about only a quarter of a day. It is, however, hoped to facilitate the working of double shifts in the factories, which will naturally distribute the load more evenly. But I should like to press upon the Government three matters in regard to electrical generating machinery. First of all, I should think that we may quite well have been exporting too much generating machinery. I know we made a certain number of promises during the days of the war, but it is absurd to fulfil them if it means that our people will have to stagger their working hours, and that other difficulties will be placed upon the farmers, as is admitted on all sides.

I have had personal experience in the Board of Trade in regard to one of these matters. There is a department in the Board of Trade whose function seems to be to look after the export of capital machinery. As soon as they find machinery is ready in a manufacturing premises, they are liable to seize on it and say, "We must export it." It happened at a factory of which I have firsthand knowledge. A cigarette packing machine had been completed and was to be delivered to this factory. It was seized by the export people in the Board of Trade, and was not delivered to the factory in this country but was sent somewhere abroad. When the management explained to the particular department of the Board of Trade which looks after the export of cigarettes that this would, of course, hamper their export of cigarettes, and informed them that in three months, by the extra production of this machine, its entire value would have been covered by finished goods, the Board of Trade got together and said, "You must have the next one off the line." I should like this question to be looked into, to see whether something like that is not happening in regard to the export of electrical machinery.

It appalled me to see the other day, in the statement of the chairman of one of these electricity generating companies, how long it is now taking to erect electrical generating stations. I believe that each new station, and the progression of its machinery, ought to be watched week by week, to see whether there is any delay, exactly as we had to watch the putting up of an aircraft factory or indeed the making of any aircraft plant. I suggest that that should be done, so that if possible we shall not have to apply this measure again next year. A third thing I would suggest to the Government—I am rather doubtful whether they will agree—is that it is not the time to change horses in the management of the electrical industry. It seems to me quite absurd at this time to take the industry out of the hands of people who know the business (and who have done a wonderful job of work in expanding our electricity industry in the last twenty-five years) and try to put it in other hands. It obviously leads to stagnation at a time when there should be progress. If the Government will not adopt that view, it may well be the reason why this Bill has to be permanent in its nature.

On the other hand, we are all convinced that in the present crisis—and the noble Lord quoted the words of Captain Crook- shank in another place—the Bill is necessary at this time, and certainly we are in no way going to oppose it to-day in this House. It is an odd commentary on the advance in the education of our people that if you want to start a factory or a shift earlier, so as to enable a second shift to be done, both management and workers have to pretend to themselves that they are still only getting to their work at six or seven o'clock in the morning, whereas in fact under Double Summer Time they are getting there at four or five o'clock in the morning. It is rather an odd commentary on the advance of our education that we have to deceive ourselves to get up earlier in the morning. When the noble Lord, in introducing this measure, said that by it the day will. be extended, I do not think he used quite accurate words. That is one thing we cannot do by Act of Parliament. We can only get up a little earlier to see more of the daylight than perhaps we otherwise would.

It is perhaps worth while to make the comment that we seem in this country to be getting rather too inflexible in our arrangements. Because it will not be all factories, by any means, who can run these double shifts. It seems that if trams or trams have to be run earlier to serve one set of people in an area, then all trains and trams have to be run those one or two hours earlier. I wish that our arrangements could be more flexible in that regard. When one comes to the country districts, even if managements and men can persuade themselves that the hours are the same although they are different certainly nature will not take any different course, and it is quite clear that Summer Time and particularly Double Summer Time, is of considerable disadvantage to our farmers and farm workers.

I am not sure—and I would like this to be suggested to the Minister of Education—whether schools in some of the country areas could not alter their times of opening so that children will not have to get up so early, and so that housewives will not have to prepare breakfast at that very early time for school children. In -that way breakfast would be prepared at the later hour for the man on the farm and his work would start normally, at what one might call nature's time—some people would call it God's time—rather than at Summer or Double Summer Time.

I believe that in a lot of areas that might well be done. There might, of course, be difficulties where there was an older child attending a secondary school in a country town, but there are some areas of the country where this proposal might be adopted to the great advantage of those who work on the land in those districts. I would like that point considered.

One must realize that there are going to be increased difficulties. Whether it will mean that the prices of produce will have to be altered for the farmers or not, I do not know. One must recognize that this means quite a lot of hanging about on the farms, waiting for the dew to rise off the crops. That is especially so at the time of the hay harvest. I am glad to think that Double Summer Time is not to extend to the normal time of the cereals harvest, because that would be an intolerable burden on the farmer. The hay harvest will be difficult enough for them. I hope that in every way possible some greater encouragement than is at present given will be offered to the farming community by the Government by. an effort to import more feeding stuffs. That would not only enable us to increase the pig and poultry populations again, but it would also help, in the best way, fertilization of the farm by ordinary farmyard dung, which is by far the better way. One has to realize that with this shutting down of many factories for a period of three weeks or a month, fertilizers will be in shorter supply than they would otherwise have been. We ought to try and do what we can to help farmers, not only because farming is practically the most vital industry in this country—it certainly will turn out to be so in the next couple of years—not only because we want their production, but because of the extremely patriotic way in which their organization have agreed to accept this proposal. So let us do everything we can, before next year, to see that this measure is not again necessary. Let us do everything in the immediate future to help the farmers in every way we possibly can.


I have only one word to say. It is that while one must unwillingly accept the Bill which the noble Lord has moved in the spirit in which he moved it, nobody wants it. It is an unpleasant necessity, but I think it is only fair to say—the noble Lord may not relish it—that this is the outcome of the failure to take steps which should have been thought of, and could have been thought of, last year. The shortage of fuel was foreseeable last year, even if the weather was not. It was common ground a long time ago that Summer Time would mean some saving in fuel, and that in times like these it might be a necessity. With these, remarks, I beg to support the Bill.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I take it we all have to agree that this Bill must be passed, but I hope, as my noble friend said just now, that due regard will be paid to the needs of agriculture. In this respect I am sorry to see that the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture in this House is not with us this afternoon. 1 would have thought he might have come here to help us with questions which we might want elucidated in regard to agriculture. Although the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, is not here, I am perfectly certain the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is just as sorry as anyone else from the agricultural point of view, that we have to have this Bill. Though in no way criticizing the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, I know that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House was our fuehrer as regards agriculture in Buckinghamshire for five years during the war, and that he now knows every bit as much about it as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, if not more.

I would appeal to him to help the farmers. I am speaking not so much for England as from the point of view of Scotland, where this Bill will hit us even harder than it hits you. We shall have to wait another hour for the dew to go off the hay before we cut it. Milkmen will have to start an hour or two earlier, some of the farms are a very long way from the villages, and a large number of them want their cottages rehabilitated. This Bill will not allow us any opportunity to rehabilitate our cottages. In some cases the milkmen have only a bicycle, and some have to walk. There is often considerable difficulty in the early morning, before daylight, in the milking of cows. It is indeed a great hardship. And not only that; it makes farming much more expensive for the farmer, because he will have to keep men idle till noon before he can bring in the hay, and then pay them overtime for the hours in which he can use them; that is, in the ordinary time—the proper time, God's time—when the harvest may be gathered.

Another point affects children in the country villages—I am riot at all sure it is not just as bad in the towns. Children get up at an hour which is the Double Summer Time hour. They are obliged to get up, even if they do not go to school. The household is roused for early breakfast, and when it comes to night any one going round the villages or farms will find these children still up, at ten or eleven o'clock at night. They are not getting their proper sleep, and it is not the fault of the parents—it is not the fault of anybody, except the people who impose Double Summer Time. It is for that reason, and for the reason that it is an exceptional hardship generally and even more so the farther north you go, that I hope the Government will do all they can, not only to relieve farmers in the future but to make it quite clear that this scheme applies to this year only, and not to next year.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot allow this Bill to pass without making a few remarks on behalf of the farmers of this country and the agricultural industry in general. I must say that I, too, am a little sad that my successor at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is not here, for I was hoping that he would help me with one question, of which I admit I have not given notice. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with arguments that are already well known, as to why this Bill, and particularly Double Summer Time, is, to put it mildly, a great hardship upon, if not a menace to, the farmer. The remarks which I am going to make have, I know, the support of the members of the National Farmers' Union in my own home county of Sussex, and I am prepared to say that I think they will have the support of every farmer throughout the length and breadth of the land. It is true to say that no industry has a better record over the past few years than the farming industry. Farmers have met every call that has been made upon them. They met all calls even when they had Double Summer Time during the war. But because they met those calls it is not fair for people to say, as one sometimes hears them say: "Oh, yes, the farmers grumble and raise objections but they always manage to do the job. They managed it before with Double Summer Time so they can do it again." I think that is unfair but it is the sort of statement that has been made to me.

The fact is that the farmers have put their country before every other consideration, and that is the reason why they have always delivered the goods. At this moment we are six weeks to two months behind on the land, and it may well be that by April we shall be even more behind than that. We are suffering from a grave shortage of labour; I think that the figure that is usually accepted for this shortage in the country is 100,000 workers. If you add the time-lag to the shortage of labour, and then add to those two things Double Summer Time, it may well prove the last straw on the farmer's back. I would earnestly warn the Government against trying to overdo things. With regard to the labour shortage, I had proposed to ask a question, but I will try to make it into a suggestion. The Government seem firmly to have decided that on April 1 next the school leaving - age is to be raised to fifteen. Now the number of children in rural England who are between fourteen and fifteen, and are therefore affected by this change, is not known to me, but let us suppose that the figure is 50,000 (I think it is safe to say that it is considerably greater). If those children were allowed to work on the land for a year, and they worked half the time worked by adult labour, you would get the equivalent of 25,000 extra workers in a year, which is a quarter of the total number of workers of whom we are now supposed to be short in the industry. I wonder if the Government now, even at this stage, would consider not raising the school leaving age, as they propose, at any rate in the rural areas, until this period of crisis is over.

We are now told that industry is to work in double shifts. Possibly the figures and the hours have not yet been made public. But when this Bill was first introduced in another place we did not know about these double shifts; it is right, I think, to say that. The two shifts are going to alter many matters affecting people's lives—the hours of getting up, the hours of going to bed and the hours of feeding, for example. A large proportion of the community will be so affected, and I suggest that it may well prove that this Double Summer Time is not necessary at all. I would very much like to be assured that the Government have that consideration in their minds. I submit that, however you play with the hands of the clock, you cannot make your hours of daylight or your hours of darkness other than as God intended you to have them at the different seasons of the year, according to the sun's position, and it is only a matter of working out whether you get up earlier or go to bed later. I am not at all satisfied with the present food situation, and I, for one, shall not be surprised if in the not far distant future we find ourselves involved in a food crisis. I beg the Government ever to keep before them the claims of the farmer, and not for one moment longer than is necessary let this Double Summer Time affect a very loyal and very hard-working industry.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, am very sorry that on the occasion of the debate on this Bill which, I say quite frankly, is necessary and will be generally of great benefit to all town workers, the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture in your Lordships' House is not in his place. His is the Ministry which is most vitally affected by the passage of this Bill. I have one question which I particularly wish to put—I am speaking now as a dairy farmer in a dairying neighbourhood. We have had a great drive in our part of the world, which stretches from South Wales up to North Wales, to get the dairy herds clean, to get uniform accredited milk and, so far as possible, to get more and more T.T. herds. On my own property and among most of the farmers living around my property there has been notable progress in these matters. But the one great obstacle to this effort to ensure clean milk for hospitals and schools is milking in darkness. You are all right if you have electric light—the main runs through my property, and two of the biggest dairy farms in that area are connected with it. But for years I have been trying to get other farms, including my own, connected up.

Now the Electricity Bill has come along, and has, of course, held up all extensions. It is difficult enough in the winter to get really clean milk, but nothing like so difficult as in the summer. With the low temperatures, and the comparative absence of dust, it is much more easy to keep milk really clean, to get it cooled quickly and, in fact, to produce a pure article. But to get really clean milking conditions, clean animals, clean cow-houses, and so on, is almost hopeless if you have to work by the light of hurricane lamps. When the weather gets hot or warm, it simply cannot be done. I have known many cases in which "accredited" licences have been lost for that reason. It is Summer Time and Double Summer Time that make early morning milking such a hardship, owing to the darkness. We have to face conditions of darkness, in any case, for four months of the year—November, December, January and February—and at the present time we are just getting to the period when you can milk by daylight. This, of course, makes a tremendous difference. I know of dozens of farmers who are crying out for electricity, and they cannot get connected. I cannot help thinking that the Ministry of Agriculture might have done much more to get priority for the best class of dairy farmers, with the co-operation of the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and all those other Ministries, in almost endless number, from whom you have to get a permit in order to get things done in that line. In view of the passing of this Bill the Minister of Agriculture ought to make a big fight on this matter, if he is really determined to have clean milk. I would advise that priority should be given to those who have T.T. accredited licences.

Of course, all the farmers will play their part, and will answer every new call, for they know that it is in the interests of the country. But this Double Summer Time is a desperate hardship on the hay harvesters, and it is especially hard on those who have to deliver milk by a particular hour to the big cities. From my part of the world the big containers go to Liverpool and Birmingham, and one cannot be later than the collecting lorries. Therefore, you are forcing people to get up to milk at your time—Government time. They will have to do this milking very early in the morning, and will then have a long wait before they can get to the hay. They then go back to finish the milking, and get the hay harvest in—a donkey's time after they have got up. I hope this Government as a whole, and the Ministry of Agriculture in particular, will press all the electricity undertakings from now on to connect up dairy farms which are on the list. At least give them a connection between their farm buildings, even if you do not put electricity into the farm houses. Electricity in the milking sheds would make a great difference and would mitigate the very serious difficulties which the passing of this Bill will have on so many aspects of the agricultural industry.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I have no cause for complaint about the way in which this Bill has been debated. In fact, I am very grateful to the House for the kindly manner in which your Lordships have received it, particularly as I know that many who have spoken were labouring under a sense of real grievance. No one could be more alive to the hardships imposed upon the agricultural industry than my right honourable friend who introduced the Bill in another place. I remember remarking on hearing his speech that had there been a vote he would have voted against the Bill. The circumstances which necessitated this Bill are beyond our control, and certainly Dame Nature has not helped us in this respect. After all, we have to remember that this is not the first time that Summer Time has been introduced, as some noble Lords seemed rather to suggest in their speeches. We are, however, rather increasing the length of it, and adding to the burden so far as hours are concerned.

The main point behind the Bill is not the saving of fuel. That is negligible. It is to give us the opportunity to spread the burden of industry, and the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, about machinery will no doubt be taken notice of in the quarters concerned. I had no doubt that noble Lords would have a shot at the Electricity Nationalization Bill, but that is hardly germane to the Bill we are now debating, and I am not inclined to tread on anyone's coat in that respect. The noble Lord referred to the hardships of early morning rising. He will find no one more in agreement than myself that early rising is a greatly exaggerated virtue. I had to be at work at four o'clock in the morning when I was a youngster, and had to walk three miles to get there, so i would not have been pleased had this Bill been introduced then.

We are fully alive to all the hardships and all the difficulties but, when we have weighed up all these things with the crisis through which we are now passing, we realize that something like this has to be done. With regard to the proposals about education, and the difficulties that will arise, I have not the slightest doubt that my right honourable friend the Minister of Education will look at them. As he is well known for his practical common sense, I am sure he will be only too willing to do anything that can be done in that direction. It may be a matter for regret that my noble friend the Parliamentary: Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is not present, but I am afraid that, in all the circumstances, he could not do more than regret the hardship. In that, we are all on common ground. I thank the House for their sympathy and forbearance in the decision that we all have to face. In a time of common danger we have to pull together.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived. Then, Standing Orders No. XXI and No.)(XXIX having been suspended, Bill read 3a, and passed.