HL Deb 12 December 1967 vol 287 cc1012-20

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. Your Lordships will recall that we had a most interesting, instructive, stimulating, and at times abstruse debate on Second Reading, and we fully explored the Title of the new permanent Summer Time. A change of this kind is, of course, bound to provoke many different opinions. But as I said in our earlier proceedings, the Government took particular care to obtain the views of all major sections of the community. We believe, and we have no reason to doubt, that the provisions in the Bill are generally acceptable. I freely admit that there will be certain disadvantages, and that some sections of the community may during the winter months find our new British Standard Time less welcome than others. We are sorry about that. But it is impossible to please everyone, and if we look at the community as a whole, as we must, I have no doubt that the change will be generally advantageous.

I should have been content to leave it at that, but it is within your Lordships' recollection that towards the end of the Committee stage three questions were addressed to me by noble Lords to which I undertook to give a reply at a later stage, and I should be most grateful for just a few moments of your Lordships' time to fulfil that obligation. First, I would reaffirm that under the Bill Greenwich Mean Time remains, as it began, the basic system of computation for astronomers, geographers and navigators.

In reply to the first question, I am glad to be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, that there is nothing in this Bill in any way to prevent the B.B.C. from continuing to use Greenwich Mean Time in their foreign service programmes. They will indeed be able to say in future, as they do now: This is 1800 hours Greenwich Mean Time in the B.B.C. World Service. We can be proud of the pioneering work of British scientists and mathematicians in this field, but we should not allow ourselves to be so unscientific as to pretend that Greenwich' Mean Time is still the best system for the everyday purposes of a nation which is no longer primarily rural or seafaring. Surely, however, we may allow ourselves this amount of sentiment, that the name "British" should appear in the name of the new system that is being introduced; even though—and here I am answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale—we understand that no other country in Western Europe uses its own name in the official description of the time on its clocks. This preference may be, as he said, "quaintly nationalistic" of us, but perhaps in a field to which Britain has contributed so greatly some small measure of national pride may be excused.

It only remains for me to fulfil my promise to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Cuirass, to say something about the possible effects of the change on the electricity supply industry and its consumers. As your Lordships will know, there are two main daily peaks in the demand for electricity: the first in the early morning, around 8 a.m. in England and Wales, and the second in the late afternoon, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. At present, the afternoon peak demand is the higher of the two, and its load is therefore the main factor determining the amount of plant and equipment the Electricity Boards need to have.

It is difficult to assess precisely what effect the change to British Standard Time will have on the relative size of the two peaks; much will depend on whether there are any changes in living habits and the time of starting and stop-ping work. But the Ministry of Power and the electricity supply authorities have looked into this question most carefully, and have concluded that the afternoon peak may be a little lower and the morning peak a little higher than at present. The net effect will probably be that the morning peak will become the higher of the two—namely, the present position will be reversed—but only a little higher than the afternoon peak would have been had we stayed on Greenwich Mean Time. The industry's costs and the average price paid by electricity consumers should not therefore be affected significantly.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, expressed concern about the effect of the change of British Standard Time on electricity tariffs for off-peak supplies. As your Lordships will know, off-peak electricity tariffs are available for use with storage appliances which take in heat only during the off-peak periods, especially the night, and then give it off gradually. The tariffs vary in some respects from one Area Board to another, and all Boards offer a choice of tariffs. Indeed, I think the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, read out his tariff during the Committee stage. As a rule, however, the electricity supply is switched on in the winter at between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time, and switched off at 7 o'clock or 7.30 in the morning. Some off-peak tariffs also give a boost during the day, usually in the afternoon.

The Electricity Boards have not yet decided precisely how they will reflect the changing time in their tariffs. This will depend on the effect on the timing of the morning peak. The Boards will, in any case, consult the electricity consultative committees, who protect the interests of consumers, before making any significant changes. It is almost certain, however, that the change to British Standard Time will result in the morning peak falling rather earlier than at present relative to sunrise, and the Boards will therefore wish to restrict the use of off-peak tariffs for up to an hour earlier—that is 7 or 7.30 a.m. British Standard Time. But storage heaters give off the greatest amount of heat at the time that storage ceases in the morning, and thereafter continue to lose heat gradually throughout the day. Thus people dependent on these appliances for warmth will not be adversely affected by getting up earlier (going by the sun). Users of electricity for non-storage purposes—for example, farmers and horticulturists, about whom the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, inquired—who use electricity for lighting and power, are supplied under the Electricity Board's normal unrestricted tariffs, and will continue to receive their supplies as at present.

My Lords, in conclusion may I say that we have had a period of over 50 years of Summer Time of varying periods, and I am glad to think that this Bill will introduce complete stability, not only throughout the whole of each year but year by year. I am most grateful to noble Lords on both sides of the House who have made their contribution to the debates. We did not expect unanimity, and we can respect—while disagreeing with—the views of those who do not agree with us. We have tried to approach this subject objectively and to explain fairly to the House the reasons that have swayed us in our decision. We recognise, and have appreciated, an equal fairness on the other side. I hope that at least all will agree that justice has been done to this small but important Bill, which I trust we shall now send forward to another place. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Stonham.)

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I have said all I want to say upon this Bill. I know that your Lordships have a good deal of legislative business ahead this afternoon, so I will content myself with thanking the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for the assurance which he gave me in Committee, and which I am sure he has mentally repeated to-day, that at the end of the first winter's experience of this new time the Government will enter into consultations to find out what has been the experience of the public, and particularly of interested bodies. The noble Lord, with his usual courtesy, has taken the trouble to answer a number of specific questions put to him in Committee, and I should like to express my thanks to him.


My Lords, I will not take up very much time, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for the way in which he has answered most of the worries about off-peak tariffs. I accept that it will be impossible to gauge how the morning and evening peaks will go until we have some experience of how the new time will affect the way of life of the people, especially people in the North of Scotland, about whom I am principally concerned.

I am afraid I am still unhappy about his approach to off-peak tariffs. It is all very well to say that the supply authorities can supply or cannot supply. The fact is that consumers have purchased storage type heating equipment whose greatest efficiency is when the power is switched off, and it then falls away until the power comes on again. It is for that reason that I pointed out that the time when the power is switched off is' going to be one hour more before dawn than it used to be. For that reason, it means that this thermal storage apparatus will be less efficient than was the case when the contracts were entered into between the consumer and the supply authorities. It is correct to say that there is a choice of tariffs, but none of the choices may be acceptable in terms of the machines purchased by the consumer. I will not say more, since this matter has been well discussed, and what we have been saying here will give something for the other place to bite upon: but the fact is that a good deal remains to be considered in relation to the position of the off-peak consumer in the light of the change of time.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for answering the specific question I put to him on the last occasion, and perhaps ask him one more question that arises out of a letter that a correspondent has written to me? I am told that at present, during the winter, we supply power to France during their morning peak hour, and France supplies power to us during our morning peak hour. What happens when they occur at the same time?

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make one point which I do not think has been fully brought out. I will be brief. I refer to the question of the heavy rush-hour traffic in the morning between 8 and 9 o'clock, which is the first hour after sunrise and will become the last hour before sunrise. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has told us more than once, and again yesterday in answer to a Starred Question by me, that, though there will be an increased risk in the early mornings, this will be counter-balanced because we cannot ignore the effect at the other end of the day when the period of higher traffic flow will be advanced from the dark into the daylight."—[0EpicIAL REPORT, 11/12/67, col. 854.] I have viewed this argument with some suspicion from the beginning, but I have taken police advice before asserting that I believe the noble Lord is wrong. How is the higher traffic flow to be advanced into the daylight unless it now runs in the hour which immediately follows lighting-up time? It does not do this, because lighting-up time is at 4.30 p.m., and the main traffic hour—the rush hour—is from 5.30 to 6.30, with a preliminary build-up period of half-an-hour, say, from 5 to 5.30. Under the Bill the winter lighting-up time in the midde of winter will be at about 5.30. That is the beginning of the rush hour, and the whole of the evening rush hour will therefore still take place after nightfall. In other words, the heavy traffic in the evening will still run in the dark as it does now.

Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that the volume of traffic is greater, I am told, in the evening than in the morning, being augmented by a good many other motorists—returning shoppers, for example—who are not involved in the morning rush to work. That is what I am advised by the Chief Con-table of West Sussex, who also reports that the traffic accident rate is higher in the evening than in the morning. The high accident rate of the evening rush hour will therefore be maintained, while the high accident rate of the morning rush hour will be moved into the dark. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, himself has said, there will be more accidents in the morning. I think that the net result will be more traffic accidents, and not fewer.

The Minister also said yesterday [col. 854]: It appears that, taking morning and evening together, there will be more travel in daylight and less in the dark than at present under Greenwich Mean Time … It requires a minimum of reflection to see that, since the heavy, dark traffic is increased at one end of the day and not decreased at the other, while the number of daylight hours remains the same, the reverse must be the case, and more traffic will in fact run in the dark and not in the light. I refer only to that part of England on which the effect of the Bill will be felt most lightly. Others more closely concerned have spoken most eloquently on the effect in the northern and western counties, over whose mornings the Celtic twilight will be drawn like widow's weeds, and I leave that to them. For myself, I wish to put forward no more awkwardness towards this Bill, which I wish well, and with, I am sure, the rest of the noble Lords I will go forward in the words of the poet, Browning: Into a darkness quieted by hope. My Lords, I wish you a Happy New Year—in 1969.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, if, by leave, I may very briefly answer the three points which have been raised, I should like to deal first with that put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. He said that the time when the power is switched off is going to be one hour more before dawn than it used to be—that is quite true—and that it will therefore be less efficient in terms of effusion of stored heat. The second part of his allegation I do not accept, for the reason that most people will be getting up one hour more before dawn than they do now. It is no good the noble Lord shaking his head. If a man has to get to work at 8 o'clock, he gets to work at 8 o'clock by the clock and not by the sun. Therefore, if the time is advanced by one hour, accepting what the noble Lord said first of all, the man will be getting up one hour more before the dawn in winter, and in order to meet that—because the morning peak demand will have shifted in relation to the sun, and therefore the time of storage will also have shifted—he will still be getting his heat at the right time.

One of the delights of the present Bill is that I have had the pleasure of a letter from Sir Alan Herbert which I think anyone would store among his literary treasures, so all has not been lost. So also with regard to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who as usual put a very skilful question. The noble Lord said that at present during the winter we supply power to France during their morning peak, and that they supply power to us during our morning peak. He asked: What happens when both peaks are at the same time? Of course, my earlier answer covered this point. I have assured your Lordships that, in our view, our preparations for the supply will be adequate next winter to take the rather higher peak demand in the morning, and that therefore we shall no longer need, as it were, to take in the washing of France and to have them taking in ours.

The final point was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, who received my arguments about traffic accidents with some suspicion because he thought they were not true. I naturally reject that allegation. The noble Earl said that the main traffic hour is from 5.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m., and in his view it just was not true to say that there would be more daylight travel than there is at present under Greenwich Mean Time in winter. The noble Earl cannot go in the face of facts. It is quite true that we expect rather more accidents during the morning peak hours than there are at present. But, equally, we expect that that will be more than compensated for by the fewer accidents during the early evening peak hours.

With all respect to the views of the Chief Constable of West Sussex—and I pay great respect to him, because I know the Chief Constable—he would not suggest, and I would not accept, that experience there is typical of the whole country. I would ask the noble Earl to place confidence in the suggestion which was made by his noble friend Lord Brooke of Cum-nor, which I accept. We are going to try this out. We shall have continuous records and research into it based on our experience, and if the Government's prognostications are not borne out by the facts we shall just have to think again.


My Lords, following the noble Lord's answer to my noble friend Lord Conesford, if we are to do without the help of France, may I ask whether France has been consulted and is able to do without our help?


My Lords, that is a question the second part of which I cannot answer without notice. But I can assure the noble Baroness that in a great many fields we are going to do without the help of France.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.