HL Deb 19 December 1985 vol 469 cc915-8

12.40 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Summer Time Order 1985 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 23rd July.

The purpose of the order, which has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, is to continue for a further three years the existing arrangements for the starting and ending dates of summer time, so that summer time will continue to start on the last Sunday in March and continue to end on the Sunday after the fourth Saturday in October.

It may assist your Lordships if I comment briefly on the text of the draft order. It is proposed that the order should be made under Section 2 of the Summer Time Act 1972 which provides among other things that Her Majesty may by Order in Council specify a period of summer time other than the usual period provided for by the Act.

Article 1(2) of the order provides that it shall have effect in the United Kingdom and the Bailiwick of Guernsey. I should explain that the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Isle of Man propose to follow suit, but are not provided for in the order because they have their own legislation on the subject.

Articles 2, 3, and 4 provide for the proposed starting dates of 30th March 1986, 29th March 1987 and 27th March 1988. The finishing dates of 26th October 1986, 25th October 1987 and 23rd October 1988 are those which would occur through the ordinary operation of the 1972 Act. The changeover time of 1 a.m. contained in the Summer Time Orders of 1980 and 1982 is retained, and is to ensure that summer time starts at the same time throughout the European Community.

As noble Lords will have realised, the draft order simply represents a further continuation of existing arrangements for the next three years and is, to that extent at least, uncontroversial. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Summer Time Order 1985 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 23rd July. [31st Report from the Joint Committee (Session 1984–85).—(Viscount Davidson.)

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, may I from these Benches take this opportunity to wish the noble Viscount the Minister a happy Christmas time and to wish a warmer summer time for us all in 1986?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his good wishes. I should like, as some people say, to reciprocate them in full measure.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I add to the good wishes, particularly to my noble friend who has so gallantly recently taken up the quite serious burden of ministerial duties, which I think the House as a whole would agree he has discharged to the great satisfaction of the House.

Having said that, I want to say something which may be less uncontroversial. This order, as I understand it, continues the system of the timing for summer time for the next three years, but I should be glad to hear from my noble friend whether Her Majesty's Government have given, are giving, or will give thought to whether this way of handling this matter is right and whether, in particular, it is in the general interest? It is our common experience that summer time ends just at the moment when, from a practical point of view, it is most useful. Quite suddenly towards the end of October darkness is brought on before five o'clock instead of before six o'clock, which has the practical effect of meaning that very large numbers of our fellow countrymen get home only after darkness has fallen.

As some of your Lordships may recall, I was for a number of years a member of another place, representing the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. In that area, as in many other areas, large numbers of people return from their work, from their offices in London or from their other avocations generally between five o'clock and six o'clock. Until summer time ends when they reach home there is still left a bit of daylight which they can, and in many cases do, use for the purposes of taking exercise, working on their gardens, or whatever they may do. Towards the end of October when summer time is perhaps at its most valuable for that reason quite suddenly it stops.

The same is true of the commencement period. If summer time began at the end of February or the beginning of March, these people would be able to get home in daylight. This raises two questions: first, whether we have the timing of the conclusion and the starting of summer time right; and, secondly, whether there is not a case for making it continuous throughout the year, as some of your Lordships may recall was the case during some of the war years. I understand that it was introduced then for the purpose of saving energy, for saving electric light and for facilitating production. I believe the general impression was that from that point of view the system was not unsuccessful. Certainly those are objectives which in our present economic situation are not wholly to be disregarded.

Therefore I want to ask my noble friend whether some thought is being given to the system. I should say in fairness that I have always understood—and this is a decision on a balance of advantage—that there are two sections of society who on the whole would rather we did not have a summer time at all or would prefer it to cover a shorter period. These are the farmers and those people who have the good fortune to live in the beautiful country in the north of Scotland. I have never quite understood the farming objection—though I see that there is at least one noble Lord who is more capable of understanding it than I am—because I have never really understood why one cannot adjust the timing of work by the clock on a farm to counter any ill effects from the fact that the clock generally has been artificially altered. After all, the cows do not have any built in chronometer in their equipment.

The north of Scotland involves a more difficult question, for there one is faced with the fact that in the north of Scotland in mid-winter, whatever is done to the clock, most people, including, most importantly, the school children, find themselves going to and from work in darkness because there is just not enough daylight during the period in those latitudes. Therefore great weight should be given to those interests.

I wonder whether they weigh in the scale quite as heavily as the substantial benefit to much larger numbers of people, particularly those who work in our urban areas. I have quoted London because it is the area with which I have been connected and because I represented part of it in another place, but what I have said applies equally to other great urban areas. The opportunity to get home in daylight at a time that enables one to exercise or to do something to the garden is of real importance. I am afraid it is a fact that it is just the point when summer time has not started or has finished that that becomes most acute; in mid-summer, particularly in the south of England, it does not matter much one way or the other because daylight is so long anyway.

I do not expect my noble friend to give a great statement of Government policy, on what is almost a routine order. However, I should like him to take it back and perhaps say that he will be good enough to consult his noble friends as to whether we have this quite right. If we have not, there are two alternatives. One would be to continue the system but to make it perhaps, instead of an October-March operation, a November-February one, On the other hand, one might argue that for so short a period it really was not worth the dislocation of change and that therefore perhaps we should go back to the wartime system of continuous summer-time. I should not like to stick my neck out particularly far on either of those alternatives. The sole point, and the sole reason for my intervention this afternoon, is to ask my noble friend to realise that there is a considerable body of opinion in this country that is not wholly happy with the present system and I think is entitled to ask her Majesty's Government, without commitment, to consider carefully what the future pattern should be.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his kind remarks about my new position here. Perhaps I may say that I have considerable sympathy for what he has said. My noble friend will recall that in 1970 the Government of the day published a document entitled Review of British Standard Time. That document dealt in considerable detail with the effects of having summer time all the year round. The Government's inquiries at the time showed the arguments for and against the system to be fairly equally balanced. However, the House of Commons decided, on a free vote, in December 1970, by 366 votes to 81, that the system should not be continued. The desirability or otherwise of having a system on the lines of British Standard Time continues to be a matter on which conflicting views are held. The system was, however, rejected by a decisive majority in the House of Commons in 1970 and the Government at the moment have no reason to suppose that there has been a substantial change in the balance of opinion since that date. However, I can assure my noble friend that I shall make a point of drawing his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.