HL Deb 10 July 1912 vol 12 cc386-94


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill I need not, I think, detain the House at any length. The principle of the Bill is a perfectly simple one. The Bill enacts that there shall be an extension of the application of British time to Ireland—in other words, it brings about a uniformity of time between all parts of the United Kingdom. I ought, perhaps, to say by way of explanation, in case there are any noble Lords who are ignorant of the fact, that owing to the longitude of Dublin being 6° 20' 17" west of Greenwich there is, reckoning according to the moon four minutes to a degree, a difference of twenty-five minutes twenty-two seconds between the time of Greenwich and that of Dublin. The proposal in this Bill is to change that system and to have a uniform time, and it is a proposal which naturally must tend to unify the conditions of life between the two countries. At a time when the Government of the day are occupying the greater part of the session in passing a Bill providing separate treatment for Ireland under a. Parliament of her own for the management of her own affairs a proposal of this character may seem to some rather Utopian, and perhaps to noble Lords opposite somewhat inopportune; but apart from political grounds—and I submit that political considerations should not enter into a proposal of this kind—I think I can prove to your Lordships that upon every other ground the alteration is eminently desirable in the interests of the public generally and also in the interests of commerce and industry.

This is no novel or new suggestion. As long as sixty years ago the suggestion was put forward, and pressure was brought to bear upon the Government of the day to establish a uniform time. I am bound to say that during the early portion of those sixty years all the agitation came from the commercial communities in the North of Ireland. In the year 1850 a memorial was signed and sent to the Postmaster-General on the subject, and in reply he stated that he did not deem it expedient in the then circumstances to sanction the alteration suggested. At that time I believe the Postmaster-General could have brought about the desired change on his own initiative. But owing to some legal difficulty that arose in regard to the time of the signing of a particular legal document, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1880 which legally fixed Irish time as distinct from English or Greenwich time. In foreign countries and on the Continent the desirability of a uniform time has long been recognised. Indeed, it is not long that France, Spain, and Portugal adopted Greenwich time, and to suit the convenience of industry on the Continent of Europe there is a uniform standard of time for every fifteen degrees of longitude. As it has been considered expedient on the Continent of Europe to adopt a uniform standard of time, I fail to understand why it is that we have not come to some arrangement of that sort as between all parts of the United Kingdom. Is it due, my Lords, to an innate sense of conservatism or to the fact that probably the matter has really never had serious consideration? The fact, however, remains that there are some very curious anomalies with regard to time in the United Kingdom. Take, for instance, Penzance. Penzance and a good deal of the west coast of Scotland which is on the same longitude as Dublin have no difference in time with Greenwich, and even Stornoway, which is west of Dublin, has no difference of time with Greenwich; but in Dublin we find a difference of twenty-five minutes and twenty-two seconds.

The Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland has received a great many memorials in favour of this change. In fact, I really think that public opinion in Ireland is all in favour of a uniform system of time. All the chambers of commerce in Ireland, all the railway and steamship companies, all the county councils, urban councils, rural district councils, and the industrial and agricultural communities of the North, South, East, and West have approached the Chief Secretary for Ireland on this matter, and I believe the Government have given a sympathetic reply in every case. With regard to telegrams and telephones a uniformity of system would be, of course, of great advantage. I believe it is the fact that Greenwich time is applied to all telegrams which ate sent from Ireland at the present time, and inasmuch as telephonic communication between Ireland, England, and Scotland is very largely on the increase, it surely would be most desirable that we should have a uniform system of time. I believe I am right in saying that the Dublin Chamber of Commerce has adopted Greenwich time.

There is another advantage which would be brought about by a uniform time. It is this, that there would he one hundred hours of daylight saved during the year, which, taken at twelve hours a day, would give the working classes, supposing the time of ceasing work is six o'clock, eight days more for recreation. As far as the saving of light is concerned it would, of course, mean a very big difference. One hundred hours of artificial lighting saved during the year would be a great boon to occupants of cottages and other humble dwellings. These, my Lords, are the principal reasons in favour of adopting a uniform system as to time, and I sincerely trust that your Lordships will agree with the principle of the Bill and give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Shaftesbury.)


My Lords, I do not rise to oppose this Bill, but I must say I regret that it is proposed to change Irish time. Even if this change is made there is one gratification, and that is that we still have Irish miles, Irish stew, and other Irish things, which I hope no attempt will be made to alter. The noble Earl, in moving the Second Reading of his Bill, stated that all the railway and steamship companies had agreed to this extension of the application of Greenwich time to Ireland. I am told that, on the contrary, some of the railway companies do not at all agree to this change, and that it will entail upon them a great deal of inconvenience in altering their time tables. The noble Earl said nothing about the Post Office in Ireland. What do they say about this proposal? After all, the Post Office is a most important Department with regard to time.


The Post-master-General is in favour of the Bill.


If the Post-master-General is in favour of it, then I have nothing more to say with regard to the Post Office. But from opinions I have received from various parts of Ireland I know there is opposition to this Bill. I will not, however, divided against it; but it hope the noble Earl will not attempt to alter any other Irish things.


My Lords, when I brought this matter before the notice of your Lordship's House last March in the form of a Question, I quoted the words which the Postmaster-General has used on this subject, and if you will allow me I will read them again. On November 7 last the Postmaster-General wrote— I find that the change would be of some advantage as far as Post Office arrangements are concerned provided it is made general throughout Ireland. In reply to the noble Earl who has just sat down I cannot say that all the Irish railway companies are in favour of the proposed change, but I am prepared to say that all the big companies are in favour of it, because I have had communications from them to that effect. Personally I look at this matter entirely from a commercial point of view, and I know that there is a very general feeling in Ireland that it would be a great advantage indeed if this change were brought about. Nowadays means of communication have been so much shortened and so much increased that in respect of travelling we really are one country, and there should be uniform time. Moreover, in connection with questions with which we deal daily in commercial life I find mistakes often arise in consequence of the present difference of time. We are in communication by telephone daily with Ireland, and if a young clerk who may be telephoning forgets about the difference of time sometimes it raises serious complications. Again, under the Merchant Shipping Act we are obliged to keep a log of each steamer, and in that log Greenwich time is used; but there is a provision in the contracts of those shipping companies which carry mails that Greenwich time must be used on this side and Irish time on the other side; and I have known occasions when returns have been asked for when confusion has arisen, and the voyage has either been made twenty-five minutes longer or twenty-five minutes shorter owing to this confusion. I am confident that if the House passes this Bill it will be a great boon to the commerce of the two countries, and will enable us to work more closely and more beneficially together than at the present time.


My Lords, I should like to say a word in deprecation of the passage of this measure. I cannot but imaging, however, that it will be opposed by His Majesty's Government, because they have introduced into another place a measure enabling Ireland to deal with her own affairs, the discussion of which, though temporarily postponed, is to be renewed in the autumn. They will naturally think it wrong to take time by the forelock and decide a matter which ought most properly to be left for decision to the Irish Parliament. I am very strongly opposed to the creation of an Irish Parliament, but I think this is one of the very few matters which might safely be left for it to deal with, and I would therefore strongly suggest that we should not interfere with what would come within its proper sphere of influence. It seems to me that nowadays there is zeal for decentralisation where centralisation is desirable, and, on the other hand, for centralisation where decentralisation is allowable. As an instance of the former, might I quote the zeal which some people display to revive, if possible, dialects which are only spoken by few hundred people, and whose only merit seems to be that they enables one to retain a memory of the Tower of Babel, whilst other matters like this question of time are all to be forced into drab uniformity. At any rate I think in this case we have truth on our side, because the sun when it shines in Ireland, which it does not do very often, will bear witness to this last instance of Saxon tyranny and this new grievance which is being created for Ireland. Personally I object to being obliged to get up twenty-five minutes earlier that I should do otherwise; and as far as this proposal is concerned I must declare myself a Home Ruler.


My Lords, some months ago, I think in the month of March, a Question was addressed to me on this proposal, and then suggested that it might well form the subject of a private Member's Bill. Therefore I congratulate the noble Earl opposite, if I may, on having brought in his measure. I said at the time that I thought it would have the effect of ventilating the subject, and that though it was conceivable that the Bill might not get through in one session it would not do any harm to have the subject discussed. This proposal, as the noble Earl has said, is not a new one. It was first brought to the attention of the Irish Government in 1898, by I believe the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. The Irish Government consulted the Astronomer Royal for Ireland, who reported favourably on the subject and since then there has been a great volume of opinion forthcoming in favour of the proposed change. The attitude of His Majesty's Government upon this measure is that we offer no opposition to it, but in view of the fact that there is not complete unanimity on the subject we cannot promise to give it any special facilities or to make the Bill our own. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill made a speech which I think must have convinced the great majority of your Lordships of the wisdom and desirability of the proposed change. It is true that it has met with some opposition to-day in your Lordships' House. The noble Earl, Lord Mayo, seemed to think that it would affect the flavour of Irish stew.


I did not say that.


And the noble Lord on the Cross Benches, Lord Oranmore and Browne, objected to it on the ground, with which I have very great sympathy, that before very long an Irish Parliament will Le in existence and that it might properly be left to that Irish Parliament to decide the point. I do not know that there is any national objection to the adoption of Greenwich mean time for Ireland, because a great many Continental countries have adopted Greenwich mean time. The noble Earl, Lord Shaftesbury, mentioned some of those countries. Let me add Belgium to the countries he mentioned. It has also been adopted in Gibraltar. The noble Earl referred to what he called the zones of time on the Continent, and it may be interesting to know what the late Astronomer Royal for Ireland said on that subject. He said— A glance at a map of Ireland shows that the meridian of 10 west longitude cuts off towards the West only very small portions of the counties of Kerry, Galway and Mayo. The local time for this meridian differs by forty minutes from Greenwich tune, and if the westernmost part of Kerry is considered the difference there is about forty-two minutes. Now I observe that on the eastern extremity of Austria the difference between standard and local time exceeds forty-five minutes; on the western boundary of Germany it is nearly thirty seven minutes; on the West of Portugal it is thirty-eight minutes; on the East of the Kingdom of Norway and Sweden it is about sixty-four minutes, and on the West nearly forty-two minutes; and on the West of Switzerland it is slightly over thirty-six minutes. I think these figures show that even at the westernmost part of Ireland the difference between local and Greenwich mean time cannot be regarded as excessive. That is the opinion of the late Astronomer Royal for Ireland, and so it seems that, whatever difficulty may be anticipated from the difference between Greenwich and the West of Ireland, in view of Continental experience it should not be regarded as a serious drawback.

But there is a further point to consider. Of the two extremities of Ireland—the West and the East—the East is by far the more important both in the matter of population and trade, and the difference between Greenwich time and that of the East of Ireland is not forty-two minutes, but twenty-five minutes twenty-one seconds. This fact is, I think, appreciated by the inhabitants of Ireland. Numerous memorials and resolutions have been received petitioning in favour of Greenwich time for Ireland. I have in my hand a list of twenty-eight, which includes, amongst others, the Chamber of Commerce of Limerick; the Chamber of Commerce of Dublin; the Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool, which I think is significant; the County Council of Dublin; the Chamber of Commerce of Waterford; the County Council of Londonderry, and the Association of Trade Protection Societies of the United Kingdom. That is, I think your Lordships will agree, a considerable body of opinion, and there are others of less importance. The noble Earl, Lord Mayo, said that many of the railway companies were opposed to this change.


I did not say that many of them were opposed. I asked the noble Lord if all the railway companies had agreed to it.


I am within the recollection of the House, and I do not think that was quite the way in which the noble Earl put it. I should like to ask him which railway companies are opposed to the change, because we have not heard of any at the Irish Office.


I heard that the manager of the Great Southern and Western Line disapproved.


Is that an official objection or merely the opinion of one individual?


It is the opinion of one of the leading officials of that company.


However that may be, I think we may say that the great majority of opinion in Ireland, both commercial and residential, seems to be in favour of this change. The point was raised by Lord Mayo as to the opinion of the Post Office authorities. I understand that they are favourable to the change, and think that considerable advantage would result from it; but my noble friend Lord Liverpool will be ready to inform the Home what the official opinion of the Post Office is on the subject. The noble Earl was quite right when he said that in telegraphic communication the standard of Greenwich mean time is followed. Personally I am quite convinced by Lord Shaftesbury's speech, and I think that the facts as I have been able to state them support his view.

But when we come to the form of the Bill I ask leave to suggest certain modifications. If the noble Earl had studied the Act to which he alluded, the Act of 1880, which governs and defines the standard time for Great Britain and for Ireland, he would have seen that rather different phraseology is employed. I think it would be very undesirable to introduce into a measure of this kind language which has no reference to previous Statutes and might cause confusion, and therefore in Committee I shall venture to suggest certain alterations, striking out such words as "official time." "Official time" exists in no Statute, nor is there anything in the Act of 1880 about "rules, regulations, proclamations, or other documents." The introduction of this language is unnecessary to the noble Earl's purpose, and it would be much simpler to stick to the language now on the Statute Book. Subject to these Amendments the Government offer no opposition to the Bill.


I understand that all the representations which the noble Lord has received from Ireland are in favour of this change. I noticed, however, that he omitted all mention of Belfast.


I took them in their order. I see on again referring to the list that the Chamber of Commerce of Belfast and the railway and steamship companies and many manufacturers and merchants of Belfast have petitioned in favour of this change. I thought that the mere fact that the noble Earl, Lord Shaftesbury, had introduced the Bill was enough to show that Belfast was not against it.


My Lords, I desire to state the view of the Post Office regarding this Bill. The Postmaster-General has expressed the opinion that the suggested change would be of some advantage to his Department. But he has stated that his approval is entirely dependent on the action taken by the public in general and particularly by the large railway and steamship companies, and so far there has been no opposition on their part to the change.

On Question Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday the 22nd instant.