Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 27 Jun 1968

Vol. 65 No. 8

Standard Time Bill, 1968: Second Stage.

Question proposed: That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

This very brief measure, whose object is to bring the standard time observed in this country into line with that in Western Europe, is on the same lines as a Bill at present before the British Parliament. Our present standard time which is the same as that observed in Britain, is one hour behind that observed in Western Europe. The effect of bringing our standard time into line with that in Western Europe will give us what is referred to as "summer time all the year round".

An examination of our position in this respect was prompted by the proposed change in Britain and Northern Ireland and the views of interested organisations and individuals were sought. Formal advertisements inviting comment were inserted in the daily newspapers. The vast majority of the organisations that offered views, which included industrial and employers' organisations, chambers of commerce and semi-State bodies, considered that we should move into line with Britain and Western Europe. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions indicated that it would not object to the change. About 130 letters were received from individuals and a little more than half of these were in favour of the change now proposed in the Bill.

I am fully conscious that there are some disadvantages in advancing the clock throughout the Winter in that the normal working day will begin in darkness during some months of the year and this can give rise to inconvenience for some sections of the community. We are one of the three European countries that are wholly west of Greenwich and, because of this, our time by the sun is behind that of Europe as a whole. In this context I think I should mention that in the Dáil one Deputy feared that the extension of "summer time" throughout the Winter would be detrimental in the case of very young children, who would be going to school in darkness. I have had this point put to the Department of Education and I understand that if experience showed this to be a problem consideration would be given to making some change in school hours, though there might be difficulties.

In view, however, of the great and growing intercourse, commercial and otherwise, between this country and our close neighbours, in Europe, the advantages of having a common system of time are obvious. The Government, as I have said, have sought to elicit the views of the public on this question and are satisfied that the weight of opinion is in favour of the change now proposed. They are confident that the balance of advantage for this country lies in observing the same time system as Britain and Western Europe.

The new standard time, proposed in the Bill, will be one hour in advance of Greenwich mean time. The Bill also proposes the repeal of the existing legislation on this subject. The legislation to be repealed includes the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act, 1880 and the Time (Ireland) Act, 1916, which together make Greenwich mean time the standard time in this country. It is also proposed that the Summer Time Act, 1925, be repealed.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, provides that licensed premises may remain open until 11.30 p.m. on weekdays in the period of official summer time as compared with 11 p.m. during the rest of the year. Subsection (2) of section 1 of the Bill proposes to preserve this difference in the hours of opening. The period during which opening until 11.30 p.m. is to be permitted is roughly mid-April to early October. The period of summer time has been somewhat longer than that in recent years but that was simply because the British were experimenting with the period of summer time and we made special orders to keep our period in line with theirs—the effect on the Licensing Acts was purely fortuitous. The period provided in the Bill is the normal period of summer time as it has been since 1926.

I trust the Seanad will accept this Bill as a progressive and non-controversial measure, and I ask the Seanad to give favourable consideration to it.

The question of summer time always gives rise to some concern for parents, particularly parents of small children. It seems to me an odd view of affairs that we are going to provide that the drinking classes under this new Summer Time Bill during the winter time will drink during the non-summer time period. In other words, they will drink in the winter time according to the old time, or one-half the old time, whatever it is. We are cutting them back but doing nothing at all about the children. I am concerned about the children, particularly those who have to rise early to catch one of the new buses because they cannot go to school two miles down the road now. They have to catch a bus and then go to another parish and arrive in time and get home at 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening.

I want to know what has taken place between the Minister's Department, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education in relation to this real problem for many parents. It is an odd thing that we are concerned about the drinking classes. We want to have them out at 11.30 p.m. on week days in the official summer time period. Under this new Bill they will have to stop drinking at 11 o'clock during the rest of the year. There is a similar provision for Sunday nights but we are doing nothing about our children. This is a matter about which the Minister might give us some information, together with the views of the Department of Health, public health authorities and the Department of Education.

Of course, when the Bill is law, CIE sets its timetables and the great machines of the different State concerns get moving but the children will be left out and parents will be left to bemoan the introduction of standard time. If I thought in terms of standard time in relation to children, I would think the kind of standard time we ought to be concerned about, among other things, is the fixing of a standard time for lunch time, especially in cities and towns. At the moment, the position is that in some households one child will come home for lunch at 12.30 p.m., another at 1.15 p.m. and yet another at 2 o'clock, the result being that in many homes in our cities and towns luncheon goes on for over a period of hours. That is the kind of standard time many parents in our cities and towns are interested in and I think something should be done about that. It does not appear to be dealt with in this Bill, unfortunately.

Perhaps I should examine my conscience but I find myself wholly in agreement with Senator O'Quigley in this regard.

It is the hour of the evening and the fact that we are tired.

I would ask the Minister to put fairly heavy pressure on the Department of Education to deal with this situation. I accept that once Britain and particularly Northern Ireland went over to this permanent summer time, we have no choice but to follow. However, we should make clear why we are doing so, in face of considerable disadvantages resulting from it. The time zone under which we are operating originates on the fringes of the Eastern frontier of Russia. It must be the widest of the world's time zones. In real terms it means we shall zone ourselves about three hours earlier in the West of Ireland than the time on the eastern fringe of the Russian frontier. Therefore, we are going completely outside the normal scope of the time situation as it existed in this country. In the winter, in December and in the first part of January, we shall find it pitch dark in most parts of the country up to about 9.30 a.m.

If this decision were left to ourselves and were not forced upon us by the fact that Northern Ireland, in particular, has changed I think it would be considered as probably too high an inconvenience to adopt this system. Small children of four, five and six years of age will be walking along the roads in town and country in pitch darkness in the morning trying to get to school. It will create an extremely hazardous situation. This is not a matter of the Department of Education's waiting to see how things go. The Department will have to make up its mind in advance of the situation that at least the lower classes in the primary school start at least half an hour later than at present. It is not good enough to wait until a few children are killed by lorries when crossing the road in the morning on their way to school before we take steps to deal with it.

Once we are on the same time scale as places as far east as Moscow, and once, in our case, the sun will rise so late in the morning, we must deal with the situation created by this question of darkness in the morning, particularly for small children going to school. However, once our neighbours have taken this decision, we have really no way out of it ourselves.

I agree with the concern expressed about schoolchildren. I think Senator Yeats is exaggerating the difference between standard time and sun time.

About one and a half hours.

It would be anything from one and a quarter to one and a half hours in the west of the country.

Is that not bad enough?

I thought Senator Yeats was making a point about three hours.

About the time zone.

At the maximum, in the west of our country, it is one and a half hours. Therefore, I think there cannot be any argument that the balance of advantage lies in keeping in line with the standard which will now be the European time. I think that is right and proper.

In regard to school children, I do not think the argument should be that we should change our time standard from the British and European standard simply because of that aspect of the problem. Surely it can more simply be dealt with by changing the school hours? We come up against the problem of the finishing time at school. The hours of sunlight in this country in the dead of winter are limited.

Primary schools finish at 3 p.m.

With the bus services, you will find that a lot of children do not get home until four or five p.m. Nevertheless, I think a lot is to be said for a later start in the morning during the dead of winter so that the children shall not be out too early. Especially in the city, I think it would relieve the traffic pressure at the peak hour from 8 to 9 a.m. I should think it would be to the benefit not alone of the school children but of everybody concerned that they would start a little later in the morning and finish correspondingly later in the afternoon. I hope the responsible Minister will deal with that quickly and certainly before we get into the winter of this year.

In regard to the other public mentioned, the drinking public, I had expected, with previous experience on an intoxicating liquor commission, that when the summer hours were extended recently, following the British practice, there would be an outcry about it from the workers in the trade and the publicans in Dublin, particularly—but, strangely, there was not. We had the situation that the later closing hours, to 11.30 p.m., extended for quite a longer portion of the year than was envisaged at the start but this did not lead to any outcry and I think was rather generally welcomed. Now, because of subsection (2) of section 1 of this Bill, we are reverting to a situation in which the public houses will be required to close at 11 p.m. from, I think, roughly speaking, October to April every year. I think that that is probably going against the tide here. There has been a liberalisation in this direction. I have always supported the workers' viewpoint on this but I was pleasantly surprised that the accidental liberalisation in recent years did not lead to any great outcry. I am sorry, really, to see that we are reversing the trend here again.

Our drinking habits in this country are bad. One of the causes of that is the enforcement of the hours, the opening and the closing hours. We have built up a situation with people who take a drink—I am one of them—that the tendency is to go to the public house one hour or half an hour before closing time, or whatever that is. On the Continent, the habit is completely different. People there go to a café, or whatever it may be, for a drink at a time which suits themselves. The closing hour here leads to the bad drinking habits of the Irish public. Therefore, I do not particularly welcome that section of the Bill which confines the later closing hour from April to October, which is going back on what it has been in recent years which, as I said, slipped in rather accidently and which has been found to operate successfully. I am sorry to see that change.

Would the Senator favour the abolition of all licensing laws and allowing the law of supply and demand to regulate the business?

I think I would—with the agreement of the workers in the trade.

Regretfully moving away from the fascinating subject of the licensing laws and coming back to the Bill, I would say, in the first place, that I am out of sympathy from the beginning with the Bill. I can remember being completely puzzled as a child by the absurdity of human nature which has required us over 50 or 60 years to change our time rather than to change our ordinary habits in regard to the time we get up, the time we start to work and the time at which we finish work. It seemed to me as a child to be the most extraordinary topsy-turvy thing. I had difficulty in believing the reason for doing this as it seemed such a ridiculous way of tackling the problem. Now the matter is being rendered more ridiculous and we would appear to be losing daylight rather than having daylight saving. This is a confidence trick we play on ourselves and it is now being carried to a ridiculous position. We are now creating a problem which does not exist at present of schoolchildren having to get to school in hours of darkness and it is even possible that it will be at hours when the light will not be sufficient for them to work in, in certain parts of the country. I do know that the provision of light in many of our primary schools is inadequate or non-existent and this was brought out clearly in the report on Investment in Education. We are creating a problem where it does not now exist.

To solve the problem it would be necessary to change the school hours and to change the school hours would mean from the point of view of the teacher that he is going to lose one hour of his free time because most teachers, like any of us, do not consider that the hours before we start work in the morning are free time. Most of us would not feel that if we got an hour in the morning, between the time we get up and the time we start work that it was as beneficial as the hour we lost in the afternoon. The position will be that the teachers will start work in the morning one hour later which will be of no advantage to them and they will finish one hour later. As I say, they are going to lose one hour of their free time most of which has to be devoted to school work such as correcting exercises and so on. We have worked ourselves into this position because of the situation we have created in regard to daylight saving and because of our desire to standardise with everyone else.

The time has come when we must decide that we do not want to do everything the same as everybody else. If we achieve closer relationship with Europe, political and economic relationships, it does not follow that we must copy all that they do. We have come to the point where we cannot tolerate any divergence between ourselves and Britain. Normal divergences exist in certain countries in regard to time such as in Canada, the United States of America or the USSR where they do not consider it odd or impossible or difficult to have different times in different parts of the country. It is part of their normal life. We, however, regard any divergence between ourselves and Britain in any respect as being contrary to the law of nature. In the whole sphere of our relations with other countries we will have to call a halt to this outlook at some stage. We should not propose to standardise everything with Britain or Europe in areas in which this is not necessary or not found to be necessary.

Some comments have been made about this proposal. The Director of Dunsink Observatory, Professor Weimar, has pointed out the difficulties involved. He pointed out that under this scheme whereas the sun will rise in Munich at 8.5 a.m., which I regard as a good hour for the sun to rise, in Belmullet it will not rise until 10.2 a.m., which I consider to be a regrettable hour for the sun to rise. You cannot standardise an area as wide as that and other countries do not attempt to do it. I appreciate that people in Belmullet will not want to get up at 8 o'clock. The Minister should have some regard for his own constituency and should not be so anxious to standardise them with say the people of Bavaria but should have more regard for the people. This, as I say, is going to create a problem in regard to children but it is not the only problem. I am puzzled as to what consultations took place in regard to this proposal. The Minister in his speech outlined something about these consultations but I am not at all clear as to whom the consultations were with. He said that various interested organisations and individuals were consulted and that formal advertisements in the newspapers invited comment but we all know the kind of response that that evokes. He said that the vast majority were in favour of the proposal that we should move into line with Britain and Europe. He also said that some 130 letters were received of which about 30 were in favour. Presumably then more than 50 per cent were not in favour.

Did the Minister, or the relevant Government Department consult with the managerial bodies and teaching organisations? Did they express a view in favour of this proposal or was it put to them that this would require a change in school hours and did they accept this? We are entitled to this information and to hear more about this. After the matter was raised in the Dáil the Minister changed his speech somewhat and he inserted words to the effect that if experience showed this to be a problem consideration would be given in regard to making some changes in the school hours although there might be difficulties. This, of course, means that something will be done in about five years time. We know that Deputy Lemass when he was Taoiseach said that it would be very difficult to produce a full economic programme and now we are having the third such programme so that, perhaps there will be a five-year time lag in this case also.

I should like to know what consultations took place, what were the reactions and if the need for this change has been accepted by the bodies consulted. I cannot accept that it has. Has this point been put to the Department of Education? There was a suggestion in the Minister's Dáil speech that this matter was not adequately considered and even at this stage he has apparently done nothing more than consult other civil servants. If I am wrong in what I am saying I am wasting the time of the House and the best thing is to let the Minister answer my questions.

Can the Senator say how they deal with this in northern Ireland?

All I can say is that it does not go as far west as the south.

Then the Senator knows nothing about how they deal with the situation he has been talking about?

The Senator raises a very good point which the Minister will be able to answer. What investigations has he carried out in regard to northern Ireland and what happened there? It is a fair question although the north of Ireland does not go as far west as we do and, therefore, the problem is somewhat less marginally acute. In any event, the problem has not risen there yet.

The Senator admits that he knows nothing about this?

As it has not yet been operated in the north of Ireland it is very difficult to know about it. I hope the Minister will enlighten the House about the position in the north of Ireland. I should also like to ask the Minister what consultations he had with the Department of Industry and Commerce in regard to the impact of this on industrial costs in so far as this will involve factories in an additional period of working in the dark, involving extra lighting and possibly extra heating. What is the assessment of the cost of this to industry first of all, and then to the community as a whole? What economic evaluation has been made of the cost? Has the Department of Finance offered any views in relation to the cost that will be imposed on the community? Is it suggested there will be some offsetting saving at the other end of the day? I do not see that there would be even on the basis of our present working hours.

For industry working on a shift basis this will involve additional costs in the morning with no offsetting saving in those costs in the evening. Perhaps I am wrong. I shall be glad to have some information from the Minister as to what economic assessment has been carried out of the cost to the community before arriving at this decision. What is the reaction of the Electricity Supply Board towards this aggravation of the morning peak load, which could be quite serious, because the morning peak is already quite high. Though I cannot remember at the moment the precise level of the peak period, I wonder if this will carry any dangerous implications from the point of view of the total volume of electricity consumed in the mornings on the network through which electricity has to be geared. What consultation took place with the Electricity Supply Board? These are questions which deserve answers and I am surprised the Minister offered us no enlightenment on these. He has given us no indication of any contrary points of view or contrary conclusions reached.

In conclusion, I would hope that the debate we have just had on this subject will be reported because it is disturbing that in not one newspaper report of the debate in the Dáil was the question of the schools referred to. Indeed, the only thing that attracted the attention of the Press was the question of licensing hours. In reporting this debate I hope the newspapers will advert to the other issues raised, particularly the education issue, which is, I think, an important one.

In addition to the advertisements in the newspapers inviting views on this issue there were a number of newspaper articles on the matter. It was certainly brought to the attention of the public. I have a long list here of different organisations which thought it worth their while to communicate with us. All of these were in favour of the change: Aer Lingus, the Association of Chambers of Commerce of Ireland, Ballyconnell and District Development Company Limited, Balymoe, Galway Branch ICA, Bray Area Road Safety Committee, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Gaeltarra Éireann, Kiltoghert Co-Operative Society, Limerick Employers' Federation, the Federated Union of Employers, the Federation of Builders, Contractors and Allied Employers of Ireland, the Federation of Trade Associations, the Irish Dental Association, RTE, Wicklow and District Chamber of Commerce etc. A quite formidable body of organisations, representing practically every aspect of professional and industrial life in the country, expressed the view that we should adopt the new system. Against the proposal were Clare County Council and Limerick branch of the NFA. I have no doubt that the Limerick branch of the NFA will continue to follow whatever time suits them. There is nothing to compel them to milk their cows at any particular hour.

I take it the ICMSA are in favour.

They are not against it. I can assure the House that this Bill was fully considered by every Government Department and all came down on the side of the Bill. Indeed, the suggestion is that we largely have no choice from the economic point of view except to make the change.

Senators will appreciate that, from the point of view of communications generally and business communications in particular, it is desirable to have uniformity of the three countries wholly west of Greenwich, i.e., Ireland, Portugal and Iceland, the Portuguese have already adopted Central European Time or, as we call it, standard time. When this Bill is passed we will have it also. Iceland will be the only odd-man-out in the whole of Western Europe.

Is the Mininot aware that Italy has departed from this and introduced a different time from nearby countries last summer? In view of that how can he suggest that uniformity is imperative from the point of view of communications?

Italy and all these other countries have the same standard time as that proposed in this Bill. They may have different times in different areas to suit their own particular arrangements.

It is not a question of a different time for a particular purpose. Italy has a different time during the summer for all purposes. It was introduced last summer.

As far as my information goes they keep the same time as that prevailing in all the Common Market countries.

Even Portugal, which is on a line with us, has gone on to Central European or standard time and, when this Bill is passed, Iceland will be the only country not adopting Central European Time. Iceland is, of course, geographically much further west than we are and they will have their own problems there.

The Minister is misinformed with regard to Italy.

I will make inquiries as to that. I want to assure Senator Murphy that the licensing section is included in order to preserve the status quo. This section was put in for the purpose of keeping the licensing laws as they are pending the introduction of a new licensing Bill. I did inform the licensing trade that I had no intention of making any change under this Bill in the licensing hours. That is a matter we will have to consider under a separate Bill. I do not think it is desirable that we should have a discussion on the licensing hours on a Bill of this kind.

Senator O'Quigley, I think, misread the section because this Bill does not extend the hours in any way. He talked about children having to go out earlier while, at the same time, further time was being allowed to, as he termed them, the drinking classes. No further time is being given to them.

The only real fears that were expressed were expressed in relation to children. That was the case in the other House also. One aspect of this is that, as far as teenage girls are concerned, there will be an advantage— this view was expressed by the Department of Education—in that they will be getting home in daylight and they will be safer from molestation. As far as the tiny tots are concerned, I share the view expressed by some Senators here but this is really not a question for this Bill. I should like to point out to the House that the fixing of school hours is a question for the Minister for Education, for the parents and for those concerned. When this Bill becomes law there is, as far as I know, except whatever problems may be thrown up in the organisation of the job, nothing to prevent any change that is thought desirable for children of tender years.

If they can agree on it.

The present hours are not really fixed in relation to the law. I am not quite sure what the present school hours are. I can only say that in so far as teachers' organisations are concerned, we did not receive any objection from them in connection with this Bill.

Did you ask for their views?

They are an intelligent body of people and when all these that I have read out felt that they should express a view, I am quite sure that if the INTO felt that they should express a view they would have sent it to us.

The Minister misses the point. Perhaps I should explain. The first suggestion that has been made in public that school hours may have to be changed is today in the Minister's Second Reading speech. If the teachers' organisations were not specifically consulted and alerted to that possibility how could they be expected to express views on something which had not been suggested?

It was suggested in the Dáil. Deputy Byrne made the point that he was concerned, not about the bigger children but about very small children. It is not today or yesterday that I have heard this topic debated, and the desirability of having later hours for small children. Let me say in passing that in the initial educational establishment that was taking the cobwebs off my brains when I was a very small boy, I had to travel a long way to school carrying two sods of turf under my arm. In these days there are buses and transport and a completely different organisation, and rightly so, to cater for young people and they are not subject to the same hardship as was the position 30 to 40 years ago. I am quite sure that this is a question to be settled between the bodies concerned and that this Bill will not prevent the teachers' organisations and the Department of Education from coming to an agreement between themselves if they decide that it is necessary to change the hours for the very small children coming to school for whom, it has been suggested, the change in time may create some problems.

This Bill was sent to the Department of Education for consideration and I have no doubt that, like every other measure, they considered it fully in so far as it affected their position. Whether they had consultation with the INTO or not I could not tell. All I can say is that the official view expressed to me from that Department was that they felt that the change to the new standard time would, on the whole, be beneficial. For one thing they felt that there would be more time for play in daylight hours for children. Concern has been expressed by the Senator here. If there is a problem with the small children referred to here and in the Dáil, there is no reason why such a problem cannot be solved by those concerned. Certainly, this Bill will not stop any change being made in school hours should such a procedure be felt desirable.

If the teachers agree. The Minister does not know whether they will agree or not. He has not found out.

I do not know whether so many parents do agree with the view expressed by the Senator or by the Deputy who expressed the view in the Dáil. I say that if there is a volume of such opinion, there is nothing to stop these changes being made.

I pointed out, as some Senator did, of course, that the north of Ireland will be on this time; the British will be on this; Western European countries will be on this, with the exception of Iceland. The volume of opinion in business circles throughout the country has been overwhelmingly in favour of adopting this measure. They, at all events, are quite sure what they want. So, in so far as we could ascertain public opinion on this issue, it has been overwhelmingly in favour of bringing in this measure and it is for that reason that I am asking the House to accept it.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

An chéad Chéim eile. Next Stage?

An tseachtain seo chughainn.

In view of the completely unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, that he does not know whether there was consultation with the relevant organisations, the next Stage must be postponed to clarify this position and, also, in the absence of Senators who represent some of these interests.

More of the humbug. The only reason why I was anxious to get as much business as possible through the House was that we have a heavy programme. I was anxious that Senators would be facilitated in their holidays. I thought there were some intelligent people on the other side of the House. I must admit now that I was an optimist. This is humbug of the first and last variety.

We have facilitated the Leader of the House to the tune of one hour and 17 minutes, which is a fair bit. In the circumstances, I do not think any allegation can be made against us that we are not trying to get the business through. I can assure the Leader of the House that in the weeks ahead we will facilitate him even if it does mean sitting longer hours than this House normally sits.

Do not worry. I will get the business through. I wanted to have regard to the comfort of Senators.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 3rd July, 1968.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 3rd July, 1968.