UK timezone news --- Summary: don't panic

Peter Ilieve peter at
Sun Jan 21 16:03:16 UTC 1996

UK timezone matters came to a head on Friday 18 January when John Butterfill
MP failed to get a second reading in the House of Commons for his
British Time (Extra Daylight) Bill. This means nothing will change.

This story starts back in 1989 when the Home Office, the department
responsible for these things, produced a consultation document on
Summer Time. Officially the Government were neutral, but it was widely
reported that they wanted to move the UK into the central European
timezone, GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer. Back then the EC (as it
was then called) hadn't agreed on a common Summer Time end date so
this proposed change was bound up with European harmonisation.

There was a wide divergence of opinion in the responses to the document
and the Government couldn't decide what to do. I am not aware of any
statement being published. The Home Office, if you ask them, say the
whole matter `is under consant review'. A friend of mine elsewhere in
the Civil Service translates this as `we haven't a clue what to do about
this and we wish it would go away'.

In the intervening years the EC Commission agreed the seventh Directive
on summertime arrangements which finally introduced a common end date.
As this date was basically the UK end date, with all the other countries
changing from the end of September to the end of October, this removed
one of the objections in the UK for European harminisation: that it
would lead to darker evenings in October. As the EC Commission has said
several times that it is solely interested in harmonising dates and has no
interest in what timezone countries are in, the responsibility for any
change would now fall squarely on the UK Government and could not be blamed
on Europe.

In January 1995 a member of the House of Lords (the upper house of our
Parliament), Viscount Mountgarret, introduced his Central European Time
Bill. In the debate he complained bitterly about the lack of decision
since 1989 and said the Government had broken several specific
committments to him that things would be done. His Bill proposed that
England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland, move to CET.
This moves the timezone boundary from the English Channel up to the
Scottish border. The Scots, because of being in the far north and west
of the UK, have been the most vociferous opponents of any change. His
Bill was given a second reading, nobody put their names down to speak
in the next, committee, stage, so as far as I understand Lords
procedure it passed. It had no chance of becoming law however as nobody
introduced it in the House of Commons. I think that Viscount
Mountgarret introduced the Bill at least partly to put the Government
on the spot and force some sort of decision. In that he failed.

The action now moves to the House of Commons. Every year when the new
session of Parliament starts there is a ballot among MPs for places on
the list for introducing Private Members Bills. Only the first few MPs
in the list have any hope of getting their Bill (which they might not even
have thought of when they enter the ballot) passed into law, and then
usually only with help in the form of debating time from the Government.
Last year John Butterfill came top of the list, and announced he would
introduce a British Time (Extra Daylight) Bill to move the whole of the UK
into the CET zone. I think he offered the Scots the option of opting out
if they wanted to but nobody really took this seriously. This did put the
Government on the spot as they would have to decide whether to give it
time. I asked the Home Office last week and all they would say was: `the
Government's position was that it was not a party political matter and it
would be decided by Parliament on a free vote'. It was widely reported
though that they wouldn't give it time, the Scottish Office ministers
had won the right to vote against it and all other ministers had been
instructed to abstain or have some other engagement so they wouldn't
be in the House at all. In the event none of this was really necessary.
Last Friday, after a good humoured debate, the Bill fell on a technicality.
One hundred MPs were required (I don't know why, some arcane rule) to
vote in favour of a motion to close the debate, so the Bill's second
reading vote could take place. Only 93 voted in favour and the Bill was
lost. The Government escapes one again without having to make any decision.

So, nothing changes as a result of all this, but the backers of the Bill,
who call themselves the Daylight Extra Campaign, have already said they
will be back. There will have to be an election in the UK before the
end of April next year and if the current opinion polls are to be believed
the Conservative Party are heading for a drubbing of possibly Canadian
proportions. The Daylight Extra folk are already talking of bringing
the proposal back, possibly as a 5 year experiment, after a change of

One of the most depressing things about all this is that many people
have been taken in by John Butterfill's `(Extra Daylight)' and somehow
think that politicians can conjure the stuff out of thin air.

		Peter Ilieve		peter at

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