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Coordinated Universal Time Bill [H.L.]

4.53 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Tanlaw.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [References to time of day in Acts to be references to Coordinated Universal Time]:

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No.1:


Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("In").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1. As I said at Second Reading, the Government take a neutral view on the Bill. However, if the will of the House

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and the other place is that the Bill is to succeed, the Government wish it to be fit for the purpose. Consequently, I have tabled a number of amendments. These amendments do not seek to change the thrust of the noble Lord's original clause. However, the Government believe that if it is to be precise there must be some definition of coordinated universal time. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 2. After all, if the Bill is about precision we must incorporate it into the Bill.

For many years in practice we have used in our everyday lives a form of coordinated universal time, probably without knowing it. This is the version of coordinated universal time that is maintained and disseminated by the National Physical Laboratory. Amendment No. 2 refers to that timescale. I hope that the way that the amendment is drafted will meet what I understand to be the concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, in his amendment in that it conveys the message that the acronym for coordinated universal time is UTC. A strict interpretation of the term "coordinated universal time" is that it is the timescale realised at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. However, this is not a practical timescale. It is based on an average of national timescales such as that maintained by the National Physical Laboratory and is thus available only retrospectively. One need not worry that one loses accuracy by referring to the National Physical Laboratory version of coordinated universal time rather than the version of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. The two differ by much less than one-millionth of a second.

There is another reason why it is fitting to refer to the National Physical Laboratory timescale in the Interpretation Act. As I said earlier, for many years we have, probably unknowingly, relied on this timescale as our national reference point for time. It is the basis not only of the National Physical Laboratory's own radio time signal transmissions, but also of British Telecom's speaking clock and the pips on the BBC. This timescale, like all the timescales which contribute to coordinated universal time, is based upon atomic clocks. The first atomic clock was constructed at the National Physical Laboratory in the 1950s. It is therefore right and proper to recognise the laboratory that was in at the start of the change. However, since the statute would then refer to a specific laboratory I propose that there be power to amend subsection (2) by statutory instrument should circumstances change. This power will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The remainder of the amendment creates a parallel regime under the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour: I am sorry that I was unable to attend Second Reading because of a long standing previous engagement. I had the opportunity of writing to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, about my concerns. At this stage I should like to ask one question on Amendment No. 2. As far as I understand it, coordinated universal time is absolutely universal, but the National Physical Laboratory's version is purely British. I may be wrong, but that is my impression. I believe that the ability to

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change the timescale by means of statutory instrument provides the Government with a good safeguard in fixing future times.

As these two amendments have been grouped with Amendment No. 3 my amendment will automatically fall anyway. However, I tabled my amendment to make absolutely clear on the face of the Bill that the abbreviated letters for coordinated universal time are UTC and not CUT. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, has taken that point on board. The amendment is a definite improvement to the Bill and I support it.

Lord Tanlaw: I welcome the approach taken by Her Majesty's Government and I welcome the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel.

We are part of a globally connected electronic society that is about to enter the third millennium. It will have at its fingertips a universally accepted, very accurate and predictable unified timescale. The Bill is intended to provide such a timescale. It is an essential piece of legislation which will meet the anticipated demand.

UTC has already replaced GMT, or its equivalent, in most of Europe and Ireland, for that very reason. I was asked outside the Chamber why the Bill is necessary. As we approach the millennium, more and more clocks, all IT machines, videos and PCs will automatically become linked to the radio signals propagating UTC. As it appears that we have got the date wrong for the millennium with these machines, we should at least get the time right, and this is one way of ensuring that that will happen.

The amendment put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, was necessary and I would have supported it, but I agree with him that it is no longer necessary, that the National Physical Laboratory's atomic clock has been specified under Section 2.

There are two points worth mentioning to back up the amendment. UTC is known throughout the world. However it is translated in different languages in different countries, it is never used with its full title, Co-ordinated universal time is represented as UCT. However much one may dislike abbreviations in this modern world, they are very useful and can transcend national and linguistic boundaries, and it is also very simple for computers. That is why there are no dots between the letters U, T and C.

In the National Physical Laboratory there is one atomic clock and there are 250 around the world, all of which are accurate to plus or minus one second in a million years. However, even atomic clocks have their own nano-idiosyncrasies. The fact is that they are all registered. UTC is a notional benchmark in time and it can be calculated simply. There will be a fractional nano-second between the atomic clock in Britain--the NPL clock--and the one in Germany, but it is registered and therefore UTC can be calculated.

That is the world of the scientists rather than the world in which the general public and the rest of us live. Nevertheless, the Bill is essential because it is intended to bring about that world, to make it more practical and comfortable for us all.

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I strongly support both amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel.

Lord Haskel: I thank noble Lords for their support. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 2:


Page 1, leave out lines 6 and 7 and insert ("--
(a) for "Greenwich mean time" there shall be substituted "Coordinated Universal Time", and
(b) at the end there shall be added--
"(2) In this section "Coordinated Universal Time" means the time scale maintained by the National Physical Laboratory and known as UTC (NPL).
(3) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument amend subsection (2) above.
(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."
(2) In section 39 of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 (references to time)--
(a) in subsection (1) above for "Greenwich mean time", in each place it occurs, there shall be substituted "Coordinated Universal Time", and
(b) after that subsection there shall be inserted--
"(1A) In subsection (1) above "Coordinated Universal Time" means the time scale maintained by the National Physical Laboratory and known as UTC (NPL).
(1B) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (1A) above.
(1C) An order under subsection (1B) above shall be subject to negative resolution." ").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 4:


After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Summer Time

(".--(1) The Summer Time Act 1972 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 1 (advance of time during period of summer time) for "Greenwich mean time", in each place it occurs, there shall be substituted "Coordinated Universal Time".
(3) In section 2 (extension of period, and double summer time), in subsection (1)(b) for "Greenwich mean time" there shall be substituted "Coordinated Universal Time".
(4) In section 3 (interpretation of references) for "Greenwich mean time" there shall be substituted "Coordinated Universal Time or any other time scale".
(5) After section 3 there shall be inserted--
"Meaning of "Coordinated Universal Time".
3A. In this Act "Coordinated Universal Time" has the same meaning as in section 9 of the Interpretation Act 1978." ").

The noble Lord said: The Interpretation Act serves to imply a timescale only where one is not specifically stated. Most statutes do not specify a timescale, but one exception is the Summer Time Act 1972.

It is proposed that in the provisions of that Act which deal with time of day, when the clocks are put forward, and with the number of hours by which winter and summer time differ, there is substituted coordinated universal time in place of Greenwich mean time. This ensures a coherent regime in the application of the

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Interpretation Act throughout the summer months. It also reflects the practical reality for those charged with maintaining time signals.

There is also a provision in the Summer Time Act which is intended to reflect the fact that in the fields of astronomy, meteorology and navigation, it is conventional not to change to a summer time system each year, but to continue to state times according to what is currently our winter timescale. It is proposed that this provision be modified to reflect the changes elsewhere in the Act and to Coordinated Universal Time. However, it is also proposed to widen it to reflect the fact that in some cases, astronomy being the obvious example, astronomical time may still be the practical timescale.

For the benefit of noble Lords who, like me, have a fondness for Greenwich mean time, Greenwich is the home of astronomy and navigation and the amendment will in no way stop people using the phrase Greenwich mean time if they wish to do so.


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