Re: [LEAPSECS] UK law on GMT vs UTC, was: timestamps on death certificates

From: Ed Davies <ls_at_EDAVIES.NILDRAM.CO.UK>
Date: Mon, 09 Jun 2003 11:18:43 +0100

Brian Garrett wrote:
> I'm still intersted in finding out about UT1 (or UT2)
> being the basis of civil time; I thought we in the U.S., atavistic though we
> may be about switching to SI units, were at least on track with the rest of
> the world by making UTC the legal basis of civil time.

There was a British parliamentary bill to switch to UTC (from GMT)
as the timescale to be used in the interpretation of legal documents
where no timescale is specified. This was in 1997. A Google
search for "Coordinated Universal Time Bill" will tell you more.

I think the Lords' discussion seemed quite sensible and well
informed. E.g., they understood the difference between UTC as
implemented by NPL and UTC which is the result of correlating
lots of clocks around the world (via TAI, of course).

I particularly like this bit of humour from Lord Tanlaw,
who introduced the bill:

# My Bill may not move the earth, but at least it recognises that the
# earth moves. Unfortunately for GMT, its movement has been too
# irregular and too unpredictable to remain as a timescale for
# electronic timekeeping in this country for greater accuracy to
# the nearest second.

Basically, the bill got through the House of Lords, received its
first reading in the house of Commons but was then dropped,
I guess for lack of time. At least it was scheduled for a second
reading on 1997-11-28 but deferred due to lack of time to
1998-02-13 but I can't find any further references to it for
that or other days.

I also rather enjoyed these exchanges from the 1998 debate on
Scottish devolution when the Lords were discussing whether
setting of "timescales" should be devolved to the Scottish
parliament or reserved for Westminster (effects of double
summer time being a bit controversial here as what is good
for SE England is not so good for NW Scotland, and vice-

# The noble Lord said: I suppose that we should introduce this
# debate by saying, "Here cometh the time lords".

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy quoted an encylopedia extract on
definitions of UT, UTC, ET, TDB, and TDT then said:

# I expect that most of your Lordships are now quite clear as to
# what time scales are but I am afraid I am not very much the
# wiser. In any event, I wonder whether there is really any point
# in devolving them.

It was a long debate, with the house sitting over midnight:

# Lord Howie of Troon: I do not want to irritate my noble friend,
# but I am under the impression that the state of Arizona has a time
# zone which might be called eastern mountain time or some such,
# but the Navaho reservation, which consists of something like 20 per
# cent. of the top right-hand corner of Arizona has its own time
# zone. So it can be done. However, I mention this point only to
# confuse the issue! All I am saying is that it can be done--but
# it should not be done in this case.
# Lord Sewel: I am glad that the noble Lord agrees with me that
# what is good for Arizona is not necessarily good for the United
# Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
# Lord Ewing of Kirkford: Before the noble Lord, Lord Mackay,
# replies, I do not want to irritate my noble friend either, but
# according to the clock it is now Tuesday, 28th July; here in your
# Lordships' Chamber it is still Monday, 27th July. How does my
# noble friend explain that?
# Lord Sewel: That is a time warp!
# Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The proper answer is that you do
# not notice time when you are enjoying yourself.

More seriously:

1. At least some of the lawyers have a quite reasonable
    understanding of the time scale issues - in particular,
    they know the problems with GMT.

2. The law (1978 Interpretation Act) only sets a default time
    scale for use when no other is specified. If you want to
    use TDB in writing your will then that's fine.

3. If the government thought the issue was worth dealing with
    they already have the outline bill to hand. This is what
    often happens with private members' bills - they run out
    of time but act as a template for later government
    legislation. In fact the bill which, in 1997, knocked the
    UTC bill out (on hunting wild animals with dogs) is now
    back under government sponsership.

Yes, there may be legal problems with monkeying with UTC but
they seem to me not to be a complete showstopper.

Received on Mon Jun 09 2003 - 03:19:38 PDT

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