House of Commons
Friday 26 January 2007
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Orders of the Day
Energy Saving (Daylight) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time. I do so reeling from my defeat in the Division. This is the first occasion on which I have moved a motion for which not a single colleague, or even I, actually voted. I hope that I shall have a bit more success later.
It is a great privilege to introduce a private Member’s Bill. At the 24th attempt, I drew second place in the ballot. It was the first time I had been in the top six since I first came to the House, and I deliberately chose to present a Bill that is non-partisan in nature. I realise that non-partisan does not mean non-controversial, but there is support for the Bill in all parts of the House. I am particularly grateful to my colleagues who sponsored it, and to all who signed early-day motion 484. I just hope that all who signed that motion, if not already present, are on their way here from their constituencies to vote later this morning.
May I place on the record the support of Bournemouth borough council for the Bill? Has my hon. Friend received any support from other borough councils, unitary authorities, local government organisations and interested bodies throughout the country?
I warmly welcome the support of Bournemouth borough council, and I will also warmly welcome the support of my hon. Friend—if I get it—later in the morning. Quite a number of local authorities have been in touch with me. Indeed, I believe that it is the official position of the Local Government Association to support the Bill. That reflects the broad cross-party support for the measure.
As my hon. Friend probably knows, when I was considering the matter 20 years ago, I thought that in the populated middle belt of Scotland there would be great gains. In answer to a question from me, the then Secretary of State for Scotland said that there was no law compelling people to get up, go to bed or go to work at any particular time. People could make their own adjustments and take all the benefits of the Bill.
With so many offers of support, does my hon. Friend agree that it was slightly unfortunate that the Division took so long? Does not he think that it would be even more unfortunate if Government Whips tried to arrange for the Bill to be talked out, because a great majority of my constituents are in favour of it? As he said, it is controversial, so at the very least it should go to Committee so that it can be properly debated.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point. Although there is a tremendous breadth of support for the Bill, there are some controversial aspects and there are a few parts of the country where it may not quite yet enjoy the degree of support that it enjoys in Bournemouth, London and elsewhere. It would be a tragedy, almost an abuse of the procedure, if the Government were to take any action today to deny the House the chance to examine the Bill’s allegedly controversial aspects—and I hope that the Minister, who I welcome to the Dispatch Box, will not do that. It would reflect badly on the House.
I have been genuinely surprised by the level of public interest; actually, I have been rather dismayed by the number of e-mails and letters that I have had to answer in the past six or seven weeks. People are very interested in the issue. They will watch the House’s proceedings today carefully.
Before the hon. Gentleman gets carried away by the point made by the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), would he like to speculate on the chances of an employee saying at an industrial tribunal, “I shouldn’t have been sacked. It was just that I got fed up with going to work in the dark since the Bill was brought in”?
Employees and employers are a great deal more flexible today than they were 40 years ago when a similar experiment was attempted. If there were employers whose working hours involved employees coming to work at times of the day they did not like, I think that people would make a common-sense adjustment to the circumstances.
Many of us come to work in the dark because of the congestion charge. I was here when the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) introduced a similar Bill about 12 years ago. In an opinion poll carried out by the Rotherham Advertiser, that voice of middle England, a clear majority were in favour of his Bill. Disgracefully, the appalling Government of the day talked it out. I hope that this great and glorious Labour Government will not talk this Bill out. It would be a stain on our escutcheon. The Bill should go forward for further examination.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point that I was going to make myself. He is respected for his independence of view. Indeed, a lot of Labour Members are suddenly becoming more independent as they sense a transition of power. I was a little surprised to hear him launch such a savage attack on the congestion charge, which I think most of us have got used to.
During that flight of fancy about people getting up in the morning and going to work whenever they like, did it ever enter the hon. Gentleman's head that that might be rather difficult for schools? I taught for some time, and I used to think that it would be a wonderful idea to have flexitime and go in at about 11 o’clock, as long as the children were there at 9 o'clock—that would be fine, and the parents would have thought it a great idea. How does the hon. Gentleman think that such flexible arrangements would work throughout the country in educational establishments?
Unlike the present Government, I believe that as much local decision making as possible should be given to schools. If a school decided that it suited parents, children and teachers to adjust its hours, that would seem entirely proper. It would not worry me if children in the hon. Lady's constituency went to school at a different time from when children go to school in my constituency. That reflects local circumstances and local preferences, which is a good thing.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Local Government Association and its support for the Bill. I have a press release from the LGA dated the end of October, when the clocks went back an hour. Has it issued anything more up to date in support of the Bill?
My Bill was not announced until the beginning of December, so I do not think that the LGA has done that, but I am confident, from the discussions I have had with it, that if it were pressed for an on-the-record statement about whether it favoured or opposed the Bill, it would express support for it.
Perhaps I might make a little progress with my speech.
I wanted a Bill that would benefit families and individuals up and down the country, a Bill whose impact could be measured in terms of lives saved, energy consumption and carbon emissions cut, and quality of life improved.
Of course, this issue is not new. Lots of attempts have been made in the past 100 years to adjust our clocks so that the hours of daylight would reflect more closely the hours of human activity. It will be 99 years ago next week that the then Member for Leek introduced a daylight saving Bill that was warmly approved by a Select Committee set up for the purpose of examining it, but failed to reach the statute book. I hope that our successors will not still be debating the issue in 99 years’ time.
Lots of far more distinguished people than I have trodden this path.
My right hon. Friend is too kind. The entertaining and informative book by David Prerau, available in paperback—I hasten to add that I bought my copy, but I am happy to give it a plug nevertheless—traces back the campaign for changing the clocks to Benjamin Franklin. On a visit to Paris, where his custom was to lie in bed until midday, he discovered that half the hours of daylight had already gone by before he was up. He calculated that a huge saving in energy, at that time in the form of candle power, would result from a change in the French clocks. More recently a series of former Prime Ministers, including Winston Churchill and Arthur Balfour, have supported various attempts to make the change.
I pay particular tribute to colleagues in both Houses who have fought the cause. Eleven years ago last Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill), who sadly is not in his place today, introduced a Bill that, like mine, had plenty of cross-party support. It foundered, as the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said, because of Government fears about the reaction in Scotland. I cannot imagine that, in the face of Scottish elections four months hence, such considerations would enter into the minds of Ministers. I am looking forward to the Minister making it clear that the present Government’s position is far more robust, and that they will decide their policy on the merits of the argument.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I congratulate him on introducing this measure and on his success in the private Members’ ballot. He has just said that the decision of the Government in 1996 was determined by tactics relating to the result of the election in 1997. Does he agree that those tactics failed spectacularly, in that they did not get the results that they desired?
The Minister has made a most helpful point. Those tactics did spectacularly fail, and I dare say that if he follows the same path as the Conservatives did then, there will be a similar spectacular failure in the May elections. Most recently, Lord Tanlaw introduced a Bill in the House of Lords, which again had all-party support.
When I researched the history of the issue under discussion, I was reminded of something that I am unsure whether I ever knew, but if I did I had forgotten it: Greenwich mean time—and, indeed, the very concept of standardised time for a whole country—is a relatively recent concept. At the beginning of the 19th century, different parts of Britain had different time zones, and that caused problems at the advent of the railways. Passengers were not always aware of the time zones according to which the times of the trains were calculated. In 1840, one timetable had to point out that London time was four minutes ahead of Reading time, five and a half minutes ahead of Steventon time, seven and a half minutes ahead of Chippenham time, and so on down the line.
When pressed to introduce a standardised timetable for the convenience of passengers, one railway company protested that to do so
“would tend to make punctuality a sort of obligation”.
Nothing much has changed. My long-suffering constituents in South Suffolk, hundreds of whom commute to London to work every day—some of them in the dark—have to put up with a franchisee that is called, rather bizarrely, One Railway. It is the linear successor of the company that I have just quoted, and it has exactly the same approach to punctuality—as an obligation that it does not feel inclined to honour particularly frequently.
In supporting my hon. Friend’s Bill, may I point out to him that the clock is in truth a man-made device to co-ordinate mankind and society as we know it? He is making a point about the transition from daylight to dark, and that is a question of longitude. Is he aware that parts of France are further west than Cornwall, and yet there does not seem to be any difficulty in having a different time zone there from the one that we currently have?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is plenty of evidence from other countries to support the claim that current times are an entirely artificial construct that reflect neither geography nor the natural patterns of human activity.
Let me enter one more item of history on to the record. In this matter, as in so many others, Britain led the way. Greenwich mean time became the legal time for all of Britain in 1880, and over the next few years many other countries around the world based their time on GMT—sometimes ahead of it, sometimes behind it. Predictably however, one of the last countries to come into line was France—long after the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries. Only in 1916 were the French persuaded, and even then they could not bear to acknowledge that Britain was in the lead. They called Greenwich mean time
“Paris Mean Time retarded by 9 minutes and 21 seconds”.
My Bill would introduce a three-year experiment with what is known as single/double summer time. That would mean that all the year round the time would be one hour later than it is at present. For example, this afternoon it would stay light until six o’clock, giving many Members time to reach their constituencies in daylight—or perhaps to enjoy some of the healthy sporting activity that Ministers now recognise we need to encourage to tackle the growing obesity crisis. In effect, the time would be GMT plus two hours in the summer, and GMT plus one hour in the winter.
It is right to introduce such a change by way of an experiment, because that will allow everyone to assess the impact of changing the clocks before the change is made permanent.
On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government, who pride themselves with some degree of justification on evidence-based policy making, should welcome the fact that there is an opportunity for an experiment, where measurements can be made on the data? There is clearly a case for trying this out first: if the objectives are set out in advance the data can be tested against them, so all Members should then be satisfied that they know whether it is a good or a bad thing to do. That is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill.
I entirely agree, and I shall refer later to my proposal for monitoring the effects of the experiment. It would be nice to think that the Government always adopted an evidence-based policy-making process, but in a number of cases it appears to me to be a policy-based evidence-making process. However, I hope that that will not happen on this occasion.
Some Members I exempt from any such charge.
Some colleagues will recall the debate that surrounded the introduction of a law making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. It is hard to believe now that less than 25 years ago that was regarded as a highly controversial proposal. The experimental procedure was used then, and it was successful, because people quickly became accustomed to wearing seat belts—and, more importantly, they soon recognised the benefits of wearing seat belts in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided.
I am confident that my Bill will achieve similar benefits, but I accept that not everyone is yet convinced. For that reason, clause 4 provides for the appointment of a review panel, which after the first two years of the experiment will examine the effects of the Bill and report publicly on them. To ensure the independence of that panel—not that I am suggesting that the Government would ever try to exert influence in respect of appointments of that kind—the Bill explicitly provides for one of the panel’s members to be nominated by the Royal Society, one by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, one by the chief medical officer and one by the Office for National Statistics—and, of course, some by the Secretary of State as well.
The Bill requires the panel to report specifically on changes in the number of road traffic accidents, the level of energy consumption and the level of ill health, and on any other areas that the panel believes have been directly affected by the alteration in the clocks. The importance of that panel is that it will give the public unbiased information on which to form a view about the advantages and disadvantages of the change. It will then be for Parliament to decide whether to continue the three-year experiment, and whether to make the change permanent.
When the last experiment took place almost 40 years ago, it was abandoned after over-hasty examination of inadequate, and possibly misleading, evidence on the impact of the change. The decision to abandon that experiment was a seriously wrong judgment. In any event, we must now judge the issue on the basis of what it does in today’s conditions.
One other aspect of the Bill requires to be explained. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 provide for the changes proposed in the Bill to be treated as a devolved issue, so that the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly can decide for themselves whether those parts of the United Kingdom should conduct the same experiment as England.
In the hon. Gentleman’s historical diversion of a few minutes ago he referred to the difficulties that arose when we had different time zones throughout the UK, but he now seems to be proposing the possibility of separate Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish time zones. Does that provide another example of a new-found collusion between English nationalism and Scottish nationalism?
I hope that it will not be seen in that way. The confusion I referred to arose where there were lots of time zones with odd differences between them; a five-and-a-half minute difference between one part of the country and another can be quite confusing. Plenty of countries have more than one time zone within their borders, but invariably the differences in time are organised in multiples of half an hour or one hour—I do not think that any country still has odd-minute differences. The evidence from other countries is that it is workable to have separate time zones.
Of course it is workable, but there is a difference between the UK and somewhere such as the United States of America which has four or five time zones, but is considerably geographically broader than the UK. To have two, three or four time zones in a relatively small country such as the UK would be unusual, if not unique.
My Bill is designed simply to allow different parts of the United Kingdom to make up their own minds. Personally, I hope that we will have a single time zone, but I am not trying to force my views on other people. The benefits of the change that I am proposing would be considerable, and would apply to all parts of the UK, but because I recognise that this issue is more controversial in some parts of the UK than others, I also believe that the relevant bodies should have a chance to decide for themselves.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that a difficulty would arise from having different time zones, in that broadcasters will be based mainly in one time zone but will be broadcasting into different time zones? I imagine that they would maintain south-east of England time.
I do not think so. Broadcasting, which is obviously a much bigger factor than it was 40 years ago, is a good example of how time zones are almost irrelevant in the modern world. When one travels to different parts of the world, one often tunes into the news at 6 o’clock in the morning or 10 o’clock in the evening.
Because of the opt-out that the hon. Gentleman has included in the Bill, I cannot support it, although I would like to. In my area, an ITV station called Border Television broadcasts both sides of the border, so under the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, the news that is broadcast on one side of the border at 5 o’clock would be broadcast at 6 o’clock on the other side. There is an arrogance about the hon. Gentleman—he does not realise the confusion that his Bill would cause for those of us who live in the English-Scottish border region.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his saying that he would have supported the Bill but for that aspect of it, but I have to say that his intervention was extraordinary. The truth is that people are accustomed to watching television programmes broadcast from a time zone other than the one in which they happen to be; indeed, most of us do that every day of our lives. Furthermore, given the proliferation of channels these days, it would be quite easy for Border programmes to be shown an hour later or earlier and beamed in the appropriate direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who, like me, lives close to the border, has raised one issue, but may I raise another? Has the hon. Gentleman discussed his Bill with my Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), and does he support the Bill?
I will let my hon. Friend decide for himself whether he wants to support the Bill. The answer is that I have not discussed it with him, and I have not been going round badgering my colleagues for support. Many of them, I am glad to say, have offered it willingly and, indeed, enthusiastically.
There is a more immediate and practical point arising from the hon. Gentleman’s multiple time zone concept. Given that two thirds of Berwick’s hinterland is in Scotland, a vet, plumber or any other tradesman making a series of appointments at farms and other places round about would have to check the postcode of every such place to work out whether it will be 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock when he gets there.
I do not claim that having a separate time zone for Scotland would not create difficulties for people on the border; I simply say that this is a decision for Scotland. England should decide what is in England’s interests, and the overwhelming advantage to England lies in making this change. I happen to believe that the same applies to Scotland, but I dare not attempt in my Bill to force my views on Scotland; I want it to decide for itself. I hope, in return, that Scottish colleagues in this House will not deny England the benefits of this change by casting their votes on an issue that affects only England, at a time when the Bill is not even proposing a change in Scotland.
In practice, I hope—indeed, I would expect—that Wales would see overwhelming advantage in aligning itself with England. In the case of Northern Ireland, different considerations apply. It is the westernmost part of the United Kingdom, is separated by sea from the mainland and has a land boundary with Eire, so it is right that it have a chance to decide for itself. I am aware that the proposal is more controversial in the case of Scotland, but it is a logical consequence of devolution and of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament that any decision about Scotland’s time zone should be made in Scotland.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He mentions Northern Ireland because it is further west and he regards it as being of some relevance; in fact, it is extremely relevant to my constituents. My constituency extends as far as the west coast of Scotland and to Stranraer, which has a ferry port that is a major terminal for two companies. That journey of just over an hour across the North sea is vital. So it is not just trains that we are talking about, but ferries, as well.
Some of us often take ferries to other time zones, and in fact, most people in the United Kingdom cross time zones when they go abroad on pleasure or business. Moreover, most people probably now travel to continental Europe more frequently than they do to Scotland or Northern Ireland.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the opposition that he is getting to the Bill is just the sort that one gets from conservative-minded people—with a small “c”—who find any change very difficult to cope with and worry about things such as ferries arriving in different time zones. However, if they reflect on the matter, they will realise that that happens all the time when travelling to mainland Europe. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that Liberal Democrats can give him plenty of information on how to deal with conservative-minded opponents.
Apart from that last remark, I am very grateful for that intervention, with which I entirely agree.
Let me explain the Bill’s principal benefits. The first, and in my view the most important, is the saving of lives. While it is hard to be absolutely precise about the numbers, I note what the Minister with responsibility for road safety, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), said in Committee during consideration of the Road Safety Bill on 20 April last year. He said:
“In my written answer to my hon. Friend’s parliamentary question, I said publicly, and I shall reiterate now, that changing to single/double summer time would have road safety benefits. It is not in doubt—the research has been done. It was done following the experiment to which the hon. Member for Wimbledon referred, and we have the report from TRL”—
the Transport Research Laboratory—
“in 1998 that examined the impact of single/double summer time more closely. We know it will have road safety benefits—that is not in doubt, so there is no point commissioning any more research on it. I buy the argument and I have heard nobody either disagree with it or challenge the data.
How many lives and injuries would the change save? Something of the order of 100 lives, and something of the order of 400 people killed or seriously injured…I am prepared to accept that approximately 100 lives would be saved and approximately 400 people killed or seriously injured would be spared that fate.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 20 April 2006; c. 288.]
That is the on-the-record statement by the Minister with responsibility for road safety, and I regard it as clear, unequivocal and important. If the passing of this Bill means that 400 families would be spared the grief and tragedy of a bereavement or a serious injury to one of their loved ones, how can the Minister at the Dispatch Box today possibly not throw the Government’s full weight behind it? However, whatever the Minister says, these figures are widely accepted as the best current estimate, and the House should be willing to give this change a try, at least. The number of lives that would be saved is similar to the number that are saved, it is claimed, through the operation of the speed cameras to which the Government are so addicted.
Given that the cost of the changes proposed in the Bill is virtually nil to the public sector, it would be extraordinary if the Government did not back this very simple step. Let us suppose—heaven forbid that this should happen—that this weekend, an accident occurs somewhere in the transport system in which 100 lives are lost. A public inquiry would immediately be set up. Let us also suppose that that inquiry found that it is absolutely certain that a similar accident will occur every year, with similar loss of life, unless Parliament takes the simple step of changing the clocks. There would be a public outcry if we did not take that step.
That is exactly the position that we are in today. It is not a surprise, therefore, that many organisations have announced their support for the Bill. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents,
“Mr. Yeo’s Bill is the opportunity to implement changes which will protect our most vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, children and the elderly who are more at risk during dark evenings. Every autumn when the clocks go back we see an increase in road deaths and injuries and these proposals could stop that from happening.”
In a press release last week, the AA said that the Bill
“appears to make sound road safety and environmental sense”.
I turn now to the environmental case. A recent study entitled “Policy inertia on UK daylight saving: the cost in accidents, energy and emissions”, by Dr. Elizabeth Garnsey and others, of Cambridge university, showed that both peaks in demand for electricity and actual energy consumption would be lower under single/double summer time, particularly throughout the winter. At my recent meeting with the National Grid, its management confirmed that the peak in electricity demand would be lower, enabling the country to operate with a lower level of capacity at all times throughout the year. The Cambridge study estimated that carbon emissions would be cut by 170,000 tonnes annually, at no cost to gross domestic product. That is equivalent to approximately 0.1 per cent. of total annual carbon emissions from the UK.
The growing and urgent threat of climate change will make the reduction of carbon emissions a greater and greater priority in the next few years, and this is one of the easiest and cheapest ways in which they could be reduced—a fact that was recognised by Lord Rooker in an answer in the other place recently. When he was a Member of this House, he was respected by both sides for speaking his mind and pioneering several policy changes.
It is true that there are surges, but I recommend that the hon. Lady talks to the National Grid Company, as I did, and obtains confirmation that introducing this change would mean that whatever surges take place, in the day, evening or night, the overall peak at any one time would be lower than if we did not make the change.
A third argument relates to quality of life issues. At a time when concern is rightly growing about obesity, especially among young people, any measure that makes it easier to participate in sport after school is worth while. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers has said:
“There is overwhelming evidence that it will save lives—children will no longer have to travel from school in pitch darkness. It will greatly improve the opportunities for outdoor winter sport after school. It may well have a positive effect on pupil behaviour—counteracting seasonal affective disorder (which makes you grumpy!) and providing the opportunity for releasing energy by participation in healthy sport.”
My hon. Friend mentioned SAD, the depressive effect of the nights closing in, which is especially relevant given the current time regime. Medical advice suggests that 2.5 per cent. of the population suffer from that significant and important depressive disorder, so does not that emphasise the great importance of cheering people up through this proposal for lighter evenings?
My hon. Friend is right, and that is one reason why I have included in the Bill a requirement for the review panel to measure the effect on health. I was not particularly knowledgeable about SAD—I do not think that I have suffered from it—but the statistics that he cites are well founded. It is a serious condition for those people.
Be that as it may.
The advantages in quality of life terms are not confined to young people. Let me quote from a statement from Age Concern England:
“It has been Age Concern England’s policy to support the proposal of changing the clocks so that there are lighter evenings for many years. Firstly because the data shows it would be safer and reduce road accidents, and secondly because we know that many older people will not go out once it is dark. Having lighter evenings would mean that older people could spend more time out of their homes if they choose to do so.”
Healthier lives with more social and recreational opportunities bring substantial benefits to the whole community. That is what this Bill would achieve.
Professor Mayer Hillman has been a distinguished advocate of this cause for many years and he says:
“It is now unarguable that the advantages of SDST”
single/double summer time—
“far outweigh the disadvantages. It would bring about a significant improvement to the overall quality of life for the great majority of the population. A further hour of evening daylight—with its share of sunlight—would be enjoyed for an additional eleven months of the year whereas an extra hour of morning darkness would only have to be endured during the winter months.”
I have come to listen to the debate and I have not made my mind up on the issue. However, I have one concern. Has the hon. Gentleman had any consultation with the faith groups on the Bill? For example, I have had representations from the Beth Din, which tells me that the first Jewish prayers are at dawn and the proposals could mean that Jewish people would be late for work.
I have had representations from several faith groups and I recognise that the Bill would raise issues for certain believers. However, it is the job of the House to make a judgment about the balance of advantage for the whole population. Indeed, we have seen recently the difficulty that the Government have got into in appearing to place perhaps undue emphasis on the concerns of individual faith groups.
One of the advantages of the Bill would be to align Britain permanently with most of the European Union countries. It is exciting to hear the Conservative party lining up with the EU to support this move and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. It is another reason why the Government should support the Bill.
Historically, the next biggest objectors to the change, after Scottish interests, have been farmers. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that on this occasion he has a letter from the National Farmers Union, representing England and Wales, that is much more supportive of the Bill?
In terms of the time zone being the same as the rest of the near continent, another clear interest is that of the City of London. Surely it would be greatly in the interests of our financial markets to join the same time zone as the rest of Europe. Many of my constituents would also value not having to get up an hour earlier to start at the same time as Europe, which is an hour ahead of us.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Indeed, many of my constituents work in the City and the change would offer material advantage to them. In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I should say that I know that it would also offer great benefits to Ministers. Some of us can dimly recall when we were in government and how many times we had to go to early morning meetings, especially in relation to the European Union, for which we had to leave the night before. One cannot get to an eight o’clock meeting in Brussels, Frankfurt or Paris without leaving the night before. If Ministers support the Bill, they would be able to spend more nights at home with their red boxes and their families.
That is exactly what they do. I have represented South Suffolk for 24 years and many more people now catch the 5.30 train from Manningtree to get to the City in time to do business with the continent. That is the crowded train now, whereas 24 years ago it was the 6.45 train.
The economic benefits are particularly great in the tourist industry, an important employer that may become even more significant to our economy during the 21st century. The chairman of the Tourism Alliance, Tony Milnes, has said:
“The Tourism Alliance, which comprises almost fifty tourism organisations that together represent some 200,000 businesses of all sizes throughout the UK, is fully supportive of the Energy Saving (Daylight) Bill. Aligning our clocks with the rest of Europe would boost the country’s earnings from both domestic and inbound tourism while at the same time reducing the UK’s £18 billion tourism deficit and aviation related climate change.”
I could not have put it better myself.
All in all, the benefits—in terms of saving lives, avoiding injuries, improving road safety, cutting energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions, improving the quality of life and strengthening the economy—add up to an overwhelming case in favour of the Bill. Furthermore, there have been several changes in the 40 years since the previous experiment that are material to the Bill. The most important of those is the much greater concern today about the importance of saving energy and cutting carbon emissions, an issue that was neither understood nor of concern in the late 1960s. Secondly, as has been mentioned, many more British people now travel regularly to the continent of Europe, and they would find those journeys more convenient after the change—a particularly important advantage for the business community.
Working practices are also more flexible than they were 40 years ago and those few industries that resisted the change then have for the most part become more relaxed in their attitudes. One of those industries, widely but wrongly thought to be hostile to the change, is agriculture, as the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) mentioned a few moments ago. This week, I received a letter from the National Farmers Union, which stated:
“For reasons lost in history, in the past the farming community were, or at least were perceived to be, opposed to such a proposal. Subject to careful scrutiny of the impact of the change on agriculture and rural communities during the experimental period, I can inform you that so far as we can judge without a thorough consultation farmers now are agnostic, if not favourably disposed, towards the proposal.”
We have touched on the Scottish dimension several times, so I stress that the benefits I have described apply as strongly in Scotland as in the rest of the United Kingdom, although I am aware that the proposal has less support in Scotland. A YouGov poll, highlighted in The Daily Telegraph on Boxing day, revealed that 54 per cent. of British people as a whole support the change, with only 36 per cent. against, but in Scotland the figures are 40 per cent. in favour and 48 per cent. against.
The House has to decide whether it is right to allow the Scottish tail to wag the British dog. Are the views of Scotland to prevail over those of the rest of the UK? London has a bigger population and a larger economy than Scotland and there can be little doubt that the majority of Londoners would warmly welcome the change. Indeed, two weeks ago the Mayor of London wrote to me, saying that
“an extra hour of daylight in the winter evenings would boost the London leisure industries and tourism and result in a big fall in deaths and serious injuries in traffic accidents.
Such a measure would also mean lower carbon dioxide emissions through a reduction in energy consumption and lighting which is a significant contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, particularly in the commercial sector in London…I would welcome any measure that brought the UK into line with Central European Time where that would enable a reduction in the amount of aircraft noise in the early morning, which is a particular issue for many thousands of Londoners.
I commissioned a survey in October 2005 to ascertain the views of Londoners and Scottish people on this issue. The results indicated that once the benefits have been explained to people the support for a revision increases, both in London and Scotland.”
I am happy to confirm that on that issue—indeed, on a number of others, too—I completely agree with the Mayor.
In conclusion, the balance of advantage lies overwhelmingly with making the change. I hope that even if the Minister is not able to support the Bill, he will explain why, when a Transport Minister says it will save lives and a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister says it will improve the environment, the Department of Trade and Industry cannot give it support. The Government could not get much more unjoined-up than that. However, there is time for the Minister to become the hero of the hour and say that at least the Bill should go into Committee where it can be examined in more detail.
The Bill introduces an experiment, and provides for the experiment to be monitored. It allows other parts of the United Kingdom to decide whether they want to join the experiment. The change will inevitably be made eventually. The question today is whether we should enjoy its benefits sooner rather than later.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on both his success in the ballot and the choice of subject of his Bill. I am here to support it, which he will no doubt be relieved to hear, as I am one of its sponsors.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the first daylight saving Bill was introduced in 1908, and in my research I found a Staffordshire link, because it was promoted by Robert Pearce, MP for the Leek constituency. Like the hon. Gentleman, I, too, have read “Saving the Daylight” by David Prerau, the US co-author of three reports on the effects of daylight saving time. I recognised in the hon. Gentleman’s speech some of the arguments from that entertaining book about why we put the clocks forward. I did not pay for my copy of the book; the author handed it to me personally last year and signed it for me. He is a most entertaining gentleman to meet and to talk to about the subject.
Before I cover some of the same ground as the hon. Gentleman in explaining why I support the Bill, I have two preliminary points: first, it is legitimate to legislate about time and, secondly, to do so would not create any more daylight, but merely distribute it differently between the start and end of the day.
On the first point, there was a great debate about daylight saving time in the United States in 1993. As Time magazine pointed out, “chaos of clocks” reigned because states operated daylight saving time at different times, or did not use it at all. Some Senators put notices on their doors saying, “This office operates on God’s law”, referring to when there were no clocks and we relied on the sun and the shadow it cast to determine the time. We first interfered with God’s, or natural, law when we introduced mean time with the development of mechanical clocks. Astronomical studies showed that each day of the year was not the same length in every part of the world, so the first artificial adjustment was to adopt a mean time such that the length of an hour was the same throughout the country according to the clock.
As the hon. Gentleman noted, the second artificial interference was in the 19th century when standard time was adopted. Typically, noon was set on public clocks around the world by the height of the sun in the sky over each clock, which is why even within Britain there were many time zones, because the sun reaches its height at different times of the day in different areas. The great explosion in railway travel and difficulties in compiling meaningful timetables caused pressure to adopt a standard time, so everybody measured time by Greenwich mean time.
I recognise that argument. If the Bill were successful, and if a Scottish Parliament were considering whether to keep to the time zone in England, it would take that factor into account.
A third, but still incomplete artificial change, was the adoption of daylight saving time. The hon. Member for South Suffolk mentioned the first great campaigner in this country, William Willett, who produced, published and distributed at his own expense the pamphlet, “Waste of Daylight”. He wanted to provide more time for exercise in the open air at the end of each day.
It is now fashionable on the Labour Benches to be proud of and respectful towards Winston Churchill. He certainly had a good turn of phrase. At the beginning of the 20th century, in debates on the early Bills, he said that William Willett did not propose a change from natural time to artificial time, but rather that we substitute a convenient standard of artificial time for an inconvenient one. That puts our proposals in context.
We are proposing not to add more daylight, but to provide more usable hours of daylight, which was the original motivation for such proposals. The first time that nations adopted daylight saving time was during a great challenge to the whole world: world war one. Many countries in Europe and in other continents—eventually 31 countries in four continents—adopted daylight saving time due to economic pressures. Their war efforts required more usable daylight hours. Although the UK never abandoned daylight summer time, we adopted double summer time during the second world war for increasingly longer times between 1941 and 1944, which gave us, in effect, what the Bill would provide. At that time, the National Farmers Union registered the strongest possible protest to the change.
In modern times, in America in the 1950s and 1960s, for example, we have seen that without a co-ordinated move to daylight saving time, there is clock chaos, as Time said. We have experimented with changing our time to try to make better use of daylight hours. There was a three-year experiment from 1968 when we adopted what we called British standard time, which was Greenwich mean time plus one hour all year round. Then, at the height of the oil crisis in 1973, the United States adopted daylight saving time all year round under the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act 1973—a two-year experiment. Of course, the European Union has weighed in to make the time at which we put the clocks forward and back each year uniform across the EU. Most recently, the US adopted the Energy Policy Act 2005, which from this year onwards changes the times at which the clocks are put forward. It will now be on the second Sunday in March, and the clocks will be put back on the first Sunday in November. Those are some examples of countries legislating to change their hours.
My reasons for supporting the Bill reflect those put forward by the hon. Member for South Suffolk: energy saving and climate change; road safety; trade and industry; and health and generally feeling good. Energy is the most important, as reflected in the title of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. The resulting gain should be the greatest with respect to energy.
When our clocks were first put forward for daylight saving time in 1916, Parliament appointed a summer time Committee to evaluate the effect of doing so. A year later, it reported a 20 per cent. reduction in power for electric lighting equal to 1 per cent. of total coal use for the whole year. The next time that daylight saving time was adopted widely around the world was during world war two, but I have been unable to find any formal evaluations of the energy savings that occurred then.
I move forward to the 1968 experiment in this country and the subsequent Home Office and Scotland Office review of British standard time in 1970. That contained a report from the power industry saying that there was a shift in electricity demand from evening to morning which, if continued, would allow a saving in the capacity required for the evenings—the peak demand time—equivalent to one whole power station and a capital cost of about £100 million. That paper was by the Central Electricity Generating Board—the precursor of today’s National Grid—and the hon. Member for South Suffolk confirmed that, in his discussions with today’s National Grid Company, those arguments still stand. It is important for us to take that into consideration.
Let us think why the United States adopted daylight saving time all year round in 1973. It was because of the oil and energy crisis. The US Department of Transportation analysed the effects of the first year of adopting that time all year round and concluded that it probably resulted in a decrease in electricity consumption in the order of 0.75 per cent. for January and February and 1 per cent. for March and April.
In 2001, the state of California appointed an energy commission to look into the problem. We should remember that there was such a crisis there at the time that they could not even keep the lights on, which shows how crucial energy is to a modern society. The commission conducted a study that is reported in a Library research paper for the Bill. It states on page 20:
“Both Winter Daylight Saving Time…and Summer-season Double Daylight Saving Time would probably save marginal amounts of electricity—around 3,400 MegaWatt hours…a day in winter, (one half of one per cent. of winter electricity use) and around 1,500 MWh a day during the summer season (one fifth of one per cent. of summer-season use).”
Crucially, it describes the important shift from the peak evening demand to low and cheaper morning demand that is equivalent to a 3.4 per cent. change in total energy demand. David Prerau, the author of the book I mentioned, describes that as “peak shaving”, which is becoming increasingly significant around the world.
As we continued to reflect in this country on whether to move on again with summer time, a Green Paper was issued in 1989, “Summer Time: A Consultation Document” and the CEGB said that a permanent British standard time by shifting peak demand from evening to morning might obviate the need for one whole power station—consistent with my earlier point. Furthermore, the US Energy Policy Act 2005, driven again by high oil prices, included a requirement for the Department of Energy to assess the actual contribution to energy conservation that the measure makes and report it to Congress. That is an echo of the proposal in the Bill to set up a review of the experiment, so that the facts will be available by the time we have to decide whether to make the change permanent.
In my discussion with David Prerau, he said that most countries around the world—about 70—now operate daylight saving time and that the principal argument used to justify the change is energy. He says that the UK has been unusual in the past in making its principal argument road safety rather than energy.
Related to energy, of course, is climate change. In all our previous debates about changing the clocks in this country, climate change was probably not a large factor. Today, most politicians would describe climate change as the greatest threat facing ourselves and the world in our deliberations, so climate change becomes a much more pressing consideration for the debate.
There is not a great deal of research available to date to support my assertion that climate change will be more effectively tackled if we adopt the Bill. Some research was conducted on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by the British Research Establishment, but it is not particularly encouraging for this argument. It was only limited research centred on Manchester and based on information from its weather centre. It concluded that, if we adopted the equivalent of single/double summer time, although there would be some reductions in energy in some sectors, there would be increases in others and an overall slight net increase. That is disappointing. However, the hon. Member for South Suffolk mentioned more recent research by Cambridge university, which reported in this week’s Nature magazine. It is worth referring to it, because it is the most recent and most direct research on the subject.
On page 344, Nature states:
“But the DST scheme can be taken further, argues Elizabeth Garnsey, an innovation researcher at the University of Cambridge UK, who has evaluated the probable effects of the proposed changes to the British system.”
She is reported as saying:
“Countries are starting to realize that their day-light-saving policies haven’t really been saving daylight. Moving the clocks forward yet another hour would produce a slew of benefits… The reduced need for lighting in the afternoons could save around £485 million… a year, as well as 170,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.”
Nature spoke up strongly against daylight saving time 95 years ago, but now its editorial says:
“To fight climate change, we do not need to alarm ourselves with clocks of doom. Instead we just need to use our time to good purpose. And the reduction in energy use to be expected from single-double daylight saving in Britain—or from the extended single-daylight saving that is to be implemented in the United States this year—will be a marginal, but nonetheless welcome step in the right direction.”
I do not wish to over-claim the benefits for climate change, but I assert that there are some benefits to be gained and that we should seek to secure them. A three-year trial would settle the matter one way or the other.
The emphasis on the whole issue of climate change and energy-saving opportunities is welcome. My hon. Friend referred earlier to savings suggested by the previous experiment between 1968 and 1971 and suggested that the contact between the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) and the National Grid Company indicated similar savings. However, we must bear in mind that we are now almost 40 years on and demand is comparatively much greater, so would the saving be as great in percentage terms as it was deemed to be in the past?
I would answer my hon. Friend like this: the need to tackle climate change is urgent and if we are to deal with it we all need to make many changes in our daily lives, our businesses and our transportation. The Bill represents one such change—and it is a fairly easy and quick one. I also believe that it would be an effective one. That is my argument.
I now want to move on from the issue of energy and climate change—I think that is the strongest argument for the Bill—to that of road safety, which also provides an important argument. Two years after the experiment in 1968, the Transport Research Laboratory published its initial findings. It reported in time for the debate in Parliament that there had been a net reduction of 2,700 in the number of people killed and seriously injured in the two winters since the experiment began. After the debate, a re-analysis of the figures gave an annual result of 230 fewer deaths, 1,120 fewer killed and seriously injured together and 2,340 fewer other injuries. They are significant figures and they are not assumptions; they are actuality. That is what happened at that time.
The TRL has kept its research up to date and, most recently in 1998 re-analysed the figures and analysed single/double summer time against British standard time. Its research that year estimated adopting single double summer time would result in between 104 and 138 lives being saved on the roads every year. It would result in 450 fewer killed and seriously injured each year.
There is actually a spike, which is normally in November and December, just after we have put the clocks back.
When analysing the TRL research, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents found in 2004 that road deaths rise when the clocks go back in October. The figures for road deaths in 2004 show that there were 269 in October, 300 in November and 323 in December. The same pattern occurs if we break down the figures for pedestrians. There were 56 deaths in October, 76 in November and 78 in December. Clearly, the most pressing danger occurs when we make the evenings darker.
The ROSPA findings are, as far as they can be, for across the country. There would also be savings in Scotland from adopting single/double summer time. The savings would be much smaller—not larger; I am not over-claiming—but they would be significant. That is why ROSPA, the Local Road Safety Officers Association and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety adopt the policy. In respect of the latter, I declare my interest as a member.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the figures that he has just provided, but can he also provide the figures for the month before and the month after the clocks change? Can he provide the figures for September and for March and April so that we can make a comparison?
Astonishingly, the answer to that is yes I can. I have the figures in the Chamber with me but, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will carry on with my speech. I shall try to find the figures and if he speaks, I may intervene and provide him with them.
All the statistics to which I have referred, including the ones that I do not have to hand this moment but that I have in the Chamber with me, were put by me to the Roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), in the debate on 20 April 2006 that the hon. Member for South Suffolk mentioned in his speech. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Minister accepted in his answer to me that the research was correct. He said that
“changing to single/double summer time would have road safety benefits. It is not in doubt—the research has been done.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 20 April 2006; c. 288.]
This country has an excellent record in casualty reduction. The number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads has fallen year after year. However, that leaves us today contemplating a situation in which there are about 3,400 deaths and about 10 times as many serious injuries on our roads every year. Are we really saying that a gain of reducing by about 130 deaths a year—the equivalent of an average-sized primary school in my constituency—is to be sniffed at, rejected and to be considered not worth taking? Since we stopped the British summer time experiment in 1971, more than 3,000 lives have been lost on the roads that might not have been lost had we carried on with the experiment. That is a sobering thought.
I do not think any Member would challenge any successful attempt to reduce the number of people who are killed and injured on our roads. I hope that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) will forgive me if I promoted him to the Privy Council earlier. I apologise; I meant no embarrassment. The hon. Gentleman made the same case as my hon. Friend. However, even though I accept what my hon. Friend the Roads Minister said, the figure of 100-plus for those who may have been saved is small compared with the figure of 3,000-plus who have died. A bigger impact on reducing deaths would be achieved by better driver behaviour, better roads and a better awareness of safety and the highway code. The evidence from the experiment in Portugal is that the number of accidents rose when summer time changed between 1992 and 1996.
I say two things in response to that. First, my hon. Friend says that he does not dispute the evidence, but then goes on to slight it by saying that there was a different experience in Portugal. Secondly, it is a shocking argument to suggest that 100 deaths here or there against a total of 3,400 is not so very bad. Those are 100 people’s lives lost each year that we could help to save—bereaved families are suffering.
This country has such a good record in reducing casualties, including deaths, on our roads because we have been bearing down with a whole range of measures every year. I am saying that we are missing one measure that could contribute significantly to all the other measures. I support the drink-driving limit for alcohol. That would save about 60 lives a year. Here we are talking about one measure that would save more than 100 lives a year and it would not cost us anything to implement. We could implement it through this Bill.
Yes, the studies by TRL and ROSPA show that the group that would most benefit would be those aged between five and 15. I gave the statistics about pedestrians to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) because it is likely that quite a few of those pedestrians would have been children. There would be a significant saving.
I think that I have been clear all the way through not to over-claim. The number of casualties on the roads goes up on dark mornings; it is just that the number of casualties goes down far more if there is light at the end of the day. Overall, there is a saving. I do not say that there would not be dangers in the mornings. In fact, ROSPA makes a special point in its briefing paper that much more work would need to be done about safe travel to and from school in the mornings if the Bill were adopted. However, I note in passing that the Education and Inspections Act 2006 gives local authorities a wider power to provide for school buses. That is partly a solution. Equally, in areas such as Staffordshire, we have a good number of walking buses that organise the safe walking of children to school with supervision. I will support such measures in future.
Given that a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry is on the Front Bench, I now want to point out that there are benefits from the proposal for trade and industry. I take it that my hon. Friend considers the tourism industry to be a serious business and employer. According to the Tourism Alliance, tourism was worth £73 billion a year to the UK economy in 2002, earning £14 billion in foreign exchange every year, contributing 5 per cent. of our GDP and employing an estimated 2.1 million people. In the west midlands alone, 102 million tourism trips are taken each year, earning about £4.4 billion for the region and resulting in the employment of 130,000 people. In 1993, the Policy Studies Institute estimated that single/double summer time would benefit the tourist industry by another £1 billion a year. Some people now inflate that figure to £2 billion or even £3 billion, but although it is an old figure, it is a big one and I will stick with it. That is the increase that could be had from making the change.
Support for lighter evenings comes from the Tourism Alliance, the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions and Tourism West Midlands. When Nigel Beard, a former Member of the House, introduced his Bill on the subject in 2004—I was a sponsor—he said that he had support from the British Resorts and Destinations Association and Visit Britain. Why do they support the change?
I am grateful. I gather that in 2004, Nottinghamshire carried out a poll and there was strong support for the measure from the tourist industry there.
I want to give a couple of examples of why it helps to have lighter evenings. Alton Towers in Staffordshire is probably the pre-eminent visitor attraction in Britain today. It has millions of visitors every year. It is in quite a secluded area of Staffordshire. It is surprising how successful it is, given its location. Most people arrive mid-morning, so it is light, but clearly quite a lot of light has passed by the time they arrive. A lot of people leave before they want to, because it gets dark early in the evenings in the autumn and later in the year.
My hon. Friend has got me there: because Alton Towers is secluded, lots of people drive there. There is a huge coach industry to get people there and there is a rail ticket to Alton Towers, although the nearest rail station is at Stoke City. I was once the Labour candidate for a county council seat called Churnet Valley, which has Alton Towers in it. I had my election photograph taken on the platform of Alton railway station. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is quite right: it is currently a disused line. Alton Towers is one example. It is a big attraction, a big employer and a big earner of wealth.
Shugborough in my constituency is the estate of the old Anson family. Lord Lichfield—Patrick Lichfield, the photographer—was the last ancestral occupant until his sad and sudden death last year. Shugborough is a working estate. It shows how life and work were carried out in about 1805. It attracts people for half the year and gets about 100,000 visitors a year. Shugborough says that if it could open for longer in the evenings and later into the autumn, it could extend its season, employ people for longer, encourage more visitors to the area and earn more income. It is a strong supporter of the measure.
Other businesses are also speaking up. Stafford chamber of commerce—I find this almost surprising—is a strong supporter of the measure and has written to me to say so. Farming is still a significant industry in this country. From expressing strong opposition in 1944, that industry has completely turned around. The hon. Member for South Suffolk has received a letter of support for his measure. When Nigel Beard introduced his Bill in the House, he drew attention to our trade with European Union countries—that is about half our trade, affecting 3 million jobs—and argued that joining the central European time zone would be helpful for our trade and industry and the invisible earnings of this country from our pre-eminent financial services sector. The Minister’s Department ought to think more of the interests that it represents and realise that the Bill is helpful.
I will be brief, because what I am about to say has been said by the hon. Member for South Suffolk. The Bill will be good for health and feeling good. This is the week that a Public Accounts Committee report has said that we are not doing enough to tackle the great challenge of obesity. The report records that in 2003-04, we opened 72 new playing fields and 131 swimming pools. Most of those playing fields are probably not illuminated, so they will be used during hours of daylight. During most days, youngsters are at school and adults are at work. The only time that they have to use those facilities is after school or work, and of course at the weekend. If we want to encourage people not to be obese and to exercise and stay fit, we have to allow them to use the kinds of facilities that we are investing in.
Greater participation in sport was the reason why Sport England supported Nigel Beard’s Bill in 2004. He quoted Sport England as saying:
“This increased opportunity of extra daylight after work, combined with our policy priority to get employers to do more in terms of promoting activity among their work force, could make a significant contribution towards driving up participation rates and delivering the associated health benefits that would stem from having an active and successful sporting nation.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 147.]
In terms of people being active and taking part in sport and outdoor activities, I wholeheartedly applaud that. However, the issue for some people at least—I tend to think for the vast majority—is not just daylight, but the climatic conditions. More often than not it is adverse weather conditions that prevent people from taking part in activities.
I take that point. I suppose that this is personal and anecdotal, but I used to be a keen rugby player when I was a lad. We did not stay away from the ruby pitch because it was cold, windy, wet and raining. We still played the game. I would argue that my character is all the better for the fact that I turned up on the pitch in those bad conditions that my hon. Friend described. We are, whether we like it or not, the promoters of the Olympics 2012 in London and we want British competitors to be successful in those games. Part of their being able to practice and train for those games requires us to give them not just the training facilities, the money and the time off work, but the chance to go out after work or school to train. That is what lighter evenings would allow us to do.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is most generous with his time. Does he agree that rugby will not be an Olympic sport and we will not need to worry about Olympians playing the game in the first place? The fact of the matter is that rugby was not generally played too much out in the open in that way. Football was played out in the street and in the parks. I do not remember too many people in the parks of Glasgow playing rugby. Would it not be better if we put money into playing surfaces for winter use or into indoor facilities? Most people play outdoors in the summer.
I am completely with my hon. Friend when it comes to the desirability of all-weather surfaces for sports facilities, and I agree that indoor facilities and lighting so that facilities can be used in the evenings are good. I would just point out that all those things are expensive. However much we spend on them, there will still be outdoor playing facilities. If we think of the thousands of playing fields in this country, I cannot imagine us covering them all over or taking them indoors. Although some of us might think that some of the well-paid footballers in the premiership might not be particularly strong in their characters when it comes to resisting the cold weather, I still think that they turn out for matches when it is cold, wet and windy. That applies to football in the same way that it does to rugby.
I want to move on from sport and talk more generally about people enjoying the lighter evenings—being out in the streets walking and exercising, rather than sat at home on the sofa in front of the TV. That includes older people, who feel that they are safer during hours of daylight. That is why Age Concern supports the Bill so strongly. Let us go back to that great promoter from this country, William Willett. He said:
“Light is one of the great gifts of the creator. While daylight surrounds us, cheerfulness reigns, anxieties press less heavily and courage is bred for the struggle of life.”
That sums up people’s desire to be out enjoying themselves, and the fact that they feel happier during the hours of sunlight.
So what has changed since the House voted overwhelmingly in favour of abandoning the British summertime experiment in 1971, in a free vote? Energy is a much stronger focus today than it was then. The forthcoming energy White Paper will discuss at length security of energy supplies and high gas and oil prices. As I have explained, there is a strong focus on climate change today, but it was probably not even mentioned in the 1971 debate. Certainly, in respect of road safety, the necessity of further cutting the number of casualties remains as strong today as it ever was. On trade and industry, probably the biggest single change that I have noticed is that farming was then a significant industry, and it opposed the measure. Tourism was fairly quiet, and its voice was not heard. Today, the size of the farming industry has shrunk, but in any case it now supports, not opposes, the change. Tourism has become much more significant to our economy, and it strongly supports the measure.
I tried to intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) to make a point about night flights. Many people in west and south-west London are often woken up very early because of the great number of night flights. I have long argued that it is not good for London’s economy to have so many people going to work without having had a good night’s sleep. Does the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) agree that although the issue of night flights does not affect the whole country, the Bill would have a beneficial effect on that problem in some parts of it?
Clearly, that is not quite right, because we have rules about the number of night flights permitted, and airlines have to cut their cloth according to the time that we grant them for their landings in our airports.
Lastly, health issues have changed since 1971. Although the same arguments were made then and today, I simply tell all hon. Members to read the Public Accounts Committee report on the explosion in rates of obesity in this country, and to understand the urgency of the matter. We are not doing enough, and more needs to be done. The report draws our attention to the need to make more use of sports facilities.
The hon. Gentleman has been very good at not over-claiming, but if he is claiming that the Bill will cure obesity, he must reflect that if in winter it became dark at 5 o’clock, rather than at 4 o’clock, it would not make much difference to people who come home from work after 5 o’clock and want to play rugby.
That is an unfair characterisation of my arguments. I gave the example of my playing rugby, but people undertake many activities as their exercise. That exercise can be as little as walking the dog for 20 minutes after work, or as much as playing a game of tennis before the light fades. It could be any one of a range of activities. I certainly did not claim that passing the Bill would solve the problem of obesity. I am saying that when we consider the balance of the arguments, we should take into account the fact that obesity carries a much greater weight in our arguments today than it did in the debate in 1971. That is a fair enough thing to say. I am a big supporter of the Bill, as I hope is clear from my speech, but contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman suggests, I do not claim to be the font of all knowledge, or say that my position is right and that everyone else must be wrong.
One of the reasons why I support the Bill is that it includes a provision allowing for an experimental period, and for a panel to review the evidence. We would consider the evidence before we made a final decision one way or the other. For all the reasons that I have given, I support the Bill.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who, for almost the whole of his speech, put his case most moderately and carefully, and if anyone could have persuaded people, he could. However, at the end of his speech flights of fancy overtook him. As I pointed out, in the winter months the difference between darkness falling at 4 o’clock and darkness falling at 5 o’clock will not enable people to take part in sport and outdoor activities after work, much as I would welcome that.
I have taken a—now unaccustomed—place on the Front Bench today because my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) could not be here, and asked me to stand in for her. I am particularly pleased to speak on a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), because I was once lucky in the private Members’ Bill ballot and introduced the Energy Conservation Bill, and he was most sympathetic to it and took a constructive approach. Unfortunately, he temporarily departed from office and his successor was extremely obstructive. The Bill failed in that Session, but we got our revenge, because the then Member for Christchurch took the same Bill through its stages as the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. To complete the circle, I am now married to the then Member for Christchurch, which is the happiest of happy endings. So the legislation that the hon. Member for South Suffolk and I both supported was enacted—but I cannot promise such an outcome on this occasion.
One aspect of the Bill—the double summer time element—accords with Liberal Democrat policy and has been widely advocated, particularly by my hon. Friends who represent west country constituencies in which there is much tourism, and much interest in tourism. In particular, my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Nick Harvey) and for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) stress that the tourist season in the west country would benefit considerably. Many outdoor activities could go on until late in the evening in the summer. The Bill could have a marked effect on tourism, particularly in the south-west, but also in other parts of the country. There is not much of a downside to that aspect of the measure, apart from the two-hour change that will be involved if we do not alter the winter time. For some of us, the change would not make much difference, as we live in parts of the country where it is light until 11 o’clock in the summer. If it was light until midnight, it would not be problematic—indeed, in some ways it might be quite attractive.
However, there are downsides to two aspects of the Bill, and two ways in which it does not accord with what the Liberal Democrats advocate. Those aspects are the winter time change and the prospect of having different time zones within the United Kingdom. I shall start by dealing with the winter situation. It is a basic fact that the northern half of Britain gets much more daylight in the summer, and much less daylight in the winter, than the southern half, so those who live in the northern half have a particular concern about the impact on our lives of the changes proposed in the Bill. Adding an hour in the winter would greatly increase the number of mornings in which people go to work in the dark.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) intervened earlier; I can tell him that there would be about 80 more dark mornings in Carlisle, and only 30-odd more light evenings, which would not be a significant benefit. I do not propose to try to explain the mathematics of that. I do not argue that there are not advantages to be had from light evenings, but the key issue for most of us in the north and in Scotland is the increased number of dark mornings, which would mean that people had to go to work or school in the dark.
I am a little puzzled as to why Berwick would suffer from 80 more dark mornings but have only 30 more light evenings. Given the latitude of the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and the shorter days there, I would have thought that his constituents would benefit to the maximum from the extra daylight at the end of the day.
It depends what the nature of the benefit is. As I tried to explain to the hon. Member for Stafford, if the benefit is that it gets dark at 5 o’clock rather than 4 o’clock, there is not much difference, in terms of sporting opportunities, night-time leisure activities and so on.
We will just have to take the right hon. Gentleman’s claim that there will be 80 darker mornings but only 30 lighter evenings as another example of Liberal Democrat accounting. Putting that aside, will he be clear about whether he is saying that there would be a two-hour difference between winter and summer time in the UK? Would it not lead to difficulties for a considerable part of the country if there were a two-hour shift in the clocks, as it would mean that for at least a month, we would go back to darker winter mornings? Actually, possibly it is the other way round, and it would be darker in the evenings. In any event, there would be dramatic consequences for a period.
The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated the difficulty of thinking on one’s feet while explaining some of these concepts. We are well accustomed to the one-hour time change. Given the benefits of change in the summer for the tourism industry, a two-hour time change can be managed, and Britain certainly had one in the war, as has been said. Effectively, that change would be in operation for only two days a year, and the impact of the change in summer is far less than the impact of the winter time change.
Many groups of workers experience great difficulties working on dark mornings. It can be particularly frustrating for postal workers, as was well explained in a previous debate in the House by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain)—now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Wales—who discussed at length the difficulties that they would experience. They usually start work at 5 am, but on a working day with even less daylight, we would be expecting them to find our houses, and read the addresses on letters so that they can post them through our letterboxes, in the dark. If the Bill were passed, they would have to work on many more dark cold mornings.
Between 8 and 8.30 am. The further one lives from the centre of town, the later the delivery. We have all complained about the changes to the postal delivery system, but that is not the postman’s fault. He has to get up in the dark, and he would have to do so more often, as it is an incontrovertible fact that he would have to work on more dark mornings.
The Bill would create problems, too, for children going to school, as more of them would have to do so in the dark. It is Government policy to discourage the practice of driving children to school, and to encourage them to go on foot or to cycle, organising help, if necessary, so that they can travel in groups. That is sensible, and there are good health and environmental reasons for such a policy. The number of cars on the road, for example is reduced, as there are fewer vehicles taking children to school. It would be difficult to pursue that policy if there were a huge increase in the number of mornings when children go to school in the dark.
I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the difference between 4 and 5 o’clock is critical to children going home from school just as it is getting dark. That is much more dangerous than the change from darkness to light.
That is the other side of the coin, and we have to balance two different arguments. There is a tendency, of course, to extend the school day at both ends. In the morning, for example, children may go to school early to attend a breakfast club, and in the evening they may take part in after-school activities, or there may be arrangements in place so that their parents can collect them after finishing work. The school day has changed so that children less often go home at the hour mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Similarly, they more often go to school while it is still dark in the morning.
We cannot ignore the problems that the changes would cause, especially in rural areas. Many of my constituents’ children and children in other rural constituencies wait for school buses at the end of farm roads and at crossroads on dark mornings. Some of them are dropped off from one form of transport only to wait for another. Some children will be taken to primary school, while the middle school children are dropped off at a bus stop to wait for a bus to take them to their school. Expecting them to wait for transport on more cold dark mornings is both an imposition and a danger—and that danger extends beyond road safety concerns. Pupils who are over 16 have to pay £360 each for the privilege of travelling to school by bus in Northumberland, which is an atrociously high charge. As I travel around my constituency in the early morning between 8 and 9 am, I see many children waiting for buses at farm road ends and at crossroads. Under the proposals, they would far more often have to do so in the dark. The change would therefore pose a serious problem in significant parts of the country.
I am even more worried, however, about the potential for two, or even three or four, time zones under the Bill, as that would be extremely difficult to cope with in border areas. Those of us who live on the English side of the border would not have a say or a vote on the matter if Scotland decided, for good reasons of its own, that it did not wish to make such a change, but we would be landed with the consequences. We would not have the choice that the Scots would be offered in their Parliament about whether the new arrangements would suit our part of the country.
Personally, I am not persuaded on the issue of dark mornings, but if those provisions did not feature, the Bill would be less objectionable to people who live in areas such as those that the hon. Gentleman and I represent.
The Bill would have one of two consequences. Either there would be one time zone for England and another for Scotland—I shall leave aside the similar problems in Wales and Northern Ireland—or the Scottish Parliament would be bounced into a time change, because of the inconvenience and difficulty of having two time zones. The latter consequence would defeat the wish of the hon. Member for South Suffolk to give Scotland the opportunity to treat the proposal as a devolved matter.
I prefer the less cynical explanation that the hon. Member for South Suffolk included it because, like many Scottish Conservatives but unlike the Front Bench team, he is persuaded of the merits of devolution. [Interruption.] I accept that changes are happening—I must keep up to date with the rapid policy changes of the Conservative Front-Bench team. The hon. Gentleman did not want to provoke opposition from people in Scotland who are concerned about such a change and believe that Scotland should decide the issue. In most circumstances that would be the attractive option, provided that it did not create serious difficulties in the border area.
Tradesmen and professionals who provide services in the area surrounding the town where I live would have to look closely at their clients’ addresses to determine whether a farm was on the English side of the border or on the Scottish side. If they visited it for an 11 am appointment it could, in fact, be 10 am, or if they visited it for a 12 o’clock appointment it could, in fact, be 11 am, and they may have made an appointment for the same time on the English side of the border. Arrangements would therefore be extremely complex, and some people who leave at 8 am to drive to Berwick, park their cars and walk to their offices for an 8.30 start would have to leave at 7 am. I would be in an extraordinary position, because on Mondays the train that I catch to Westminster leaves Edinburgh at 9 o’clock. That train would therefore arrive at Berwick before it left Edinburgh, which is unique, even for GNER. GNER offers a good service—and we are sorry that it has lost the east coast franchise; if it could prove that a train could reach its destination before the journey had even started, some of its difficulties might be eased.
As has been said, the change would not be without complication or cost for the private sector. There will be costs for the railway industry resulting from different time zones, such as the need for timetables to explain such changes, and computer programmes that take account of them. There are therefore a series of practical problems, and my non-cynical assumption is that the hon. Member for South Suffolk does not really believe that his Bill would introduce different time zones, because he thinks that the Scots, whatever their concerns about the impact of the Bill on Scotland, will have no choice but to follow suit.
Yes, but the choice changes if it is about a different time zone, as that would influence whether Scotland believes that it can take a different line. Many of my Scottish colleagues, with whom I have discussed the matter, believe that Scotland would be bounced into a decision that the Scots would not otherwise vote for.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing us back to this decennial subject of debate and for presenting his case so well, but I do not think he has fully understood all the problems that it would present in northern England and Scotland, or the problems that would result from two time zones. Those would be a high price to pay for a Bill that includes a change that many of my colleagues would support—double summer time in the summer months.
The other week I returned to my constituency in Edinburgh on the overnight sleeper. When I left Edinburgh Waverley at about 8 am it was pitch dark, the wind was howling and the rain was pouring—it was that horizontal rain which those of us who live on the east coast of Scotland have learned to love over the years, as no doubt did those before us. At that moment, I did not relish the thought that if the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) were enacted, I would have to wait not an hour or two, but two or three hours until it got lighter. That is the initial reaction of many Members from Scotland and the north of England, and I know that it is also the view of many of my constituents.
However, I recognise that the arguments advanced by the hon. Gentleman for his Bill could have some merit in Scotland as well. As has been pointed out, we would not lose an hour of daylight, were the measure to be passed. It is a question of where the hour goes, and how the balance between darker mornings and lighter afternoons and evenings works out. I recognise that some of the benefits which, it is argued, the Bill would bring apply as much to Scotland as to other parts of the United Kingdom.
Detailed analysis would show, I suspect, greater energy savings in Scotland as a result of the measure. Similarly, on road safety, if even 10 lives were saved each year and there were 100 few injuries on the roads as a result of the measure, I would regard that in itself as a justification for the Bill. Almost anything that saves a life on the roads is worthwhile considering. I have been lobbied by those from the tourist sector in my constituency who see the benefits for tourism, entertainment and other venues that would result from lighter evenings for a greater part of the year. In an area where there are a large number of businesses with international links with the rest of the European Union, there would be business advantages if, in effect, we adopted central European time.
There are several arguments to show why the Bill would be beneficial to my constituency, Scotland and the rest of the UK, but there is also a danger of its supporters making claims that are somewhat excessive. The idea that people would be happier because they had lighter evenings, discounting the fact that they might get more depressed because of darker mornings, suggests a rather one-sided analysis of the evidence.
Opponents of the Bill also adduce arguments that seem somewhat excessive. It is suggested, for example, that with lighter evenings, children would stay up later at night, would be more tired and would achieve worse outcomes in their schooling. If we are worried about children not getting to bed early enough because of lighter evenings, perhaps attention to the TV switch or the computer switch might achieve the desired objective. It is important to consider the arguments in a reasonable way, rather than to allow excessive arguments to influence the debate for or against the proposed change.
On the subject of children staying up later in the evening and perhaps feeling more sleepy in the morning, and their school work deteriorating, does my hon. Friend accept that that was one of the findings of the experiment that the Portuguese carried out, and that they highlighted the fact that children suffered as a result?
That is one of the reasons why I would like to study in much more details the arguments on both sides of the debate. For much of the year it is still light until 10 pm or 11 pm, and younger children would be in bed by then anyway, so I am not sure the extra hour would make a difference either way. It is important to examine the arguments in as reasoned and rational way as possible, and not to make excessive claims for or against the proposed change.
The fact that there are arguments for and against, and the fact that the level of support for and against is fairly evenly split suggests that one’s perspective on the Bill depends on one’s personal circumstances. We heard that an opinion poll suggested that in the UK as a whole 54 per cent. were in favour of the change, but in Scotland only 40 per cent. were in favour and 48 per cent. were against. I suspect that in my constituency the split might be 50:50, as the further south one lives in Scotland, the more likely one is to support the proposal, by contrast with constituencies further north.
It is easy to adopt a position without considering all the facts, so I believe the Bill merits further discussion in Committee. I attempted to gather a cross-section of views in my constituency in a consultation exercise. I did not get a large number of responses, but I got quite a few, and they were quite thoughtful responses. The views were fairly evenly balanced for and against a change, but marginally in favour. I would be happy to see the Bill go into Committee to allow further discussion and consideration of the arguments for and against, and to allow me to conduct a more detailed consultation among my constituents to find out their views on the issue. There are dangers, as I said, in exaggerating the supposed benefits arising from the Bill.
That is an important point, to which I shall return.
There is great merit in examining the Bill in more detail. Some of the claims made for it seem excessive. On the road safety issue, for example, I would strongly support the Bill if it could be shown that it would have the benefits that are suggested. In my constituency, most primary schools finish during daylight hours and that would not change if the Bill came into effect in Scotland, but they would face darker mornings on 80 more days in the year, which could have a negative effect on road safety. However, the road safety benefits may not be just in relation to children coming home from school. Secondary school pupils come home later, of course. Consideration needs to be given to other activities that take place in the latter part of the day, which might have an impact on the road safety figures as well. I would want to consider all these factors in detail. I would therefore be happy for the Bill to proceed to Committee, if it makes progress today.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) pointed out, in its present form the Bill would have no automatic impact on my constituents because it would allow the Scottish Parliament to decide on the matter. The possibility that the Bill could create four new time zones in the UK is one of the aspects that makes it difficult for me to support it. In the consultation that I undertook, that was the one point that led to almost universal opposition from those who responded. I was surprised at how strongly my constituents who responded opposed that proposal.
Obviously, it would not be impossible to have time zones in Scotland that were different from those in England. It is not the same as having different time zones in every town or city in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, it would cause inconvenience, especially to business and, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, to travellers. The Bill’s sponsors cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that one of its benefits would be bringing us into line with central European time, thus helping business, but not accept that separate time zones in different parts of the UK would have a negative effect on business in the UK.
I appreciate that the Bill does not require Scotland to have a separate time zone: it would give that power to the Scottish Parliament. However, as many hon. Members have said, in practical terms, the Scottish Parliament would not have any choice in the matter. Apart from the more extreme, rabid form of Scottish nationalist who used to write to one in green ink but now sends long e-mails without punctuation, no one would seriously suggest that Scotland should have a different time zone. Ironically, devolving powers for the matter might mean nothing. I assume that the hon. Member for South Suffolk, who is neither a rabid Scottish nationalist nor a rabid English nationalist, proposes the opt-out to give the Bill more chance of passing through the House, but that provision will make that more difficult.
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he would not try to reinsert the provision were such an amendment accepted in Committee, that would affect my attitude to the Bill on Report and Third Reading. I take it that the hon. Gentleman is saying that—[Interruption.] As my colleagues point out, we would need slightly more than a nod from the hon. Gentleman to be certain about what would happen.
For those of us who represent Scotland and others who represent border constituencies in England—and doubtless Wales and elsewhere—clause 6 causes problems. When devolution was introduced, the reservation of UK policy to the UK Parliament was fundamental to the concept. It was agreed that we would retain a single market and a single economic zone in the UK. Decisions about time are fundamental to business and the economy in the UK. I therefore have great difficulty with clause 6. As I said, if that can be tackled, arguments would apply equally well to Scotland as to England and the rest of the UK.
If clause 6 were removed and, having consulted my constituents in more detail and examined the arguments, the Bill appeared beneficial, I would be happy to support it. However, in its current form, I cannot do that. I will not oppose its going into Committee but I cannot support it as currently drafted because of the objectionable aspect that I have discussed. However, I take on board the apparent willingness of the hon. Member for South Suffolk to remove it later. I hope that that clause will be deleted in Committee.
It is a pleasure to follow the balanced and thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). It was a significant contribution because the hon. Gentleman is from north of the border and he implied that the arguments are much more finely balanced there than the interventions from some of his colleagues suggested. He also said that he would like the Bill to progress to a Standing Committee. For that to happen, he will have to support the measure if there is a vote. I hope that his eloquence persuaded some of his colleagues who represent Scottish constituencies, and who have not, so far, been swayed by the oratory of those who support the Bill.
I want to add a brief footnote to the excellent speech that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) made in introducing the Bill, which I am happy to sponsor. The House is grappling with a basic chronometric question: do we value daylight more highly at the beginning or the end of the day? To put it in the religious terms that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) used, how do we best realign the hours of daylight that the Almighty has given us with the human activities that we undertake now that we are no longer constrained by whether it is daylight? It is my modest observation that more human activity takes place at dusk than at dawn. It therefore follows that realigning daylight hours along the lines that my hon. Friend proposes would be beneficial.
In the summer, when the days would be longer, we would have more daylight in the evening, when we tend to be awake rather than in the morning, when we tend to be asleep. Of course, that generality does not hold for some minorities. For example, we heard about agricultural workers and I shall deal with that point shortly. However, as my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Stafford said, in the past 40 years, the balance of the argument has shifted decisively.
I was Secretary of State for Transport the last time the matter was seriously considered. I was strongly in favour of the measure then and I remain so. I would be amazed if the advice that I was given 10 years ago is different from the advice that Ministers receive today. Indeed, I almost recognised some of the passages from the brief that I had some 10 years ago in the extract from Hansard that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk quoted.
Any Secretary of State for Transport who takes road safety seriously would grab with both hands the opportunities that the Bill affords to reduce the tolls on our roads. In an uncharacteristic intervention, the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Competition Policy, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), implied that either we accepted the Bill or we found other ways of reducing the toll on the roads. It is not an either/or situation. We should do both. I hope that the Minister will put the matter straight later.
An extract from the 1989 Transport and Road Research Laboratory report was quoted earlier. Let me read another extract:
“The groups which benefited most from the change were those aged 5-15, pedestrians and those living in Central England and Southern Scotland.”
Some Labour Members who intervened represent southern Scottish constituencies and I hope that they will be influenced by the TRRL’s comments.
The position of the Secretary of State for Transport should be clear. However, there is an added complication in that the Secretary of State for Transport for England is also the Secretary of State for Scotland—a dramatic personification of the West Lothian question. Does he put first his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Transport for England and thus support the Bill, or his residual domestic responsibilities as Secretary of State for Scotland and thus, I fear, oppose it?
The Bill’s sponsors are doing their best to lose their support on the Labour Benches with several of their comments today. The right hon. Gentleman should be corrected: the Secretary of State for Transport has responsibilities that include the inter-city rail network in the UK and road traffic law, which is the same throughout the UK and is directly relevant to the debate.
That is a helpful intervention, but I am not sure that it answers my question: what is the position of the person who is both Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland? Will he be in favour of the Bill or against it? I hope that his position can be made absolutely clear in an intervention from the Dispatch Box.
I shall come to that point. I very much hope that we end up with one time for the United Kingdom. That would be my ideal solution. I have no objection to the clause in the Bill that gives people in Scotland the opportunity to decide whether they want that solution. If Labour Members look at the Nigel Beard Bill, I believe that they will see that it had exactly the same provision for an opt-out as this Bill. This is not some Conservative conspiracy to reopen old wounds; it is a repetition of a provision in a Bill introduced by a Labour Member of Parliament.
In passing, let me say that I very nearly was Secretary of State for Scotland. In 1979, the Downing street switchboard confused me with our late and much loved friend George Younger, and I was summoned to take a much higher position than the one with which I eventually ended up.
My point is on the issue of balance. The components of the argument have remained virtually unchanged for the past 100 years, but I strongly believe that the balance of the argument has shifted decisively over the past 40 years. As has been pointed out, the numbers working in agriculture have continued to decline. One can contrast the relaxed attitude of the NFU today, as exemplified in the extract from the letter read out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk, with the strong views of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, as reported in 1970 in Hamish Gray’s maiden speech. That shows that the strong feelings of 30 or 40 years about agriculture have diminished.
There has been an enormous growth in leisure time, both as the numbers of hours worked have declined, and as longevity has increased. People typically engage in those activities at the end of the day, not at the beginning. The importance of tourism as a domestic earner has been mentioned. According to one estimate, tourism earnings could increase by £3 billion were the Bill introduced. Mention has also been made of obesity, which was simply not an issue the last time that the House considered the matter. Were there a free vote on the Bill today, I believe that the outcome would be dramatically different from that of the free vote in 1970.
Perhaps the most important shift has been in concern about climate change. Again, 30 or 40 years ago, that was not right at the top of the agenda. All the studies show, however, that my hon. Friend’s Bill would lead to less peaking of demand, with important consequences for the capacity of generators. A 3 per cent. saving in energy consumption is a real contribution to meeting some of our environmental targets.
All the factors against the Bill have diminished in importance over the past 40 years. We have heard about postal workers, and my general observation is that post is delivered slightly later in the day now than 30 or 40 years ago. Of course, postal workers still have to get up in the dark, but more of their deliveries now take place later.
I do not think that that contradicts my point that the centre of gravity of the delivery round is now later than it was 30 or 40 years ago.
The final factor that has changed in the past 30 or 40 years is devolution. I do not want to impose on the Scots a time regime with which they do not feel comfortable. I do not want the Scots to impose on England a time regime with which it does not feel comfortable. As I made clear a few moments ago, I would prefer one regime for the whole of the country, and I hope that that is the outcome.
On the Scottish position, the Library has found a paper from the Centre for Technology Management at Cambridge, which put it delicately:
“Many Scots remember the experiment from 1968 to 1971 as causing an increase in road accidents. Folk memory is at variance with the evidence…increased accidents in the morning were offset by a much greater reduction in the evening”.
“The available evidence is strongly in favour of Lord Tanlaw’s proposed Bill”,
which is the same as my hon. Friend’s.
I strongly hope that the House will support a pilot, which will enable us to get more conclusive, definitive evidence to allow us to take a step that should have been taken many years ago.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and to listen to his words of wisdom, as I always do. I also congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on obtaining a slot for a private Member’s Bill; whether he has made the right choice of private Member’s Bill is a matter for debate.
The last time that I discussed the issue was on television with someone who was trying—unsuccessfully—to become the Conservative mayoral candidate in the first London mayoral elections. It was more a publicity stunt than a serious debate or a real attempt to raise the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) took me back to the distant past when he talked of playing rugby in cold, wet conditions. It reminded me of getting up very early on a Saturday morning when I was a teenager, going on to the red blaes hockey pitch and being whacked across the shins by a hockey ball or hockey stick. It was incredibly cold. I agree that that is not necessarily a reason for people not to take part in sport, but very few of us are willing to go out in the depths of winter, and very few sports can be played then. Most of the problem relates not to time but to climate and temperature.
My main objection to the Bill, however, is that this is not a huge issue, and not something that we should be spending a great deal of our time discussing. I think that the present arrangement is a very satisfactory compromise between the wishes of those who prefer lighter mornings and those who prefer lighter evenings. The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) put the case for the other side of the argument is an indication that the issue is not about north versus south, but about the fact that some people prefer lighter mornings and others prefer longer, lighter evenings.
If this were a huge issue—and it is certainly not being discussed in the highways and byways and pubs and clubs of Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East—it would be because of the possibility of four different time zones in the United Kingdom. In my opinion, that way lies disaster and the Bill should be opposed for that reason alone, although, as I have said, I oppose it principally because this is not a huge issue and we should not be spending a great deal of our time on it. I have never been lobbied by a constituent on this issue, but the Bill would be disastrous for the towns and villages in my constituency.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his useful intervention. It would certainly become an issue.
My constituency runs along the foothills of the Campsies and the villages of Lennoxtown, Milton of Campsie, Twechar, Queenzieburn, Banton and the town of Kilsyth. It is the most beautiful part of the country, but those villages would be in serious difficulty if the Bill were enacted. Only the primary schoolchildren attend schools in their own villages; the secondary schoolchildren must travel to school by bus. Many of the children go to schools in different local authority areas.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk suggested that people could get up earlier or later in the morning and go to work when they liked, and that schools could operate flexible opening. That is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be perfectly acceptable for an authority to decide when the schools should open and when they should close. As I said, in my constituency children attend schools in different local authority areas.
Yes. That is inevitable. If the Bill is passed and is applied to England, the opt-in will not really be an opt-in; Scotland will be forced to come into line with the rest of the country.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) talked about train timetables, and pointed out that a train would arrive in Berwick-upon-Tweed before it had left Edinburgh. I have some experience of crossing time zones on the successful trains in mainland Europe. A couple of times, I travelled through France and Germany to—
Is not the hon. Lady rather running ahead of the argument that we are having today? The Bill seeks to set up an experiment, from which Scotland could opt out to see the benefits and disadvantages of that experiment in England. Therefore, should not she make the speech she is making today three or four years hence, when an experiment has taken place?
Of course, but I believe that if the Bill became law and the changes took place, even as part of an experiment, the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish would have to come into line. That would be inevitable. It would not be feasible not to do so. I want to demonstrate what would happen if they did not. I have travelled from Germany to France and into Spain. I was fascinated by the fact that, when we got on the train, we had the German timetable and the guards and attendants spoke in German. When we were in France, we had the French timetable and the French guards. Then we went into Spain.
I am not suggesting that there are language differences here, although some hon. Members listening to me would say that there is a language difference, but people would be crossing the border and there would be a different time zone and timetable. It would not work. That is why the argument is worth making today. It is inevitable that Scotland would have to come into line.
Does my hon. Friend agree that experiments have been tried before and, although they were tried, we always reverted to where we were before? It would be remiss of those who have concerns about the Bill not to identify them and not to raise them now, rather than wait three or four years.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right. I remind hon. Members of the points that have been made already, not just about this country’s experiments and reverting, but about the recent Portuguese experiment. The Portuguese reverted because of serious concerns; the problems for children were among the main concerns. There was a general feeling that people did not like it.
There is no great swell of opinion anywhere in the country for this change. That is why I feel that it is not appropriate. We should put the change to one side, finish with the Bill today and move on to far more important issues.
I have made the point about timetables, but I would also like to talk about the issue of children in different education authorities, because that is important. In Scotland, and in England too, we have small education authorities. Some families have two or three children going to school in different education authorities. If the schools in those authorities have different starting and finishing times, it is extremely difficult.
We live in a world where more women are working. Thank goodness, they have the opportunity to live their lives as they wish. It would be wrong to make it difficult for them to have their children in child care or in education because they have to run around at different times. It would increase their journeys if parents had to go from one authority to another at a different time to pick up their children because the bus service was not as good. That would cause real problems.
Does the same happen in my hon. Friend’s locality as happens in mine? Despite the fact that they are within the one education authority, individual schools, and in particular nursery schools, have the opportunity, if they so wish, to change their starting and finishing times by 10, 15 or 20 minutes, which causes even greater inconvenience for some households, especially if they are trying to get two or three children to different schools.
My hon. Friend is right. We live in an age in which there is much more flexibility than previously in how people live and work. Therefore, if people wish to be on the road earlier or later in the morning, that is entirely up to them; those people who wish to make such changes can do so.
As I said in my speech, if the Bill progresses I will want to have further consultations before determining my final view. I will certainly want to consult my education authority, and that will affect my attitude towards the Bill in its final stages. However, I am unsure whether I fully understand my hon. Friend’s point about schools. Schools can currently begin their teaching day at different times; that is the case for schools not only in different authorities, but in the same authority—it happens in my authority. I am unsure how the Bill would affect that situation.
If this Bill were introduced, would there not be stronger pressure for change in some places than in others? Some people would resist the change and others would go along with it, and therefore its introduction would be staggered. Does the hon. Lady agree that, as a result, the overall degree of difference would be far greater than at present?
That is absolutely right. At present, things are settled and working well, but this change could be extremely damaging across the country and would lead to much more debate. If there were a risk that the Bill might be enacted, people would be much more exercised about it, and it would probably cause a huge debate. I hope that the Bill does not progress, so we do not have that discussion across the country.
Let me explain what has happened every time that that discussion has taken place. The hon. Member for South Suffolk appeared on the Radio 4 “Today” programme to discuss the issue, and there was a clear divergence of opinion among those listeners who responded, for instance by telephone or e-mail. I think that most Radio 4 listeners come from down south—“Good Morning Scotland” takes precedence north of the border. Therefore, it is clear that there is a divergence of opinion across the country; there is not necessarily a north-south divide on this issue.
I served on the Road Safety Bill Committee. It was a very important piece of proposed legislation. It might lead to a reduction in road deaths, which is always to be welcomed, but it will also do something else that is crucial: it will address driver behaviour. We have to get the message on that across. There has been a reduction in serious injuries and road deaths over the past few years. That is due to a range of developments such as better road design and safer cars. However, there are far too many deaths and serious injuries from road accidents. One change would make a huge difference in that respect: if we could educate people to drive properly.
The biggest issue—recent results show that it is present in almost every accident—is alcohol. There is evidence of alcohol consumption in a high percentage of road accidents. If that were tackled, it would lead to a far greater reduction in the number of road deaths and road accidents than the Bill. I am not saying that the issues that the Bill raises are not worth looking at in that respect—they are—but the biggest issue in relation to road deaths is alcohol.
Does the experiment in Portugal not show that the evidence on this issue is inconclusive? Although there is a theoretical argument in favour of such a measure, insurance companies in Portugal reported an actual rise in the number of accidents during the last experiment, so the accident argument is inconclusive.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is no conclusive evidence that the issue with which the Bill deals was the factor, which is why the original arrangement was reverted to. In addition to being generally unhappy with the idea, people did not support the experiment.
Opposition Members are asking what alcohol has to do with this issue, but in the area where I live, in excess of 3,000 people per day cross the border for work purposes, and some of them may have been out the night before consuming alcohol. As we all know, alcohol can still be in the bloodstream the following morning. The creation of various time zones could cause a significant problem for people who have to cross the border.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—residual alcohol in the bloodstream is clearly a problem. We must be really careful in dealing with this issue. It would be much more in our interests to debate a private Member’s Bill that addressed the issue of alcohol; such a Bill would save many more lives than the one before us.
The hon. Lady said a moment ago that it is important to change driver attitudes and to tackle the propensity to drive with alcohol in the system. She agreed with the point made by the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown), and if her suggestion proved successful, it might well impact on accidents in the morning. However, the advantage of the Bill before us is that it would help to prevent accidents in the afternoon, although I of course accept that it is not unheard of for drivers to have alcohol in their system in the afternoon. Would not addressing accidents in the afternoon—the safety lobby has petitioned about them in respect of the Bill—add to the impact of the road safety measures that she has described, and the good works that she wants to achieve through them?
Residual alcohol in the bloodstream is but one of the problems. We must also consider the wider problem of those who have had a substantial and enjoyable lunch, and who then get into their cars and drive while under the influence of alcohol. However, that is not my principal objection. Indeed, I have a range of objections, and I am trying to highlight the problems that such a Bill would cause over time, were it passed.
As we know, people in the south of Scotland behave very responsibly when it comes to drink-driving. What does my hon. Friend think the Bill’s effect would be on someone who lives on the other side of the border from where they work, and who wants to have a social life and family life? They would suddenly find that they had a two-hour gap compared with their previous working day. They would have to go to work two hours later, for example, and because they were still at work on the other side of the border, they would miss being with their children when they are put to bed in the early evening. Therefore, such a measure would impact not only on them personally, but on their families. It might also have a knock-on effect on their driving style.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Families function in a completely different way nowadays. Many more people now have to drive across the country. We no longer have companies that are just “Scottish” or “English”; they are UK companies, and people who have to travel across the country from north to south for work purposes, and who want to get back to their children, would be leaving and arriving in different time zones. That is why I am so against this measure. There is no clear desire in the country for such a change.
I turn to the business case that the Bill’s proponents have tried to argue. There is no strong pressure or lobbying from business for the Bill. It is outdated to suggest that making the change would assist business. Much business is now carried on through all hours of the day and night and with countries beyond central European time. There is no legal impediment to businesses starting their operations an hour earlier if they want to do so.
Many people who commute into London leave their homes at 6 am to start their working day at 8 am, and some Conservative Members have suggested that the Bill would improve matters for them, but there is nothing to stop people doing that, so the Bill is not necessary. That is why we have not experienced any great pressure from business to support the Bill. Businesses and people work flexibly all over the country already. The Bill would cause difficulties in Northern Ireland, where we are encouraging closer working with the south on the problems there through the work that the Government have done, which I hope will soon conclude.
We need to find a way to end the debate on this Bill today.
I refute that categorically. I have told the House before that I spend a lot of time in England. I have two English daughters-in-law and three English grandchildren who live in the south-east and south-west, where the Bill would have an impact. Not one of them has raised that issue with me.
I live in London for half of the week, as all Members of Parliament do, so it is a spurious argument to claim that this is a purely Scottish issue.
I do not oppose this Bill only because I represent a Scottish constituency. I oppose it because I believe that the debate is between those who want longer hours of daylight in the morning and those who want them in the evening, whether they live in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or Wales. Some hon. Members seem to forget that all Members of Parliament spend half their lives in London, because that is where our place of work is. We do not only represent our constituencies, because we are based in London. We live here and it is therefore nonsense to suggest that we do not bring to bear other factors besides what is happening in our constituencies. That upsets me, given that I spend so much time in Essex and Somerset visiting my family. We should not say that this is a Scottish issue or an English issue: it is a UK issue which involves the whole of the UK.
Some issues have been devolved to Scotland and Wales—and will be devolved to Northern Ireland once the Assembly is up and running again. Those issues were argued out and debated—
The hon. Gentleman is right. We could go on and on listing such anomalies, but those arguments have been well debated.
I conclude by emphasising the point I have been making throughout my speech. There is no reason to change the existing arrangements, which provide a satisfactory compromise between those who prefer lighter mornings and those who prefer lighter evenings. We have a settled position. There is no huge lobby for change. People across the country are satisfied. Whenever experiments take place, we revert to the existing situation.
I strongly support my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) in introducing the Bill. I hope that it will receive a Second Reading so that it can go into Committee for the detailed scrutiny that Members on both sides of the House say it deserves. So far, my hon. Friend has won all the arguments. The debate has been a pale shadow of the one 11 years ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) sought to bring in a similar Bill. A three-year experiment of single/double summer time would be sensible. It would involve moving the clocks forward one hour throughout the year: Greenwich mean time plus one in winter and GMT plus two in summer.
I have no pretensions to represent Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. In my constituency, we take the long view, so speaking as the Member of Parliament for Stonehenge, I point out that we have particular views about the length of day. There has been much misapprehension—all those happy campers who want to celebrate the summer solstice at Stonehenge on 21 June must be deeply disappointed to learn that our forebears well understood that the winter solstice was the important one. The significant date was 21 December, and the placing of the Heel stone was based on that date. What really mattered was where the midwinter sun rose, because that marked the dawn of the new year, the change of the seasons and the prospect of more food so that people could survive.
Taking the long view, I remind the House that in terms of mother nature, goddess earth, druid beliefs or anything else, the immutable fact of life is that what we do and say today has no bearing whatever on what geography dictates. That misapprehension has surfaced in speech after speech today from our colleagues from Scotland.
It would of course be better if we could do as our forebears did. I am sure that we should all be happier, more sensible, more balanced and have better judgment if we rose with the sun and went to bed at sundown. That, however, is not an option in the 21st century.
Indeed, which is exactly why I made my last point.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), who has adopted the mantle of John Maxton—the former Labour Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, now Lord Maxton. In the debate 11 years ago, John Maxton completely demolished the argument of most Scottish prejudice against changing to the sort of daylight saving pattern proposed in the Bill. I recommend that enthusiasts for the cause read his speech, which was masterly.
I appreciate that and I say to the hon. Gentleman that some of us are not normally here but many miles north on a Friday. This is not about prejudice. The Bill lays out a choice and Members who do not represent English constituencies have to reflect on it. Quite frankly, it is a Hobson’s choice: do we want to use the extra daylight hours as others would wish, or are we going to be left in a different time zone, which will confront us with other difficulties? I say again that that applies particularly to an area such as mine—right on the border.
I would make two points. First, I have listened with almost disbelief as Labour Scottish Member after Labour Scottish Member has said how much they dislike devolution and how they are not prepared to trust the Scottish Parliament to make a judgment on this issue. It is very instructive—
No, I certainly will not give way to the hon. Lady.
My second point in response to the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) is that many millions of people all around the world who live close to time zones—I accept that there are some difficulties about where the boundary falls—manage perfectly well. As for the broadcasting argument, perhaps some Members never watch Sky News, CNN or BBC News 24, but it does not really matter whether they are watching at 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock. I am bound to say that the broadcasting argument is not a strong one.
I support the Bill for straightforward reasons. First, it saves lives. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), I used to be a transport Minister, though a very junior animal in comparison with him. I was the Minister with responsibility for roads and road safety and I heard the same arguments as the current Minister with responsibility for roads, which have been repeated today. The fact that we can prevent another 200 deaths a year and a further 200 serious accidents seems to me to be a very good reason that we cannot ignore, especially when we have advice from such august bodies as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Child Accident Prevention Trust and the National Association of Head Teachers. We would do well to listen to them. The fact that the Bill will save lives is a really important consideration.
I am absolutely fascinated to discover that the Scottish nationalists are more interested in what happened in Portugal than in the evidence of what happens in the UK. The fact is that the evidence is there—as the current Minister has said—for England and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland. Frankly, I am more interested in that evidence than in what happened in Portugal a few years ago.
On that particular point, will the hon. Gentleman note that Portugal is considerably to our west and that when they ran that experiment they were effectively the best part of two hours ahead of their geographical time zone when we are proposing only one hour?
Of course the hon. Gentleman is right. It is also right that we have a peculiar view of the geography of Europe in this country. The fact is that the Greenwich meridian almost goes through Bordeaux and Madrid, and I would much rather be aligned with all the major economies of Europe. As the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) implies, that is a far more telling argument than what happened in Portugal.
My next reason for supporting the Bill is that it saves energy. The evidence is there that we can save 3 per cent. of our energy. Whether or not we are in favour of nuclear power, windmills or whatever, what actually matters is that we use less energy. As the experts tell us, the Bill will encourage us to use up to 3 per cent. less energy. The peaks of energy consumption will be lower, we will reduce carbon emissions and we will cut fuel bills.
My next reason is that the tourism industry is in favour of the Bill. When the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) told us that there was no pressure from industry to support the Bill, it is obvious that she has not read much of the briefing—I suspect it was sent to her as to all of us—showing that 200,000 tourism businesses in the UK, including those in Scotland, specifically support it.
Not at all. I am talking about the importance of tourism and I am not sure that that is an argument for carbon increase. One thing I would like to do is encourage more people to go on holiday in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland rather than fly off to the sun. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would embrace that, but he does not seem to be encouraging such tourism in his constituency, which surprises me—but there we are.
My next reason for supporting the Bill results from the impact that it will have on business. I am astonished that Scottish Members of Parliament here today seem to think that the financial services industry in Scotland would not benefit from coming into the same time zone as the rest of its major competitors, notably Frankfurt, and that it does not suffer from the current muddle that disadvantages the City of London and Edinburgh. People in the United States, China, India and all around the world simply cannot understand why the major financial capital of the world can be in a different time zone from other European financial capitals, such as Frankfurt.
Because those financial capitals are running their economies closely to natural times and time zones, whereas we are distorting further than we need to distort. It is very straightforward. I would rather we went in the direction proposed.
I also want to take head on the argument about farmers. I am sure that if you represent farmers, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will appreciate that they do not pay any attention to clocks. They pay attention to the time that the sun rises and sets and to the needs of their stock. That, not what the clocks says, determines when a farmer gets up, and we need to bear that in mind. It is significant that the National Farmers Union has changed its view and now supports the Bill. We should bear in mind that very great change.
On the Scottish question, I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that I was working during the last trial between 1968 and 1971. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk was working too. I was working in Scotland—I was a teacher in Musselburgh. In the winter before the trial took place in Scotland, there were no games in the afternoon. We could not hold them; it was dark. When the trial was on, teachers across Scotland were able to organise sports, coach athletics and, above all, get children outside and exercised. I am proud of being a Scottish-registered teacher, but when I came to teach in England, I found that doing all that was so much easier. I look back with horror on the dark afternoons when there was no sport for hundreds of thousands of children in Scotland. The proposal would be of enormous benefit to them.
Of course, Scotland could opt out, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk has introduced a sensible arrangement for that. I doubt that it will. It is important to remember that there will always be far fewer hours of daylight in Scotland in winter than in England. It does not matter whether we get our six hours of daylight from 8 am to 2 pm or at any other time, except for the statistical arguments in favour of things such as safety and energy consumption.
Nothing can change the length of the day or the night, but the English look with envy at the considerable hours of daylight in Scotland in mid-summer. I have never heard one of my constituents being chippy about all the extra daylight that the Scots get in summer. I hope that that attitude will be reciprocated. Thank goodness—vive la différence. It is wonderful that we can have different hours of daylight. That is one reason that I would never like to live in the tropics where there are no seasons and 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness throughout the year. Thank goodness for a bit of difference.
The Bill is sensible, practical and logical. We should allow it to go through to Standing Committee for closer scrutiny.
Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I strongly support the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on introducing it. I have long supported the measure, and I am old enough to remember the experiment in 1969. We are looking at the possibility of repeating that experiment—an experiment that was started by a progressive Labour Government and ended by a regressive Conservative Government. I find it ironic that my Government, who are normally progressive, are not disposed to support the experiment.
Is my hon. Friend familiar with the fact that the experiment was ended on a free vote of the House by a majority of 285? Some 366 Members voted to abandon the experiment and only 81 voted for it to continue. Surely he cannot give blame or credit to either political shade of opinion in government.
All right. I will concede that I was possibly being a little mischievous.
I shall be brief because I do not want to contribute to talking the measure out, because it is well worth pursuing. I hope that the Minister and the Government can be persuaded at least to allow the Bill to complete its Second Reading successfully so that the problems that have been aired can be examined in Committee. The evidence from the previous experiment on which the Bill is predicated is clear and sound. As has been stated, the measure is backed by a number of authorities. It seems to border on the immoral to pass up the opportunity of saving more than 100 lives a year—not just any lives but, predominantly, the lives of children—and, given our emphasis on climate change, to pass up the opportunity of saving, at a conservative estimate, at least 170,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. How can we deny that possibility? We should remember that the measure would still be an experiment.
The Portuguese experience has been cited as an example. I suggest that it is not relevant to our circumstances for several reasons. The principal reason is that the latitude of Portugal is far south of ours. Portugal never gets the short day length that we get in the British isles. It is that short day length in the winter that makes the Bill so relevant. The amount of light is precious. The Bill does nothing to increase that amount of light; it merely suggests how we should use it to the best advantage.
As for the debate that has been raging about Scotland, devolution and the possibility of different time zones, there is a danger that we have been hearing something of a false argument. The Bill has been argued against because Scotland might choose to keep a different time zone. It has been argued that we should not be allowed to change our time zone because it would be different from that of Scotland, meaning that a train could arrive at Berwick before it had left Edinburgh. That is a nonsensical and dishonest argument. It is like arguing that because Scotland does not want to save lives, we should not be able to.
I did not draft the Bill. Those clauses could perfectly well be removed in Committee. If they are the barrier to the success of the Bill, I would be happy to see them removed. I personally would wish to see a unified time zone throughout the British isles. That is why I say that the argument is distracting, and it detracts from the main thrust of, and justification for, the Bill.
I want the Bill to succeed, and I hope that the Government will allow it to complete its Second Reading. The evidence from the first experiment is overwhelmingly positive, and it would be logical, sound and sensible to repeat that experiment—but this time, we could conduct the analysis much more thoroughly and consider other social aspects that arise from the change. It would be one of the most useful experiments that we could possibly do and, unlike most experiments, we are confident—indeed, we know—that lives would be saved and that there would be an environmental benefit, even during the course of the experiment. The measure’s time has come and it must be given a chance.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), both on securing this important debate and on his choice of subject for his private Member’s Bill. The issue has been addressed many times over the years, and it is timely to address it again now, as there are strong sentiments about it across the country. I also commend him for the way in which he introduced the Bill, and thank him for taking us on a charming voyage through the history of time. The only point at which he seemed a little perplexed was when the conversation was about grumpiness, and whether people were more grumpy in the morning or the evening. Grumpiness is a state of mind unknown to my hon. Friend, who brings Tigger-like qualities to the House. He showed his irrepressible good nature and good humour in his speech.
There are certainly strong arguments in favour of the Bill, many of which have been rehearsed today, and my constituents in south-east England would strongly support the change in hours. My children, who are at school, would be delighted by it, because in this term of the academic year, they would love to be able to go out and play sport after school. One reason why this term is difficult for many schools is the lack of opportunity to take part in activities after school.
It is evident that many expert groups outside the House have opinions on the subject, and support the Bill. I received a letter from GEM Motoring Assist, which is based in my constituency. It used to be the Guild of Experienced Motorists, and has some 65,000 members. The letter says:
“100 lives and around 400 serious injuries would be saved each year if the scheme were adopted.”
We should recognise the importance of such contributions.
However, the decision should be taken nationally, and must not fragment the country. There are serious dangers threatening the union of the country. Issues such as those dealt with in the Bill could increase the pressure for fragmentation, and we must be wary of that. Some of the arguments that we have heard focused exclusively on the advantages of lighter evenings, but did not address the disadvantages of darker mornings.
We heard some thoughtful speeches. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made a well-researched speech, in which he paid much attention to detail. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is no longer in the Chamber, spoke about postal deliveries. Many of us visited our post offices and delivery offices over the Christmas period, and we saw the people who get up at 4 o’clock or 4.30 every morning in order to be at their offices at 5 o’clock. They certainly would not welcome an extra hour of winter darkness.
One of the few mischievous comments in the debate was made by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who said that the great advantage of the measure for him was that it would put us in the same time zone as the rest of Europe. That was probably the least persuasive argument that he could have thought of, in terms of encouraging people to support us. The fact is that, of the other countries in the EU, two have the same time frame as we do, 14 are on central European time, and eight are two hours different from us, so there is significant variation. To suggest that this is a European issue is a bit misleading.
There has been an element of over-claiming, too. The suggestion was made that the change would solve the problem of obesity, and I found that slightly far-fetched. It would be a wonderful way of dieting, and we could simply change the hours now and again. I would be delighted to find such a simple solution to the problem, but I think that it was an over-claim. As for the suggestion that the Bill would make us all happier, I checked the greatest indicator of unhappiness—the suicide rate—and discovered that Sweden and Finland have the highest suicide rates in the world. Intriguingly, however, more suicides take place in those countries in spring and summer, so people are most dissatisfied and more likely to commit suicide when there are more hours of daylight. We should therefore be careful about making a connection between human happiness and the setting of clocks. Too much was claimed, too, about the effects on tourism.
I am making a different point. People have said that greater human happiness will result from an increase in the hours of sunlight that we can enjoy, but evidence suggests that suicide rates are higher when there are more hours of daylight. The simplistic correlation between happiness and changes to the clocks is not borne out by the facts.
We are all keen to encourage tourism, but it is over-optimistic to expect Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt in Stuttgart to say over breakfast one morning, “Look dear, we must go to Britain this year, because it has changed the clocks.” Equally, I do not expect Mr. and Mrs. Smith in Solihull to say, “Hey, now they’ve changed the clocks, we won’t pop off to Tuscany this year. Let’s stay in Britain instead.” Of course we want to encourage people to stay in Britain or to visit, but they will be persuaded to do so by the quality of the accommodation and the welcome that they receive, and those are the issues on which we should focus.
I listened with great interest to the argument about the contribution that the change would make to road safety, and we must take the evidence from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents very seriously indeed. We would expect a correlation between the hours of daylight and the number of deaths on the road, but across Europe no such correlation exists. The safest places to drive in Europe are Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, despite the much longer hours of winter darkness in those countries. The biggest contribution to road safety has resulted from improvements in roads and in driving standards, the requirement to wear seat belts, and a range of other things. The change could have benefits, but we must be careful not to overplay them.
I was intrigued by the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk that we move to a system of flexi-hours in school. That would be fraught with complications, because there would be cross-boundary issues. For example, some people would be sending one child to a school with an 8.30 start, and another child to a secondary school with a 9.30 start. The change would lead to significant complications for parents, especially if they have teenagers, who seem to live in a completely different time zone. I have come to the conclusion that from the age of 15 or 16 teenagers should make a continental shift to the west, because their body clock is about five hours out of kilter. They go to bed five hours after the rest of us, and they get up five hours later, too, so if they moved one continent to the west, we could address that issue. I accept, however, that it is not what we are considering today.
We are all trying to encourage “walking buses” in our constituencies, which are good for the environment and for children’s health. If we wish to encourage children to walk to school, we must be cognisant of the danger facing young children if they more often walk to school in darkness. The growth of before-school clubs poses challenges, too. Parents may drop their children off at 8 am when they go to work, although school does not start for another hour and a half or two hours. I accept that my hon. Friend introduced the concept of flexible hours to deal with a particular issue, but it gives rise to significant complications.
We have heard quite a bit about the importance of the Bill to business. A great advantage of the City of London is that it straddles the time zones of the east and the west. One of the reasons why so many companies have chosen to come and invest in the UK is that they can work with continental Europe, with some of the countries in Asia and with the US. London’s international position could be threatened by the proposed change—
If we made the proposed change, there would be a 7 per cent. increase in the office hours available for business with countries on central European time, but there would be a 25 per cent. reduction in office time available for business with New York and the east coast of the United States, so the working day, which is already significantly out of kilter with that of the US, would become that much more so. There would be great celebration, particularly in Dublin, following such a change. To every American company looking to invest in Europe, Dublin would say, “We have a unique selling point. We’re closer to your time frame than the rest of Europe. It’s 3 pm in London before offices in the US open at 9 am, whereas it’s only 2 pm in Dublin, so if you want to maximise the shared working time, come to Dublin rather than London.”
I am intrigued by the argument about the financial markets. I have worked in the New York financial markets, and the hour when people start work is getting earlier, to overlap with the London market. My hon. Friend’s example of the 9 am opening of the stock exchange is not particularly relevant, because the foreign exchange traders are generally in at 7 am, and the derivatives dealers at 7.30 or 8 am. That is already happening. One of the advantages of the Bill is that it would give us an additional new overlap with Tokyo, which would finally put us at the centre of the global markets in terms of time zones.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, based on his own experience, but what we would gain in our dealings with Tokyo we would lose in our dealings with the United States. We cannot have it both ways. We must accept that if there is to be a gain with Tokyo, there will be a significant loss at the other end of the scale. From the business perspective, more work needs to be done before the Bill is taken forward.
The most important issue relates to Scotland. It is clear that the sponsors of the Bill mainly represent constituencies in the south-east of England. There are only three with constituencies north of a line between the Wash and the Severn, and none from Scotland. The Minister suggested in an intervention that one of the reasons for the Conservative electoral meltdown in 1997 was that we had blocked a similar Bill. I think the factors were slightly more complicated than that. Presumably the conspiracy theorists would go on to say, “Look what happened to that nice Mr. Nigel Beard. Having introduced a Bill along these lines, he lost his seat. That shows how dangerous the whole subject is.”
We need to pay close attention to the implications of the Bill for Scotland. There are wider issues involved. I am profoundly concerned about the drift towards independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom. That slide is accentuated by issues that create divisions that are artificial and unnecessary.
I would be particularly worried about a move towards having different time zones within the United Kingdom. Some contributors to the debate have rather over-egged the issue by speaking of three or four different time zones. That is not realistic. We are talking about an hour’s difference—unless it is suggested that the Isle of Man have its own separate time zone, or that we adopt the approach of the Kingdom of Nepal, whose time is 15 minutes different from India’s time zone. A maximum of two zones is proposed, but even that should be rejected.
The border issues, to which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred, are important. He described the significant difficulties that would arise in border areas if people were uncertain about which time zone they were in. That is especially relevant to business, and we should take it into account.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks at the beginning of his speech and the constructive way in which he is tackling the issues. However, the entertainment value of the debate has been enhanced in the past minute or two. An alliance appears to be developing between Conservative Front Benchers and several Scottish Labour Members. Apparently their only genuine objection to the Bill is the opt-out for the Scottish Parliament. May I encourage my hon. Friend to give me an olive branch by saying that if I made a commitment to withdraw that provision in Committee, he would join me in the Lobby in a few moments?
My hon. Friend makes a tempting offer. We will not prevent the Bill from progressing to the next stage. There is scope for further debate, so we shall not vote against it. However, there are a wide range of reasons for holding further debate before the experiment starts.
We have a fundamental concern about different time zones in England and Scotland, and the complications that that would create. Other difficulties would affect business. For example, this morning, I contacted a call centre for Virgin Atlantic and was told that it opened at 9 o’clock. Under the Bill, it would have to say, “The office opens at 9 o’clock in England but at 8 o’clock in Scotland.” That would cause unnecessary confusion.
I hope that the Minister will not try to talk out the Bill—indeed, it would be challenging to do that for an hour and a half. I hope that we have raised some of our anxieties about the measure. I emphasise that the overriding concern and objection of those on the Conservative Front Bench is that it may lead to different time zones in England and Scotland. That would be undesirable.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on securing a high place in the ballot for private Member’s Bills, although I am disappointed in the Bill that he has promoted.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry). He made positive comments and I suspect that a common thread runs through his views and mine on the matter. I am a Unionist, but let me make it abundantly clear that I support devolution. I oppose any possibility of part of our nation being in a different time zone. I do not know what the best way of putting my next point is: I had confrontations, locked horns or went head to head with my former colleague, Nigel Beard on the matter because I opposed his private Member’s Bill, which had the same aim.
I am not anti-devolution. I supported the Scotland Act and I support the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should get together on 9 March, when another private Member’s Bill will be considered and we shall discuss the issues at which he hinted.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. As I have said, I am disappointed about the muddying of the waters and the false choice that appears to be offered to us.
The Bill contains much to be commended. Like many colleagues who have spoken, on both sides of the argument, I am sensitive to its aims. As I have clearly indicated, however, I cannot support the Bill, because of three clauses in particular.
Whether or not the issue is devolved—controlled independently at the Scottish Parliament—is not the reality that the centre of gravity determined by broadcasts or whatever means that Scotland must inevitably follow the time zone in England? With the latitude difference, that would make the use of the day far more inefficient, particularly in the mornings, in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman is correct. There are some real disadvantages to the proposal. I do not want anyone to misunderstand what I am saying: if we exit the United Kingdom for our holidays, we travel to different time zones, to which we can acclimatise ourselves for seven, 10, 14 or however many days we are away, whether on holiday or parliamentary business overseas. I would have difficulty, however, with an outcome whereby we had different time zones north and south of the border, or here and in Northern Ireland. As a constituency MP, Northern Ireland is equally important to me, because at the far end of my constituency, there is a lot of commerce between Stranraer and the ferry ports. I am not sure whether many people regularly travel to and from Ireland during the week for employment commitments—I am sure that some do—but if Scotland operated in a different time zone from Northern Ireland, that would create difficulties.
We should think of the people of Northern Ireland too, because in all probability the Republic of Ireland will stay in the time zone that it and we currently inhabit. The difficulties for workers travelling to places such as Dundalk—the famous “Dundalk Effect”—will be far worse.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Bill could give rise to such complexities. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for South Suffolk, who has been here many years and I suspect will be here for many more years to come, certain aspects of the Bill have not been properly thought through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) mentioned the argument relating to lighter evenings or lighting mornings. Undoubtedly, that is an issue, and people have their preferences. I find that unless I am up sharp in the winter mornings, the day becomes even longer. I must admit that I do not like the dark mornings, but once my feet are firmly on the floor and I start to shape the day, I am fine. The hon. Member for Wealden asked whether the whole issue centred on daylight hours and the constructive use of them, which to a certain extent it does. He gave some excellent examples of the tragedies that, regrettably, happen in some Scandinavian countries. It is not just about daylight hours, however. As those of us from north of the border in particular know, those daylight hours can sometimes be miserable, long, wet and windy.