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Double Summer Time: Tourism

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What consideration has been given to the effect of double summer time on the United Kingdom’s domestic tourism industry.

My Lords, there are potential advantages and disadvantages to a change in summer time arrangements, which would have an impact on a range of industries, including tourism. We consider the present situation a satisfactory compromise between those who prefer lighter mornings and those who prefer lighter evenings. We are not convinced that a change to our winter time and summer time arrangements would be in the best interests of the UK. Therefore, there are no plans to change the summer time arrangements.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that no single happening would give a greater boost to our domestic tourism industry than double summer time? The industry estimates extra revenue of something like £3 billion per year. Given the added annual savings of 300 serious casualties and 3 per cent off our national electricity bill, and the support of the Tourism Alliance, RoSPA, Sport England, Age Concern, the National Obesity Council and the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft, does he not agree that the case for double summer time is now compelling?

My Lords, there are differing points of view on this matter. My advice is that climate, as much as a lack of light, precludes outdoor tourism activities in winter. Therefore, it would not have quite the impact that the noble Lord suggests. Portugal abandoned Central European Time after finding that it did not work as expected and did not achieve the expected energy savings. The number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads is very regrettable, but has been declining since original studies were made. Obviously, it should be addressed by a number of policies, including improving road safety.

My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that British trade and industry potentially suffers the loss of business with customers in mainland Europe through being in a different time zone for at least two, and potentially four, hours per working day?

My Lords, there are three different time zones within the European Union. The Government have received no expressions of interest from business in changing the current summer time arrangements. There is, of course, no legal impediment to businesses changing the times when they operate.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of a recently formed all-party group on the lighter evenings Bill, with distinguished Members from all sides of this House? They share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that there is great potential benefit from an experiment of one or two years. On Friday, there is a Private Member’s Bill addressing this in the Commons.

I support all that has been said on this. Surely the Minister would agree that we have a crisis of childhood obesity, and that we could give children an opportunity of playing out after school of which they are now deprived. All the RoSPA arguments are in favour of the change. It is unfortunate that the Government are not supporting this. It would bring great benefits to the majority of people in Britain today.

My Lords, I note my noble friend’s points. I am aware of the all-party group. There are different views on this matter, but the last experiment where we looked at extending lighter evenings, between 1968 and 1971, unfortunately proved unpopular and was abandoned after a vote in Parliament.

My Lords, I urge the Minister to stand firm in his policy position. Does he accept that any marginal benefit of making our time zone closer to that of Europe would be more than off-set by the massive differences between the east coast of America and Greenwich Mean Time, and still more by that between the west coast of America and Greenwich Mean Time?

My Lords, the noble Lord has a valid point. The other argument is that the position varies greatly across the UK. In particular, farmers, construction workers and postal workers in the north and Scotland would not be in favour of changing summer time.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the actual danger of accidents on the road, and the actual and perceived danger of crimes against the person, are much greater at night, when it is dark, than in the early morning? How many elderly people and young children must die or be seriously injured before this sensible experiment is introduced?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has a point and makes it well, but my department’s view is that you will not change criminality by changing the hours of summer time. Criminals may just differ in their activity. On road safety, there were 44,642 deaths or serious injuries on the roads in 1998. By 2004, this figure had fallen by 12,457. I agree that more needs to be done, but at least road safety has improved over the past few years.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the whole House deeply regrets the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, this afternoon, as he will not be able to take part in these exchanges? In his absence, perhaps the best one can do is to remind the Minister that when the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked about this, he got an encouraging reply from the Minister responding. That has not been the case today. What has caused the Government to change their tune?

My Lords, I am not sure that the Government have changed their tune. As far as I am aware, this was and remains the Government’s policy.

My Lords, is it not the case that the Department of Trade and Industry has one view and the Department for Transport has an entirely different view? The road safety arguments adduced by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham in answering a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, are absolutely convincing—certainly for many of us on this side of the House. Can the Minister at least give an assurance that if Mr Yeo’s Private Member’s Bill in the other place makes progress, the Government will not attempt to block it?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his intervention and reference to the Department for Transport. Unfortunately—or perhaps luckily—I am here today to answer on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are better ways of dealing with child obesity than mucking about with the daylight saving hours?

My Lords, will the Government take advice from their chief scientist on the climate change implications of this proposal?

My Lords, in view of the fact that the Minister is answering for the Department of Trade and Industry, is he not aware that the CBI and other trade organisations are thoroughly in favour of the Bill which is to be discussed on Friday, and are we to understand from what the Minister said that the Government are going to turn it down?

My Lords, I was mistaken when I said that I answered for the Department of Trade and Industry. Of course as I stand at this Dispatch Box I answer for the Government and the position I outline is the Government’s position.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the period in 1968 when the experiment was conducted. Does he have any useful statistics or views published by the tourism and leisure industry at that time that might be made available to the House to say whether it was beneficial to it?

My Lords, I have not got that information, but I will look into it and write to my noble friend.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was around when the experiment took place from 1968 to 1971 and was glad during my tenure in the House of Commons to vote for a restoration of the previous situation? One reason why the public were against it was that it was sometimes dark until 10 o’clock in the morning and they believed that was very dangerous for children being taken to school and for people going to work. I urge those who are going with what is the growing fashion to realise that there are some very serious objections to double summer time, as was proved during the experiment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is undoubtedly right. The point has been made that in some parts of the UK the mornings would be dark until 10 or 11 o’clock and that would have safety implications for children going to school. In Northern Ireland, it would remain light until midnight, which would create difficulties for people who wished to go to sleep earlier.

My Lords, if the noble Lord is looking for statistics about the experiment around 1970, will he take it from me that many of us in another place received a torrent of letters from constituents and others who hated the experiment, so we voted it down at that time? Will he do everything to encourage the government Whips to block it on Friday of this week?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, and I think he makes my earlier point that the issue is controversial.