Lighter Evenings (Experiment) Bill [HL]
Lord Tanlaw (Crossbench)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I thank the Government most sincerely for allowing me time to present this Bill, and I thank those Members who put their names down to speak on it. It is rather a daunting experience launching a Bill on one's own, and I could not have done it without the help of the Public Bill Office, Nick Besly, and my researcher Andrew Trotter. Thanks to all who responded to my survey. I sent it because I felt that as a Member of your Lordships' House, not having a constituency, I should do my best by circulating it to as many politicians as I could. I circulated it to 1,500 politicians, including all Members of this House, the place next door and the Members of the devolved Parliament and Assemblies.
I shall just remind people, because it sometimes is confusing, what this Bill is all about. Primarily, it is to find out how to make the best use of the limited number of hours of daylight in winter. It creates a three-year experiment of single/double summer time—SDST as it is called—starting from
Under the Bill, the devolved bodies can decide whether they want to participate in the experiment of single/double summer time. I have allowed for that so that the northern latitudes of the local electorates and the shortness of the winter days can be taken into consideration. On completion of the experiment, the government of the day should have collected enough data from all the interested parties, including the general public, to decide whether to continue with lighter evenings or to return to the present status quo of lighter mornings, which was agreed in 1972.
There have been a number of Bills like this one, and I am nervous about wearying the House with yet another on the subject. It is the Road Safety Bill that has driven me to put this Bill before your Lordships. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—RoSPA—confirms the conclusion with the results of its 2002 survey, that this Bill, during the period of lighter evenings, will save at least 100 lives on the roads every year. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who are office-bearers in that association, will be able to confirm that more officially than I can.
Nevertheless, a number of people have written to me and have appeared on talkback radio programmes. They are worried about the safety factor with a lighter morning school run, which they feel must be superior to a darker morning school run. However, the facts are clear, and were stated in a debate in the House of Commons on the British Time (Extra Daylight) Bill in 1996:
"Only 18 per cent. of all accidents involving schoolchildren occur on the journey to or from school. Some 82 per cent. of accidents occur after school".—[Hansard, Commons, 19/1/96; col. 992.]
That is an essential factor that we must remember throughout the debate. It is an unnecessary worry for those people who think that darker mornings are going to mean more accidents; statistics say otherwise.
In addition to concerns over road safety, I have received submissions from many differing interests who advocate a change from the status quo of lighter mornings. They fall loosely under the heading, "quality of life", and range from walking the dog in daylight, to deterring early evening crime, to saving more than £1 billion a year through increased tourism, due to an extended season. Does the Minister who is to reply not agree that lighter evenings will also allow schoolchildren to boot a ball about before visiting the chip shop or slumping in front of the family television?
British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions (BALPPA) and similar bodies involved with leisure and sports pastimes have said that they would strongly support the experiment proposed in the Bill. In my view, there is a good possibility that the adoption of SDST for an experimental period will save energy and make a positive contribution to the carbon emissions equation. On
"people leaving lights on all day".—[Hansard, 26/1/06; col. 1384.]
My wife says that I am always leaving the bathroom lights on, but I do not think that all of the people will leave all of the lights on all day to the extent that it would not save energy.
Let us not forget that the father of daylight saving was Benjamin Franklin. He calculated in 1784 that Parisians burned 127 million candles unnecessarily every year, because they did not change their clocks. He proposed a form of daylight saving for that city and suggested that there should be a tax,
"on every window with shutters to keep out the light of the early morning sun".
Is the Minister aware also that in 1909, William Willett, who was the great-great grandfather of the popular singer Chris Martin of Coldplay, drafted Bills for Parliament's acceptance proposing daylight saving in this country as a means of conserving energy? He did not succeed, but Daylight Saving Time was adopted in the Summer Time Act 1916—a year after his death. That Act was designed principally to save coal during the First World War and was followed by the Summer Time Act 1925.
The Policy Studies Institute's Making the most of daylight hours was put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister. She was convinced that it could lead to great energy savings. Former Prime Minister Edward Heath introduced the Summer Time Act 1972, which was well intended, but seriously mistaken, but gave us today's status quo.
I do not know what noble Lords opposite believe, but they are keen on "green" matters these days, so perhaps they would look at this Bill with a view to incorporating its proposals in a future manifesto. Why did the Minister of Science of Technology not mention during my noble friend's debate the California Energy Commission's detailed study of the effects of daylight saving on electricity use? Is he not aware that the commission concluded that there would be savings of,
"hundreds of millions of dollars because it would shift electricity use to low demand, (cheaper) morning hours and decrease electricity use during the higher demand hours"?
If that applies in California—and it is a detailed study which I commend the Minister to read—is there any good reason why the same kind of savings cannot be made here, especially as there is not the same demand for air conditioning during the summer?
The application of SDST in this country would have the added bonus of harmonising with Central European Time (CET). I would have thought that the proposed experiment would benefit the travel and communication industries as well as the City of London. Yet again, the Minister seemed to disagree with that concept in his statement at the close of my noble friend's debate.
It has been suggested to me in a number of letters received regarding the Bill that there could be problems with rescheduling planes and trains to adapt to the new timings during the experimental period. Initially, yes, of course, there would be; but once in place there would surely be less rescheduling if our clocks and travel schedules were in harmony with those in Europe—which they are not at present. There is also the added benefit that the present early morning flights over London and into Heathrow as early as 4.30 am would switch to arriving at 5.30 am under single/double time schedules. Surely no one could object to that.
While I appreciate that in general there could be strong support for lighter evenings, as indeed there is for lighter mornings, it should be remembered that the Bill will prove effectively one way or the other which is the best, by actual experience of single/double summer time. The experiment proposed in the Bill should provide enough data for the Government to decide which is best for the quality of life for the local population in different parts of the country and what effect it has on the overall demands on electricity throughout the year.
A Bill of this kind is bound to raise the tiresome West Lothian question. I have therefore split up the plan so that the devolved governments have a choice. What will the Westminster Members of those devolved areas—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—do? A briefing note that I sent to noble Lords showed how population distribution related to latitude in the United Kingdom and how that would be affected by the lighter evenings experiment. One should note that Westminster MPs who represent English constituencies and 84 per cent of the population will have only one chance, if your Lordships allow this Bill to pass to the other place, to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book; whereas Westminster MPs with Scottish constituencies, who represent less than 9 per cent of the population, can seriously affect the English vote unless they abstain. That point has been raised time and again concerning other Bills. They have no right to vote on a matter that denies their constituents the choice that they may have at home.
I took part in a radio discussion with a Scottish nationalist MP who made it clear to me that the Scottish nationalists would be very happy under my Bill to carry on with the status quo and not adapt to single/double summer time. That is a legitimate political position. The only thing that they need to check is that the people of Scotland who elected them actually want that. I am not so sure, but perhaps I am not in as good a position to judge as they are. So there is no problem with the Scottish National Party, which would be happy with a change of time at the Border.
It has been difficult for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to have contact with Northern Ireland MPs. That problem must be resolved, because it is difficult to get feedback. Therefore, I will only surmise that if the people of Northern Ireland accepted my Bill and accepted single/double summer time, the Republic of Ireland might reconsider its position about keeping Western European Time. It should be looked at carefully. As I said, those areas would have a choice, as would Welsh MPs, although, latitudinally, the matter is not so important to them.
Someone is always bound to raise the question of Portugal. How has that country managed to remain in Western European Time as a good example of not falling in line with Central European Time? Let us not forget that Portugal did not do that to save daylight. Lisbon is at latitude 37 degrees north and its citizens enjoy at least 10.5 hours of brilliant daylight during the Christmas period, so they do not need daylight saving. I believe the reason Portugal stays in Western European Time has something to do with working hours but nothing to do with daylight saving.
Portugal has a long border with Spain. More than a million people every year cross that border. They have no problems with altering their watches, and it does not appear to affect the economy or tourism. People all over the world are quite used to changing their watches, as we do as soon as we get on to a plane, so I do not think that that is a problem. To people who promulgate Portugal, I say, "What about Gibraltar?". If anywhere should be on Western European Time in harmony with a mother country, it should be Gibraltar, but it is not. I wonder why.
I return to the survey, the results of which I promised to give. I mentioned how many people were covered by the survey, but the returns indicate a clear majority in support of the experiment proposed under the Bill. That is a different result from the one given by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. He seemed to give the impression that the country does not wish to change, but he has not given any statistics for that conclusion and I should be most interested to know on what basis he makes that very broad statement.
The returns of my survey reflect the results of a similar MORI poll, which was instigated by the Mayor of London last year and was conducted simultaneously in London and Scotland. I have the facts here, but where is the Minister getting his facts from? I have been preparing for this Bill for two months since its First Reading, and I am not getting a massive "no" from any part of the country. As a matter of interest, of the Peers who responded, 74 per cent agreed with the proposed experiment, only 20 per cent disagreed and 6 per cent were not sure. Sixty-two per cent of the MPs to whom I wrote agreed with the proposed experiment, 24 per cent disagreed and 14 per cent were not sure. I shall not trouble noble Lords with endless statistics but, of the whole lot, including the devolved Assemblymen and so on, 60 per cent were in agreement with the experiment proposed under the Bill, 33 per cent disagreed and 7 per cent were not sure.
Statistics are malleable but, from the Mayor's MORI poll and from the simple poll that I conducted using a reputable outside agency at my own cost, there was no overwhelming view that people do not want to change from the status quo. One of us is wrong, so the Minister must come up with statistics or something to shore up his view that the majority in this country is against any form of change. We all know that the party managers are against change, but they do not represent the country. I hope that the time has come when politicians and party managers will not be listened to on this issue, which affects everyone's quality of life. Either I have this terribly wrong or the Government have, and the point of my Bill is to find out what happens when we switch to single/double summer time.
I shall take what the Minister said bit by bit. He mentioned that traditionally there has been slight resistance to a change from the hill farming community, mainly in Scotland. I have been the proprietor of a hill farm since 1965 and have found that that is not true. Can the Minister specify how hill farmers will be adversely affected by single/double summer time, bearing in mind that the feeding of all farm animals is dependent on their circadian rhythm of night and day and not on the chimes of Big Ben?
I remember that in 1968 the forestry and building workers did indeed have to wait for the sun to rise, and they sat around in vans reading papers until things got going. But, today, the timber extractors use floodlights in the early morning and at night to get the job done. I speak from the experience of my own declared interests in the civil engineering and railway engineering industries, where my people undertake work in the dark while most people are asleep in their beds. It is often difficult and dangerous work involving high voltages and the constant passage of high-speed traffic; nevertheless, darkness is not a problem. Floodlights, proper equipment and reflective clothing have made it a very minor problem.
I find it incredible that the Minister is using postmen and milkmen as examples of people who would be affected by dark mornings. When did the Minister last hear the sound of his mail plopping on to the doormat before the sun had risen? We are getting single deliveries these days, and it seems to me that the mail often arrives long after the sun has risen over the yard-arm rather than over the horizon. When did the noble Lord last hear the clatter of milk bottles on the doorstep with the unmistakable whine of the departing milk float? I am sure he would be the first to agree that the supermarkets brought about the demise of milkmen, so why does he think that milkmen will be affected by my Bill in their retirement?
To start enjoying the lighter evenings of summer time, we happily advance our clocks by one hour. But what will happen in autumn if we have to turn them back again because the Government stop the Lighter Evenings (Experiment) Bill from reaching the statute book? All of us who are part of the political spectrum will be indirectly responsible for at least 100 unnecessary road deaths next year, just as we have been every year since the lighter evenings experiment was terminated in 1972 by the House of Commons.
I hope that the Bill will proceed from this House to the other place, where lighter evenings can be reconsidered on the results of the experiment and then legislated as the new status quo. If the Government are not prepared to look upon an experiment intended to improve the quality of life for all of us, they must give a reason which everyone can understand and pass judgment on at the next general election. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Tanlaw.)