Lighter Evenings

– in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 8th June 2004.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford 12:30 pm, 8th June 2004

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to advance time by one hour in England and Wales throughout the year;
to provide that the power to make decisions in relation to time zones in Northern Ireland and Scotland be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament;
and for connected purposes.

During the winter, time would be Greenwich mean time plus one hour instead of simply Greenwich mean time, as it is now. In the summer, time would be Greenwich mean time plus two hours instead of Greenwich mean time plus one hour. That would increase accessible daylight by approximately an hour in the evenings throughout the year and postpone sunrise by about an hour. The postponement of sunrise in Scotland in winter from approximately 8.45 am to 9.45 am in, for example, Edinburgh, has been the chief objection to similar proposals in the past, even though Scotland would share the benefits that I shall outline shortly. For that reason, the Bill provides for the issue to be decided by the Scottish Parliament.

Irish and United Kingdom clocks are currently synchronised. Unless the Government of the Republic of Ireland adopted the same arrangement, Ireland would be out of step with England and Wales by one hour. The Bill would leave the Northern Ireland Assembly free to choose whether to remain in line with southern Ireland or with England and Wales.

At the moment, United Kingdom clocks are aligned with Portugal but all year round are one hour behind 16 of the 25 member states of the European Union, including France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. The proposal would align time in England and Wales with our major continental neighbours all year round. Those countries accounted for £137 billion of Britain's trade in 2003. That is 50 per cent. of Britain's exports of goods and services, affecting 3 million United Kingdom jobs. Under the proposal, the UK working day would coincide with the working day in that huge market, with obvious benefits for UK competitiveness and business efficiency.

Airline, ferry and Eurostar schedules would be simpler. Out of 25 million inbound visitors last year, 14 million came from countries that would be in the same time zone under these proposals.

Tourism is a key British industry, accounting for 4.5 per cent. of gross domestic product and supporting just over 2 million jobs. The British Resorts Association and Visit Britain support the Bill on account of the benefits it would bring to the tourist industry. It would extend the peak summer tourist season for foreigners and encourage more domestic day trips and weekend breaks. More of those short trips are taken in March and April and September and October than in summer. For organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage, the extra hour of daylight in the evening is advantageous for those attractions that close at dusk. Taken as a whole, it is estimated that the extra hour of accessible daylight could add £3 billion a year to an industry worth £76 billion in 2004.

Sport England supports the Bill because people's leisure time is after work, so lighter evenings could drive up participation in sport. It says:

"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 workforce, 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."

At the other end of the age range, Age Concern supports the Bill, saying:

"We support British Summer Time extension throughout the winter to provide more daylight so that older people can stay out longer if they want to."

Fear of crime keeps many elderly people indoors after dark, and the British crime survey shows that more than half the criminal offences committed take place during the hours of darkness in the late afternoon or evening. The implication is that more light in the evening could contribute to a reduction in offences.

Early advocates of daylight saving promoted it on the grounds of energy saving. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin, then the American ambassador to France, calculated that Parisian families could save 96 million pre-revolutionary French pounds in candle wax and tallow from a measure such as this one. California has been the most recent focus of energy-saving activity, as a result of its energy crisis. The Energy Saving Trust, a Government and industry-sponsored organisation, has studied the case of California and believes that the Bill, which it supports, would lead to reductions in energy and carbon usage. Energy savings of between 0.5 and 1 per cent. are perhaps not huge, but they could be significant, given the amount of energy used in Britain. Moreover, by shifting peak demand, the need for one power station would probably be avoided.

Today, one of the most powerful arguments for changing the clocks as proposed is the reduction of accidents in winter. For that reason, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the Automobile Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents support the Bill, and there is plenty of evidence to underpin their position. Between 1968 and 1971, Britain experimented with Greenwich mean time plus one hour throughout the year, which gave the same winter times for sunrise and sunset as the Bill would give. During the first two winters of the experiment, 2,500 fewer people were killed or seriously injured. There was an increase in morning casualties, but the reduction in evening casualties far outweighed it.

In 1998 the Transport Research Laboratory re-examined the results from 1968 to 1971 based on up-to-date conditions and assuming the time changes proposed in the Bill. It concluded that there would be 450 fewer deaths and serious injuries each year as a result of the extra hour of daylight each evening. Extra evening daylight protects vulnerable road users such as children, the elderly, cyclists and motorcyclists because it makes them more visible to motorists.

In the mid 1990s, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents commissioned a Gallup poll to test public opinion on this subject. The provisions of the Bill were approved by 68 per cent., although in Scotland the figure was only 50 per cent. When the respondents were given the casualty reductions that I have just set out, approval in Scotland rose to 69 per cent., and to 77 per cent. in England and Wales. There was a three to one majority in favour of this change.

This Bill could bring demonstrable benefits to trade and industry, energy saving and tourism. It could encourage greater participation in sport and help to reduce the toll of death and injury on our roads. Some evidence suggests that it could also lead to a greater feeling of well-being. That point was put much more eloquently by William Willetts, a pioneer of daylight saving from south-east London—an area renowned for wisdom and sensitivity. In 1907, 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."

I commend the Lighter Evenings Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nigel Beard, Chris Bryant, Sir John Butterfill, Dr. Vincent Cable, Derek Conway, Dr. Brian Iddon, Mr. Jon Owen Jones, Mr. David Kidney, Norman Lamb, Mr. Seamus Mallon, Syd Rapson and David Taylor.