My Lords, there are no plans to change the summer time arrangements at this time. The last experiment with lighter evenings, between 1968 and 1971, proved unpopular and was abandoned following a vote in Parliament. Objections were raised by the farming and construction industries and others involved in outdoor work, particularly in the north of England and Scotland, which experienced difficulties because of the late sunrise in winter.
Any change would need to have full regard to all the factors involved, including the impact on social and community life, transport links with other countries, health and safety issues, such as road traffic accidents, and the views of the business community and other stakeholders.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, which I shall study with care. Have the Minister and noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite any good reason for not supporting a fact-finding Bill to gain fresh statistics for lighter evenings in the winter? Such a Bill could cover a two-year experimental period of Single/Double Summer Time, starting from the last Sunday in October 2006, and contain a Scottish clause for ratification by the devolved Parliament north of the border. If such a long-overdue but simple measure could find support from the motoring industry, tourism, business and bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, as I suspect it would, why can we not just do it and get on with it?
My Lords, I am not certain what a fact-finding Bill is. We have already had one experiment on the subject, and the figures are known. There are serious issues about the number of accidents that could be avoided, but those facts were known in 1968 to 1971. We had another debate in Parliament in 1996 on a Private Member's Bill, which showed that there was still a wide divergence of views on the issue. The facts are well known and Parliament has expressed its view.
My Lords, is it not the case that the climate of opinion has changed enormously in the past few years? Members on all sides of the House have expressed concern about active lifestyles, particularly in regard to young children who come home from school and have no time to play outside. Yet we are criticising them for becoming obese and so on. Is it not now time for the Government to look at the issue and follow the excellent suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw?
My Lords, as I said, there was a debate on this matter as recently as 1996 during the passage of a Private Member's Bill. It showed that views were still polarised. While some groups would be advantaged, others would be disadvantaged, particularly in places such as Northern Ireland, where it is still light until very late. If clocks were put back a further hour, then darkness would not come until midnight at certain points in the year, which some people see as a disadvantage.
My Lords, let us take the Conservative Benches first, and then the Cross Benches.
My Lords, cannot the problems that the Minister rightly states would be suffered by relative minorities be met by those minority communities adjusting their lifestyles to the conditions prevailing? Is that not demonstrated by China, which has one time zone extending from Shanghai practically to Samarkand and is able to cope with the situation? The central European time zone extends from Warsaw and Stockholm to Gibraltar and Coruna and those countries are able to cope. Would it not be hugely to the advantage of most people in this country if we had a time pattern coinciding with that of our neighbours? It would give us coincidental office hours and we would not have to adjust railway and plane timetables.
My Lords, some communities might be very happy with that, but it is clear from the debates that other communities would be very unhappy. There would be difficulties; for example, if Northern Ireland were to follow our example, there would be problems in its relationship with the Republic. It is not therefore a simple issue of everyone coalescing around a particular position.
My Lords, I live in Northern Ireland and do business there. Does the Minister agree that it is a disincentive to UK trade for our exporters to be potentially out of communication with customers in mainland Europe for two, and possibly four, hours in the business day? We have to commence and finish business one hour after our European competitors.
My Lords, this issue works both ways. If we bring our time more in line with central European time, then we will be out of phase with countries in the west such as Portugal and Ireland.
My Lords, is there not a case for taking a good long look at this matter under agreed criteria so that we can come to a conclusion and move on? It has become a hardy perennial of the parliamentary scene.
My Lords, there would be much to be gained if we could. This looks to me like an insuperable problem. A colleague of mine once described it as being rather like a poisoned chalice without any clear sign of where the chalice is.
My Lords, that is all very well, but is there any other aspect of policy where, if it could be shown that several hundred, if not a thousand, lives—many of them children's lives—could be saved, the Government would say, "No, there are arguments on both sides."? Will the Government not accept that this is a simple proposition and even in the northern parts of the country—in Scotland and Northern Ireland—lives would be saved by changing the clocks in the way that the Question suggests? When else will the Government turn their back on saving lives?
My Lords, the facts are very clear. There was a re-examination of injuries which would be avoided if the change were made. The facts are that you would save 100 lives and 300 serious injuries each year. Those figures are based on what happened in 1968–71, so they have been known for an extremely long time. Parliament, knowing those figures, took the decision it did.
My Lords, I am glad that the Minister recognises that there is a theological dimension to the issue. I can assure the House that whatever happens to the clocks, the Bishops will be up at the same time in the morning saying their prayers. Does the Minister think that the pressure towards extending summer time is a reflection of the general decadence of our society, with people getting up later in the morning?
My Lords, no. I think that it is a straight fight between those who get up early and go to bed early and those who get up late and go to bed late. Where you divide on that issue, you divide on the whole issue.
My Lords, we debated the subject in this House about 18 months ago and perhaps I may repeat the remarks I made. A businessman travelling from London to Paris leaves London at eight in the morning and arrives in Paris at 10; a businessman travelling from Paris to London leaves Paris at eight and arrives in London at eight. That is a huge commercial disadvantage. Furthermore, I do not understand how, with the greatest respect to the farmers in the northernmost parts of the Union, that the time matters quite so much. The cows do not look at the clock, but our competitors in Frankfurt and in Paris do. We should recognise that as soon as possible.
My Lords, as far as I know, and from brief inquiries, there is no strong push from the business community to make this change.