The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.
Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):
Order for Second Reading read.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): 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 Members 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.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only has the Bill received support across the House of Commons, but a similar Bill was passed in the other place during the last parliamentary Session?
Mr. Yeo: I do confirm that, and I will refer to the other place more than once later.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): 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?
Mr. Yeo: I warmly welcome the support of Bournemouth borough council, and I will also warmly welcome the support of my hon. Friendif I get itlater 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.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): 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.
Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I intend to refer to Scotland in a moment, but the point that he makes is quite significant because the accident reduction figures are particularly marked in the part of Scotland to which he refers.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): Will my hon. Friend take account of the fact that London is almost as sunny as Bournemouth, and that the London assembly supports the proposal?
Mr. Yeo: I am grateful for this overwhelming tide of support from all parts of the country. It makes me feel very optimistic about the outcome.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): 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.
Mr. Yeo: 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 Bills allegedly controversial aspectsand 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 Houses proceedings today carefully.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): 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 shouldnt have been sacked. It was just that I got fed up with going to work in the dark since the Bill was brought in?
Mr. Yeo: 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.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): 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.
Mr. Yeo: 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.
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): 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 oclock, as long as the children were there at 9 o'clockthat 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?
Mr. Yeo: 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.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): 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?
Mr. Yeo: 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.
Mr. Yeo: 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.
Mr. Yeo: My right hon. Friend is too kind. The entertaining and informative book by David Prerau, available in paperbackI hasten to add that I bought my copy, but I am happy to give it a plug neverthelesstraces 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 Governments position is far more robust, and that they will decide their policy on the merits of the argument.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): 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?
Mr. Yeo: 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 timeand, indeed, the very concept of standardised time for a whole countryis 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 daysome of them in the darkhave 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 punctualityas an obligation that it does not feel inclined to honour particularly frequently.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): In supporting my hon. Friends 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?
Mr. Yeo: 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 GMTsometimes ahead of it, sometimes behind it. Predictably however, one of the last countries to come into line was Francelong 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 oclock, giving many Members time to reach their constituencies in daylightor 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.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): 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. Gentlemans Bill.
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