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26 Jan 2007 : Column 1679

Mr. Yeo: I entirely agree, and I shall refer later to my proposal for monitoring the effects of the experiment. It would be nice to think that the Government always adopted an evidence-based policy-making process, but in a number of cases it appears to me to be a policy-based evidence-making process. However, I hope that that will not happen on this occasion.

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman should be trying to keep Members on side.

Mr. Yeo: Some Members I exempt from any such charge.

Some colleagues will recall the debate that surrounded the introduction of a law making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. It is hard to believe now that less than 25 years ago that was regarded as a highly controversial proposal. The experimental procedure was used then, and it was successful, because people quickly became accustomed to wearing seat belts—and, more importantly, they soon recognised the benefits of wearing seat belts in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided.

I am confident that my Bill will achieve similar benefits, but I accept that not everyone is yet convinced. For that reason, clause 4 provides for the appointment of a review panel, which after the first two years of the experiment will examine the effects of the Bill and report publicly on them. To ensure the independence of that panel—not that I am suggesting that the Government would ever try to exert influence in respect of appointments of that kind—the Bill explicitly provides for one of the panel’s members to be nominated by the Royal Society, one by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, one by the chief medical officer and one by the Office for National Statistics—and, of course, some by the Secretary of State as well.

The Bill requires the panel to report specifically on changes in the number of road traffic accidents, the level of energy consumption and the level of ill health, and on any other areas that the panel believes have been directly affected by the alteration in the clocks. The importance of that panel is that it will give the public unbiased information on which to form a view about the advantages and disadvantages of the change. It will then be for Parliament to decide whether to continue the three-year experiment, and whether to make the change permanent.

When the last experiment took place almost 40 years ago, it was abandoned after over-hasty examination of inadequate, and possibly misleading, evidence on the impact of the change. The decision to abandon that experiment was a seriously wrong judgment. In any event, we must now judge the issue on the basis of what it does in today’s conditions.

One other aspect of the Bill requires to be explained. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 provide for the changes proposed in the Bill to be treated as a devolved issue, so that the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly can decide for themselves whether those parts of the United Kingdom should conduct the same experiment as England.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): In the hon. Gentleman’s historical diversion of a few minutes ago he referred to the
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difficulties that arose when we had different time zones throughout the UK, but he now seems to be proposing the possibility of separate Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish time zones. Does that provide another example of a new-found collusion between English nationalism and Scottish nationalism?

Mr. Yeo: I hope that it will not be seen in that way. The confusion I referred to arose where there were lots of time zones with odd differences between them; a five-and-a-half minute difference between one part of the country and another can be quite confusing. Plenty of countries have more than one time zone within their borders, but invariably the differences in time are organised in multiples of half an hour or one hour—I do not think that any country still has odd-minute differences. The evidence from other countries is that it is workable to have separate time zones.

Mark Lazarowicz: Of course it is workable, but there is a difference between the UK and somewhere such as the United States of America which has four or five time zones, but is considerably geographically broader than the UK. To have two, three or four time zones in a relatively small country such as the UK would be unusual, if not unique.

Mr. Yeo: My Bill is designed simply to allow different parts of the United Kingdom to make up their own minds. Personally, I hope that we will have a single time zone, but I am not trying to force my views on other people. The benefits of the change that I am proposing would be considerable, and would apply to all parts of the UK, but because I recognise that this issue is more controversial in some parts of the UK than others, I also believe that the relevant bodies should have a chance to decide for themselves.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman think that a difficulty would arise from having different time zones, in that broadcasters will be based mainly in one time zone but will be broadcasting into different time zones? I imagine that they would maintain south-east of England time.

Mr. Yeo: I do not think so. Broadcasting, which is obviously a much bigger factor than it was 40 years ago, is a good example of how time zones are almost irrelevant in the modern world. When one travels to different parts of the world, one often tunes into the news at 6 o’clock in the morning or 10 o’clock in the evening.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): Because of the opt-out that the hon. Gentleman has included in the Bill, I cannot support it, although I would like to. In my area, an ITV station called Border Television broadcasts both sides of the border, so under the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, the news that is broadcast on one side of the border at 5 o’clock would be broadcast at 6 o’clock on the other side. There is an arrogance about the hon. Gentleman—he does not realise the confusion that his Bill would cause for those of us who live in the English-Scottish border region.

Mr. Yeo: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his saying that he would have supported the Bill but for that aspect of it, but I have to say that his intervention was extraordinary. The truth is that people are
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accustomed to watching television programmes broadcast from a time zone other than the one in which they happen to be; indeed, most of us do that every day of our lives. Furthermore, given the proliferation of channels these days, it would be quite easy for Border programmes to be shown an hour later or earlier and beamed in the appropriate direction.

Mr. Russell Brown: My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who, like me, lives close to the border, has raised one issue, but may I raise another? Has the hon. Gentleman discussed his Bill with my Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), and does he support the Bill?

Mr. Yeo: I will let my hon. Friend decide for himself whether he wants to support the Bill. The answer is that I have not discussed it with him, and I have not been going round badgering my colleagues for support. Many of them, I am glad to say, have offered it willingly and, indeed, enthusiastically.

Mr. Beith: There is a more immediate and practical point arising from the hon. Gentleman’s multiple time zone concept. Given that two thirds of Berwick’s hinterland is in Scotland, a vet, plumber or any other tradesman making a series of appointments at farms and other places round about would have to check the postcode of every such place to work out whether it will be 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock when he gets there.

Mr. Yeo: I do not claim that having a separate time zone for Scotland would not create difficulties for people on the border; I simply say that this is a decision for Scotland. England should decide what is in England’s interests, and the overwhelming advantage to England lies in making this change. I happen to believe that the same applies to Scotland, but I dare not attempt in my Bill to force my views on Scotland; I want it to decide for itself. I hope, in return, that Scottish colleagues in this House will not deny England the benefits of this change by casting their votes on an issue that affects only England, at a time when the Bill is not even proposing a change in Scotland.

In practice, I hope—indeed, I would expect—that Wales would see overwhelming advantage in aligning itself with England. In the case of Northern Ireland, different considerations apply. It is the westernmost part of the United Kingdom, is separated by sea from the mainland and has a land boundary with Eire, so it is right that it have a chance to decide for itself. I am aware that the proposal is more controversial in the case of Scotland, but it is a logical consequence of devolution and of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament that any decision about Scotland’s time zone should be made in Scotland.

Mr. Russell Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He mentions Northern Ireland because it is further west and he regards it as being of some relevance; in fact, it is extremely relevant to my constituents. My constituency extends as far as the west coast of Scotland and to Stranraer, which has a ferry port that is a major terminal for two companies.
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That journey of just over an hour across the North sea is vital. So it is not just trains that we are talking about, but ferries, as well.

Mr. Yeo: Some of us often take ferries to other time zones, and in fact, most people in the United Kingdom cross time zones when they go abroad on pleasure or business. Moreover, most people probably now travel to continental Europe more frequently than they do to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Yeo: I will take one more intervention and then I really must make some progress.

Dr. Evan Harris: I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the opposition that he is getting to the Bill is just the sort that one gets from conservative-minded people—with a small “c”—who find any change very difficult to cope with and worry about things such as ferries arriving in different time zones. However, if they reflect on the matter, they will realise that that happens all the time when travelling to mainland Europe. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that Liberal Democrats can give him plenty of information on how to deal with conservative-minded opponents.

Mr. Yeo: Apart from that last remark, I am very grateful for that intervention, with which I entirely agree.

Let me explain the Bill’s principal benefits. The first, and in my view the most important, is the saving of lives. While it is hard to be absolutely precise about the numbers, I note what the Minister with responsibility for road safety, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), said in Committee during consideration of the Road Safety Bill on 20 April last year. He said:

the Transport Research Laboratory—

That is the on-the-record statement by the Minister with responsibility for road safety, and I regard it as clear, unequivocal and important. If the passing of this Bill means that 400 families would be spared the grief and tragedy of a bereavement or a serious injury to one of their loved ones, how can the Minister at the Dispatch Box today possibly not throw the Government’s full weight behind it? However, whatever
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the Minister says, these figures are widely accepted as the best current estimate, and the House should be willing to give this change a try, at least. The number of lives that would be saved is similar to the number that are saved, it is claimed, through the operation of the speed cameras to which the Government are so addicted.

Given that the cost of the changes proposed in the Bill is virtually nil to the public sector, it would be extraordinary if the Government did not back this very simple step. Let us suppose—heaven forbid that this should happen—that this weekend, an accident occurs somewhere in the transport system in which 100 lives are lost. A public inquiry would immediately be set up. Let us also suppose that that inquiry found that it is absolutely certain that a similar accident will occur every year, with similar loss of life, unless Parliament takes the simple step of changing the clocks. There would be a public outcry if we did not take that step.

That is exactly the position that we are in today. It is not a surprise, therefore, that many organisations have announced their support for the Bill. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents,

In a press release last week, the AA said that the Bill

I turn now to the environmental case. A recent study entitled “Policy inertia on UK daylight saving: the cost in accidents, energy and emissions”, by Dr. Elizabeth Garnsey and others, of Cambridge university, showed that both peaks in demand for electricity and actual energy consumption would be lower under single/double summer time, particularly throughout the winter. At my recent meeting with the National Grid, its management confirmed that the peak in electricity demand would be lower, enabling the country to operate with a lower level of capacity at all times throughout the year. The Cambridge study estimated that carbon emissions would be cut by 170,000 tonnes annually, at no cost to gross domestic product. That is equivalent to approximately 0.1 per cent. of total annual carbon emissions from the UK.

The growing and urgent threat of climate change will make the reduction of carbon emissions a greater and greater priority in the next few years, and this is one of the easiest and cheapest ways in which they could be reduced—a fact that was recognised by Lord Rooker in an answer in the other place recently. When he was a Member of this House, he was respected by both sides for speaking his mind and pioneering several policy changes.

Rosemary McKenna: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the surge in electricity use, but is it not commonly known that the real surge in energy use is at the end of successful television programmes, when the entire country switches on the kettle?

Mr. Yeo: It is true that there are surges, but I recommend that the hon. Lady talks to the National Grid Company, as I did, and obtains confirmation that
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introducing this change would mean that whatever surges take place, in the day, evening or night, the overall peak at any one time would be lower than if we did not make the change.

A third argument relates to quality of life issues. At a time when concern is rightly growing about obesity, especially among young people, any measure that makes it easier to participate in sport after school is worth while. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers has said:

Mr. Pelling: My hon. Friend mentioned SAD, the depressive effect of the nights closing in, which is especially relevant given the current time regime. Medical advice suggests that 2.5 per cent. of the population suffer from that significant and important depressive disorder, so does not that emphasise the great importance of cheering people up through this proposal for lighter evenings?

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend is right, and that is one reason why I have included in the Bill a requirement for the review panel to measure the effect on health. I was not particularly knowledgeable about SAD—I do not think that I have suffered from it—but the statistics that he cites are well founded. It is a serious condition for those people.

Mr. Russell Brown: The hon. Gentleman used the term “grumpy” and we can all be grumpy on occasions, but getting up on a winter’s morning in the dark can make one equally as grumpy, especially if the morning lasts until 10 o’clock—

Rosemary McKenna: Or 11 o’clock.

Mr. Brown: Or 11 o’clock, as my hon. Friend suggests. Dark mornings can make one just as grumpy as dark evenings.

Mr. Yeo: Be that as it may.

The advantages in quality of life terms are not confined to young people. Let me quote from a statement from Age Concern England:

Healthier lives with more social and recreational opportunities bring substantial benefits to the whole community. That is what this Bill would achieve.

Professor Mayer Hillman has been a distinguished advocate of this cause for many years and he says:

single/double summer time—

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