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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.
So what has changed since the House voted overwhelmingly in favour of abandoning the British summertime experiment in 1971, in a free vote? Energy is a much stronger focus today than it was then. The forthcoming energy White Paper will discuss at length security of energy supplies and high gas and oil prices. As I have explained, there is a strong focus on climate change today, but it was probably not even mentioned in the 1971 debate. Certainly, in respect of road safety, the necessity of further cutting the number of casualties remains as strong today as it ever was. On trade and industry, probably the biggest single change that I have noticed is that farming was then a significant industry, and it opposed the measure. Tourism was fairly quiet, and its voice was not heard. Today, the size of the farming industry has shrunk, but in any case it now supports, not opposes, the change. Tourism has become much more significant to our economy, and it strongly supports the measure.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I tried to intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) to make a point about night flights. Many people in west and south-west London are often woken up very early because of the great number of night flights. I have long argued that it is not good for Londons economy to have so many people going to work without having had a good nights sleep. Does the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) agree that although the issue of night flights does not affect the whole country, the Bill would have a beneficial effect on that problem in some parts of it?
Rosemary McKenna: Is it not the time at which flights leave other countries that determines when they arrive here? They will still be arriving here at the same time, whether we call it 5 oclock or 6 oclock.
Mr. Kidney: Clearly, that is not quite right, because we have rules about the number of night flights permitted, and airlines have to cut their cloth according to the time that we grant them for their landings in our airports.
Lastly, health issues have changed since 1971. Although the same arguments were made then and today, I simply tell all hon. Members to read the Public Accounts Committee report on the explosion in rates of obesity in this country, and to understand the urgency of the matter. We are not doing enough, and more needs to be done. The report draws our attention to the need to make more use of sports facilities.
Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman has been very good at not over-claiming, but if he is claiming that the Bill will cure obesity, he must reflect that if in winter it became dark at 5 oclock, rather than at 4 oclock, it would not make much difference to people who come home from work after 5 oclock and want to play rugby.
Mr. Kidney: That is an unfair characterisation of my arguments. I gave the example of my playing rugby, but people undertake many activities as their exercise. That exercise can be as little as walking the dog for 20 minutes after work, or as much as playing a game of tennis before the light fades. It could be any one of a range of activities. I certainly did not claim that passing the Bill would solve the problem of obesity. I am saying that when we consider the balance of the arguments, we should take into account the fact that obesity carries a much greater weight in our arguments today than it did in the debate in 1971. That is a fair enough thing to say. I am a big supporter of the Bill, as I hope is clear from my speech, but contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman suggests, I do not claim to be the font of all knowledge, or say that my position is right and that everyone else must be wrong.
One of the reasons why I support the Bill is that it includes a provision allowing for an experimental period, and for a panel to review the evidence. We would consider the evidence before we made a final decision one way or the other. For all the reasons that I have given, I support the Bill.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who, for almost the whole of his speech, put his case most moderately and carefully, and if anyone could have persuaded people, he could. However, at the end of his speech flights of fancy overtook him. As I pointed out, in the winter months the difference between darkness falling at 4 oclock and darkness falling at 5 oclock will not enable people to take part in sport and outdoor activities after work, much as I would welcome that.
I have taken anow unaccustomedplace on the Front Bench today because my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) could
not be here, and asked me to stand in for her. I am particularly pleased to speak on a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), because I was once lucky in the private Members Bill ballot and introduced the Energy Conservation Bill, and he was most sympathetic to it and took a constructive approach. Unfortunately, he temporarily departed from office and his successor was extremely obstructive. The Bill failed in that Session, but we got our revenge, because the then Member for Christchurch took the same Bill through its stages as the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. To complete the circle, I am now married to the then Member for Christchurch, which is the happiest of happy endings. So the legislation that the hon. Member for South Suffolk and I both supported was enactedbut I cannot promise such an outcome on this occasion.
One aspect of the Billthe double summer time elementaccords with Liberal Democrat policy and has been widely advocated, particularly by my hon. Friends who represent west country constituencies in which there is much tourism, and much interest in tourism. In particular, my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Nick Harvey) and for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) stress that the tourist season in the west country would benefit considerably. Many outdoor activities could go on until late in the evening in the summer. The Bill could have a marked effect on tourism, particularly in the south-west, but also in other parts of the country. There is not much of a downside to that aspect of the measure, apart from the two-hour change that will be involved if we do not alter the winter time. For some of us, the change would not make much difference, as we live in parts of the country where it is light until 11 oclock in the summer. If it was light until midnight, it would not be problematicindeed, in some ways it might be quite attractive.
However, there are downsides to two aspects of the Bill, and two ways in which it does not accord with what the Liberal Democrats advocate. Those aspects are the winter time change and the prospect of having different time zones within the United Kingdom. I shall start by dealing with the winter situation. It is a basic fact that the northern half of Britain gets much more daylight in the summer, and much less daylight in the winter, than the southern half, so those who live in the northern half have a particular concern about the impact on our lives of the changes proposed in the Bill. Adding an hour in the winter would greatly increase the number of mornings in which people go to work in the dark.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) intervened earlier; I can tell him that there would be about 80 more dark mornings in Carlisle, and only 30-odd more light evenings, which would not be a significant benefit. I do not propose to try to explain the mathematics of that. I do not argue that there are not advantages to be had from light evenings, but the key issue for most of us in the north and in Scotland is the increased number of dark mornings, which would mean that people had to go to work or school in the dark.
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I am a little puzzled as to why Berwick would suffer from 80 more dark mornings but have only 30 more light evenings. Given the latitude of the right hon. Gentlemans constituency, and the shorter days there, I would have thought that his constituents would benefit to the maximum from the extra daylight at the end of the day.
Mr. Beith: It depends what the nature of the benefit is. As I tried to explain to the hon. Member for Stafford, if the benefit is that it gets dark at 5 oclock rather than 4 oclock, there is not much difference, in terms of sporting opportunities, night-time leisure activities and so on.
Mark Lazarowicz: We will just have to take the right hon. Gentlemans claim that there will be 80 darker mornings but only 30 lighter evenings as another example of Liberal Democrat accounting. Putting that aside, will he be clear about whether he is saying that there would be a two-hour difference between winter and summer time in the UK? Would it not lead to difficulties for a considerable part of the country if there were a two-hour shift in the clocks, as it would mean that for at least a month, we would go back to darker winter mornings? Actually, possibly it is the other way round, and it would be darker in the evenings. In any event, there would be dramatic consequences for a period.
Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated the difficulty of thinking on ones feet while explaining some of these concepts. We are well accustomed to the one-hour time change. Given the benefits of change in the summer for the tourism industry, a two-hour time change can be managed, and Britain certainly had one in the war, as has been said. Effectively, that change would be in operation for only two days a year, and the impact of the change in summer is far less than the impact of the winter time change.
Many groups of workers experience great difficulties working on dark mornings. It can be particularly frustrating for postal workers, as was well explained in a previous debate in the House by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain)now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Waleswho discussed at length the difficulties that they would experience. They usually start work at 5 am, but on a working day with even less daylight, we would be expecting them to find our houses, and read the addresses on letters so that they can post them through our letterboxes, in the dark. If the Bill were passed, they would have to work on many more dark cold mornings.
Mr. Beith: Between 8 and 8.30 am. The further one lives from the centre of town, the later the delivery. We have all complained about the changes to the postal delivery system, but that is not the postmans fault. He has to get up in the dark, and he would have to do so more often, as it is an incontrovertible fact that he would have to work on more dark mornings.
The Bill would create problems, too, for children going to school, as more of them would have to do so in the dark. It is Government policy to discourage the practice of driving children to school, and to encourage them to go on foot or to cycle, organising help, if necessary, so that they can travel in groups. That is sensible, and there are good health and environmental reasons for such a policy. The number of cars on the road, for example is reduced, as there are fewer vehicles taking children to school. It would be difficult to pursue that policy if there were a huge increase in the number of mornings when children go to school in the dark.
Dr. Turner: I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the difference between 4 and 5 oclock is critical to children going home from school just as it is getting dark. That is much more dangerous than the change from darkness to light.
Mr. Beith: That is the other side of the coin, and we have to balance two different arguments. There is a tendency, of course, to extend the school day at both ends. In the morning, for example, children may go to school early to attend a breakfast club, and in the evening they may take part in after-school activities, or there may be arrangements in place so that their parents can collect them after finishing work. The school day has changed so that children less often go home at the hour mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Similarly, they more often go to school while it is still dark in the morning.
We cannot ignore the problems that the changes would cause, especially in rural areas. Many of my constituents children and children in other rural constituencies wait for school buses at the end of farm roads and at crossroads on dark mornings. Some of them are dropped off from one form of transport only to wait for another. Some children will be taken to primary school, while the middle school children are dropped off at a bus stop to wait for a bus to take them to their school. Expecting them to wait for transport on more cold dark mornings is both an imposition and a dangerand that danger extends beyond road safety concerns. Pupils who are over 16 have to pay £360 each for the privilege of travelling to school by bus in Northumberland, which is an atrociously high charge. As I travel around my constituency in the early morning between 8 and 9 am, I see many children waiting for buses at farm road ends and at crossroads. Under the proposals, they would far more often have to do so in the dark. The change would therefore pose a serious problem in significant parts of the country.
I am even more worried, however, about the potential for two, or even three or four, time zones under the Bill, as that would be extremely difficult to cope with in border areas. Those of us who live on the
English side of the border would not have a say or a vote on the matter if Scotland decided, for good reasons of its own, that it did not wish to make such a change, but we would be landed with the consequences. We would not have the choice that the Scots would be offered in their Parliament about whether the new arrangements would suit our part of the country.
Mr. Russell Brown: The right hon. Gentleman and I face similar circumstances on opposite coasts. If those provisions had not been included, would his position on the Bill be much more favourable and would he support it?
Mr. Beith: Personally, I am not persuaded on the issue of dark mornings, but if those provisions did not feature, the Bill would be less objectionable to people who live in areas such as those that the hon. Gentleman and I represent.
The Bill would have one of two consequences. Either there would be one time zone for England and another for ScotlandI shall leave aside the similar problems in Wales and Northern Irelandor the Scottish Parliament would be bounced into a time change, because of the inconvenience and difficulty of having two time zones. The latter consequence would defeat the wish of the hon. Member for South Suffolk to give Scotland the opportunity to treat the proposal as a devolved matter.
Mr. Martlew: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Bills promoter does not expect the measure to proceed, and included the opt-out for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as a piece of mischief?
Mr. Beith: I prefer the less cynical explanation that the hon. Member for South Suffolk included it because, like many Scottish Conservatives but unlike the Front Bench team, he is persuaded of the merits of devolution. [ Interruption. ] I accept that changes are happeningI must keep up to date with the rapid policy changes of the Conservative Front-Bench team. The hon. Gentleman did not want to provoke opposition from people in Scotland who are concerned about such a change and believe that Scotland should decide the issue. In most circumstances that would be the attractive option, provided that it did not create serious difficulties in the border area.
Tradesmen and professionals who provide services in the area surrounding the town where I live would have to look closely at their clients addresses to determine whether a farm was on the English side of the border or on the Scottish side. If they visited it for an 11 am appointment it could, in fact, be 10 am, or if they visited it for a 12 oclock appointment it could, in fact, be 11 am, and they may have made an appointment for the same time on the English side of the border. Arrangements would therefore be extremely complex, and some people who leave at 8 am to drive to Berwick, park their cars and walk to their offices for an 8.30 start would have to leave at 7 am. I would be in an extraordinary position, because on Mondays the train that I catch to Westminster leaves Edinburgh at 9 oclock. That train would therefore arrive at Berwick before it left Edinburgh, which is unique, even for GNER. GNER offers a good serviceand we are
sorry that it has lost the east coast franchise; if it could prove that a train could reach its destination before the journey had even started, some of its difficulties might be eased.
As has been said, the change would not be without complication or cost for the private sector. There will be costs for the railway industry resulting from different time zones, such as the need for timetables to explain such changes, and computer programmes that take account of them. There are therefore a series of practical problems, and my non-cynical assumption is that the hon. Member for South Suffolk does not really believe that his Bill would introduce different time zones, because he thinks that the Scots, whatever their concerns about the impact of the Bill on Scotland, will have no choice but to follow suit.
Mr. Beith: Yes, but the choice changes if it is about a different time zone, as that would influence whether Scotland believes that it can take a different line. Many of my Scottish colleagues, with whom I have discussed the matter, believe that Scotland would be bounced into a decision that the Scots would not otherwise vote for.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing us back to this decennial subject of debate and for presenting his case so well, but I do not think he has fully understood all the problems that it would present in northern England and Scotland, or the problems that would result from two time zones. Those would be a high price to pay for a Bill that includes a change that many of my colleagues would supportdouble summer time in the summer months.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The other week I returned to my constituency in Edinburgh on the overnight sleeper. When I left Edinburgh Waverley at about 8 am it was pitch dark, the wind was howling and the rain was pouringit was that horizontal rain which those of us who live on the east coast of Scotland have learned to love over the years, as no doubt did those before us. At that moment, I did not relish the thought that if the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) were enacted, I would have to wait not an hour or two, but two or three hours until it got lighter. That is the initial reaction of many Members from Scotland and the north of England, and I know that it is also the view of many of my constituents.
However, I recognise that the arguments advanced by the hon. Gentleman for his Bill could have some merit in Scotland as well. As has been pointed out, we would not lose an hour of daylight, were the measure to be passed. It is a question of where the hour goes, and how the balance between darker mornings and lighter afternoons and evenings works out. I recognise that some of the benefits which, it is argued, the Bill would bring apply as much to Scotland as to other parts of the United Kingdom.
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