Clock changes: is it time for change? Contents

Chapter 2: Reactions to proposals to end seasonal changes of time

Clock changes in the UK

The history of seasonal changes of time in the UK

24.We are grateful to the Royal Museums Greenwich, and to historian Dr David Prerau, for their clear explanations to us of the history of seasonal changes of time in the UK.31 We summarise that history below.

25.The idea of adjusting the clocks during the summer to make better use of longer daylight hours was first promoted in the UK by William Willet in his 1907 pamphlet The Waste of Daylight. Mr Willet theorised that a one-hour shift would enable workers to start their days earlier and enjoy more leisure time in the evenings. Mr Willet also expected the system to bring economic benefits.

26.Legislation to give effect to Mr Willet’s proposition was defeated five times in Parliament between 1908 and 1916. In May 1916, however, following a similar initiative in Germany, Parliament implemented clock changes to increase economic productivity and reduce fuel consumption as a wartime measure. The clocks were advanced by one hour from 21 May to 1 October.

27.The UK retained seasonal changes of time after the First World War. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Government sought to maximise the benefits of summer-time by postponing the autumn clock change to mid-November. This measure was coupled with a shift of time zone: between 1940 and 1941, the UK adopted British Summer Time (BST) as its standard time and BST+1 as its summer-time. The scheme, known as Double Summer-Time, was abandoned at the end of the war but briefly reinstated in 1947 to counter a fuel crisis.

28.1968 saw the British Standard Time experiment, which introduced year-round summer-time for a time-limited period. In October 1970, the Government published an inconclusive review of the experiment. On 2 December 1970 the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted to end it, owing to strong opposition in the northern parts of the UK—particularly Scotland—and among certain population groups, such as farmers and industrial workers.32 As a result, the UK reverted to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in October 1971, and seasonal changes of time were reinstated from 1972.

29.More recently, several bills have been introduced, unsuccessfully, to bring the UK or parts of it into Central European Time (GMT+1). The latest such attempt was the Daylight Saving Bill, a private member’s bill introduced in 2010 by Rebecca Harris MP.33 However, none of those bills have questioned the practice of clock changes itself.

Effects of the current system in the UK

30.Some of our witnesses told us that seasonal changes of time played a useful role in the UK. The Scottish Government argued that the current regime worked “well across the UK as a whole”.34 Dr Prerau described the UK’s current time system as “excellent”, offering the benefits of lighter evenings for most of the year, such as “reduced automobile accidents, energy usage, and outdoor crime”, and reducing the effects of darker winter mornings, particularly in northern parts of the UK.35

31.Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) noted some negative consequences for farmers of the current clock-change system, which they told us “made the process of getting produce to market much more difficult” and “reduced milk and egg yields”.36 However, National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFUS) told us that “the effect on agriculture” of clock changes had “reduced over the years” because farms were “increasingly mechanised”, with better artificial lighting.37

UK responses to the proposal to abolish clock changes

32.On 29 March 2019, YouGov published the results of a public opinion survey of 9,070 adults living in Great Britain assessing appetite for the Commission’s proposal to discontinue clock changes.38 Only 44% of respondents felt that the current daylight saving arrangements should continue.

33.The Scottish Government highlighted that abolishing clock changes would raise “specific socio-economic concerns” for Scotland and the north of the UK, and it raised concern that the Commission’s rationale for the proposal was “not strongly evidence-based”.39 NFUS agreed that any changes “would have more pronounced implications for Scotland” than elsewhere in the UK, and it highlighted, for example, the knock-on effects for rural communities if farmers’ working patterns were to shift as a result of abolishing clock changes, with any such change potentially harming the “quality of work and social life for Scotland’s agricultural workers”.40

34.In correspondence, the Minister relayed concerns raised by the Scottish and Welsh Governments about the proposal’s wide-ranging economic implications and its impact on rural communities. She added that Northern Ireland Executive officials had raised similar issues.41 Time is a reserved matter in respect of Scotland and Wales, but there is no equivalent reservation or exception for Northern Ireland. We explore the implications of this proposal for Northern Ireland in Chapter 3.

35.We did not receive a response directly from the Welsh Government as part of our inquiry, and YouGov’s March 2019 polling results did not disaggregate Wales as a separate region, reporting statistics for “Midlands/Wales”.42 However, in October 2018, shortly after the Commission’s proposal had been announced, then-Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford AM was reported as saying that reforms to daylight saving arrangements were not “a priority” and should be “determined by member states”.43

36.In the UK, seasonal changes of time facilitate lighter evenings for over half the year and reduce morning darkness in the winter months. The latter effect is most significant in northern parts of the UK. We received no compelling evidence to suggest that the current system of seasonal changes does not work well for the UK. We do, however, note the lack of both contemporary research and public consultation on this issue.

Responses across the EU

37.Several Member States have consulted the public and relevant stakeholders in forming their positions on the Commission’s proposal.

38.The Maltese government undertook a public consultation on clock changes in 2018, which showed that “a majority of stakeholders” favoured permanent summer-time.44 In France, an online consultation was conducted between 3 February and 4 March 2019 at the initiative of the National Assembly’s European Affairs Committee. 2.1 million citizens provided responses. Almost 84% expressed support for an end to daylight saving arrangements, with 59% favouring the adoption of permanent summer-time.45

39.The Belgian House of Representatives adopted a resolution on seasonal changes of time on 7 June 2018. It did not take a firm position but urged the Federal Government to raise the matter at EU level, to make a detailed overall assessment, and to advocate the abolition of seasonal changes of time if that assessment proved them to be unnecessary or unproductive.46

40.Also in 2018, the Dutch government held a public poll and consulted stakeholders. In that poll, retaining the current system of clock changes was the least popular choice, with adopting permanent winter-time the most preferred option, receiving 41% of the votes. The poll results highlighted the Dutch public’s wish to align with neighbouring countries, whatever the outcome.47 The Dutch Tweede Kamer debated the Commission’s proposal, with a majority either supportive of, or neutral on, the proposal to end seasonal changes of time.

41.As noted in Chapter 1, there has been significant opposition to seasonal changes of time in Finland. In its written evidence, the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Finland told us that it had carried out two citizen surveys and “extensive consultation” of other stakeholders. It reported that stakeholders were “almost unanimous” in wanting to end seasonal changes of time and that the “majority of Finns” agreed with that position.48


42.Ireland first introduced seasonal changes of time in 1952, at the same time as the UK, and participated in the UK’s experimental British Standard Time trial in the 1960s. The Irish government’s position on this question is especially relevant to the UK because of the potential effects of any non-alignment on Northern Ireland, discussed in detail in Chapter 3.

43.In October 2018, the Irish government set up an interdepartmental steering group to consider the proposal’s implications for Ireland and help inform the Irish government’s position in Council. That steering group’s public consultation closed on 30 November 2018. There was majority support for abolishing clock changes, but opposition to any measure that would result in Ireland and Northern Ireland having different time zones. A fuller summary is given in Box 1.

Box 1: Approach and outcomes of the Irish government’s public consultation

The Irish government took a three-tiered approach to its public consultation:

  • An opinion poll of a representative sample of 1,000 respondents;
  • A public survey open to all, which received 16,198 responses; and
  • A targeted invitation to 401 stakeholders to submit written responses, which yielded 170 responses, 114 from individuals and 56 from groups or organisations.

The opinion poll identified majority (66%) support for abolishing clock changes, while 82% of respondents opposed any measure that would result in a different time zone between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The public survey yielded a larger majority in support of abolishing the changes (81%), but, when invited to comment, only 67% of respondents volunteered that the possibility of two time zones on the island of Ireland had affected their response. (See paragraph 127 regarding the questions asked in the Irish consultation.)

The targeted stakeholder consultation yielded no majority for any one outcome, with 38% in favour of abolishing clock changes, 21% opposed, and the remainder neutral. Only 9% of those responding said that two separate time zones on the island of Ireland would be an issue.

Source: Joint written evidence of Dr Katy Hayward and Ben Rosher (SCT0027)

44.The final report of the interdepartmental group noted an “absence of significant evidence to support changing the status quo”.49 The Irish government has thus opposed the Commission’s proposal in Council. On 27 March 2019, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, emphasised that he would “not wish to countenance a situation whereby Northern Ireland was in a different time zone from the rest of Ireland”.50

45.EU Member States have a range of views on the Commission’s proposal to discontinue seasonal changes of time, but clock changes are a subject of public concern in certain EU Member States, such as Finland and Germany. In recent years, the Commission has come under increased pressure from some of these countries and the European Parliament to reconsider EU summer-time arrangements. Its proposal to discontinue clock changes appears to be a response to that pressure.

46.One of the drivers behind the Commission’s proposal to discontinue seasonal changes of time was an EU-wide consultation that received 4.6 million responses, 84% of which were in favour of abolishing the clock change practice. We reiterate the conclusion in our 2018 Reasoned Opinion that this response rate, while extraordinary for a Commission consultation, accounts for less than 1% of the EU-28 population, and 70% of those responses came from a single Member State, Germany.

47.Although there is significant strength of public feeling in favour of abolishing seasonal changes of time, there is little evidence that doing so would lead to a material improvement over the status quo. In bringing forward its proposal to abolish clock changes, the Commission could not produce any conclusive evidence that the practice has material adverse repercussions on citizens or specific sectors. We note that it assessed the evidence on the health implications of seasonal changes of time, which had been highlighted as a concern, for example, in Finland’s citizens’ initiative and the European Parliament’s resolution, as “inconclusive”.

48.In making its initial proposal, the Commission did not produce a full, detailed impact assessment. While public feeling is strong in some Member States, we believe the Commission should carry out a full impact assessment so that Member States can consider the proposal in the light of all the relevant evidence.

Responses outside the EU

49.Switzerland introduced daylight saving arrangements in 1981, a few years after a 1978 referendum in which a large majority of Swiss voters (84%) had voted against the adoption of seasonal changes of time.

50.In 2010, the Swiss government rejected a parliamentary motion to abolish clock changes, saying that to do so would result in Switzerland becoming an “island” (an “îlot de temps”) for six months of the year, with “considerable inconveniences for the Swiss economy”. It explained that removing economic inconvenience caused by non-alignment with its near neighbours, which as members of the EU had all adopted synchronous clock changes by 1980, was a key motivation for the 1981 adoption of clock changes in the country. 51

51.In response to the European Commission’s new proposal, the Swiss government again noted the risk of Switzerland becoming isolated if it did not keep step with the EU seasonal changes of time system, with consequences for commercial trade, transport, tourism and communications.52 However, a 2019 federal popular initiative in Switzerland is seeking another referendum about clock changes. A minimum of 100,000 signatures is required to trigger one, and the deadline for collecting signatures expires in October 2020. It is not known how many signatures have been collected to date.

52.No public consultation had been conducted in Norway at the time of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries’ response to us. Although the Norwegian government had yet to take a position, the Ministry’s preliminary view was that there was “no strong reason” to keep seasonal changes of time, and it considered it more advantageous to “follow the same time regime as [Norway’s] neighbouring countries, and other important trading partners”.53

Responses from industry

53.We heard from representatives of several industries and sectors as part of this inquiry. Almost all emphasised the need for Member States to coordinate their time arrangements. For example, UFU highlighted that “any non-coordinated response” to the proposal to abolish seasonal changes of time could “disturb the operation of the single market” and result in “huge fragmentation”.54 Airlines for Europe (A4E) also considered it “imperative” that the choice of standard time was “synchronised between all EU Member States”.55

54.In October 2018 A4E, Airlines International Representation in Europe, the European Regions Airline Association, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published a joint position paper on the proposal. They warned that, “without complete synchronization”, the aviation industry would be “left in chaos”, as clock changes were “built-in to airlines business models, seasonal planning, fleet and crew planning and rostering, and schedules”.56

55.Witnesses from industry also highlighted the importance of adequate lead time to prepare for any change. A4E noted the “complex exercise” required to accommodate the discontinuation of seasonal changes of time, with airlines operating flights to or from slot-coordinated airports having to bid for new slots either for the summer season, where winter-time was adopted, or vice versa. They suggested that this “could last for years”, and that the aviation sector would need at least 18 months from the publication of the new directive to prepare.57 In oral evidence, Philip Ireland, Manager, International Air Transport Association (IATA), clarified that that 18-month lead time would need to begin at the time of an existing clock change, meaning that in fact the industry would need “two years … bare minimum” to prepare.58

56.Jonathan Skeet, a software engineer, addressed the impact of abolishing clock changes on software and computer-based clocks, noting that he had “observed a number of countries making time zone rule changes with only days before the change takes effect”, causing “significant disruption” because of the challenge of updating technology. The Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA), which supplies time zone data to “most of the computing world”,59 told us that a lead time of at least one year would be necessary.60 Mr Skeet suggested that a lead time of two years would “help significantly”, as updating time zone data in computer-based devices had multiple steps, involving both operating systems and individual users. He added, though, that synchronising any UK abolition of clock changes with any EU change would be preferable, even if it resulted in a shorter lead time.61

57.More broadly, the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) highlighted both the re-organisation of working hours that would have to take place across all employers if clock changes were abolished, and the potential “negative impact on decision making and job performance” of existing seasonal changes of time, particularly in the financial sector.62

58.Across both EU and non-EU countries, national and industry responses to the Commission’s proposal highlight the importance of coordination and minimising barriers to trade when it comes to time arrangements.

59.While the complexity of adapting to an end to seasonal changes of time, and the time needed to prepare for such a change, vary between sectors, it seems that at least 18 months’ notice will be required for some industries, such as aviation, to adapt effectively. This should be accounted for in any timetable if this proposal proceeds.

31 Written evidence from Royal Museums Greenwich (SCT0022), and Dr David Prerau (SCT0008)

32 HC Deb, 2 December 1970, col 1331

33 Daylight Saving Bill [Bill 260 (2010–12)]

34 Written evidence from the Scottish Government (SCT0019)

35 Written evidence from Dr David Prerau (SCT0008)

36 Written evidence from the Ulster Farmers Union (SCT0017)

37 Written evidence from the National Farmers’ Union Scotland (SCT0028)

38 YouGov, ‘Britons divided on ending daylight saving time’ (29 March 2019): [accessed 11 December 2019] 

39 Written evidence from the Scottish Government (SCT0019)

40 Written evidence from the National Farmers’ Union Scotland (SCT0028)

41 Kelly Tolhurst MP, Letter to the European Union Select Committee (21 January 2019): [accessed 18 December 2019])

42 YouGov, op. cit.

43 Wales Online, ‘How the UK could be forced to scrap daylight saving time by the EU - even though we’re leaving’ (22 October 2018): [accessed 10 December 2019]

44 Written evidence from the Maltese Government (SCT0011)

45 France24, ‘France favours summer time in record-breaking clock change debate’ (6 March 2019): [accessed 4 April 2019] 

46 Belgian House of Representatives, ‘Information on Parliamentary Scrutiny’ (7 June 2018, available in French and Dutch only): (accessed 18 December 2019)

47 Government of the Netherlands, ‘Dutch people have a slight preference for winter time’ (19 December 2018, available in Dutch only): [accessed 11 December 2019]

48 Written evidence from the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Finland (SCT0029)

49 Republic of Ireland, Department of Justice and Equality, op. cit., p 3

50 Dáil Éireann debate, 27 March 2019: [accessed 6 June 2019] 

51 Swiss Federal Council, ‘Statement of the Federal Council of 03/11/2010’, 3 November 2010 (in French, also available in German or Italian): [accessed 6 June 2019])

52 Ibid

53 Written evidence from the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries (SCT0026)

54 Written evidence from the Ulster Farmers Union (SCT0017)

55 Written evidence from Airlines for Europe (SCT0016)

56 Joint industry position on Summertime Arrangements (October 2018): [accessed 4 April 2019]

57 Written evidence from Airlines for Europe (SCT0016)

58 Q 15 (Philip Ireland)

59 Written evidence from Jonathan Skeet (SCT0021)

60 Written evidence from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (SCT0004)

61 Written evidence from Jonathan Skeet (SCT0021)

62 Written evidence from UK Trade Policy Observatory (SCT0015)

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