Clock changes: is it time for change? Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

1.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. (Paragraph 36)

2.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. (Paragraph 45)

3.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. (Paragraph 46)

4.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”. (Paragraph 47)

5.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. (Paragraph 48)

6.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. (Paragraph 58)

7.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. (Paragraph 59)

8.We heard general concern that variations in the time differences between the UK and its EU neighbours might add complexity for UK businesses trading with the EU. Evidence on this point was, however, far from detailed or conclusive. (Paragraph 75)

9.We are surprised that the available evidence regarding the consequences of non-alignment is relatively scant. Further research is needed into the general effects of clock changes, as well as the specific impacts for people and businesses of non-alignment of seasonal changes of time, for example as experienced in Australia and North America. (Paragraph 76)

10.From the evidence we heard, it was clear that non-alignment could lead to an increase in the time differences between the UK and its EU trading partners, reducing the number of common operating hours for businesses. Academic studies, and anecdotal evidence from Turkey and the Australian State of Queensland, suggest that this could pose an obstacle to trade in some sectors. Moreover, any change to the time differences between the UK and EU could alter the economic benefits of gas and electricity interconnectors. (Paragraph 77)

11.Considerably more evidence is also required to understand the implications of the Government’s current plans to retain clock changes even if the EU abolishes them. A starting point could be provided by evidence from the pre-1996 period, when the timing of the autumn clock change was not fully harmonised across the European Economic Community. (Paragraph 78)

12.We received substantive evidence that a time border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would have wide-ranging practical repercussions for individuals and businesses. A time difference for only some of the year, in a scenario where one part of the island of Ireland retains seasonal changes of time, would add greater complexity. (Paragraph 92)

13.If the EU were to discontinue seasonal changes of time but the UK decided to retain them, a future Northern Ireland Executive would have to choose between having a one-hour time difference for part of the year either with the Republic of Ireland or with the rest of the UK. (Paragraph 96)

14.Regions along the Ireland-Northern Ireland border share deep economic and social ties. Supply chains are closely integrated. It is normal to work or rely on public services, such as hospital and schools, on the other side of the border. There is no question that a time border would have enormous practical implications for firms and citizens in Northern Ireland, disrupting well-established ways of doing business and organising daily life. (Paragraph 97)

15.We note that the Government has recently negotiated a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU that ties Northern Ireland closely to the rules of the EU’s Single Market. In evidence, the Minister repeatedly emphasised Northern Ireland’s autonomy to set its own time arrangements in the future. However, were this proposal to become EU law under its current single-market legal basis, Northern Ireland may be obliged under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to align with the EU and thus institute a time border with Great Britain. We suggest that the Government should give urgent further consideration to the impact that the Withdrawal Agreement and its Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will have on the ability of Northern Ireland to make its own arrangements in future. (Paragraph 98)

16.The implications of a time border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain have attracted less attention and are therefore not well-understood, but in addressing the question of the ability of Northern Ireland to make its own arrangements in the future, we also ask the Government to assess the likely economic impact on Northern Ireland/GB trade of different time zones within the UK as a result of the obligations set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. (Paragraph 99)

17.The abolition of seasonal changes of time in the UK in any circumstances would require adjustments in a range of sectors, from transport to energy and software development. Such adjustments would bring some transition costs, which could be burdensome for industries where scheduling, especially internationally, is of concern, such as aviation. We received, however, no estimate of the potential size of these transition costs for any industry, or for the economy as a whole. (Paragraph 107)

18.Our short inquiry has highlighted the diversity of views on what time arrangements would best serve the UK, and the difficulty of choosing a permanent time zone, if the UK were to do so. (Paragraph 117)

19.The benefits and drawbacks of permanent winter- or summer-time are likely to vary across sectors and regions and are not easily comparable or quantifiable. We recommend that any assessment of the two options should focus, as much as possible, on areas where it might be possible to collect hard evidence—for example, the costs to the aviation sector. (Paragraph 118)

20.Road safety is a conspicuous example of how, even within one sector, there are conflicting views on the relative benefits of permanent winter- or summer-time. We note that some of the evidence cited by witnesses was several decades old and difficult to use to draw conclusions about seasonal changes of time given other confounding factors, such as the introduction of speed limits. We note also that, at least in the evidence we received, it was not wholly clear how “accidents” were being defined in statistics regarding road safety and changes of time. (Paragraph 119)

21.We recommend that the Government look widely to all existing sources of evidence, seeking in particular studies relating to countries in a similar geographical position as the UK, including studies in the Nordic countries, and compile clear figures relating to road safety in the periods after the clock changes occur, to help identify the right course of action if clock changes are to be abolished. (Paragraph 120)

22.Should the EU pass legislation discontinuing seasonal changes of time, the Government would be faced with two levels of decision making: whether the UK should also abandon the biannual clock change, in line with its EU neighbours; and if so, which permanent time zone it should adopt. At present, the Government has little evidence of the views of the public on either issue. (Paragraph 132)

23.We accept that there is no urgency for the Government to conduct a full public consultation at this stage. But there remains a possibility that the proposal will resume progress in the Council and ultimately be agreed, and it would therefore be prudent for the Government to initiate consideration of how a future consultation exercise might be designed. In so doing, it should take account of the lessons that can be learned from previous EU and national consultation exercises, as well as of the specific suggestions made by our witnesses, such as the use of citizens’ assemblies or sample surveys. (Paragraph 133)

24.The implications of the proposal to discontinue seasonal changes of time and the considerations involved in choosing a permanent time zone vary significantly across different parts of the UK. It is essential that the Government closely engages with the devolved administrations and regional bodies, including on the design and conduct of any consultation. (Paragraph 141)

25.We welcome the Government’s informal engagement with stakeholders in Northern Ireland to understand their specific concerns. We encourage it to continue this engagement. We note, however, that the Irish government’s comprehensive consultation exercise offered Northern Irish stakeholders an opportunity to articulate their views formally. (Paragraph 142)

26.We reiterate our view, set out in our Subsidiarity Assessment report of October 2018, that the issue of clock changes does not warrant action at EU level. Nevertheless, we have examined the European Commission’s proposal to discontinue seasonal changes of time closely, and our inquiry has demonstrated that any such decision at EU level would have implications for the UK, notwithstanding UK withdrawal from the EU. The nature and significance of such implications is not, however, well-understood—not least by the Government. (Paragraph 146)

27.We therefore urge the Government, in considering the options for a possible future impact assessment and consultation with stakeholders, to undertake the following preparatory work: (Paragraph 147)

(a)To review the research landscape, including any research carried out where non-alignment on clock changes exists, either within or between countries, and develop an evidence-based approach to the broader question of whether the UK should retain seasonal changes of time; and (Paragraph 147)

(b)To carry out further work to identify the possible implications of a change to our time arrangements for business, nationally and internationally, working with the devolved authorities to better map and understand distinct regional issues. (Paragraph 147)





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