Tonight the nation will once again conduct the annual ritual of moving our clocks forward, providing an instant feel good factor as we bask in lighter evenings and are finally liberated from the shackles of the long dark winter nights. And sure as day follows night, the well rehearsed debate about the wisdom of introducing daylight saving will accompany the clock change. However, this year there is a difference.
As Shadow Tourism Minister I conducted my own detailed study into the merits of changing the clocks and I have now written to all the main political parties inviting them to a roundtable discussion to see if we can reach a cross-party consensus on the idea.
The arguments for moving our clocks forward are now more powerful than ever. Independent studies have shown that shifting the clocks would see a 1.2m ton reduction in the nation’s CO2 emissions, a 2.2% reduction in electricity consumption (with a consequent fall in energy bills) and a net fall of over 300 deaths and injuries on our roads. Add to this NHS (A&E) savings of over £200m, a potential doubling of after school outdoor activities and a boost to tourism to the tune of £3bn and the case for daylight saving does seem quite compelling.
These advantages are of course less apparent in the north of Scotland and this is why a cross party group would look carefully at the impact Single/Double Summer Time (SDST) will have in all corners of Britain before any decision is made.
The idea is of course not new. A large number of politicians over the years have promoted the idea, including a young Winston Churchill. In 1784 Benjamin Franklin, whilst Ambassador to France, recognised the wasted daylight hours Parisians were sleeping through and satirically suggested rationing candles and waking the public up with church bells and cannons at sunrise. During the First World War the clocks across Europe were moved forward to help conserve coal. And in 1969 Britain trialled the idea for three years, but it was opposed by farming groups who threatened to deny Tory MPs those important rural election poster sites, and the trial was stopped.
Life has moved on since then and this is why the subject is worth re-visiting. Farming is now a 24-hour industry and the unions are no longer against the idea; as a nation we are far more environmentally conscious. Obesity is on the increase and could be checked by greater opportunities for outdoor after-school and work activities; and Europe now accounts for 50% of our international trade, yet 4 hours a day are lost as our working days are not in sync.
Sunlight is one of the few things in life which is still free – debating how best to align our lives and maximize its potential makes perfect sense. Let’s hope politicians of all parties see the light!