In the run-up to the changing of the clocks last night, there's been more debate than usual about whether we should stop moving to GMT in winter but move forward by one hour throughout the year.
This is what my Private Member's Bill is about – putting a requirement on Government to carry out a proper cross-departmental study of the pros and cons of this proposal, and, if the balance of advantage is in favour for the whole of Britain, carry out a three year trial.
This, I know, is not a new proposal. The whole question of using our daylight hours most effectively has a long history in this country and elsewhere. The difference this time, I believe, is the growing number of diverse groups and organisations calling for change.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and all the road safety organisations conclude that it will save up to 80 lives from fatal road accidents and prevent many more serious injuries, by adding more daylight to the busier afternoon rush hour. Tourism organisations believe it will increase tourist revenues by as much as £4 billion and create up to 80,000 jobs in the industry, by extending the season and letting attractions stay open an hour longer every day. Environmentalists like Lighter Later and Green Peace say that less use of electric light during the evening peak time will not only reduce energy bills but also help us meet our carbon emission targets.
Over three hundred sporting organisations including the FA and the Lawn Tennis Association believe the extra hour of evening daylight will increase participation in sport and improve our health (and who knows, it might even improve our national team). SAGA and Age UK believe the change will add to the quality of life of older people, who are more confident to go out during daylight hours. Finally, police chiefs believe that more daylight hours in the evenings will reduce crime and fear of crime.
These arguments are not lost on other countries. The majority of mainland Europe is already on full daylight Saving Time. A strong campaign is growing in the Republic of Ireland to move to it, but it seems they are hesitant of changing unless the UK made the move at the same time.
Past efforts to bring in Daylight Saving Bills in Parliament have run into opposition, principally from Scottish politicians, who've argued that the later morning sunrise in Scotland imperils children going to school and causes problems for farmers and outdoor workers. It was these arguments which brought the 1968-71 experiment to a halt – before the benefits or disadvantages could be properly analysed. This historic stumbling block is one reason why the Policy Studies Institute released a new report on Friday into the implications of Daylight Saving time for Scotland. The report was overwhelmingly in favour of Scotland making the change.
I've had some lively debates with a number of MSPs on these issues over the last few weeks (here for example). I've tried to put to them that all the evidence – as opposed to the anecdotal recollection or impression – is that the change will proportionately benefit Scotland more than the rest of the UK. Scottish road safety concerns are not supported by evidence. In fact, it is likely to reduce injuries and fatal accidents more in Scotland than England and Wales. Farming practices have changed greatly in 40 years, meaning farmers are now broadly neutral, or stand to benefit, having diversified into tourism.
In any case, polling suggests that ordinary people in Scotland are far more in favour of the change than their representatives. The most recent poll of 3,000 people in Scotland by nPower found 53% of the Scottish public in favour and 35% against in spite of the persistent myth that this measure is only beneficial the second you cross the border into Cumbria or Northumbria. When you explain the evidence, support for the move rises.
And that is the new element I've deliberately put in the Bill. Only if a government study finds the change is likely to benefit the whole country, will a three year experiment of the change go ahead. Even opponents shouldn't object to that. My Bill has its Second Reading on Friday 3rd December and I will need 100 supportive Members of Parliament in the Chamber to ensure it passes to Committee Stage.