Sir Greg Knight is MP for East Yorkshire.
Britain is shortly to undergo a flawed ritual. This coming Sunday, our country will change the clocks by putting them back one hour, thereby plunging us all into darkness from mid afternoon. And, alas, it will be depressingly the same for the following 154 days, until we reach March 29, 2015 – when we are all told to put our clocks forward again.
The practice was first proposed in 1895 by one George Hudson, but it was not until the First World War that changing the clocks became commonplace in Europe. Many countries have taken up the practice since then, and one can see why. Longer summer days offer room to shift daylight from the morning to the evening, so that the early morning light is not wasted.
In 1916, Germany and its allies were the first to change their clocks to conserve coal during wartime and Britain soon followed suit, with the United States adopting the policy in 1918. Since then, the world has seen many enactments, adjustments, and repeals.
But now a growing number of people (me included) regard our current practice as deeply flawed, because we have not gone far enough. Our current self-chosen time settings mean that for most of those 154 winter days, people at work, college or school have little or no sunlit leisure time.
The answer is to put our clocks forward an extra hour all year round and move to a system of Single/Double Summer Time (SDST). Such a move would bring our waking hours more into line with the hours of daylight, rather than as now, where daylight is wasted in the early morning, when most of us are still asleep.
Putting our clocks forward by an extra hour would not only result in the gain of extra daylight in summer; we would also reduce our national energy consumption, and it would boost tourism.
A study by Cambridge University has confirmed that energy consumption would be lower, particularly in winter. Also, in answer to Parliamentary questioning from me, a Transport Minister has confirmed that the adoption of SDST would save up to 100 lives a year and cut serious accidents by more than 200.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents agrees with this analysis and believes that many serious accidents would be avoided if our clocks were put forward by another hour. The reason for this is that in the mornings most road journeys are predictable –people are driving to work or taking their children to school.
By contrast, journeys undertaken at the end of the day are less predictable and potentially more dangerous. On the way back from school, parents may go shopping, or on the way home from work, some may decide to visit friends or to stop off for a meal.
So, if for a few months a year, the first journey of the day was without sunlight, it would still be safer than the present situation where for more than three months of the year, afternoon and early evening journeys are unnecessarily carried out in darkness.
The potential to save energy comes primarily from its effects on residential use. Delaying the ostensible time of sunset and sunrise reduces the use of electricity in the evening and increases it in the morning. So heating and lighting costs are reduced if the evening reduction outweighs the morning increase, and all studies say that it would do so. A 2007 study estimated that putting clocks forward would result in a two per cent decrease in average daily electricity consumption across the UK.
Age Concern supports the adoption of SDST, too, believing that lighter evenings will encourage many older people to spend more time outside. The British Tourist Authority – another supporter of change – says that by adjusting our clocks forward an hour, we would increase turnover in tourism by more than £1bn and would extend our tourist season too, helping to create extra jobs.
Sports bodies such as the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, and the Lawn Tennis Association are all supportive of change. They say the move would allow more time for sport, making people healthier. It seems the only area where there may be an adverse effect would be on television viewing figures, as more people would spend the lighter early evenings out of doors.
The decision whether or not to move our current time zone forward is a matter for the Government, which has shown no interest whatever to embrace change. However, I believe that in the next Parliament, the new government will come under growing pressure from all sides to at least agree to a trial of double/single British Summertime.
On this issue, as on many others, Sir Winston Churchill got it right. Churchill predicted more daylight hours would: “enlarge the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country”. As we face another winter of miserable dark afternoons, I believe a growing number of people are in agreement with him.