Sir Greg Knight is MP for East Yorkshire.
Britain is shortly to undergo a ridiculous 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 155 days, until we reach March 31st 2019 – when we will all be 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. The idea is that longer summer days give the opportunity 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, including Jean-Claude Juncker, regard our current practice as deeply flawed, not least because the current autumn clock reversal means that, for most of those 155 winter days, people at work, college and school have little or no sunlit leisure time.
Juncker’s answer is to drop the autumn clock change, and stay on summertime all year round. Another option would be 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 concludes 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 did not go back. 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 nevertheless 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 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 (or not putting them back) would result in a two per cent decrease in average daily electricity consumption across the UK.
Age Concern supports change, believing that lighter evenings will encourage 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 similarly supportive. 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, or to just drop the autumn clock change, is a matter upon which the British Government has shown no interest whatsoever. However, Mr Juncker’s intervention has raised the profile of the issue with some voices now saying that because he favours change, we should oppose it.
This is silly. Supporting Brexit should not mean dissing every single thing that the EU Commission President says. After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day! On this issue, Juncker is on to something that is worthy of support. Winston Churchill once said that more daylight hours would: “enlarge the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country”. He was right.
As we face another winter of miserable dark afternoons, I am happy to stand with the E U Commission President in urging that our winter clock changes should be juncked.