'Clocks forward' drive clears first hurdle

Fri, Dec 3, 2010, 00:00

The campaign to move the clocks in Britain forward by an hour cleared its first House of Commons hurdle today - despite British government opposition.

The Daylight Saving Bill calls on ministers to conduct a full analysis of the likely benefits of moving in line with Central European Time and then carry out a three-year trial if appropriate.

Business minister Ed Davey said the change could not be made without consensus throughout the UK.

But the legislation, introduced by Tory Rebecca Harris, was given a second reading by 92 votes to 10, majority 82, and now goes to its detailed committee stage.

If the proposal became law it would have serious ramifications for Ireland. Newry will move into a different time zone to Dundalk overnight.

Speaking in the Dáil in June, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said there were “no plans to change the present summer time arrangements”.

Senator Feargal Quinn, who has sought the abolition of winter time for 15 years, said earlier this year: “The only thing that has stopped it happening has been the Scottish farming lobby."

Mr Quinn said school hours could change in winter to offset any such dangers and said that even if Britain failed to move, the island of Ireland should act. “We should be prepared to leave the nursery even if mammy doesn’t come with us,” he added.

Since the foundation of the State, our public representatives have spent a lot of time clock-watching, most notably in 1923, when Britain brought in daylight saving time and politicians here were conflicted on taking the same leap into the dark.

If the Republic moves too, the sun won’t go down on Galway Bay until close to 11.30pm at the height of summer, while on the winter solstice, it won’t rise until at least 9.40am.

In Britain, opponents of so-called “Berlin Time” have raised fears that a later sunrise makes the school run more dangerous and presents problems for farmers and outdoor workers, particularly in Scotland.

The British Bill would require the government to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of shifting the clocks forward by an hour for all or part of the year.

That analysis would also consider the best dates during the year for the clocks to go forward and back for summer time, and would then be assessed by an independent commission.

If the commission considered that the move would benefit the whole of the UK, a three-year trial would follow.

A similar trial was conducted between 1968 and 1971, but the UK reverted to the current practice of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter and British Summer Time (BST), which is GMT plus one hour, in the summer months.

Moving the clocks forward by an hour - to GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer, also known as Single Double Summer Time (SDST) - was used during the Second World War to help save electricity and provide more working hours in daylight.

It is the same arrangement used on much of the Continent.

Ms Harris said the Bill did “not enforce an immediate change” but simply asked the Government to “take an objective, informed decision based on the best available evidence”.

She said: “You cannot grow time, you cannot make more of it than you have and you cannot create additional daylight. But it is up to us to utilise both as best we can.

“We in this House determine what time regime the country uses to regulate everyone’s lives. All I am asking today is that we make sure we are setting our clocks to everyone’s best advantage.”

But Mr Davey said: “One thing we remain convinced about, and which must lead us to oppose this Bill, is we cannot make this change unless and until we have consensus on this matter throughout the UK.” That consensus did not exist, he told MPs.

Additional reporting by PA