Both parties believe new timekeeping system would have major benefits despite traditional opposition from Scotland
Toby Helm, political editor, and Nicky Woolf
The Observer, Sunday 28 March 2010
Plans to change the clocks to give another hour of daylight throughout the year are being advanced by Labour and the Conservatives. Both parties believe it would result in reduced energy consumption, fewer accidents and generally improved health.
The growing likelihood of a political deal between the parties on the issue can be revealed today, after the country moved the clocks forward last night to British summertime, one hour ahead of Greenwich mean time (GMT).
The UK's clocks are currently set to GMT during the winter and GMT+1 in summer. But the Observer understands that both Labour and the Tories have been influenced by environmental, road safety and tourism campaigners, who have argued for a switch to GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in the summer.
Traditionally, opposition to such a move has come from Scottish MPs and lobby groups who fear that, because Scotland has shorter days in winter, the change would mean even darker mornings, creating greater danger for children going to school, as well as more road accidents.
Angus MacNeil of the SNP, MP for the Outer Hebrides, said: "While the plan would be beneficial for those in the south, in Scotland the majority of people would prefer the extra hour of daylight in the morning. Children in my constituency should not have to go to school in the dark."
Scott Walker, policy director for the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, said it did not believe "sufficient justification" had been made for the change. "If we moved to a system where we did not put the clocks back, being able to start field work in the morning would be delayed and livestock farmers looking to feed their cattle and sheep would also be inconvenienced by the extended period of morning darkness."
However, recent academic research has challenged the idea that deaths on Scottish roads will rise, and supporters say there is nothing to stop Scotland's schools changing their opening times.
Last night Ben Bradshaw, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said the change would be "good for business, good for tourism, good for the environment, improve safety and increase people's sense of well-being". The plan would benefit the 2012 Olympics by ensuring longer summer evenings.
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservatives' tourism spokesman, said the arguments for the change were "more powerful than ever, with environmental, road safety, leisure, energy conservation and public safety advantages outweighing the disadvantages". He added that the Tories would want to bring all parties on board, including the SNP.
Today, 10:10, a pressure group pushing for carbon reduction, launches its own "Lighter Later" campaign, saying that the UK would "be one step closer to a 10% reduction in its carbon emissions, as well as happier, healthier and better off". The move, it argues, would prevent half a million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. The campaign is being backed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). Its chief executive, Tom Mullarkey, said: "This simple change would mean needless fatalities and countless accidents and injuries would be avoided."
Between 1968 and 1971, the government ran an experiment in which the clocks were changed to GMT+1 all year round. While there was a reduction in the overall number of deaths on the roads in that period, it was not clear how much of this was the result of tighter drink-driving rules. The experiment was blamed for a small rise in road deaths in Scotland.
Eight successive attempts in parliament since 1994 to change clock times have failed. Dr Elizabeth Garnsey, reader in innovation studies at Cambridge University's department of engineering, who has conducted research into the benefits of a new system, said: "An hour more light to the evening could reduce daily demand for electricity all year."