Monday, 6 December 2010

The case for “Lighter Later”

Last week the Daylight Saving Bill passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill, if successful, would move our clocks forward by one hour throughout the year. Our clocks would still be put forward in spring and back in autumn, but an hour of daylight will be moved from the morning to the evening.

There is a compelling case for change. Campaigners at Lighter Later argue that the change would cut at least 447,000 tonnes of CO2 pollution - equivalent to more than 50,000 cars driving all the way around the world - each year.

Road safety organisations also appear to back the move. The AA and Brake claim that the changes would have a positive impact on road safety. Others highlight the benefit to business of working on “Berlin time”. Giving people an extra hour of daylight could also open up further opportunities for sports and leisure activities.

There is some (at least anecdotal) evidence that the early nights do create a barrier to socetal participation among older people. The reluctance (and fear) of some older people to go out in the dark means that in effect, those affected can find themselves at home from 4pm in the winter.

Earlier this year, The Telegraph highlighted research from Saga which stated that two thirds of those aged 50 plus were in favour of change. The dark nights seem to have an impact on depression with more than 40% of respondents saying that they were more depressed by dark evenings. A quarter of this group felt “grumpier”. (1)

But there is not unanimous support for the change. Many in Scotland have previously resisted change, arguing that darker mornings could cause risk to school children (although of course there could be solutions by changing the start and finish time for schools in Scotland).

Other professional organisations across the UK, such as the National Federation of Builders and Dairy UK, oppose the change, as do the Orthodox Jewish community who point out the clash between dawn prayer times and leaving for work.

The farming industry in Scotland has historically argued that changes could make livestock farming more difficult. But earlier this year, the NFU in Scotland dropped its opposition to the change saying that it would accept the change if a permanent time shift benefited the UK as whole (2)

Lighter Later point out that the Sunday Times recently quoted a senior Government source as saying that “there is a very strong majority in both Houses in favour of this bill. The Government has decided to give it a fair hearing”. This seems to be a move from the position in the summer when another government source said: ‘Scots will get a veto so this will never see the light of day.’ (4)

Some have argued that Scotland, Wales and England don’t have to have the same time zones (3). But it seems hard to believe that the UK would go down the route of having different time zones within it.

We are at early stages of the Bill and its passage is by no means certain. But proponents see a better opportunity for change than at any time over the past 20 or 30 years. The fact that the Bill is a Private Members Bill is helpful to the Government (who haven’t yet set out their position on the Bill) who could continue to allow free votes on the topic.

There is a case for change in England. And such a change could benefit older people.

David Sinclair

(Also published at