HC Deb 28 November 1968 vol 774 cc726-30

Sir Edward Boyle (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, in view of yesterday's tragic accident at Houghtonle-Spring, he will make a statement on the decision by the Durham local authority not to accede to a request that school should start later during the dark mornings.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)

I understand that the Durham local education authority, in agreement with its Teachers' Consultative Committee decided recently to reaffirm an earlier decision not to make any change in school hours during the trial period of British Standard Time.

In Circular 23/68 I asked all authorities who had not already done so to consider whether such changes would be desirable during the winter months, but this is a matter for local decision taking account of local circumstances.

May I, Mr. Speaker, say how sorry I am about this little boy? I should like to express to his parents the sympathy of myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) and of the whole House.

Sir E. Boyle

I am sure that the whole House will wish to be associated with the last words of the right hon. Gentleman about this accident, and that it realises the difficulties in which many local authorities are genuinely placed in this matter, but in view of the widespread public concern, especially, I believe, in the North of England, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the Government will fully evaluate the results of this experiment with British Summer Time all the year round in all its aspects before reaching an absolutely final decision for the future?

Mr. Short

I can certainly give that assurance. As for the accident, it occurred between seven and twelve minutes after the end of lighting-up time. The local authority is obtaining a report from the police, but until they have gone into the accident and analysed it, it is impossible to say whether the degree of darkness was a factor in the accident.

Mr. Leadbitter

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House is always grieved when accidents to young children occur in this way? I should like to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin). Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance—because there may be many other factors attributable to this accident—that all aspects of road safety will be discussed with local authorities and the appropriate accident prevention councils?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is using all the legal means available to him to make known to parents the many ways in which they can ensure the safety of their children going to and returning from school.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Since we are still at the beginning of the dark months, during which this experiment will have its effect on school children and others, will the right hon. Gentleman bring all the influence he can to bear upon his colleagues in the Government to introduce legislation to curtail this disastrous experiment immediately?

Mr. Short

This experiment was a decision of Parliament.

Mr. Dempsey

In view of the fact that children going to school in the mornings in the North now have to wear white armbands to identify themselves to potential scroundrels, will not my right hon. Friend represent to the Home Secretary that the introduction of British Standard Time should be reviewed at the end of one year, rather than our having to wait for three years?

Mr. Short

All these factors were gone into. I would point out that this experiment does not reduce the hours of daylight during the day.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the only cogent reason advanced for British Standard Time by the Government was that it was likely to reduce accidents on the roads in the mornings? Since this is proving to be untrue, will he beg his colleagues to reconsider this matter as soon as possible?

Mr. Short

The hon. Member is drawing a conclusion from this very tragic accident which at this stage he has no right whatever to draw.

Mr. Marks

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some cases the danger is being added to by the fact that some local authorities switch off a proportion of their street lighting at midnight and do not switch it on again in the morning? Is he also aware that some motorists leaving home in the half light in the morning do not bother to switch on their lights? Will he and his colleagues urge motoring organisations and local authorities to do something about this?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friends are doing just this. I hope that both local authorities and motorists will listen to my hon. Friend's words and do what they can to ensure that children going to and returning from school do not suffer this kind of accident.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of this tragic accident, can the right hon. Gentleman find out from the Board of Trade or some other source whether there is a shortage of fluorescent material of which, under the circumstances, local authorities and education committees could take advantage? It seems to be the opinion that there is a shortage of this material. If we could do something about it, that, at least, would help parents and education authorities in their efforts to do something to deal with this unfortunate repercussion of the introduction of British Standard Time.

Mr. Short

I have not heard of a shortage of this material. I know that many local authorties and individual schools are providing it for their children.

Mr. Murray

In view of the wide range of opinion and the various views on this matter, is it not possible for my right hon. Friend to call a conference of local education authorities to arrive at a common policy, and also to have a conference of teachers' organisations?

Mr. Short

A common policy on this matter is one thing that we cannot possibly get. I set out in the circular my views on this point, but I realise that it is a matter for decision in view of local circumstances, and one which we must leave to local authorities.

Sir R. Cary

Is it not now beginning to emerge that the House made a mistake in turning to British Standard Time, and that there is a case for a reconsideration of its earlier decision?

Mr. Short

I do not think that there is any evidence that the House has made a mistake.

Mr. English

Will my right hon. Friend represent to the Home Secretary that the only argument orginally adduced for this experiment was trade? Will he represent to his right hon. Friend that that is a quite fallacious argument, since the two biggest trading blocs—the United States and the U.S.S.R.—have several time zones apiece?

Mr. Short

All these factors were taken into account both by the Government, in bringing this before the House, and by the House itself.