HL Deb 21 July 2004 vol 664 cc218-20

3.2 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can identify road safety benefits which would follow the introduction of Single/Double British Summer Time.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, a government-commissioned report by the Transport Research Laboratory published in October 1998 concluded that if the UK adopted Single/Double British Summer Time—that is, GMT plus one hour in the winter and GMT plus two hours in the summer—thereby making the evenings lighter, there could be a saving of 400 fewer people being killed or seriously injured per year in Great Britain.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that extraordinarily helpful and informative reply, which prompts me to ask the question, why on earth do the Government not get on and do it? They should bear in mind that it is a change which would be widely supported not only by road safety and motoring organisations but also by the tourist industry, including the National Trust, VisitBritain, Age Concern and many other organisations?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am grateful that my noble friend appreciated the initial response. Perhaps I may just indicate that there are wider issues than just road safety, although road safety is obviously very important. Of course, it is the wider issues that need to be taken into account. Currently, there is a Bill before the other place: the Government are monitoring its progress carefully.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, when we talk about the wider issues to which the Minister has just referred, they are primarily agricultural concerns and about daylight in the north, particularly in Scotland. Since the report on transport and road safety, agricultural practice has changed markedly. Cows are not milked on family farms to anything like the same extent that they were. Can some work be done to show the trade-off in the disbenefits to farming and the saving of child casualties, which would definitely follow from a change to British Summer Time?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's strength of argument. Agriculture has always been a very important consideration with regard to the extension of summer time. But not just agriculture has to be considered: there are other industries and interests that are worried about darker mornings or mornings that remain darker for longer.

The noble Lord will recognise that that is certainly true with regard to certain parts of northern England and, of course, Scotland.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, the Minister is correct. There are considerations other than road safety. Does the Minister recognise that UK industry and commerce suffer, at best, great inconvenience and, at worst, loss of trade at the start and the end of each working day by not being in the same time zone as our European customers and competitors?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, there is no doubt that there would be an added convenience if we were in the same time zone as other major European countries. But nevertheless I think that the noble Lord will recognise that there is a balance of interests to be struck. Perhaps I may make the obvious point: when British Summer Time was introduced on an extended period between 1968 and 1971, it led eventually to the other place voting against its continuation because of these other interests.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, the noble Lord has said that there is a Bill going before the other place. I think that the Second Reading of the Lighter Evenings Bill is in October. Will the noble Lord give an undertaking that proper parliamentary time will be given to that Bill if it ever comes to this House? There have been Bills before on which nothing has ever happened; yet we have given a great deal of parliamentary time to the welfare of foxes, children and adults. The implication of the Bill is that, if passed, we shall have not only lighter evenings but also the deaths of a great many adults, children and, indeed, foxes would be saved straightaway.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, at this stage, I am not in a position to indicate the amount of time that could be allocated in this place to such a Bill. However, obviously, to coin a phrase, the Lighter Evenings Bill is being introduced rather late in the day in the other place. There is a problem of it clearing the other place before arriving here. As noble Lords will recognise, we have fairly limited time at our disposal in this parliamentary Session.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that there would be a huge opportunity for the tourism, leisure and hospitality industries in Great Britain, including Scotland?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is a strong argument. There is no doubt that the tourism industry would see benefits from the extension of summer time. But my noble friend will also recognise that the Bill in the other place proposes that Scotland should take its own decision on this issue. Therefore, that would leave the decision for England and Wales quite separate from Scottish considerations.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, does the noble Lord appreciate that there would be a huge disadvantage to Scotland if it had a different time from that south of the Border? Does he ever use his imagination to think about what it would be like in Scotland if in the winter the sun rose at 10 o'clock and set at 5 o'clock? How would that affect accidents and the working world?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, having enjoyed a superb holiday at Whitsun in Glencoe, I do not need to use an excess of imagination to recognise the point being made by the noble Baroness. Her words represent one of the factors which makes progress in this area something that must be approached with due care.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, how would the costs of implementing a further trial compare with the savings suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and what is the cost in economic and social terms of the 400 killed and seriously injured?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I do not have figures on the costs of those killed and seriously injured, but obviously they would be enormous. However, I think we measure such costs more in terms of human suffering than in terms of financial consideration. Not all these matters can be effected on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. We conduct our politics in this country on the proper representation of interests rather than simply on calculations of cost and benefit.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, my noble friend just mentioned human suffering. Does he agree that some of us will find it very hard to accept that the saving of 400 lives can be set against these other interests that are somewhat difficult to define? Can he think of any other situation in which 400 lives saved would not be the first thing the Government would tackle?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, my response to my noble friend repeats that which I indicated earlier. He will recognise that over the length and breadth of the United Kingdom many interests must be respected. In 1971 we did carry out an experiment. I should point out that the other place was the same in composition in 1971 as it is today; namely, English MPs were in a substantial majority, while the addition of Welsh MPs only increased that majority. But they reached the decision that, despite all other considerations, the experiment should be concluded and we should not continue with extended summer time. However, times change and we shall wait to see the response to the Bill now before the other place.

Lord Rosser

My Lords, as this Question also relates to road safety, does my noble friend believe there would be any road safety benefits as a result of raising the speed limit on motorways to 80 miles per hour?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I think that that is probably a long way from the Question before the House.