|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
"National Grid has also recognised that if the UK is on the same time as France, a loss of capacity or severe weather"
Ben Gummer: The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has just raised an important point about capacity, but that is entirely to do with generating capacity-an inheritance from the previous Government, I am afraid-and nothing to do with daylight saving time.
A time change would bring huge benefits for business and overseas trade. As part of my work as the shadow Tourism Minister I spent some time in Scotland and it was interesting to meet Scottish business people, who were very keen to have an alignment of timing. Currently, 62% of our exports and 50% of imports are within Europe. When we go to work, the Europeans have already been at work for an hour, we break for lunch at different times so two hours are lost there and then we lose another hour in the evening. Four hours a day are lost because of the failure to align our times.
Mr Foster: I apologise because there are those who will get hung up on the European issue, but would not a time change also benefit our trade with other countries, not least the emerging countries, China and India?
But let us get back to Peter Hitchens. He is one of the few voices that are against the daylight saving, but I believe that he now acts as a drag anchor against that great British newspaper the Sunday mail- [Interruption.] -I am sorry; The Mail on Sunday. He is anti-change; he is anti-technology, so he abhors the idea of moving the clocks. That is slightly odd. Because he does not like inventions and technology, one would have thought that using the light bulb less might appeal to him, but he does not put that argument forward. He would rather put forward a wartime rhetoric with references to Berlin time to foster prejudice against the Bill.
"Why Berlin time?" it has been asked. "Why not Gibraltar time, Madrid time, Paris time or Rome time?" Clearly, those descriptions would not conjure up the same worrying image as the UK crumbling to the mighty powers of Berlin after the sacrifices that we made in two world wars. I say to him, "Peter, you are potty. Clearly, you are a very, very angry man and stuck in the past. You are a cross between Alf Garnett and Victor Meldrew but without the jokes." He is a restless regressive: the King Canute of politics, fighting the tide of change. He will never lose sight of the past because he has chosen to walk backwards into the future. This is nothing to do with Berlin or wartime images. The only connection with the war is the fact that we first adopted a time change during the war because it was useful. [Hon. Members: "Churchill time!"] Yes, that is what we will call it-not Berlin time but Churchill time!
To summarise, moving the clocks forward would provide the entire country with about 200 hours of extra daylight in the evenings-after a normal working day for adults and after the end of school for children. That would change our lives. It is hard to imagine a more simple, cost-effective piece of legislation that would more dramatically change our way of life for the better. Sunshine brightens our day, our lives and our spirits; it makes our world happier. We should utilise this valuable resource to coincide with the period of the day in which our modern world is at its busiest and most dangerous. Carpe diem, Mr Deputy Speaker; let us seize the day.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green):
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) on proposing the Bill and refusing to be discouraged by the failure of previous attempts in the House to introduce daylight saving time. I am extremely glad that she has proposed the Bill, because the urgency of the
problems of climate change and fuel poverty means that the arguments for bringing the nation's clocks into closer alignment with the hours of daylight are stronger than ever. Moving our clocks forward by an extra hour throughout the year would bring a range of benefits, as we have heard, but I would like to draw particular attention, again, to the substantial reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions that would result from the simple and effective measures in the Bill.
Daylight saving time would cut consumption, particularly of domestic fuel, in a number of ways. First, it would lower the demand for electricity for lighting, Secondly, it would smooth out fluctuations in demand, particularly in the two daily peaks in the morning and in the afternoon, which reduce the efficiency of power generation. Thirdly, because there would be higher temperatures during the evening period of peak demand in the colder months of the year, there would be a lower demand for domestic heating.
Mr MacNeil: The hon. Lady is, as we would expect, making an argument based on the effect of a time change on carbon emissions. If evidence was to appear-empirical evidence rather than projections-from Indiana, for example, that it would cost more, would she change her mind?
Caroline Lucas: If it were to be proved that such a change would make carbon emissions worse, I would reconsider my position, but I think that is highly unlikely to happen. The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about empirical evidence, but the only way for us to get relevant empirical evidence is to pass this Bill now and have the cost-benefit trials that we are talking about.
Mr Reid: Surely, if we passed the Bill, we would be more active at the coldest hour of the day-the hour before dawn-and would therefore use more fuel for heating at that time. The Building Research Establishment investigated this and found that there would be an increase in domestic heating if the Bill were passed.
On reducing demand for artificial lighting, about 13% of domestic electricity consumption and about 30% of electricity consumed by commercial and public buildings currently goes on lighting. An extra hour of evening daylight would reduce the need for domestic lighting as people arrived home from school or work. Recent research by the Policy Studies Institute shows that the effect of the proposed clock change would be to lower demand for domestic lighting by as much as 9%. In other words, the Bill would lead to household savings of nearly £180 million per year on electricity bills alone. A common argument-I expect this will be made, so I will pre-empt it-against daylight saving time is that any drop in demand for evening lighting will be cancelled by the need for extra lighting on darker mornings. That may be true during the winter months, when the days are shorter, but the Bill proposes an adjustment of clock time throughout the year, which means less need for artificial lighting in the evenings all year round.
Regarding commercial demand for evening lighting, it is more difficult to quantify the potential savings for offices, workplaces and public buildings, as patterns of lighting often vary widely from sector to sector, but again, the studies indicate that overall demand from commercial customers is also likely to be lower. That aspect must be subject to detailed research during the initial trial period proposed in the Bill, as it offers the greatest potential for a nationwide reduction in domestic carbon emissions.
My second point is closely related to the first. Daylight saving will cut carbon emissions from power generation because it will even out the daily peaks in demand for electricity. For power companies, the late afternoon peak period determines the maximum number of power stations that are required to be on stream to match consumer demand. Currently, the extra capacity required for that short period of peak demand comes from inefficient and carbon-intensive sources such as oil-fired stations and pump storage facilities or, as has been said, by imports from France, which can be an expensive alternative.
The introduction of daylight saving would reduce peak demand for electricity on winter evenings. During that famous 1968-71 experiment with retaining British summer time throughout the year, the evening peak was reduced by 3%. Research carried out by the university of Cambridge calculates that lighter evenings now would reduce peak demand by up to 4.3%. The electricity industry also acknowledges that a reduction in evening peak demand would reduce carbon emissions by avoiding the need to keep inefficient and polluting spare generating capacity on stream.
The university of Cambridge study calculated that a move to daylight saving would mean a drop in CO2 emissions from power stations, across the UK as a whole, of about 450,000 tonnes a year. That is the equivalent of taking off the roads about 200,000 cars. There would also be a significant reduction in power companies' generating costs, both for resources and for the transmission and distribution infrastructure.
In addition to reducing demand for lighting, daylight saving also offers potential for reducing fuel costs and carbon emissions from heating. Domestic demand for heating is highest from November to February. The PSI study found that whereas there is little variation in average temperatures between 6 am and 8 am, when most people leave the house, temperatures tend to fall much more quickly in the late afternoon, around sunset, when people are arriving home from work or school.
Since the introduction of daylight saving will mean that it gets colder later, it is possible that households will be able to save money on their heating bills, while shrinking their carbon footprint. A small increase in fuel use for heating in offices and commercial and public buildings may be likely because of the earlier start to the day, but the resulting carbon emissions will be offset by reductions in domestic fuel use, so overall there is a clear reduction in carbon emissions.
Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that the fact that the temperature does not change much between 6 am and 8 am is because that is the coldest time of the day, and that is exactly the time when the
cost of heating to compensate for the cold is at its highest, and that the energy consumption required at that time would be much higher under the changed rules than it is at present?
Caroline Lucas: No, I do not accept that, and I do not think that it is what the evidence suggests. One of the points that the right hon. Gentleman is making has more to do with the way in which we generate energy now and our spare capacity, rather than being a fundamental point to do with changing to daylight saving hours.
In all of the three areas that I have discussed-reducing demand for lighting, efficient management of peaks in demand, and reduced demand for heating-the greatest potential savings lie in household energy use. For this reason, I believe the Bill offers an easy and inexpensive means of combating fuel poverty. Many of us have constituents, often elderly ones, who struggle to pay their electricity bills and their heating bills. In Brighton and Hove, for example, more than 20,000 households, many of whom are my constituents, have been identified as fuel-poor-in other words, forced to spend over 10% of their income on energy bills.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the Bill will allow any of us to relax our efforts to eradicate fuel poverty, or to ignore our duty to take meaningful action on cutting carbon emissions. But the beauty of the Bill is that the action that it requires is simple, while the benefits that it will bring are profound.
Mr MacNeil: I hear the hon. Lady making an argument about what could/will/should/may happen. Can she point to an empirical example? I pointed to Indiana, where there was an increase in energy consumption of 1 to 4% and presumably, therefore, an increase in carbon, methane and so on. Where is the empirical study that she is talking about?
Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman seems to be obsessed with Indiana. There may well be other reasons why the results in Indiana were shown to be what they were. As many people have said, we need to look at what the results would be in the United Kingdom. There is one way to find that out, which is to allow the Bill to progress to the next stage so we can establish that.
Dr Whiteford: I share the hon. Lady's concerns about carbon emissions. It is important that we take that into account. I also share the concerns about fuel poverty. However, my fundamental concern is that pre-dawn temperatures are so much lower than temperatures towards the daylight hours that people will spend much more on fossil fuel heating for their homes, rather than going out at a slightly less cold time of day. They will have to use heating and lighting in far greater quantities in the middle of the night.
Caroline Lucas: We can trade statistics across the Floor of the House for a great many hours and not become very much the wiser. The points that the hon. Lady makes are serious ones, but the way to explore the matter further is precisely to allow the passage of the Bill and to have the cost-benefit analysis that it proposes.
Why reinvent the wheel? Why not look to other parts of the world where the change has taken place and avoid three years of misery and the inevitable change that the UK and Portugal have experienced before? I say to the good people of England and Scotland, let us make sure that we learn from elsewhere before we go through such misery, because, I must regretfully tell the hon. Lady, the evidence from elsewhere does not support the supposition and conjecture at all.
I return to the point that any impact analysis of the Bill's proposed changes has to take place in the country and nations under discussion, not in another place with completely different variables that we cannot analyse or factor into our equations.
Charlie Elphicke: I congratulate the hon. Lady on her passion in setting about the Luddites who are against any change. Is not her argument bolstered empirically by the graph showing energy consumption on the last BST Monday and the first GMT Monday?
Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Yes, indeed, there is plenty of empirical evidence to support our argument. As I say, however, the most important thing is to move the Bill forward so that, with the same figures on everybody's laps, we can have that debate and make the same analysis.
In closing, I reiterate what others have said about how the Bill will also benefit tourism in the UK. My constituency owes a great deal of its prosperity to tourism, with about £690 million entering the Brighton and Hove economy last year. In the wider south-east region, the sector employs more than 300,000 people, about 8% of the work force. The Bill enjoys broad and enthusiastic support from all sections of the tourism industry, and it is estimated that moving to daylight saving will boost tourism throughout the UK by about £3.5 billion and create 80,000 jobs.
That is just one more argument to add to the many that we have heard today about why, at the very least, the Bill should progress to the next stage of its passage through Parliament. The issue should be analysed properly. I think the cost-benefit analysis will demonstrate that the trial should go ahead, and as a result all of us will have a much better quality of life.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) on the Bill, which I am happy to support, and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on her helpful remarks. I agree that the Bill is about scrutiny and debate as much as anything
else, and I find it extraordinary that anybody would want to deny us the opportunity to have the issue sorted once and for all.
I have a long memory, and as colleagues have said we seem to go round and round on the issue. Every so often, it crops up again, we have a debate, it goes away because it is never properly decided on, and then it comes back again. I recall Sir John Butterfill in 1996 introducing just such a Bill.
Angie Bray: The hon. Gentleman knows, however, that the problem with a private Member's Bill is that it has to get over certain hurdles on a Friday, and that depends on how helpful people want to be. Such issues do not receive the proper scrutiny that they deserve unless we bring everybody's concerns to the table and consider them in the round.
Sir John Butterfill, as Members said earlier, also attempted to introduce a private Member's Bill back in 1996, and that is when I first became involved with the issue, working with him on his legislation. His measure was called "daylight extra"; the one before us is called "daylight saving".
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I think that the measure should be called "Churchill time", as my hon. Friend so cleverly suggested today. She represents an urban constituency and I represent a rural constituency, and historically farmers have been against such a shift, but I have talked to the NFU, and it is at worst neutral on the issue, so does my hon. Friend agree that the world has changed significantly since it was last debated? Farming in Devizes has diversified; we have a huge tourism industry, and I have had nothing but very strong support for the measure, call it what we will.
Angie Bray: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I was pleased to have a small role in suggesting the good title of "Churchill's time", which would be helpful to us patriots who get rather annoyed when people suggest that we are being pushed into this move by an EU directive or that we are going back to Berlin time.
Angie Bray: It was Churchill who recognised that by going on to summer time, we would get more out of our factories and generally be more productive. That is why it was so useful during the war effort.
I introduced this matter as a member of the London assembly, because for Londoners, it is a no-brainer, although I appreciate that other regions have concerns and that not every region will think the same way. I was delighted to have full support from all parties on the London assembly. That was the one occasion when I
found myself in complete agreement with the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. It was a very happy, if unusual, occasion.
I was contacted before this debate by many of my constituents, urging me to speak in favour of the measure. We must remember that we are talking about a period of scrutiny and a trial, and are not prescribing what will come out at the end. This is an opportunity for everybody to put the facts on the table so that we can sort the matter out once and for all.
Even in the mid-1990s, when I was doing the legwork for Sir John Butterfill's Bill, I was aware that some of the old Scottish objections had less resonance. We have moved even further beyond that now.
Malcolm Bruce: I, too, was very much involved in that Bill. I took part in "On the Record", which had a live studio audience and a phone-in. At the beginning, the vote was two to one in favour of the idea, and at the end it was two to one against. Nearly all the representations against the idea came from the south and south-west of England, not from Scotland.
Angie Bray: General polling suggests that the public feel rather differently from that particularly small sample. At the time, Sir John Butterfill was ably supported by two Scottish Labour MPs, George Foulkes-now Lord Foulkes-and Brian Wilson, who made it clear that the measure would be good for a large part of Scotland. As we have heard today, the move can only be a good thing for the vast majority of the population in Scotland, as well as in England and Wales.
At the time, we were deluged by letters from Scottish farmers saying that the arguments were a bit patronising because they did have electricity in their barns. Some Scottish builders also wrote to us to say that they would prefer to drive to their job of work in the dark if they could have an extra hour of light towards the end of the day, because they would be able to do a longer day's work.
Dr Whiteford: One reason why farmers in parts of Scotland are less opposed to the measure than they were 40 years ago is that they now have heating and lighting in their steadings. That rather undermines the carbon saving argument. The farmers to whom I have spoken are less than enthusiastic; at best they are neutral. Clearly, they are not diametrically opposed, as they once were, but that is because they are now able to heat and light the buildings that they use in the early morning.
I went to a Scottish university, St Andrews, and one of my flatmates never saw any daylight. Admittedly, he chose his own hours, but he used to go to bed in the early hours of the morning and rise at about 2.30 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. By the time he had scrubbed his teeth and stepped outside, it was pitch dark again. A little light might have done him some good-he never looked a very healthy colour.
The number of organisations that support the Bill speaks for itself: ROSPA, the police, sports bodies-including my local group, the Old Actonians, which
contacted me-the hospitality industry, the tourist industry, the CBI, environmentalists and many more groups say that we should have a serious think about how we set our clocks.
Call me a bit lazy, but I have to admit that were I to be involved in the scrutiny, I would not plump for Churchill's time exactly, because I think that would have been two hours forward in the summer. I am more of a compromise girl, and my view is that if we have a chance we should go on to permanent British summer time, not least because I get sick to death of changing my clocks twice a year. Having a settled time would be very handy, and it would be a compromise that would give us a bit of extra light in the afternoon when it would be used most effectively.
I am not sure that I want to move as far as keeping it light until midnight. When I was at St Andrews university it was light until about 11 o'clock at night at certain times, and that seemed a little bit too long for me. I am a British summer time girl and I am for sticking with it right through the year, but that is another argument that will be tested if we have scrutiny and a trial. That is the only way that we can move out of the revolving door of private Members' Bills. Let us have proper scrutiny, so that the matter can be decided once and for all for the benefit of our constituents and the country as a whole.
Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) on securing the opportunity to debate this issue. Things such as environmental, social and economic benefits, fuel poverty and so on have been discussed in detail, but it is disappointing for me as a Member from Northern Ireland that so little thought has been given to the impact on that part of the country. We are not just further north but further west than the constituencies of almost anyone else participating in the debate, and that would have an impact if the changes were to take place.
The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) said that it was important to allow debate, and that that was the Bill's purpose. I agree, which is why I will support the Bill, but I get slightly nervous when I hear the rather zealous opinions expressed against those of us who have concerns that we want considered. We are simply dismissed as though we were trying to hold back progress in some way.
Angie Bray: I would be very disappointed if the hon. Lady were to get the impression that I do not recognise the concerns. I think what I said was that all regions will have very different views, but that there will be an opportunity for those views to be put on the table and discussed and scrutinised properly. Of course all regions will have different views for different reasons, and I hope she accepts that I realise that.
Naomi Long: I do indeed, and the fervour that I referred to was not hers. However, some of the questions that have been raised have not been answered. For example, we must consider the coincidence of the last trial with the introduction of drink-driving regulations, speed limits and so on. That has not been effectively addressed by any of the proponents of the change.
Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): Does the hon. Lady not agree that the argument about breathalysers and seat belts in relation to the last trial back in 1968 to 1971 is slightly flawed? Seat belts were not compulsory until 1983, and in my experience very few people used them before that time. In the same way, people did not take a great deal of notice of the breathalyser in the early days of the drink-drive laws.
Naomi Long: I do not entirely agree. Although it was not compulsory to wear a seat belt, they were fitted in cars in that period, and I think people did take note of the breathalyser, because prosecutions were made.
Those points are not the crux of my argument, because I do not wish to speak against the Bill. I am speaking in favour of it, but I am simply raising issues that I wish to be given due consideration as part of the trial.
It is important that those of us who come from the north and west of the UK have the opportunity to put our concerns on record. Rather than rehearse arguments that have been made, which have been incredibly English-centric with the exception of a few hon. Members sitting in front of me, I wish to talk about a specific issue in Northern Ireland.
Albert Owen: As a Welsh MP, I am certainly not English-centric. I made the point that we need empirical evidence from all parts of the UK so that we can formulate a proper argument. Indeed, the only data available on energy savings are UK-wide data from National Grid, but we need to consider whether there are different periods of peak demand within the UK. The hon. Lady is right that the Bill will get those data out into the open.
Naomi Long: Had the hon. Gentleman waited a few minutes, he would have heard me say that he was one of the few who said that studies are required specifically on the Northern Ireland context. To date, I have encountered very few specific references to the Northern Ireland situation in the correspondence and lobbying that I have received, but the Scotland situation has been addressed. The assumption is that the opposition to the change would come purely from Scotland, and little thought has been given to the impact on Northern Ireland.
I have received much correspondence in favour of the changes, but it has been generic and mainly on the GB situation-people in the south are very much in favour, but less so in the north. Scotland was at least addressed in that correspondence, but not Northern Ireland. Few have considered the impact on the more westerly and northerly areas of the UK, but we must take care to do so.
More importantly, there has been surprisingly little debate on this issue in Northern Ireland-it does not come to the minds of many people. In advance of today's debate, I took it upon myself to write to a small sample of representative groups to ask for their opinion, including the Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary
Action, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, the CBI and the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland, Translink NI, which is our largest public transport provider, the Age Sector Platform and the Ulster Farmers Union, from which I received a number of responses. None raised huge objections to the proposal, but all indicated that they had given the matter virtually no consideration. I do not believe that daylight saving is on the radar of Northern Ireland political debate.
Malcolm Bruce: The hon. Lady is making a very important point about northern and western areas. Have the people of Penzance considered what it will be like to have sunrise in mid-December at 9.14 am, half an hour later than it currently is in Belfast?
Naomi Long: Sunrise times are critical. Belfast will be less affected than the north coast of Northern Ireland, where the changes would be much more significant. In some places on the north coast, sunrise would be 9.50 am in mid-winter, which would significantly change people's quality of life.
Mr David Hamilton: I have come here today with an open mind, with no view on whether we should accept the proposal or not. I endorse what the hon. Lady said about daylight saving being a non-issue, certainly in my area. I have received one letter from a constituent who asked for things to remain the same.
Naomi Long: I confess that I have not given a lot of thought to that, because I wanted specifically to look at the differential impact. I am prepared to accept that there is a body of evidence on the UK generally, but I wanted to consider the impact specifically on Northern Ireland. The different patterns of transportation and commuting in different parts of the UK also need to be considered, and I will come back to that.
I am happy to support the proposal for a study on the basis that the Bill does not state that that would lead automatically to a trial. There has to be a cost-benefit analysis first, and on that basis, I would be happy to support the proposal. I would wish to be convinced, however, because the Bill has many positive elements-they have been stated today. However, I need convincing that people in my constituency, and Northern Ireland as a whole, would experience those positive elements.
The effect of the time change on my constituency would be marginal. In winter, there would be a later dawn, but it would not be a hugely significant change. However, in the spring and summer, the change would undoubtedly be slightly beneficial in the evenings. In the north-west of Northern Ireland, however, sunrise in December, as I have mentioned, would be about 9.50 am, which by anyone's standards is quite late. The argument has been made that the gain in the afternoon would be significant, but actually it would be insignificant. Sunset would move from 4 pm to 5 pm, which is when people are travelling home from school. However, most of the commute will happen afterwards, so it will have little significance for commuter patterns in that part of Northern Ireland. That has to be looked at carefully.
"The proposal would effectively mean darker mornings for longer in the Autumn/Winter, particularly in the mornings when most traffic is on the roads at one time, i.e. schools, commuters. Darker evenings in our view are not as big an issue as the majority of our schools traffic is over by 16.30/17.00 and the evening traffic is more staggered, with most commuters making their homeward journeys between 17.30 and 18.00."
Translink is not convinced that the argument put forward necessarily holds true. A point has been made about more rural areas, where, for example, children stand at the roadside to be collected for school, but are picked up within the school perimeter on the way home. That is an important difference that raises significant issues.
Ben Gummer: These are important local issues, but surely we are dancing on the head of a pin. This is an opportunity to save 1.2 million tonnes of carbon per annum-the equivalent to 200,000 cars-and to make popular carbon savings. That is impossible in any other walk or area of life. Why can we not just take it?
Naomi Long: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me-I am in favour of the Bill. It is exactly that kind of response to alternative views that fills me with trepidation, because it dismisses those who might wish to bring to the table other opinions and concerns, and those who actually wish to see some evidence. If the point of the Bill is to get evidence to support the case, it is bizarre that Members have decided already that they have all the evidence required. If they have, they should simply have introduced a Bill saying that we should go ahead and make the change. If we accept the argument that evidence needs to be gathered, surely we have to accept the argument made today that we have to look with an open mind at the impact on all the parts of the UK. With a background in engineering and science, I would prefer to enter any assessment with an open mind looking at all the evidence, rather than with a closed mind having already decided what the outcome will be.
Mr MacNeil: The hon. Lady has shed some light on why she supports the Bill-to get some analysis and gather information-although she has some reservations about the trial period. Has she had any indication from the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) of the timeline, of when the analysis might happen and how many years the trial would last?
Naomi Long: The questions about the trial, the commissioners and the report are answered in the Bill. I am less concerned about the timeline than about the potential impact and the consideration given to slightly more remote areas. Those who live in the west of Northern Ireland often feel that they are ignored in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which sits in the east, where most of the population is based. Those living in the north and west of the UK are likely to feel even more that way if we overlook them when considering the impact of the Bill. It is important that we think about that.
There is a second issue that is unique to Northern Ireland-our land border with another region. That has to be considered carefully. There are cost and practical implications of the Bill. Many of the farms in Northern
Ireland straddle the border-they do not exist entirely on one side or the other-so there are practical issues about time differences. Some people live on one side of the border, but go to school, church or community organisations on the other side. It is a very permeable border. Therefore, the proposal would have a significant impact on those living in the area. One Member said that they found it incredibly irritating to have to change their clocks twice a year, and I think that some people in Northern Ireland might find it irritating to have to do it three or four times a day.
It should also be noted that consideration is being given in the Republic of Ireland to a potential change-consideration that has been largely motivated, I think, by the debate here. However, we must recognise that we have no influence over the outcome of those considerations. We therefore need to proceed with caution. Although I accept the point made by other Members that it is not impossible to have different time zones within the UK, although not across these islands, it would not be a desirable position.
Albert Owen: The hon. Lady is making a strong argument. On the point about the land border, my constituency is closer to the Republic of Ireland than it is to England. The proposal would therefore have an impact on travel between west Wales and the Republic of Ireland. However, I happen to think that if the proposal went forward in the United Kingdom, Ireland would come into line with Europe, as well as with the United Kingdom.
Naomi Long: I would not wish to stand here and predict what the Irish Government might choose to do, because that is not a matter for this House, and I do not think that they would welcome our intervention. However, from my perspective, it would worry me if there was a time difference at the border, as it would have an impact on trade. A number of Members have emphasised the potential benefits of our being on, as it were, European time, but we should remember that our biggest trade partner is the Republic of Ireland, which is currently in the same time zone as us. Indeed, the fact that we are so inextricably linked was one of the arguments put forward in support of the recent economic bail-out, for example. We need to give detailed consideration to those issues. It would also help if we considered the cost implications when trialling the proposal, because it would affect basic things such as the timetabling of rail and bus services that operate on a cross-border basis. Those operating such services would incur the cost of having to re-do their timetables during the trial and, if it was not a success, having to re-do them again afterwards.
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): When I heard the hon. Lady say that she wondered what the people of Penzance thought, my ears pricked up and I ran here from my office as fast as I could. I cannot speak for the people of Penzance, but I can most certainly speak for the people of Truro and Falmouth. I want to reassure the hon. Lady, along with my hon. Friends, that since I have become a Member of Parliament, no issue has generated as much interest in my constituency. More people have contacted me on this issue than on any other.
Naomi Long: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, although it was not me who mentioned Penzance-I think it was mentioned in an intervention by another Member. I have to say that no issue has generated less interest from my constituents in my postbag. I have to be entirely honest about this: I think I have had one e-mail from a constituent on the issue. However, that would not dictate my view on it, because there may be merit in considering the proposal, even though it might not be a pressing issue for all my constituents.
Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her principled position and would like to ask whether she agrees that all the opponents of the proposed change should nevertheless support the Bill, because it simply seeks to remove the ambiguities and uncertainties that she has highlighted.
Naomi Long: I have reached my own conclusion, and I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members will have done likewise. I would like to see the detailed evidence and the cost-benefit analysis considered properly, so that we can make a fully informed decision. I am therefore happy to support the Bill. In doing so, however, I would urge those taking it through the House to consider the impact in Northern Ireland. Those of us from Northern Ireland might not account for a huge number of people in the House, but the proposal would have a significant impact on us. We also face unique circumstances, owing to our border with the Irish Republic. Both those issues should be considered in much more detail than they have been to date.
Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who is no longer in his place, made a telling intervention in which he pointed out that nothing in the Bill-and, indeed, nothing that Parliament can do-will increase the amount of daylight in any particular location in this country. The Bill seeks to find the most effective way of using daylight for the benefit of our constituents, whether they be in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.
I was delighted to hear the speech by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). Her contribution was one of the finest that we have heard. She clearly fully understood the purpose of the Bill. She rightly expressed concern that there had not been much debate on this issue in Northern Ireland, and pointed out that limited research had been carried out there. She also said that she had a number of concerns about what might happen if we adopted the proposals. She went on to say, crucially, that because of the lack of evidence, and because many people believe that there will be real benefits from the proposals, the Bill should be given a fair wind so that the appropriate research, and the appropriate analysis of that research, can be carried out, and decisions could then be made on whether any further action should be taken. It has to be said that her speech was in marked contrast to those made by representatives of the Scottish National party.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) made a valuable contribution. She began by saying that she was agnostic about the issue. She admitted that she had approached it with an open mind and that, having reviewed the evidence, she was not particularly impressed by it and was now ambivalent about the matter. That is fine, and at least she did not deny that there might be merit in the proposals, and in continuing with the research. That was in stark contrast to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil).
Dr Whiteford: If the Bill dealt with no more than the research phase, I would be very happy to support it. It does not, however; it proposes a trial and, in the light of all the evidence that I have seen so far, I do not believe that the case has been made for such a trial.
Mr Foster: The hon. Lady condemns herself out of her own mouth. She says that the evidence to date does not persuade or convince her. Fine. Then let us carry out the research, and the independent analysis of that research, and bring back a proposal to the House through an order so that we can decide whether to go on with a trial.
Mr MacNeil: I am not sure whether that is good or bad. The hon. Gentleman is arguing for research, and analysis of that research, to be carried out. If that were covered by one Bill, and the trial were covered by another, many of us would feel a lot more secure. This Bill, however, sets us on a slippery slope, and we would go from A to B to C very quickly. We would have three years of misery, followed by repentance from all sides as we changed back to the current system.
Mr Foster: The hon. Gentleman seems to change his tune with almost every intervention. Only a few minutes ago, he was intervening on the excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) to ask whether she would be willing to change her mind on the basis of empirical research. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will change his mind on the basis of such research-
Mr Foster: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He would do well to read in detail what the Bill says. I applaud the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) for introducing a Bill that addresses all the approaches to this issue that might exist in this House. Perhaps it is worth reminding Members and others listening to the debate what the Bill actually says. It states:
"The Secretary of State must conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part, of the year, including...a breakdown, so far as is possible, of these costs and benefits for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland".
"by such bodies as the Secretary of State thinks fit."
"an independent Commission...to assess the analysis"
"If the Commission concludes that the advancing of time by one hour for all, or part, of the year would be beneficial to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland".
The Bill does not state "or Northern Ireland"; it states "and". The change would have to benefit all those areas. Even then, the Bill states that none of that can happen until an order is placed before Parliament. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman said that the Bill would railroad people into doing something. Clearly, that is not the case. Even worse, he went on to state that it was a kamikaze leap. The Bill is exactly the opposite of that.
Mr Reid: When my hon. Friend read from the Bill, he failed to point out that the commission is unelected. The Bill does not state who appoints the commission; it appears from nowhere. If that unelected commission comes to the conclusion that making the changes would be beneficial, the Secretary of State must introduce the order. The Government would have no choice in the matter. The Bill would give far too much power to the unelected commission.
Mr Foster: My hon. Friend, who I know is a staunch opponent of any moves in the direction set out in the Bill, has revealed that his only real concern is about the details of the appointment of members of the independent commission. I am absolutely certain that the hon. Member for Castle Point would be more than happy for him to be a member of the Bill Committee. I am sure that she would be very happy to look favourably on an amendment that alters how the commission is introduced.
Many hon. Members still wish to speak. I would have loved to have spent time discussing how we only have to look at the business of the House every day to see how nearly every debate would be influenced by a move in the direction proposed by the Bill. Whether in our debates on the economy, crime, the retail industry-particularly in terms of tourism-and many other issues, the proposals would give us an opportunity to analyse whether, in each of those areas, a real benefit could be brought to our constituents in all parts of the country.
When the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar-I regret that I cannot correctly pronounce his constituency; I apologise for that-makes flippant remarks, he does himself a disservice. He challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) to carry out a trial by changing his personal clocks. He failed to realise that the disadvantage to my hon. Friend would be that he would have to operate on a different time zone from the rest of his hon. Friends and from the work of this Chamber. That would put him at the same disadvantage as businesses and people in this country who try to operate not only with people in Europe-one of our main trading partners-but, as I said in an intervention, with people in emerging countries, such as China and India.
Malcolm Bruce: If the benefits of these long summer evenings are as great as the proponents of the Bill suggest, why do the House and schools in England not set an example by continuing their business during the eight weeks that have the lightest evenings of the year?
Mr Foster: My right hon. Friend begins his question with the word "If". That is a move in the right direction, because I assume that he is now prepared to allow research to be carried out. He can ignore, as can the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the fact that all the research evidence, whether from Ipsos MORI, npower or MoneySavingExpert.com, demonstrates that more people in Scotland are now in favour of moves in this direction than of retaining the status quo. They can ignore that-that is fine-and they can say that the people of Scotland are unsure, and they may be right, but that is why the research is so important.
I hope that all hon. Members have had an opportunity to look at the excellent publication produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has done so much work on this issue, and has, I am sure, been supporting the hon. Member for Castle Point. The hon. Member for Belfast East is right to say that if we are saying that more research and analysis needs to be done, none of us can argue that all the research is yet conclusive. However, in the summary of his excellent book, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East notes that if we move in this direction it is likely that there will be safer roads, a reduction in the NHS budget, a reduction in crime, improved health and well-being, a boost to UK tourism, a reduction in our energy bills, a reduction in our carbon footprint, and increased international business and trade.
Those are aims that every Member of this House should be seeking to achieve, and that is why every Member of this House should support this Bill to allow further research and analysis to take place, and only then, if it all points in the right direction, to enable a trial to take place.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I commend the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) for bringing the Bill before us. I hope she is enjoying today's experience a little more than the Postal Services Bill Committee, on which we both sit. I suspect she might have become sick of the sound of my voice over the past few weeks, but if she will tolerate me a little longer I might have something interesting to say to her.
The Bill certainly has a strong campaign behind it. The hon. Lady and those at Lighter Later deserve credit for so forcefully making their argument. Perhaps there is a less vocal and less organised argument against these proposals but, as we know, it is not always those who shout loudest who win the argument. The Opposition do not disagree with the aims of the Bill in principle, but we are concerned about how it will work in practice. I will come on to some of those concerns in a moment or two.
The basic goal of the Bill, as I understand it, is to examine the possibility of changing our daylight structure to ensure that we make the best use of the available
daylight. Members on both sides of the House have contributed to a very lively and interesting debate, and not just today. As much as we would like to, we can never increase the number of daylight hours in each day. That is the will of a higher power, if Members believe in such a thing; if they do not, it simply has to do with how the earth spins on its axis. Either way, we have no control over it.
The Bill sets out provisions for a three-year trial of the new daylight regime. However, that trial can begin only after completion of a cross-departmental review by Government and the establishment of a commission to determine whether the change will benefit all parts of the United Kingdom. Even after that, the Secretary of State would have to lay an order before Parliament. It is therefore clear that any change to our time structure would have to clear a considerable number of obstacles-or perhaps I should say "checks and balances"-after Second Reading before anything came to fruition.
I commend the hon. Lady for being so conciliatory in the wording of her Bill, but I remain to be totally persuaded that the wider public are as convinced as has been suggested today. If the Bill were passed today, a trial period should be instituted before the implementation of any wholesale change.
"Not later than six months before the Trial is due to end"?
Gordon Banks: Irrespective of the length of the trial-two and a half or three years-it is a substantial period that would enable the gathering of a significant amount of information and allow us to make the decision on the basis of information gathered in the UK, not in Indiana or somewhere else, and the decision would be based on the UK in the 21st century.
When I read the official transcript of the recent Adjournment debate on this subject, I was surprised by the strength of personal belief in favour of the change, but I was also impressed by the quieter voices arguing for the status quo. That clearly shows that there are differing viewpoints north and south of the border.
Mr Bradshaw: May I congratulate my hon. Friend on, I think, his intention to give the Bill a fair wind? He talks about doubt, but may I commend to him the excellent report by the Policy Studies Institute, published in October, on the impact in Scotland? There has been a lot of discussion about Scotland today, and the report suggests that the benefits for Scotland are even greater than those for the rest of the United Kingdom.
Gordon Banks: I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. There is a lot of conflicting information and there are many conflicting viewpoints. My suggestion, without giving away too much of my speech at this point, would be that a review could gather a lot of important information that could be well studied and well debated to allow a longer-term decision to be made.
Mr MacNeil: I would be interested to know the view of Opposition Front Benchers on a sensible, symmetrical shorter period either side of mid-winter. That would be a compromise between some of the extreme positions that we have heard.
Gordon Banks: I was waiting for that one. If I remember correctly, the hon. Gentleman said that he had not had a sensible response to any of those proposals in any of the debates, and I do not think he will get one from me, either.
In performing my duties as Member of Parliament for Ochil and South Perthshire, I have received representations from constituents that show the strength of feeling on both sides of the argument. I know that the Lighter Later campaign carried out polling that targeted Scotland and highlighted the fact that the majority of Scots backed lighter evenings. As with any poll, however, the key is how the question was asked and what questions were asked. I am sure that if any assembled mass of people were asked whether they would like an extra hour of daylight they would say yes. One must ask, however, whether they fully understood that to get the extra hour of daylight in the evening they would have to spend an extra hour in darkness in the morning. That is the key question, so, understandably, I reserve judgment on some of the poll results as they stand.
As we have heard, this is not the first time these issues have been debated in Parliament. I am aware of the work that the former Member for Stafford, David Kidney, carried out but he was not, despite possibly wanting to be, the trailblazer in this area. Robert Pearce, the Member of Parliament for Leek, introduced a Bill in 1908, and we have already heard from the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) about Benjamin Franklin's contribution, with his remark:
"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."
I am early to rise and late to bed, so what does that make me? Answers on a postcard please. Here we are, 100 years later, continuing the debate. I suspect that it could rumble on for another 100 years. The only good thing is that nobody here would then be able to be held to account for their decisions or blamed for them.
As we have heard, these debates often rear their head at this time of year. Having lived in Scotland for many years, I would welcome an extra hour of daylight at the end of a traditional working day. When I think about the Bill, however, I remember the old saying that not all that glisters is gold. Although we would all appreciate an extra hour of daylight at night, the question is whether it is worth the sacrifice of darker mornings. Although that might not be a major issue for constituents in the south of England, irrespective of what has been said, I know for a fact that it is an issue the further north one travels in the UK-and not just in Scotland.
I note that the hon. Member for Bournemouth East has been particularly vocal in his support for the Bill, but equally I hope that he will concede that he represents one of the southernmost constituencies in the UK. Were I in his position, I might well argue as strongly in support of the Bill as he does. I am sure, however, that he and the hon. Member for Castle Point would agree with the Prime Minister that we need a solution that suits all parts of the UK, not just the south. I recognise that that is an objective of the Bill.
Mr Ellwood: We went to some lengths to ensure that the Bill benefits not constituencies but the whole of the UK, and paid attention to Scotland specifically. Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to the debate that Scottish Members had last week. I think it was the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) who commented that the previous Prime Minister, who is from Scotland, had said that this would be good for Britain and for Scotland.
Gordon Banks: I think it is important for the Opposition to identify some of the problems that a number of people outside the House, as well as a number of Members, have with the Bill. However, I believe that there is a solution to those problems, and I believe that that solution is in the Bill.
Let me now make our position a little less fuzzy, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Bournemouth East. Although we have some unanswered questions, it is fair to say that there is a strong argument in favour of analysis and more detailed scrutiny. I shall say more shortly about the problems that are envisaged. However, as we believe that scrutiny of the Bill and its objectives would be carried out most effectively in Committee, we will not oppose its Second Reading today.
The Bill's approach broadly mirrors that of the National Farmers Union of Scotland and Visit Scotland. They, like us, welcome the debate on the issues, but have yet to develop a firm viewpoint on the potential viability of the changes. We reserve our judgment on the Bill until there has been a thorough and detailed assessment of its effects. Indeed, I believe that that is the Bill's objective.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris), who said in the recent Adjournment debate that the benefits to Scotland were "unquantifiable in advance." Let me take that a step further, and say that at this stage the risks may also be unquantifiable. That is why we will not oppose the Bill's progress to Committee, where those risks and benefits can be explored more fully.
Malcolm Bruce: That is a perfectly fair position, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that virtually all the evidence has been produced by interest groups who have approached the issue with a view to determining evidence in their favour? How can he be sure that any analysis will be resourced fully and objectively to ensure that the counter-arguments are investigated properly? So far, all the investigation has been on one side, and people are reaching conclusions that the evidence does not support.
I would argue that the independent commission's job is to scrutinise both sides of the argument independently. Only then can it comply with the Bill and the regulations to make the position fair for all parts of the United Kingdom. I trust the independent commission to be able to do that. With great respect to Members who are present, I suspect that most of them have decided whether they support the Bill, but I am
not convinced that the whole United Kingdom has reached that point. We need to reach a decision based on factual evidence that is relevant to the United Kingdom in the 21st century.
Albert Owen: Although I support the Bill, I-like many other Members, including the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)-want to see the evidence, but we, as Members of Parliament, must be leaders as well. We must collate the evidence and then make our decisions. We cannot always be weathervanes; we must sometimes be leaders.
Gordon Banks: I do not disagree with that. After the commission has reported and trials of a permanent change have taken place, it will be possible for a vote to take place in the House, and for us all to make our views known at that stage.
Naomi Long: I agree with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) that we should not wish to be weathervanes. I too have said that I will support the Bill, although the subject is not much of an issue in my constituency. However, it would be foolish for Members of Parliament to disregard evidence completely. Decisions must be evidence based, and it is therefore important for that evidence to be collated throughout the United Kingdom.
Gordon Banks: I could not agree more. I put my faith in the commission's ability to gather evidence from all over the United Kingdom, and to analyse it in an independent, structured and transparent way.
Following the Adjournment debate, I was intrigued to read in Hansard that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), had said that his Department had consulted on the Bill, but, despite repeated calls from Members during the debate, had refused to share the results.
The Government's view on the Bill has not been made clear. If one were to believe the Under-Secretary-and I have no reason to doubt him-the Government appeared unlikely to support it. However, I read in the Sunday papers a fortnight ago that according to soundings from the Government a U-turn was in the offing. I look forward to clarification of the Government's position from the Minister. I would, however, add my voice to those of hon. Members who have called on the Scotland Office Minister to release the information so as to allow us all a better opportunity to scrutinise the Bill. Perhaps the Business, Innovation and Skills Minister currently on the Front Bench might be able to encourage his colleague to do that.
The Bill calls for a cross-departmental analysis of how this change might affect all parts of the United Kingdom. It appears that the Scotland Office Minister is already ahead of the curve in that respect. If the Government have, indeed, already carried out some preliminary studies into the Bill's proposals, I would be interested to know whether the BIS Minister or the hon. Member for Castle Point have any preliminary ideas of the initial financial burden of such a change on the Government and the economy. I note that the hon. Lady has tabled a number of written parliamentary questions to Government Departments. They have received
mixed responses, which highlights the need for much more detailed cross-Government research and study. I hope that will be facilitated in Committee, should the Bill be passed today. I would also be grateful if the Minister confirmed whether the Government have had any discussions with our devolved Administrations about the contents of the Bill.
As has been mentioned, this is not the first time this issue has been debated in the House. We even have a precedent between 1968 and 1971, when a similar proposal was trialled. Although it was slightly different, the impact was, perhaps, comparable. It might surprise Members to learn that I was 13 when those first trials took place, and they clearly had an effect on some people in Scotland. I am reminded of the event by footage that showed schoolchildren walking to school wearing headlamps and reflective sashes. [Interruption.] The Minister mentions miners' lamps, and I was about to come on to that. With Scotland's proud traditions of coal mining, I am sure those headlamps were not in short supply back then, but I would guess a supply of headlamps might be harder to find today after the decimation of the coal mining industry in Scotland by the Conservative party. That is my one partisan comment of the day, and I hope the House will allow me it. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) will, as a former miner, have appreciated it, although he may be too busy keeping his eye on the clock to have taken note of the remark.
On a more serious note, I have to confess that the issue of children walking to school, or waiting at the roadside to be picked up to go to school, in the dark still concerns me greatly. I acknowledge the work carried out by the Policy Studies Institute; although I am not qualified to comment on whether there was any link between the daylight change and those statistics, I think it is worth noting. It also again illustrates that this Bill requires further, and much more detailed, scrutiny.
I also note that there has been a sustained campaign with many external supporters, but one thing I have learned as an MP is that the loudest voice is not always the right voice. I am not saying we disagree with the analysis and the opinion put forward by these many and varied organisations, but there are some inconsistencies. For example, the study by the Policy Studies Institute said that car accidents were more likely in the evening peak because of reduced visibility. However, if we implement this change will we not simply displace those accidents to the morning? I also do not agree that people are more attentive in the morning than in the late afternoon or early evening. These themes must be developed further in Committee and by the independent commission.
I will conclude in a moment, but one issue that has, perhaps, been missing from the debate so far is the change in people's lifestyles across the UK that this change might cause. Indeed, one constituent who contacted me to voice her opposition to the Bill suggested we might have to change the working day in Scotland from the traditional 9 to 5 to 10 to 6.
Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that given that this Bill promises a detailed analysis and a trial, and given that it could save 100 lives on the roads, create 80,000 jobs and cut 450,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, as the Mayor of London says, if there was ever a political no-brainer, this is it?
Gordon Banks: If the hon. Lady had been listening to my remarks, she would have known that we are not going to oppose the passage of the Bill today. However, some questions need answering and that is why the Committee and the commission will sit. It is right that these questions are asked and that some of these concerns are being voiced in this debate.
I wish to go back to the debate about 9 to 5 and 10 to 6. We already have industries, such as construction, that do not conform to a traditional working day. I wonder whether any study has been commissioned on how these changes will have an impact on family life as a result of possible work practice changes, rather than just the leisure aspect. Such work practice changes may come about if people whose jobs currently operate from 8.30 am to 5 pm find themselves working from 10 am to 7 pm in future.
Matthew Hancock: Given that the hon. Gentleman has made a strong argument for the need to ask more questions and receive more answers, for example, on the construction industry, why will he not vote in favour of the Bill?
Gordon Banks: I have already told the House that we are not going to block the progress of the Bill. We look forward to the information that will flow from the Bill and allow us the opportunity to come back to have a full vote before any overall change is made to the time structure in the United Kingdom for a period longer than the trial period.
I have discussed only a few of the issues that have concerned me and are concerning others outside this House. If Members on the Government Benches did not share these views, they would not be proposing the commission and so on. The Opposition do not intend to oppose Second Reading stage today. However, as I have outlined, many issues deserve much greater scrutiny in Committee, should it be the will of the House that the Bill is passed today.
We should not be making decisions in this House on the basis of emotion; we should be making informed decisions, which is what the electorate expect of us. The Bill proposes to give us a raft of information, on the basis of which we would be able to make well-informed decisions, not emotional ones.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): I congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), because in my many discussions with her during the past few weeks she has shown a huge amount of knowledge and passion about this issue, and enthusiasm for it, and she displayed that again when she opened this Second Reading debate.
This has been a well-argued, serious and good-natured debate. We have heard different voices from different parts of the United Kingdom; we heard from representatives of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Cornwall, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Castle Point because until I knew that I had to deal with her Bill I had not realised that I was a Minister of time-perhaps I should have done, given that the former Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, was known as the "prince of darkness." Obviously, I have had to get to grips with these issues.
Concerns have been raised in the media about this change. Reference has been made to a certain Peter Hitchens during our debate, as has the idea that somehow we would be adopting Berlin time. So I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) and for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who have rechristened the idea "Churchill time". That is not only a positive reference to the wartime coalition, but a reference to the great man's membership of both the Liberal and Conservative parties.
As the hon. Member for Castle Point said, the subject of this Bill is a perennial issue, which has been debated and discussed often in this House and elsewhere. However, it seems that this time those who wish to effect this change have done some excellent research and have mobilised their arguments very effectively. I shall begin by briefly summarising the Government's position. I agree with the hon. Lady that some of the arguments put forward for lighter evenings are compelling. Evidence would indeed appear to suggest that there could be an overall reduction in the number of road accidents and fatalities, and there could be benefits for some business sectors, particularly those most reliant on trade with other parts of the European Union. In addition, recent studies suggest a possible positive impact on energy usage and, as a result, carbon emissions.
However, we entirely appreciate that the arguments do not all point in the same direction. There are concerns about the longer, darker winter mornings that would result: much is said about the impacts in northern parts of the UK, but a change would mean delaying dawn in mid-winter even in London until after 9 o'clock, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has pointed out.
Mr MacNeil: I want to challenge the argument that there would be a carbon saving, because empirical studies show the exact opposite: more electricity would be used on the darker mornings and power consumption would increase by between 1% and 4%.
I have also heard arguments about the disadvantages of very late light evenings in summer. Experience of a similar change in Portugal suggested problems with children's sleep patterns and some have suggested there could be implications for antisocial behaviour. In other areas, the case remains unproven. I think that the hon. Member for Castle Point would accept that it is unclear whether there would be a positive impact on crime rates and general public health. Some of the claims about the extremely positive impact for specific sectors would no doubt benefit from closer scrutiny.
Against that background, it is not surprising that opinion remains divided. People's views depend significantly on where they live, what they do for a living and whether they enjoy outdoor pursuits. Also relevant are personal preferences such as whether one is a morning person or not. I am not sure whether you are a morning person, Mr Deputy Speaker-you are shaking your head. One thing we remain convinced about, which
must lead us to oppose the Bill, is that we cannot make this change unless we have consensus throughout the United Kingdom. That has recently been made clear by the Prime Minister on more than one occasion.
We must acknowledge that the change would have widely differing impacts on day-to-day life in different parts of the UK. They would be particularly acute in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where it would not get light in mid-winter until nearly 10 am in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast; in Lerwick in the Shetland islands, it would not get light until 10.8 am on new year's eve. Although hon. Members have spoken of changes in public opinion in Scotland, it is clear that much opinion understandably remains against the proposal.
The case is particularly difficult in Northern Ireland and I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), who approached the debate in a considered and objective way. As she said, unless the Republic of Ireland also made the change, there would be additional cross-border complications. These issues would need further consideration and careful prior consultation with the Irish Government.
Malcolm Bruce: Does my hon. Friend agree that the point made in an earlier intervention that the Republic of Ireland would automatically follow whatever we did was a bit patronising and arrogant given the consequence in places such as Galway, where sunrise would be at 9.51 am? It is pretty reasonable that the Republic of Ireland should have a view on that.
The Government's view is that the consensus across all parts of the UK needed to justify passing legislation on this does not exist. That simple fact must lead us to oppose the hon. Lady's Bill today, but I hope that some of my later remarks will be of comfort to her.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I agree with much of the Minister's comments and I have concerns about the Bill, but should it not at least proceed? There is a debate to be had out there and the public are really interested, so why not let it proceed so we can go through those arguments once and for all?
Our quandary is this: we appreciate the benefits that the change could bring, but we do not want any one community to be disadvantaged, or for its members to feel that they have had such a fundamental change to their daily lives foisted upon them.
There have been regular debates about the benefits of the change advocated by the hon. Member for Castle Point. Trying to change the clocks is, as I said, not a new idea. It is more than 40 years since an attempt was made to move away from Greenwich mean time in the winter months as well as the summer throughout the UK. Between 27 October 1968 and 31 October 1971 an experiment was conducted, and summer time-that is, Greenwich mean time plus 1 hour-was adopted throughout the year in order to test public opinion
about continuous summer time. Although this was British summer time all the year round, it was known as British standard time.
There were two general arguments for a move to British standard time. The first was that the move would avoid the inconvenience of changing the clocks in the spring and autumn. The second depended on the fact that in those days most of our trading partners on the European mainland were on central European time throughout the year, the concept of summer time not being one that we had managed to sell to them at that time. So by adopting permanent British summer time, we brought ourselves into line with those countries at a time when we were eager to increase trade with our European neighbours, and at a time before e-mail and other technology made communication possible at any time of day or night.
Consultations carried out by the Government in 1966, before the experiment to change to British summer time throughout the year, revealed the divergence of opinion between the majority of people in England and Wales, who favoured British standard time all year round, and those in Scotland and the north of England, who were opposed. Nevertheless, the experiment went ahead and lasted for three years. A review of the experiment was conducted in the winter months of 1968-69 and 1969-70. The review found that it was impossible to quantify at that time many of the more important claims about the advantages and disadvantages of British standard time.
However, what the review did reveal was the many practical objections that were raised by the farming and construction industries and others involved in outdoor work, such as road maintenance workers, postal workers and dairy workers, particularly in the north of England and Scotland, who claimed that the change caused discomfort and inconvenience because of the late sunrise in winter. They also claimed that they could not easily change their working hours because of public demand for early services. Those objections would probably have less force today as the economy is less dependent on agriculture, and equipment can operate at night, but they are still a factor.
There was also concern about hazards to schoolchildren particularly in rural areas, who would be going off to school up to an hour and a half before dawn. We have heard much about that argument today. It appears that any increase in road casualties in the mornings would be at least offset by reductions in the evenings, but significant concerns about that remain, particularly in more northern areas.
Following a free vote-I repeat, a free vote-in Parliament on 2 December 1970, the House voted by the decisive margin of 366 to 81 to revert to the current arrangements. There must have been some weight behind that decision if, having lived through the experiment for three years, so many Members in all parts of the House were not persuaded. Portugal did exactly the same after it experienced four years of a similar experiment.
If we want to get a more recent idea of how a change to our summer time arrangements might impact on the United Kingdom, we can look to Portugal, which moved to central European time in 1992. Of course Portugal is in a different geographical location from us, but being at the westerly extremity of Europe it is currently on the same time zone as the UK and Ireland. Since most of its trade is with the European Union, its Government
decided, as we had in the 1960s, that it would be beneficial to be in the same time zone as its neighbours and trading partners. The experiment was abandoned in 1996 and Portugal reverted to GMT because its population decided that the gains of lighter evenings were not, in the end, offset by the pain of darker mornings. So perhaps the change did not bring all the benefits that were hoped for, which highlights the practical reality and consequences of an actual change.
Some of the complaints resulting from the Portuguese experiment were not necessarily ones that I had immediately thought of. For example, the light summer evenings apparently had a disturbing effect on children's sleeping habits, which in turn led to poor performance in school and lack of concentration. Pollution from road traffic increased as the rush hour in the summer months coincided with the hotter times of the day. Let us remember that these are actual findings from an actual experiment.
Perhaps more importantly, Portugal found that the energy savings arguments were relatively weak. The intended savings in household electricity consumption were disappointingly low as, according to the report, the change resulted in an "insignificant saving." It would appear that the extension of daylight hours meant that people tended to engage in other leisure activities after work, which might have been good for the leisure and tourism industry but unfortunately led to higher energy consumption.
Mr MacNeil: Is not the intervention of the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) an example of such a speedy, kamikaze, headlong and blinkered rush into an inevitable period of repentance? I urge the Minister to inform the House as he is doing, of matters regarding Portugal, which I certainly did not know about, and please to continue.
There was also evidence, gathered by the Portuguese Government at the time, that people's mental health suffered, and there was an increase in the sales of tranquilisers and sleeping tablets as many people, like their children, were unable to get enough sleep. Information from insurance companies indicated that there was a rise in road traffic claims, rather than the reverse, and the Portuguese Government decided that the disadvantages outweighed the benefits, so they went back to Greenwich mean time. Their view was that there was nothing to prevent any business that traded internationally or
throughout Europe from starting their operations earlier if they wanted to, but that there was no need to inconvenience the whole population on their behalf.
So, we have had two experiments in different countries which were both abandoned not necessarily for the same reasons, but because on the whole more of the population found that the change affected their lives for the worse, rather than for the better.
Mr Bradshaw: I am sorry and surprised that the Minister sounds more negative than the shadow Minister, but may I concur with the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) by suggesting that the Minister's speech would benefit enormously from a radical sub-editor's pen?
Mr Davey: One thought that of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches on many occasions, but, as I thought he would know, it is incumbent on the Government to put their thinking on the record, because people want to understand why the Government have reached their decision.
I was saying that we have had two experiments in different countries which were abandoned not for the same reasons, but because on the whole more of the population found that it affected their lives deleteriously. Of course, the argument that it is necessary to be in the same time zone as other member states in the European Union is perhaps less important than it was, because expansion has meant that the EU spans three time zones, not just one.
Jersey also deserves a mention. We have heard about Gibraltar, but what about Jersey? Normandy is just 14 miles away from the Channel Islands, but, despite being closer to the French coast than to the UK mainland, in a referendum in October 2008 Jersey residents voted against moving to central European time by 17,230 votes to 6,564.
Of course, much of the reason for the vote against the change was that the residents did not wish to be in a different time zone from the rest of the United Kingdom, but it has to be said that farmers in Jersey were among the most vociferous opponents of a move to central European time.
Let us consider the detailed arguments that have been put forward today, starting with the arguments on energy saving and climate change. Apart from the general attractiveness of lighter evenings, one of the most persuasive arguments in favour of moving the clocks forward is to save energy. One reason why I came into politics was to push forward the green agenda, and like most people I
think that any change that might contribute to saving energy and reducing our carbon output needs to be considered carefully.
I have looked particularly closely at the evidence on that issue, because it is not totally one-sided. The report for the 10:10 Lighter Later campaign quoted studies by Cambridge university that suggested that darker evenings produce a 2.2% increase in demand for electricity in the late afternoon and early evening, which requires the use of the most expensive supply source provided by inefficient power stations that have to be brought on line to cope with the demand. The studies also suggested that a reduction in CO2 emissions of 1.2 million tonnes could be achieved during the six winter months, which is the equivalent of removing 20,000 cars from our roads over the same period.
However, a recent response from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to the Energy and Climate Change Committee pointed out that energy saving benefits are far from clear-cut. It concluded that although we might expect overall energy use to be reduced by extending British summer time, the effects are likely to be small. The most significant effect would be the switch of lighting demand from the evening to the morning. Although, on the one hand, the working day would be more aligned with natural daylight, leading to a reduction in demand, there are other factors, not least that households may be more likely to turn lights on when it is dark than off when it is light. Energy use might therefore increase due to people leaving lights on after switching them on because of the darker mornings. Although evening peak electricity may flatten or reduce, evening peaks between Britain and France may become more aligned, which would have implications for prices and security of supply in situations of low generation capacity margin.
Finally on this issue, a study in 1990 by Paul Littlefair, the project leader for the Building Research Establishment's programme of daylight research, concluded that the introduction of single/double summer time would lead to extra lighting energy costs, probably to the tune of £10 million a year. We should remember that Portugal ended its experiment with central European time because the small energy savings could not justify the inconvenience that the change created.
In this area, as in others, the evidence is not clear-cut. However, the importance of the climate change agenda means that even relatively small savings are worth while. As I am a firm believer in that agenda, I believe that we should consider this matter seriously.
I shall turn to the arguments regarding business and trade. One of the major arguments for the 1960s experiment of moving to British standard time was that it would be far easier to do business with our European neighbours, which would have positive impacts on our economy and prosperity. The European Union remains our largest trading partner, but since 1970 the world has changed and is now almost unrecognisable. We now have a Union of 27 member states over three time zones, whereas previously the UK was trying to join a common market of six countries all in the same time zone. At that time, the population and the Government were interested in tapping into the prosperity that access to that market could bring.
The Republic of Ireland is one of our most important EU trading partners-we trade more with southern Ireland than with Brazil, Russia, India and China. That is partly for historical reasons and partly because many multinational companies have their headquarters there. Sadly, it has taken the recent banking crisis in Ireland for us to remember how important our trade with Ireland is. There would be concerns in that regard if we harmonised our time with the European mainland, because we would be unharmonising it from the Republic of Ireland.
What of the large proportion of our business that is not conducted with the EU? Who would benefit and who would be the losers? Companies trading with the far east might benefit, while those trading with the USA might not. Once again, we realise that there is no right answer and that compromises must be made.
Naomi Long: On the inconvenience to those who trade with the US, we should remember that the US is one of the biggest foreign direct investors in the Northern Ireland economy. That is another specific way in which the measure would impact on Northern Ireland and it must be given close consideration.
Mr Davey: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have taken the trouble to speak to the Irish ambassador to London to ask for his views and those of his Government on this issue, and I want to put those views on the record.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Forty years after the last experiment, is it not right for the Government to consider the fact that the population has changed? We have an older population who will benefit from the extra hour. Farming has also changed hugely, with much more milking being done and cattle being kept inside, so there is no reason not to change the time. I am surprised that the Government are not more supportive of the Bill.
I wish to move on to one of the major benefits of daylight savings. It is considered that moving to central European time would prevent many serious road accidents and fatalities, and I totally accept that good evidence is available. ROSPA produced a paper in support of the private Member's Bill tabled by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) in 2008, which showed that 80 fatalities a year could be saved. Department for Transport figures corroborate that statistic. In Scotland, evidence from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory after the 1960s experiment showed that road casualties had declined by 17% in Scotland, compared with 11.7% across the whole of Great Britain.
Even in the matter of road safety, however, we should remember that other factors are at play. Our streets are becoming ever safer, and we have one of the lowest rates of road deaths and serious injuries in Europe. The 1968 experiment was conducted at the same time as the first drink-driving laws came into force, and they will have made a material difference. It is possible that other initiatives to improve road safety have had a far more beneficial impact on road safety than the time change
would have done, and it would also have had a far greater impact on wider society. For example, improvements in driver behaviour, car safety, road designs and speed restrictions will have contributed to a fall in casualties.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): A Friday morning Bill on this matter came before the 1997 Government and was talked out, and I believe that the last Government talked one out. I hope that today, the Minister will vote with his Conservative colleagues in favour of the Bill.
Another issue that has been raised in the debate is the leisure and tourism industry. The Lighter Later campaign's report makes much of the fact that tourism and leisure would be boosted by £2.5 billion to £3.5 billion, and that an extra 60,000 to 80,000 jobs would be created. I am not yet entirely persuaded by the evidence that has been presented. Many overseas tourists come to the UK for our wonderful cultural attractions and history, which of course can be appreciated at any time of the day. When people are on holiday, they can choose exactly how to plan their day to make best use of the daylight hours.
I understand that evidence is available showing that, particularly in the so-called shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, more people would be tempted to go out and visit leisure attractions if it were lighter longer, and that jobs would probably be created. The research shows that that would particularly benefit certain towns. More robust research is therefore needed. We need to understand whether the change would lead to a net creation of jobs or whether there would be any displacement of employment in other areas.
Brandon Lewis: I do not mean to protract the debate, but does the Minister agree that one benefit in those shoulder seasons for an area such as Great Yarmouth, where tourism is important, would be that we could move away from the 16% to 18% unemployment in some areas that is caused by the closed season? It might just help employment and back up the figures that he is talking about.
I wish to discuss Scotland, which is a key issue in the debate. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that we need consensus, and that has clearly not been the case in the House tonight. [Interruption.] I have obviously got the wrong time zone.
As we all know, altering our clocks cannot have an effect on the amount of daylight, and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made that point very well. The issue is how we distribute the hours of daylight that we have. Hon. Members have discussed different sunset times in the debate. Under the proposals, sunset in Edinburgh in mid-October would move from 6.15 pm to 7.15 pm, but sunrise would not be until 8.45 am, and on new year's eve, it would not get light in Lerwick until after 10 am, as I said earlier. It is therefore unsurprising that the Scottish Government
are nervous of such a change, and that they have said that they would not want it imposed on their population.
We should remember that Scotland is not only further north than the rest of the United Kingdom, but quite far west too-surprisingly, Edinburgh is west of Bristol-which means that, come winter, it has relatively little daylight, in fact about eight hours, and that that light comes later. It is possible in principle to have two UK time zones-one for Scotland, which could perhaps include Northern Ireland, and one for England and Wales-but we should rule out that option on such a relatively small island as ours. We should remain a United Kingdom.
I have heard what the hon. Member for Castle Point and others have said about the evidence of changing opinion in Scotland, but that evidence is far from definitive. Although the Scottish Government and many Scottish MPs and MSPs from all parties remain opposed to the change, the matter is being debated in the Scottish Parliament. A recent motion in the Scottish Parliament, which was signed by MSPs from all parties, stated:
"That the Parliament notes that consideration is to be given by the UK Government to move Britain's clocks forward by one hour; believes that such a move would be detrimental to Scotland, in particular raising concerns over road safety in the early morning and the safety of children walking to school, and could have a negative effect on Scottish businesses, including the construction and agricultural sectors, and urges UK ministers to retain GMT in the winter and BST in the summer."
Of course, if the Scottish people clearly decide that the evidence shows that there would be many benefits for them as well as those living further south, the position could change, but we must have the consensus that the Prime Minister demands.
In conclusion, the Government see many arguments in favour of the change that the hon. Lady is promoting. We would all appreciate the chance to make the most of lighter evenings and welcome the benefits to energy saving and road safety that the change might bring, but unless and until we can extend the hours of daylight-I doubt that we could do that-lighter evenings mean darker mornings. A responsible Government must take careful account of the disadvantages that that would bring to certain communities.
The Prime Minister was therefore quite right to make it clear that any change would need the support of all parts of the UK. As things stand, despite some of the arguments we have heard today, it remains clear that there are a number of significant issues in respect of such a change for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and I believe that we cannot go forward with the consent of all three devolved Administrations.
In addition, the subject of the Bill is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, so any UK-wide legislation would require the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Until we have clear evidence of the necessary consensus across the UK and the necessary consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Government's clear view is that it would be inappropriate for this Parliament to pass the hon. Lady's Bill or any other legislation on this matter.
That point applies to the hon. Lady's Bill even though it does not directly propose a move to central European time or an immediate trial. After all, the Bill includes a
provision that would automatically trigger a trial if the proposed analysis reached a positive conclusion. As such, passage of the Bill would still risk being perceived by many in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and by the devolved Administrations, as an attempt by Westminster to impose unwelcome change. I acknowledge, however, that the Lighter Later campaign has made some good points about the potential benefits of change to the UK as a whole, and I again pay tribute to her efforts.
The Government agree that this is an important issue that must be taken seriously. As a result, although we cannot support the hon. Lady's Bill-and I would urge the House not to give it a Second Reading-I can announce that we intend to consider the question further. Specifically, if the Bill does not progress today, we intend to do two things. First, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will write to the First Ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, not just to draw attention to this debate and the arguments made in favour of change, but to invite them to consider entering into a dialogue with us on this matter. That is the way to achieve the consensus that the Prime Minister believes is necessary.
Secondly, the Government would intend to publish a review of the available evidence concerning the likely effects of moving to central European time in the UK. This review would be a cross-departmental effort, drawing on relevant unpublished data held by Departments, and include consideration of the coverage of the evidence base, identifying any gaps and providing views on its validity. That might not be as comprehensive a consideration of the matter as the hon. Lady's proposed commission might achieve, but it would be a significant step forward in the analysis of the arguments for and against change on this important issue. As such, I hope it would also facilitate a future dialogue on the matter into which the devolved Administrations might wish to enter.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan), who presented the Bill that became the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and other colleagues who did a power of work on that Bill.
The Bill proposes to extend the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which currently covers only the agriculture and food processing sectors, to the construction industry. Gangmasters in those sectors are required to hold licences and to pay the very small fee of £400, but if the authority is able to expand into the construction industry, the fee will be reduced in proportion to the number of people whom gangmasters employ.
In the agriculture industry, licences are not revoked for a small transgression. The GLA works with gangmasters to try to ensure that they meet the necessary requirements, and only in the event of serious and continued breaches will the GLA use its power to revoke a licence. Since the Act came into operation, 110 of the 1,200 licensed gangmasters have had their licences revoked. The gangmasters' organisation supported all those revocations.
Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Act was successful because it engaged everyone, from the National Farmers Union to the Transport and General Workers Union, and that it has been a quiet success because it has dealt adequately with the areas of responsibility? When it was first introduced, I had ministerial responsibility. The Government said, "Let us see if it works in this area of endeavour, and if it does perhaps it can be extended elsewhere." Would it not be a terrible shame if the opportunity to explore that expansion were not taken today?
Mr Hamilton: It certainly would. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the tremendous work that he did as a Minister at the time. As he says, the Act has been a success story that has not reached the press. The GLA has kept its head down and worked hard with the industry, and we now want that work to be extended.
The Bill does not create any new workplace regulations; it merely changes the enforcement of the existing regulations. That will raise more revenue in increased tax take than it costs. The current net cost of the GLA is £4 million a year, but according to the Treasury's own figures, false statements of employment in the construction industry cost £350 million a year. There are other ways in which the Bill will create efficiencies on the front line. It will reduce the number of duplicate back-office roles between the GLA and the employment agency standards inspectorate, and will help to deal with issues such as trafficking. In the last few years, some Conservative Members have drawn attention to the amount of trafficking that is taking place, with the support of Oxfam, Anti-Slavery International and the Home Affairs Committee.
Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Like the hon. Gentleman, I supported the introduction of the 2004 Act, but does he agree that there have been problems in the way in which the GLA has operated since then? Some parts of it have become bureaucratic and interventionist, and some parts are expensive. Some legitimate gangmasters have encountered difficulties in their legitimate operations as a result. If the hon. Gentleman's Bill becomes law, will he ensure that the GLA's application to the building industry is slightly different from its application to the agriculture and food industries?
Mr Hamilton: That is not the information that I have received. Many people say that, by and large, the arrangements have worked very well. However, we will certainly need to tweak the system to ensure that it applies properly in the construction industry, and that the beneficial developments in the agriculture industry are transferred. It is not a question of increasing bureaucracy.
Construction is a dangerous industry, with a bad record on health and safety and employment rights and a record of avoidance of employment taxation. The Bill will tackle those problems. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority works; it does a good job and is supported by a wide range of groups including unions, employers and industry groups, as well as non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam and Anti-Slavery International. The GLA has forced rogue gangmasters out of the relevant sectors, but not out of the economy. Our aim is to the extend the GLA's powers, and to transfer powers away from the employment agency standards inspectorate, a failing body that does nothing to support or protect honest employers.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): For the benefit of new Members such as myself, can the hon. Gentleman explain what has changed in the six years since the original legislation was passed in 2004? Why is it now felt to be necessary to add construction workers, when they were not included in the original measures?
Mr Hamilton: We have just sat through three hours of debate on another Bill, so I cannot go into all the details of such arguments as the time available to me has been cut right down to the bone. It is right that we discussed that earlier topic of course, and in that debate it was said that we should have an experiment and review things. Similarly, we said at the time of the original Bill that we would review how the GLA worked, and at some point we might come back with further proposals. We are doing that now. We have looked at the legislation and how it is working, and we now feel it is appropriate to transfer powers into this new area.
Members come to this House for a range of different reasons. When I was a young delegate at a colliery, I had to do one the saddest things I have ever had to do in my life. A young lad in his 20s had been killed in an accident. Along with a colleague, I had to go to see his mum and dad the following day to explain what had
happened in the accident. I therefore have a vested interest. I have a lot of friends who work in the construction industry, and I worked in a dangerous industry. I know what things are like. The saddest thing anyone could ever have to do is go to a household who have just lost a beloved one who had their whole future ahead of them. The effect of such an event on a family is terrible. That is why I am passionate about making sure that, where appropriate, health and safety legislation is put into operation. That is important.
I also believe the Government should look seriously at creating a single employment inspectorate and enforcement agency. The point has been made in the past that there are too many organisations working in silos; there are too many organisations working independently of each other and fighting over different issues. I know that many friends-indeed comrades-in the trade union movement do not want the role or structure of the Health and Safety Executive to be altered, but I think there is a strong case for merging the GLA, the employment agency standards inspectorate, the HSE and the minimum wage enforcement responsibilities of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs into a single body that could also work closely with the UK Border Agency. One such organisation or inspectorate covering all these bases would reduce the massive amount of administration involved in many cases and would mean the various agencies were working not independently, but with each other. That, in turn, would reduce the costs of each of these organisations while at the same time enabling them to be more effective in what they do.
Mr Gray: The hon. Gentleman seems to be moving away from what I understand to be the central purpose of his Bill. He is talking now about amalgamating the UK Border Agency, HMRC and other organisations, and creating one large organisation, which I fear would be particularly bureaucratic and difficult to control. Will he explain why he is seeking that very considerable bureaucratic change, when the purpose of the Bill seems to me to be reasonably simple and straightforward?
Mr Hamilton: The hon. Gentleman raises a correct point. If I had been able to read my entire 31-page speech, I would have answered all such points, but I have had to limit my remarks in order to allow the Minister to respond. This is an ambition. The GLA does good work in agriculture and we are seeking to extend its good work to the construction industry. That is what the Bill would do; it is as simple as that.
In my discussions with the Minister, I have suggested that other measures could be looked at in future to reduce the bureaucratic structure of many of the current organisations. My only interest in this topic is to help honest companies, who are competing against dishonest companies, and to protect employees. That is the key to the whole thing. I shall finish on that note, and I wish to thank everybody for being here for the debate. All I ask of the Minister is that in the interests of fairness, which was displayed in the previous debate, this Bill should go into Committee so that we can iron out a number of these issues.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) on
securing parliamentary time for his Bill. I recognise the depth of his interest in health and safety matters and in securing decent working conditions. Obviously he had a track record in this area before he came to this House, and it was a pleasure to meet him to discuss his Bill prior to today. I hope that I have a few things to say to him in the time that is left to me-
Mr Davey: The hon. Gentleman tempts me to sit down, but I will not be doing so quite yet because it is important to put the Government's position on the record. I wish to say a few things that I think will have made his efforts worth while.
This Government, too, are committed to improving health and safety, particularly in construction, to ensuring fairness in the workplace and to encouraging and raising levels of compliance with workplace rights, in the construction sector and elsewhere. Where we differ with the hon. Gentleman is on whether licensing would be an effective solution to problems in the construction sector. Of course, licensing has its place as a tool in the regulatory arsenal. It is used in relation to labour providers in agriculture and food processing, as he said, and there are other examples too. However, licensing is an expensive and untargeted system of regulation. It burdens all with fees and inspections-the good and the bad alike-and with the risk that the worst businesses evade licensing altogether. Licensing can be an appropriate response to particular problems in particular sectors, but that does not mean it is appropriate in all cases.
Andrew Bridgen: I declare an interest, as I am a major shareholder in a food processing business in my constituency. North West Leicestershire is a major provider of building materials and is the base for many large construction companies, as hon. Members are perhaps aware. There is a huge difference between the agricultural and food processing industry and the construction industry, and therefore in the regulatory burden that those industries can carry. The food and food processing industry is a non-cyclical business-parts of it can even be counter-cyclical-and has been almost unaffected by the economic downtown, whereas we know that we cannot say that of the construction industry. I am very worried that any further burdens on the construction industry at this particular time, when it is struggling to deal with the effects of the last recession, could be particularly burdensome. It is not fair to compare the construction industry now with the more resilient food processing industry.
Mr Davey: My hon. Friend is exactly right in his analysis of the construction industry and of how we use licensing as one of the tools to deal with everything from health and safety to fairness in the workplace. We need to consider the conditions that need to be met before something such as licensing is appropriate. We need to consider whether existing enforcement arrangements are inadequate; whether there is hard evidence of illegal activity; where a licensing system would be a proportionate and effective way of tackling the problems that are seen; and where licensing would be practicable, enforceable and, finally, affordable. The Government do not consider that those tests have been met for the construction sector.
There is a misapprehension in some quarters that employment agencies that supply labour to the construction sector are unregulated, and that workers are unprotected. In fact, regulatory safeguards are already in place for all agency workers, whichever sector they work in. For example, employment agencies operating outside the Gangmasters Licensing Authority's sectors have to comply with health and safety and working time legislation enforced by the Health and Safety Executive. They must also comply with the national minimum wage regulations enforced by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. In addition, they must adhere to special employment agency regulations enforced by my Department's employment agency standards inspectorate-the EAS-which responds to complaints from agency workers, and carries out an additional programme of proactive, risk-assessed inspections each year.
On health and safety legislation and the work of the HSE in the construction sector, the hon. Member for Midlothian is rightly worried about health and safety, which is a big concern for the sector, but I am not convinced that a licensing system would improve the sector's health and safety record. The GLA applies a range of licensing standards. The conditions for health and safety are intended to ensure agreement between the labour supplier and the hirer about who will have responsibility for managing day-to-day health and safety, including the preparation of risk assessments, but that is already clear in construction.
Under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, the principal contractor has responsibilities for ensuring the health and safety of all individuals who work on a construction site regardless of their employment status. This includes directly employed workers, labour-only sub-contractors and the self-employed. In addition, each contractor working under the principal contractor has duties to every individual working under their control. Those duties are on top of the requirements that individual employers have to their employees. Duties of the principal contractor include the requirement to consult all workers involved in a project to ensure that the measures taken to protect their health and safety are effective.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I am listening to the Minister's remarks with great interest. He has explained his position on why the GLA is not relevant to the construction industry, but will he expand on why he has changed his mind since signing early-day motion 1366 in 2009?
Mr Davey: I have considered all the issues that would have to be taken into account, such as whether it would be appropriate, proportionate and justifiable, and it is clear that the EAS does an extremely good job and that it deals with all the problems. Let me quote some of the statistics, which are worth bearing in mind. In 2009-10, there were 42 fatal injuries to workers in construction, with a fatal injury incidence rate of 2.2 per 100,000 workers per year. That compares with 105 deaths and a rate of 5.9 per 100,000 per year in 2000-01. Injury rates are also at an all-time low since the reporting regulations changed in 1995. That is done under the existing system. There has been some success and the previous Government should take credit for that.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|