Thursday, 24 October 2013

Time To Change My Mind On Whether To Change The Time

The nights are definitely drawing in and it is darker in the mornings. And this means it's time for that twice-yearly debate, namely whether we should keep the current practice of being on Universal Time (often called Greenwich Mean Time) from late October to late March and Central European Time (often called British Summer Time) the rest of the year, or whether we should follow the practice of most of the rest of the European Union and be on CET from late October to late March and one hour ahead (Eastern European Time) the rest of the year.

Naturally, the further west you go the later sunrise/sunset will be, and the further north you go the more dramatic the change in day length throughout the year will be.

To see this, we can look at how some northern and/or western places in the Anglo-Celtic Isles will be affected by a switch to a CET/EET system - the latest sunrise and earliest sunset will be in December/January, so would be in CET, while the earliest sunrise and latest sunset would be in June, and hence in EET:

Location Earliest Sunrise (EET) Latest Sunrise (CET) Earliest Sunset (CET) Latest Sunset (EET)
Bellmullet 6.06am 10.00am 5.16pm 11.18pm
Berwick-upon-Tweed 5.23am 9.38am 4.34pm 10.57pm
Carlisle 5.33am 9.36am 4.44pm 10.54pm
Lerwick 4.38am 10.10am 3.56pm 11.34pm
Londonderry 5.50am 9.54am 5.01pm 11.13pm
Steòrnabhagh 5.20am 10.13am 4.34pm 11.35pm

A place name in italics is in the Republic of Ireland.

We see the effect of moving the clocks forward to a CET/EET system - in the north and west sunset would be very late at the height of summer, whilst sunrise would be very late in the depths of winter.

One problem with this emotive issues is that there are extremes on both sides. On one hand, some time back the Mail on Sunday decided to call CET/EET "Berlin Time", with suitably Germanic lettering.

This month sees 20 years since the then-Conservative Government proposed ID cards. And what have ID cards got to do with clock changes, you might be asking? And it is a reasonable question.

ID cards proposals began as the solution to social security fraud. Sorry, they began as The Solution to social security fraud. And then came 9/11, and they were The Solution to terrorism. They turned into The Solution to the latest problem.

For enthuasiasts of a CET/EET system, then there is the same danger. It is there to improve road safety. Then it becomes to encourage tourism. Then it reduces energy consumption. I am always wary - and indeed, cynical - whenever something seems to be a flexible Solution to the problème du jour.

One argument for the CET/EET system is that we need to maximise the way we use the hours of daylight. Now, we cannot change the length of the day - whenever anyone talks about "an extra hour of daylight" they are talking twaddle. But is there such a thing as "an extra hour of usable daylight"?

This seems to be the tourism and health argument. Getting dark later extends the amount of time available in the evening - for some of the year. At the height of summer, it is getting dark so late anyway that such an effect is irrelevant. And in the depths of winter, most people would be getting home in the dark anyway. But this would have an impact for a substantial chunk of the year from late winter to early summer and again from late summer to mid-autumn. So CET/EET does make sense on that.

The energy consumption argument is similar, but at this point in the year I am turning the lights on when I get up. Yes, there will be people using less energy in the summer, but in the winter people will turn their lights off later in the morning. So, these effects will more-or-less cancel out.

I used to be persuaded by the argument in favour of the current system which was that when we tried CET all year round, the number of road accidents increased in the mornings. And it seems logical, after all, wintry mornings are going to see ice and snow and hazardous conditions. But then I saw an interesting response.

Basically, you can only know which accidents happened. No-one can tell you which accidents would have happened. No-one can be interviewed who could say "if we had not been on CET, I would have been killed." So, we need to look at the overall figures.

And I think this argument has swayed me in favour of switching to CET/EET, bringing us in line with most of the European Union.

Yes, had to bring the EU into it. I expect if we made the switch, then there will be the usual crowd writing to the local paper about how it was a Brussels diktat and how voting for the UK Independence Party would enable us to keep our time rather than a, well, I can expect the phrase "harmonised Eurotime" to be bandied around. We have what is probably the most Eurosceptic Government we have had, so this is the best Government to introduce such a change without accustations of bending to Brussels.

Although, if you look at the Mail on Sunday stance, any switch will be a concession to the Liberal Democrats:

Berlin Time has been promoted by supporters of the European Union's efforts to harmonise members' time zones, leading Tory opponents of the plan to claim that the attempt to revive the idea was being driven by pro-EU Liberal Democrats in the Government and was being tolerated by No 10 as a concession to [Lord President of the Council and Liberal Democrat leader] Nick Clegg.

'It smacks of yet another Coalition compromise,' said one ministerial critic. 'I don't think it is a coincidence that the Business Department is top-heavy with Lib Dems.

'And it is the sort of thing that Clegg would like.'

One Government source even claimed that the idea had 'the fingerprints' of Mr Cameron's chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, ‘all over it’ as a ‘sop to the Cleggites’.

Mr Llewellyn, who used to work for former Tory EU Commissioner Chris Patten and pro-European ex-Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, is the prime suspect because of his friendly relations with his Lib Dem counterparts.

Yep, have to make it out to be a big conspiracy to Germanise/Europeanise the United Kingdom, complete with the obligatory picture of the Brandenburg Gate and the hyperbolic protest-by-coupon-clipping stance:

And to cap it all, we have:

A map of the present Central European Time Zone looks disturbingly like a map of a certain best-forgotten empire of 70 years ago. Would it really be silly to suspect that the neatness and standardisation fanatics of Brussels and Frankfurt, who have abolished almost every border in Europe, devised the European arrest warrant and the Euro passport and the European number plate and the European flag – and imposed a single currency on almost every state – would not also like a single time zone?

But wouldn’t it also be fatal to their desire if people in Britain recognised that this was what was going on? Are the smiley, optimistic ‘daylight-saving’ lobby perhaps useful idiots in someone else’s campaign? [Conservative MP for Castle Point] Rebecca Harris emphatically says that this is not so. But then, if it were, would she know?

Anyone in Britain who wants to live by Berlin time is welcome to do so, just as they are welcome to breakfast on bratwurst. There are good arguments, too, for schools and offices in some parts of the country to open earlier and close earlier in the dark months from November to February.

But that is quite different from our whole country being permanently shifted on to foreign time.

It is not too late to stop Mrs Harris’s curious Bill if enough MPs – more responsive to the public than they once were since their recent embarrassments – can be persuaded by public protest to vote against it.

If we are foolish enough to hurry down this path, it is by no means certain that we shall ever be allowed back if we decide we do not like it. Once we have fallen in, who would be surprised by a quiet Brussels Directive making the change permanent, whatever Parliament does? Now is the time to save our own time.

Sadly there seemed to be no-one around who could draw a picture of Britannia, so she had to be left out of the articles.

Politics comes into the matter in other ways. The nearest country to the United Kingdom that has more than one timezone is Russia, where the Far East, such as Cape Dezhnev, is 9 hours ahead of the Kaliningrad exclave.

As the map shows, this is a similar time gap as that between Alaska and the United Kingdom.

Even Germany, with a 9 degree 10 minute longitude difference between Selfkant and Neißeaue manages one time zone - CET/EET - as does France, with a 14 degree 20 minute longitude difference between Pointe de Corsen and Cervione.

In that case, it might seem that the United Kingdom, with a 9 degree 53 minute longitude range from Soay to Lowestoft, would be OK with one time zone.

Although the Mail on Sunday is busy scaremongering, there is one interesting question, namely The End Of The Union. But, is there any reason why Scotland cannot be put on a separate timezone to England and Wales. And where does Northern Ireland fit in?

The same issues that arise with changing Scotland to CET/EET arise for Northern Ireland - but there is one added one. If the whole United Kingdom shifts to CET/EET, but the Republic of Ireland doesn't, then there is a cross-border time difference. On the other hand, if Northern Ireland opts out of changing to CET/EET, then there will be the situation of Belfast being on the same time as Dublin, but not London.

I feel the sensible thing with to do with regards to Scotland is to amend the Scotland Act 1998, which has, in the list of reserved matters the Summer Time Act 1972. A simple one-line Act would remove this from the list of reserved matters.

With regards to Northern Ireland, one option could be to slightly amend - by mutual agreement between London, Dublin and the Northern Ireland Assembly - the Good Friday Agreement so that time would be dealt across the island of Ireland by the North/South Ministerial Council.

In December 2010, the House of Commons debated the Daylight Saving Bill 2010-11 that had been introduced by Harris to make the switch to CET/EET, and the House of Commons Library had produced a Research Paper in preparation for the debate.

Harris covers the issue of road accidents:

Although I am certain that hon. Members have had ample opportunity to consider the arguments in favour of the measure, I will rehearse them briefly. First, every single road safety organisation tells me that the measure would save 80 lives on our roads every year, mainly among children under 15 and other vulnerable road users. If a transport disaster of that magnitude occurred in our country and the Government knew that it would happen every year-year in, year out-but proposed to do nothing about it, there would be a public outcry.

However, there remains a kind of race memory that the winter-only trial of GMT plus one between 1968 and 1970 led to increased road deaths, particularly among children going to school on dark winter mornings, as has been mentioned. That persistent myth has hampered the debate ever since, and it is simply not true. Extensive research by the Transport Research Laboratory found that, far from causing accidents-the view that, sadly, led to the experiment being abandoned in panic-the change resulted in an astonishing 1,120 fewer people being killed or seriously injured during the affected hours.

The principal reason behind those figures is that more accidents occur in the busy afternoon rush hour. There are currently three times as many accidents, particularly involving children, between 3 and 6 pm than between 7 and 10 am. In the mornings, we tend to travel directly, we leave just as much time as we need to get to our destination and the roads are less busy. In the afternoons, we make much more complicated journeys and people are much less attentive-children, in particular, feel liberated after leaving school. That is why moving an extra hour of daylight into the dangerous, busy peak time for travel would be beneficial for road safety. As I have said, that applies to an even greater extent in Scotland and, despite the conventional wisdom, I believe that Scotland stands to benefit the most from this measure.

And, indeed, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, produced a factsheet arguing that a switch to CET/EET would reduce road fatalities.

In November 2012, the House of Commons Library produced a further guide, while in July 2012 a report for the Government was published.

Having looked at all this, I have now changed my mind. I now support 10:10's Lighter Later campaign.

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