New Clause 7

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:15 am ar 20 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Impact of the period of summer time on road safety

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall report on the impact of the period of summer time on road safety.

(2) The first report under this section shall be in respect of the period of twelve months beginning with the passing of this Act.

(3) Subsequent reports under this section shall be in respect of the period of 12 months beginning with the end of the previous reporting period.

(4) Each report under this section shall be prepared as soon as practicable after the end of the period to which it relates.

(5) The Secretary of State shall—

(a) lay a copy of each report under this section before each House of Parliament, and

(b) publish each such report in such manner as he thinks fit.'. —[Mr. Kidney.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Here I am again. The new clause would require that, each year, the Department for Transport report on the effects on road safety of the way that clocks are set in the United Kingdom. I have in mind that we would receive reports like that from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that commented on the way that we changed our clocks in 2004:

“In 2004, road deaths rose from 269 in October to 300 in November”,

which would have been just after we put the clocks back,

“and to 323 in December.”

That trend was the same with pedestrian deaths: there were 56 in that October, then we put the clocks back and the figure rose to 76 in November, and to 78 in December.

People who have analysed the matter year after year have shown consistently that at the end of October, when we put the clocks back and evenings become darker earlier, the casualty rates in this country go up. Clearly, there are road safety benefits from doing something different with our clocks in order to preserve lighter evenings, especially in the winter.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

My hon. Friend will know from Second Reading that I, unlike many Scottish politicians, support a move away from British summer time to allow lighter evenings and darker mornings in Britain. Is it not the case that in winter it is inevitable that days become shorter, regardless of whether we put the clocks back? Is it not possible that the increase in the number of road accidents is simply a result of that inevitable physical phenomenon?

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. Greater minds than I, particularly those at the Transport Research Laboratory, have researched that matter, and it seems that casualty rates are highest at dusk. Is he asking whether, if we change the time of dusk, that casualty rate would move to the new time, or whether we would actually remove it altogether? The TRL’s judgment is that we would remove the accidents and casualties an hour later because most people make their journeys by the clock. For example, it is the time, not dusk, that determines when people finish and go home from school or work, or go somewhere before going home. Nevertheless, we must be careful not to  turn this into a debate about putting the clocks forward or back, because that is beyond the scope of the Bill or the new clause.

I shall provide some background so that people understand. Currently in this country, in winter time—October to March—we are on Greenwich mean time. In the summer months—March to October—we are on Greenwich mean time, plus one hour, and moving the clocks forward by one hour in March means that we have one extra hour of daylight in the evening.

Between 1968 and 1971, an experiment was carried out. In March 1968, the clocks were put forward by one hour, and were left there until October 1971. That was known as British standard time, during which road safety was monitored. After making the necessary adjustments, the Transport Research Laboratory concluded that, per winter, during the experiment, 1,120 fewer people were killed or seriously injured on our roads. That included 230 fewer fatalities. That was, to me, quite a significant change.

There have been some further assessments of whether the effect that was seen in 1968 to 1971 would still hold good today. I asked the Minister a written parliamentary question and he confirmed that the TRL had updated its estimate of the effects of changing daylight time. He said that the conclusion was that

“there could be a reduction in road casualties of over 400 people killed or seriously injured per year in Great Britain, including 100 deaths.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2005; Vol. 439,c. 514W.]

In actual fact, looking at the research, 450 fewer people would be killed or seriously injured, which includes between 104 and 138 fewer fatalities.

We can clearly make road safety gains if we change the way in which we set our clocks in this country. If a report set out year after year the trend that every October, November and December saw a rising number of deaths on our roads coinciding with when we put the clocks back, one day the penny would drop that there is a good safety argument for not putting the clocks back. For completeness, my favourite approach would be in the winter to have GMT plus one hour, and in the summer GMT plus two hours, which people call single/double summer time.

The Bill is not the vehicle to change the way in which we set our clocks. That is a reserved matter for the whole of the United Kingdom, although I note that in the other place Lord Tanlaw suggested a pilot for three years of single-double summer time in England only, allowing the devolved authorities to join in with the experiment if they wanted. Clearly, there are wider implications than just road safety. There are many positive reasons beyond road safety for why we should make that change, but for today I am asking for the Minister to agree that there should be an annual report on the road safety consequences of what we do with our clocks in order to see whether the Department for Transport, at least, would support making that change.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I was remiss earlier, Mrs. Anderson. I welcome you back to the Chair after Easter and I trust you had a good break.

The new clause, as the hon. Gentleman has said, would require a report on the impact on road safety for 12 months and another for each subsequent 12 months, and would allow the Minister to publish those reports and lay them as and where he sees fit. It does not call for any action at this stage.

Many of us will have received a briefing from the Longer Day UK group, which makes some claims about the number of road deaths that could be avoided. It gave the TRL estimates of how many casualties could have been avoided over 25 years if we changed to what it calls the daytime-saving timetable: 20,000, starting from 1971. Unfortunately, the table that it presents for us only starts from 1975, so it is difficult to make a real estimate of whether that is right. It also brushes aside any comments about safety to cyclists that have been raised. I am sure that there is detailed methodology in it somewhere, but we have yet to see it. It also talks clearly about a number of other benefits outside the scope of the Committee’s deliberations.

I listened to the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the experiment between 1968 and 1971, prior to the Summer Time Act 1972, when we had the extra hour in place for three years. He cited a set of numbers, which were supposedly the benefit of that experiment. However, there are other quotations. The Government have said that the method was piloted between 1968 and 1971, and that some findings estimate 2,500 deaths and serious injuries occurred each year as a result. The hon. Gentleman talked about the most up-to-date evidence from the TRL and quoted the Minister from November last year, but the Minister was probably just citing the numbers relating to the savings that were already established as a result of the 1968 to 1971 survey. Lord Sainsbury, who was answering for the Government in another place, said that the facts were that we

“would save 100 lives and 300 serious injuries each year.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 November 2005; Vol. 675, c. 389.]

Those figures are based on the 1968 to 1971 survey, and seem to be the established numbers. There is some controversy about the numbers, and we clearly need to examine a number of other sources, not just the road safety ones. The Government say that the experiment proved unpopular at the time.

I find it difficult to support the new clause, because it is likely to be highly restrictive. If we were to think about moving to GMT plus one for the whole year, we would need to look at considerably more aspects than road safety, which would mean another report and another set of costs. The experiment has been done once before in relation to road safety and we know the facts.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are much wider implications than road safety and there are other issues to take into account, but on his point about Lord Sainsbury’s claim that the Transport Research Laboratory’s information is simply going back to the findings of 1968 to1971, I refer him to the 1998 report by Broughton and Stone from the Transport Research Laboratory, which assesses the effects of single/double summer time. It is different from the 1968 to 1971 experiment and takes into  account casualty figures between 1969 and 1994. It is clearly a more up-to-date assessment and is not simply rehashing old figures.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I accept that point, but the hon. Gentleman is using a different set of numbers than those proposed during that experiment. The findings of that experiment are well founded and on that basis we would find the new clause difficult to support.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

This is probably the only time ever that I am likely to find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Stafford, whose general views on road traffic matters are that we should bring back the carrying of a red flag in front of cars. I find myself with him on this issue. Approximately 400 deaths a year are caused, along with many serious injuries, by our adhering to this ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back every autumn.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I just wanted to clarify the point: it is 100 deaths, but 400 deaths and serious injuries.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am grateful for that clarification. In my view, if we can preserve just one life, an experiment is worth pursuing. I am with the hon. Member for Stafford on this issue. He is quite right: the new clause would not bring about a change in our hours, but he is clearly seeking to knock at the door and to get Ministers to think about making a change. For that reason, I find myself supporting him. I do not like the wording of his clause and I do not like provisions in legislation that call for unnecessary reports and bureaucracy, but I can see why he has called for it.

The argument I have heard for not making the change is that it would upset the Scots; a handful of Scots living in the north-west of Scotland would not like it if we made this change. Well, they have their own Parliament. Although this is currently a reserved matter, I would give Scotland the power to choose its own time zone. Let the Scots give themselves their own time zone if they do not want the implementation of this particular provision.

I have heard it said that the Government may have sold the pass on this issue by giving to the European Union an undertaking that we would not interfere with the time zones in force in the UK without EU permission. I hope that the Minister will confirm that there is no substance to that rumour.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

It is the first I have heard of it, so if any such commitment has been given, it was by some other Minister.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 9:30, 20 Ebrill 2006

I find that partly reassuring. I hope that when the Minister responds, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), he will throw away his civil service brief and embrace the new clause. However, if he is not prepared to do that, I hope that the hon. Member for Stafford will be prepared to withdraw the motion and  new clause with a view to returning to it on Report. On this subject, he will have friends in all parts of the House.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

It may surprise some people when I say that I also support the new clause, although for different reasons from those outlined by the hon. Member for Stafford.

Every year the clocks go forward, and as sure as they change, somebody in this House or the other place introduces a private Member’s Bill to embark on the same experiment as before—the sort that the hon. Gentleman outlined. Journalists go to the file marked “Time zones”, and they say, “Ah, yes. The Member for Orkney and Shetland is bound to feel concerned about this, because he lives so far away from the rest of us.”

Every year, as sure as the clocks change and the private Member’s Bill is introduced, I end up trotting down Millbank to the radio studios to explain my views on the subject. It is not because I live closer to Norway than London. That is where I take issue with the uncharacteristically ill-informed view of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). There is no north-south split; it is more east-west. I suspect that people in south-west Cornwall feel much more strongly about this than people in Orkney or Shetland, because no matter how extravagant the claims made by those who seek to visit the change upon us, nothing but nothing will make the days in Orkney and Shetland longer in the winter. I hope that nothing will change the fact that we enjoy almost continual daylight at the height of summer. I was going to say sunshine, but we are not always that lucky.

From a constituency point of view, it remains dark in Shetland in the depths of winter and does not get properly light until 9 to 9.30 in the morning. In the afternoon, it gets dark again by 3 to 3.30. The changes that the hon. Member for Stafford talks about will make no difference to that whatever.

However, there is some merit in the hon. Gentleman’s new clause, because it states that a report should be made to Parliament about the way in which we order our time zones, and the impact that it has on road safety. I fear that many claims made on behalf of change are somewhat inflated and overstated. If we had from the Minister and his Department a proper and rigorous assessment that was open about not only its conclusions but the modelling and methodology used to reach them, we would enjoy a much more informed debate. It would allow the drawing of clearer lines than those that I have witnessed over the past five years, trotting down Millbank every spring. We might all benefit as a result.

I am confident that my views are right. The report that would be produced as a result of the new clause would demonstrate as much in time.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. As he observed, his proposed new clause calls on us neither to introduce nor reintroduce single/double summer time; it calls on us to do a piece of research each year and to report the findings of that research. My hon. Friend, who is a  solicitor, knows that my background is that of a scientist, so as a Minister I am usually the first to leap at the opportunity to commission research, because I am occasionally given the opportunity to throw a few bob to the boys in the lab. The only reason to do research, however, is to provide answers to questions to which we do not have the answer, but we already have the answer to this question.

In my written answer to my hon. Friend’s parliamentary question, I said publicly, and I shall reiterate now, that changing to single/double summer time would have road safety benefits. It is not in doubt—the research has been done. It was done following the experiment to which the hon. Member for Wimbledon referred, and we have the report from TRL in 1998 that examined the impact of single/double summer time more closely. We know it will have road safety benefits—that is not in doubt, so there is no point commissioning any more research on it. I buy the argument and I have heard nobody either disagree with it or challenge the data.

How many lives and injuries would the change save? Something of the order of 100 lives, and something of the order of 400 people killed or seriously injured. One has to accept that, back in 1998, a slightly higher rate of people were killed or seriously injured. Since then the rate has been falling in general, so we must assume that a reduction is occurring too in the total number of people whose lives would be saved as a result of single/double summer time or who would not receive serious injuries. Nevertheless, I am prepared to accept that approximately 100 lives would be saved and approximately 400 people killed or seriously injured would be spared that fate.

However, as hon. Members said, it is not a matter for the Committee or the Road Safety Bill, nor indeed it is a matter just for the Department for Transport. It is a matter primarily for the Department of Trade and Industry, because it has things to take into account about the economic performance of the country. It is also a matter for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which represents the interests of agriculture, although I have never quite understood why farmers are always quoted as the reason why we cannot move the clocks forward, because I would have thought that farmers could get up whenever they wanted to get up, and I assume that those who deal with livestock get up with the cows, rather than when the Government say they should.

The matters go beyond the scope of the Department for Transport and beyond road safety. If my hon. Friend wishes to campaign with those Departments for a permanent change, however, he is welcome to do so. He can quote both me and the research, and say that I entirely accept that there would be significant road safety benefits. I hope that, having taken away my commitment to back up his lobbying expeditions, he will then accept that there is no point burdening us with the need to repeat and republish the research every year, when we already accept his argument.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend’s contribution is helpful and I am grateful. I have one question. The TRL report that I mentioned was from 1998, so clearly it updated its thinking, and it would be desirable if they updated their thinking from time to time in future too.  Will he assure us that it should do that if it were relevant?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Absolutely. If we came to the conclusion that for some reason the research was becoming out of date, I would certainly commission an update. I suspect that if my hon. Friend and his colleagues were to begin to convince Ministers in other Departments that we should change our clocks,there would be wide consultation and all Departments would have to pitch in and explain their attitude.I would expect, in the normal course of events, thatwe would want to update the evidence as part of that debate. In the meantime, we accept that there would road safety benefits, but that road safety is not the only issue to be considered and many other things must be taken into account. The Government must take a wide view of the subject and consider the difference throughout the country, north and south, east and west, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said. Many more issues than road safety must be taken into account, but I accept that there would be road safety benefits in a change to single/double summer time.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The debate has been helpful and has clarified many things. I shall accede to the request from the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire to withdraw the motion and new clause—it is not every day that he offers to stand with me under the red flag—and save the argument for another day.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister about the value of research. It is not only scientists who value research; politicians also like to make evidence-based decisions. He is right to remind us that scientists have a role to play in providing evidence from time to time.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who agreed with the new clause for reasons other than the time issue. He reminded me why we should be hesitant about a change as big as altering an entire time zone by Act of Parliament. I shall be cautious about wanting to do that.

It seems odd that the Conservative Front Bench does not support my wish to consider the matter more deeply. On Tuesday, it argued for us to do more about level crossings. If we eradicated every death on a level crossing we might save 20 lives a year. At a previous sitting, I argued for a lower drink-driving limit, which might save 50 or 60 lives a year. The measure that we are discussing would save more than 100 lives a year. Important as the other measures are, they pale into insignificance compared with the one before us.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

We argued that we would not support another report because it would involve another set of costs.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support my argument that it is helpful to keep the research up to date so that decisions are based on evidence and fact rather than on prejudice and opinion.

I shall take the advice of my hon. Friend the Minister and lobby other Departments to try to obtain more general support for a change of time, which  would have the helpful by-product of saving many lives on the roads every year.I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.