Britain has been putting the clocks forward in March and back in October for almost 100 years – and critics have been arguing against the practice for at least as long. As recently as 2010 a backbench MP lodged a bill that could have paved the way for an end to daylight saving, citing evidence that darker evenings led to an increase in crime, road accidents and even declining health among Britons who had less time after work to play sports or exercise.
Critics of the current status quo in Britain, which in winter the country operates Greenwich Meantime (GMT) and in summer GMT+1, would like to see us fall in line with Europe, moving to Central European Time (CET), GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer. From tourist boards to sporting bodies to road safety campaigners, they argue that Single/Double Summer Time (SDST) would lead to marked improvement in life for of Britons.
Even as far back as 1908 when the Daylight Saving Bill was first proposed, BST had its critics. Many argued that putting the clocks forward in March would disrupt traffic with Europe, interfere with business transactions with the USA and even more worryingly, keep children up late. As a result the bill was defeated in parliament.
It was Germany that pioneered the tactic of pushing the clocks forward an hour during the First World War, prompting a number of other countries to follow suit. In 1916, Britain followed the lead of its enemy, passing the Summer Time Act 1916 which advanced the clocks for one hour from 21 May to 1 October. By the mid-1990s, the current dates for putting the clocks forward and backwards were enshrined in European law.
Since then there have been several attempts to do away with the current system and replace it with SDST. In 1994, the House of Lords shot down a proposal to move England, Wales and Northern Ireland in line with Europe as it did not include Scotland and risked, critics said, creating a "time frontier" between England and the Scots. The bill was reissued with Scotland included but was rejected in the House of Commons.
A decade later, Conservative MP Tim Yeo tried again to bring Britain in line with Europe. In his 2006 bill that had cross party support in the Commons, Yeo argued that creating lighter evenings would save more than 100 lives per year by cutting road accidents but the bill ran out of time in the Commons. He lodged it again the following year but again the bill was not debated and ran out of time.
In 2010, Tory MP Rebecca Harris lodged a private member's bill that would have required a cost-benefit report on moving to SDST and allowed a trial period in order to study its impact. The bill, like Yeo's ran of parliamentary time. In 2012, the government said it had "no current plans" to make changes to clock times in Britain.
But momentum is building, with an increasing volume of research suggesting that allowing for lighter evenings instead of lighter mornings would not only reduce road accidents but actually save lives. In 2009 the National Audit Office published research that revealed that between 2000 and 2007 there were 10% more collisions that injure pedestrians in the four weeks following the clocks going back than the month before.
Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee said in 2009 that 80 fewer people would be killed each year on Britain's roads if the government amended the arrangements for changing the clocks in winter and summer. "There is substantial evidence that fewer people would be killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads if the country were to put the clocks forward by one hour every year," it revealed.
Figures also suggest that it would also deter crime, with government figures finding that more than half of criminal offences take place in the hours of darkness. Meanwhile sporting bodies have also got behind the campaign, with the Central Council for Physical Recreation arguing in a letter to the Guardian in 2010 that an extra hour of daylight would allow more people to play sports in the evening.
A year later the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions said that putting the clocks forward to SDST would lead to tourism earnings of between £2.5bn and 3.5bn, and 60,000 to 80,000 new jobs. It suggested that the government would receive additional payments via tax as tourists spent more money in the daylight hours. Visit Scotland, however, did not agree given that Scotland has substantially less daylight hours than England.
Given the arguments that doing away with our current system and joining Europe with a CET time zone could potentially save money, save lives, reduce road accidents, save on energy bills, improve health and give boost to state coffers through tourism and industry – not to mention improving trade links with Europe by bringing our working days in line – the question remains, why has there been so much reluctance to change?
It could be a matter of priorities, or tradition, or equally the original reason for instituting BST back in 1916, which was in order to give farmers more daylight in the mornings to gather their dairy herds, plough fields or take their produce to market, but even that, farming bodies have since said, is fairly redundant. Not only has technology made life easier for farmers to cope with winter, but farming is not as important to Britain's economy as it was.
"The benefit of an extra hour of morning daylight for farmers is no longer really an issue – before modern day machinery and lighting, daylight was crucial, but now farmers have the technology to deal with it," said NFU Scotland in 2010.
As well as all that, say critics, doing away with British Summer Times could ultimately make us happier – particularly the older generation.
Age UK found that after the clocks change, two-thirds less older people went out in the evenings and over 40% admitted feeling depressed and almost 25% felt grumpier. Other studies have found that more daylight hours in the evening would reduce seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression suffered by 7% of Britons.