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Let there be light — an hour earlier

26 October 2012

The moment has come to make a permanent change, says Peter Graystone

WE ASSUME that time is as old as time. It is not. It was only in 1880 that Greenwich Mean Time was adopted throughout the UK. For centuries, every region had set its clocks (or its sundials) in a way chosen by local people. It was the coming of the railways which demanded a standardised system, so that timetables could be drawn up.

During the first decade of the 20th century, William Willett, who ran a building business in south-east England, campaigned vigorously for clocks to go forward an hour during the summer months. He observed how Londoners were sleep­ing through daylight in the early hours of sum­mer mornings, and noted the waste.

He persuaded Winston Churchill to take up the cause, arguing that both productivity and joy would increase if there were more sunlight during people's waking hours. The need to save coal during the First World War eventually per­suaded Parliament to act, but, sadly, Willett died in 1915 and did not live to see his campaign triumph.

British Summer Time was adopted year-round experimentally from 1968 to 1971. The overall number of fatalities on roads dropped by three per cent (a combination of a small increase in deaths during the darker mornings, and a large decrease during lighter evenings).

There was an energetic and successful cam­paign in Scotland, however, to end the experi­ment. The further north you live, the more pronounced are the effects of the seasons. On Christmas Day this year, the sun will rise over St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney, at 9.02, compared with 8.13 over Exeter Cathedral. For farmers, postal workers, and milk deliverers in Scotland, an additional hour of morning darkness proved gruelling.

But times have changed. The way we take delivery of milk and post has altered over the past 40 years. Farmers dropped their opposition in 2006. A new set of arguments now pertains. The most compelling is that spending less of our waking hours in darkness would save carbon-dioxide emissions by an estimated 447,000 tonnes. Safer roads during the evening rush-hour would save up to 80 lives per year, and save the NHS about £138 million in the treatment of road casualties.

Alongside those measurable benefits would come simple improvements to all our lives: electricity bills would decrease; fear of crime would diminish; and the quality of life - par­ticularly of older people - would improve. These advantages are spelled out by the cam­paigning organisation 10:10 on its website, www.lighterlater.org. In addition, a large number of churches with Sunday-afternoon activities or services would see new opportunities open up.

Earlier this year, campaigners found a heroine in Rebecca Harris MP, who championed the Daylight Saving Bill, but in January the legisla­tion ran out of time. Then, in June, the issue was not selected as one of the Private Members' Bills to be debated during the coming year. (Ironically, the Bill that edged it out addresses scrap-metal theft, which is an issue as crucial to churchgoers as dark evenings.) The upshot is that tomorrow you will have to turn your clocks back 60 minutes.

"While daylight surrounds us, cheerfulness reigns, anxieties press less heavily, and courage is bred for the struggle of life." In 1907, that was Willett's argument for the introduction of British Summer Time. Those solaces to our souls are needed more than ever in this hard-pressed decade. It is time to extend British Summer Time to all the months of the year. Let there be light!

Peter Graystone is a Reader at Emmanuel Church, Croydon.

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