Wednesday, 26 October 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy David Stanton: I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this topical issue, which is quite topical because shortly we will change our clocks resulting in far darker evenings. It will be quite noticeable that winter has arrived with a vengeance. My proposal is that we examine this matter. I have been calling for this for a number of years, as has Senator Feargal Quinn and others. This matter is under the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality, which dates from the association with the Home Office in Britain, going back to when changes in clocks were first introduced in 1916 to allow farmers to work in the fields.
There are many benefits to considering this issue. In the United States, they have changed the daylight saving arrangements such that summer time rules will be in effect for an additional four weeks. A report from the US Department of Energy found that enough energy was saved to power 100,000 homes for over a year. There was also a decline in road accidents and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Multiple investigations in the UK have also revealed benefits to changing summer time arrangements. In an experiment between 1968 and 1971, all clocks in the country remained at GMT plus one hour, resulting in a 3% reduction in the number of road deaths. Although there was an increase in Scotland because of darker mornings, overall 40 fewer people were killed or injured each year. Estimates also show that the move will boost tourism and create extra jobs, as well as reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption. The Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security of the last Dáil called for Ireland to adopt summer time all year round. If we implemented double summer time, we would improve business because we would be in line with the opening hours of businesses in the other 25 EU countries. There are many benefits to this measure, including improving road safety, reducing energy consumption, a reduction in crime, allowing children more time to play in the evenings and a reduction in obesity levels. I call on the Minister and the Government to initiate a discussion on the matter at EU level. All EU Governments must agree on this point. Last year, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, raised this as an issue and his predecessor, Gordon Brown, had suggested a three-year trial period. This is a topical issue at this time of year as we are about to change times.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to make a statement on this matter. I understand that it is an issue in which he has a keen personal interest. Our present time arrangements allow for summer time to begin at 1 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday in March and to end at 1 a.m. on the last Sunday in October every year. These arrangements are set out in the Winter Time Order 2001. This order gives effect to European Union Directive 2000/84/EC of 19 January 2001. As a result, all ED member states start summer time simultaneously. Consequently, time differences between member states remain constant throughout the year. Were we to consider extending summer time, and subsequently hoping to introduce such a change we would first have to convince all 26 other EU member states to do likewise in order that time differences between member states remain constant throughout the year.
In this regard I remind the Deputy that in accordance with EU Directive 200/84/EC my Department, in common with other member states and following consultations with other Departments and semi-State bodies, made submissions to the European Commission in July 2007 on our current time arrangements. The European Commission subsequently reported that it took the view that the analysis set out in the proposal for EU Directive 2000/84/EC remained valid and that no member state had expressed a wish to abandon summer time or change the provisions of the current directive.
In considering any potential changes to our current time arrangements I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that we must consider what is happening in the UK, not least because we have same time arrangements, they are our biggest trading partner and we share a border with Northern Ireland. A Private Members’ Bill, the Daylight Saving Bill, passed its Second Reading in the UK House of Commons on 3 December 2010. If this Bill became law, the British Government would be required to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of the advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year. I understand that such analysis would include a breakdown, so far as possible, of the costs and benefits for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In light of this, I would expect that each of the devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would ensure that their views and concerns would be fully reflected in any analysis that might be conducted.
If this cost benefit analysis is to be conducted, the Bill requires that an independent commission be established to assess it. If that 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 then an order bringing the commission’s recommendations into effect for a three-year trial period would need to be made. Given that European Union Directive 2000/84/EC results in all member states starting and ending summertime simultaneously in order that time differences between them remain constant throughout the year, this would impose a limitation on the discretion available in this area. In advance of the Second Reading of the Daylight Savings Bill, Mr. Edward Davey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, sought a meeting with Ireland’s ambassador in London to discuss issues of concern. This meeting took place in November 2010.
My Department is keeping a watching brief in regard to the passage of this Bill. Officials from my Department met the Bill’s sponsor, Ms Rebecca Harris, MP, in February of this year for the purpose of finding out more about the background to her Bill and registering an interest in its passage through the House of Commons in respect of any implications it might have for this country. However, no discussions on this matter have taken place to date with our European colleagues as the matter is not at a sufficiently advanced stage at Westminster.
I have no plans at this time to change the current time zone arrangements or to conduct an analysis of extending summertime. It is an issue to which the Deputy might give further consideration in his capacity as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
Deputy David Stanton: I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will consider discussing this matter, in which case we will seek the co-operation of the Minister and his officials. Does the Minister see any merit in the proposal?
Deputy Alan Shatter: I would welcome the committee engaging with this issue. It would be helpful if it advanced the initial discussions in which an official of my Department engaged with the sponsor of the Bill in the House of Commons. The issue is complex. First, it is in our interest that our time zone remain the same as that of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. It would give rise to considerable unnecessary difficulties if that were to change. Second, there is an added complexity should, for example, the United Kingdom and Ireland agree to the change in their respective jurisdictions. There are benefits to be derived from such change but there is also the difficulty of bringing other European Union member states along with us. Consideration must be given to how such a change would affect the interaction between the different time zones, specifically between this island and our neighbouring island and between this island and the main Continent of Europe.
Nevertheless, difficulties surrounding an issue are never a reason for not looking into it further. There would be value in the matter being pursued through the committee which is so ably chaired by the Deputy.
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