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Time for change? The pros and cons of 'Berlin time'

Patrick Burns | 12:31 UK time, Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Big Ben 

'Spring forward. Fall back'.

It's the little catchphrase I always use to remind myself which way to change the clocks at either end of the winter.

We never catch up with our continental European chums of course. They do it too, so we always have the one hour time difference. Is this one of the reasons why those commercial and industrial 'early birds' in Germany and France so often seem to beat us to the worm?

I remember watching red-eyed Midlands business people marching like a silent army through the darkness from the car parks to the terminals at Birmingham Airport, to drag themselves onto the 6am departures they needed to make it into the likes of Paris, Frankfurt and Brussels in time for the main European working day.

But could this all be about to change? A Private Member's Bill currently being piloted through Parliament by Rebecca Harris, the Conservative MP for Castle Point in Essex aims towards what many would see as the ultimate act of European 'harmonisation'.

She wants us to move to something called 'Single Double Summer Time'. It may sound more like Double Dutch or even a contradiction in terms.

But whatever you call it, the net effect would be to bring us into line with our continental counterparts, year-round; the clocks would be one hour further forward than they are now during the winter, and two hours further forward from GMT during the Summer.

This would also put us six hours ahead of even the easternmost cities in the US including New York and Washington.

In practice, Private Members' Bills usually have little or no chance of making it onto the Statute Book.

But what they can do is encourage governments to adopt the measures themselves and draft their own legislation.

A Government Tourism Strategy is likely to support Daylight Saving. Moving to European time could generate as many as 80,000 new jobs and be worth over £3bn to the economy as a whole.

The big catch, of course, is that in return for longer late afternoons and evenings we would have to contend with darker mornings.

An earlier experiment with 'year round' summer time was ditched after three years in 1971.

So it may come as a surprise to discover that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents are now at the forefront of the campaign for change.

They say they have evidence that moving the clocks permanently forward would result in FEWER accidents.

But then of course, there are the farmers.

Our BBC Stoke Political Reporter Elizabeth Glinka joined Andrew Porteus on his dairy farm at Brewood in Staffordshire where his working day begins at 5am.

Even with the clocks as they are, she discovered that in February it's only just starting to get light by the time milking finishes at 7am. Farmers worry that moving the clocks further forward would mean more than half their work would have to be done in half-light, inseasing the risk of accidents. 

On Sunday Elizabeth will be joining us live on the Politics Show from one of the Midlands' favourite tourist attractions: Drayton Manor Theme Park near Tamworth.

They've been doing bumper business during this half-term week. But they say longer afternoons and evenings would significantly extend their prime season.

She'll be joined there by the Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, Karen Bradley, herself a strong supporter of changing the clocks for keeps, and her party colleague the Tamworth constituency MP Chris Pincher who's not so sure.

There is, however, one great imponderable which seems to be beyond even Westminster's control.

Those dark winter mornings are darker still in Scotland. In some of the most northerly areas it's dark until after 9am. So it's no wonder there is still widespread hostility north of the border to the very idea of starting the day even earlier.

Any attempt to make a permanent switch to European time would almost certainly run into an effective veto from the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And the idea of 'Berlin time' appears not to be to the liking of the Daily Mail either!

Whatever your point of view I hope you'll synchronise your clocks and watches: it's GMT for the time being, so join us on the stroke of noon for The Politics Show on BBC One this Sunday lunchtime (27 February 2011).

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