Time change strikes an echo 40 years on

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WESTMINSTER is trying to steal our mornings...again. Forty years after the late Donald Stewart set about time bandits in the House of Commons his successor, Isles MP Angus MacNeil has joined battle on the same issue.

The re-run of the daylight robbery debate took place on Friday afternoon in the Commons when the SNP condemned proposals to change daylight savings time after Tory, LibDem and Labour MPs backed a Private Members Bill which will leave Scotland with darker mornings.

The Bill, which now moves to Committee stage, would require the UK Government to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year. If this analysis found that a clock change would benefit the UK, the Bill requires that the Government initiate a trial clock change to determine the full implications.

Angus MacNeil commented that the progress of the Bill is “literally a wake-up call” to the prospect of dark mornings for everyone north of Manchester. The Bill had been pushed through by MPs from the south with no regard to the impact these changes would have on the quality of life for people in the north.

“With the country in the grip of sub-zero temperatures it is not difficult to see the danger and difficulties that extending the morning hours of darkness would have for people, in particular school children, commuting on roads which remain icy prior to sunrise,” said Mr MacNeil.

“Dealing with the snow and ice which has brought parts of the country to a standstill would be even more difficult with this time change in place.”

Condemning the arguments advanced in favour of the clock change, the Isles MP stated the evidence was “dubious at best”and ignored the sound reasons for abandoning the idea after it was trialled in the 1970s and more recently on continental Europe which found it had a damaging effect on safety, health, energy consumption and commerce.

“This change would be acutely felt in Scotland, raising real safety and quality of life concerns, and this is now a real test for the Tory Government and its claims of a respect agenda for Scotland. It is also outrageous that this step is being taken without any consultation with the devolved administrations,” Mr MacNeil hit out.

A spokesman for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said the council are awaiting the outcome of the study and would respond to any ensuing consultation.

The proposals before the House of Commons were an echo of four decades ago. For as the SNP fought a rearguard action against new Daylight Saving proposals on Friday, the former elder statesman of the party had been doing precisely the same 40 years before in his maiden speech to the House.

Today’s Isles representative in Westminster, Mr Angus MacNeil commented: “I quoted Donald Stewart’s words from his maiden speech 40 years and a day later on the same subject - daylight saving. Then they voted to end the experiment by 366 to 81 but now it seems now they want to go through more experimental misery to discover what Donald and 365 others knew as they were having miserable winters.
“I have marked the event in the Commons and someone of the staff told me he was there when Donald spoke. As we know, Donald was a well known and well liked character with a good sense of humour. He was liked at the Commons and still remembered fondly even 23 years after he retired.”

The milestone anniversary of the breakthrough election win for the party in the Islands, which saw Labour incumbent, Malcolm K Macmillan ousted, was also marked by SNP MSP, Dr Alasdair Allan.

He told the Gazette: “Donald Stewart and his wife Chrissie are rightly remembered with great affection and respect in the Western Isles.  Donald is also remembered as the first SNP candidate ever to be elected at a general election, as opposed to a by-election. The party have had continuous representation in Parliament since his remarkable win in 1970.

“The 40th anniversary of Donald’s maiden speech in the Commons provides a fascinating glimpse into the past, not least because it was about British Summer time, a subject which is still under debate today.  Further proof that nothing changes under the sun comes in the response to Donald’s speech from the Western Isles Labour Party, who criticise Donald for speaking about the clocks changing (it was not altogether surprising he mentioned that in a debate about British Summer Time!) and for failing to mention depopulation and unemployment (subjects he mentions several times in his speech!).

“The world may have changed dramatically since 1970, but it is amazing how many people still tell me affectionate stories about Donnie, and clearly his enormous contribution to the life of the Western Isles continues to be appreciated to this day.”

In December 1970, Mr Stewart spoke for the first time in the Commons during the debate on British Standard Time which MPs ultimately scrapped in favour of turning the clocks back one hour to Greenwich Mean Time at the end of October each year.

He told the Commons: “Central European Time is really what we are discussing. It has little relevance to England and none at all to Scotland. It is pleasant to know that several hon. Members from English constituencies, some of them in the south, have indicated to me that they intend to vote for the abolition of British Standard Time.

Concluded Mr Stewart: “It would be presumptuous of me to issue a warning to the House in a maiden speech, but I invite hon. Members who may be thinking of voting to continue British Summer Time to consider the inference which may be drawn in Scotland if the will of a majority of the Scottish Members is frustrated by a majority from areas affected by British Standard Time in only a very minor way or not at all. The ridiculous imposition of this British Standard Time should now be ended in the name of equity and common sense.”
On Tuesday, Dr Allan tabled a motion before the Scottish Parliament in the following terms: That the Parliament notes that 2 December 2010 marked the 40th anniversary of the maiden speech in the House of Commons of the Rt Hon Donald Stewart, MP for the Western Isles from 1970 until his retirement in 1987; recognises the great affection and respect with which it believes that Donald Stewart and his wife Chrissie were held, not only in the Western Isles, but across Scotland and political boundaries, and welcomes what it considers to be Donald Stewart’s enormous contribution to the life of the Western Isles which continues to be appreciated to this day.