Hansard parliamentary transcripts reveal the time-wasting tactics MPs used to block the bill’s progress. Could the delay compromise UK road safety?
The Daylight Saving Bill is all about the issue of time – its supporters want to put clocks forward by an hour all-year round for a trial period.
And yet time – a lack of it – is one of the reasons why the bill will not proceed further during the current parliament.
The scuppering of the bill frustrates road safety associations such as GEM Motoring Assist and many of the road users it provides breakdown cover to.
David Williams MBE, CEO of GEM, said: “Putting the clocks forward all-year round would create an extra hour of daylight at the end of a winter day. When the clocks go back each winter, the number of road accidents – some of them fatal - rocket.”
It is not a view which is shared by all elected members of parliament – ten of whom monopolised the majority of the time given to voting on and discussing the bill’s passage.
On Friday, 20th January 2012, the private member’s bill, which had been put forward by Tory MP Rebecca Harris, failed to pass its third reading in the House of Commons.
David Williams, in an open letter to Leader of the Commons Sir George Young, pointed out that the bill was supported by over 140 MPs and 90 national organisations.
The letter asked Sir George to grant more time to the bill so that the “most cost-effective life-saving measure for very many years” can be introduced.
Mr Williams wrote: “The cynical actions of a tiny number of MPs meant that the bill failed due to time-wasting manoeuvres – this action was an affront to the democratic process and an outrageous waste of public money.”
So who were the cynical MPs involved, what were their manoeuvres and why does parliamentary procedure indulge time-wasting? Read on to find out…
MPs are invited to table amendments whenever a private member’s bill is put before parliament. This privilege can be used to secure greater consensus and support for a bill or abused to ensure that bills are delayed, postponed or abandoned.
The amendments in the Daylight Saving Bill included one from Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, which attempted to remove references to ‘daylight saving’ in the draft legislation and replace them with the words ‘Berlin time’. This substitution is a derogatory reference to the fact that that the bill, if put on the statute books, would align British clocks with German ones.
Mr Davies’ fellow Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, tabled a motion suggesting that his constituency county of Somerset should have its own time zone. He told the Politics Home website: “Of course, the other thing is that Somerset time should be the time for the country and not Greenwich, as Somerset is more important.”
House of Commons tradition dictates that each amendment can be discussed and voted on before a Bill can be made law. Crucially, Christopher Chope, who was road safety minister in John Major’s government, was the first MP chosen to speak.
Tory Mr Chope, despite repeated requests that he stand aside, managed to monopolise the first hour of the five-hour debate. A look through the official Hansard transcription of the Bill’s debate reveals that Mr Chope’s address to parliament included discussion of the different time zones in America (“a far inferior country to ours”) and reminiscences of the time he spent at university in Scotland.
Chope’s amendment wants the bill to guarantee that a new time system should only be imposed on Scotland subject to approval from the devolved Scottish parliament.
Rees-Mogg also voiced concern that his Somerset constituents should be consulted over any changes to the clocks – he added that the Republic of Ireland should have a big say in the decision as “the Irish economy is so closely associated to the UK economy.”
The Tory MP used his literary knowledge to back up his arguments – quoting from Noel Coward and the Bible (Joshua, chapter 10, verse 13).
A query over the use of the word “flipping” – Rees-Mogg asked whether fellow MP Bob Stewart (Conservative, Beckenham) should have used the word in parliament - wasted further precious time. (Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans ruled that “It offended me a little, but I must say I have heard a lot worse in this place.”)
With the Commons’ sergeant-at-arms being asked to investigate delays in the voting, the clock ticked down further. Some of the many MPs who were sympathetic to the bill managed to get a chance to speak but the final word went to MP Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) who was described by BBC News parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy as “droning on for the last ten minutes of the bill”.
Not all bills are subject to the scrutiny that the Daylight Saving Bill has received. Shortly after the bill was abandoned the Live Music Bill – which hasn’t yet been discussed on the floor of parliament –passed
On 26th January 2012, Leader of the House Sir George Young, when asked whether he would provide more time for the bill to pass through parliament in this session, told the Commons that he “did not think that this would do the trick”.
However, he did add that at the beginning of the next session someone should “pick up the baton from my honourable Friend the Member for Castle Point [Rebecca Harris] and continue her “heroic work” by trying to have the bill passed.
If any MP does “pick up the baton” they won’t expect a change to the clocks system to be rubber-stamped without scrutiny. But they will want a fairer debate than the one which occurred last week.