FARMERS have agreed to support calls for clocks to be put permanently forward, giving darker mornings and lighter evenings. After decades as the chief opponents of extending summer time, their change of mind - which comes as clocks went back an hour this morning - removes the last obstacle to a switch to central European Time. This would provide two extra hours of daylight in summer and one in winter.
Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is known to favour a change in the present system, which for 11 months of the year puts our time an hour behind the rest of Europe.
There is evidence that an extra hour of light on winter evenings would significantly reduce the number of people, especially schoolchildren, killed and injured in road accidents.
But any changes in law - which would not be introduced before 1995 - would be fiercely opposed by many Scottish politicans and businessmen who believe that industry, especially construction firms, would be hit hard. Scotland already has fewer hours of daylight than England in winter and change would mean some areas would be dark until almost 10am.
Since April, the National Farmers' Union has been canvassing its 100,000 members in England and Wales on whether they would support the scrapping of the current system. A final policy document is expected to be published by the end of the year. However, all nine NFU regions report backing for the proposed changes. A spokeswoman said: 'Traditionally our policy has been against change, but most of our members now say they recognise the benefits to road safety. The disadvantages to our members are minor compared to saving lives - all the reports we've had from our members so far have been positive.'
Vegetable growers, who need to harvest their crops early in the morning, and dairy and cattle farmers, who usually milk and feed their animals from 6am, would be most affected by the new hours.
Mary James, a dairy farmer near Bristol, said: 'The new time system would be an inconvenience, but it will not kill anyone - it could save someone's life, which is what is most important.'
Changing the clocks would save 140 lives and 520 serious injuries on the roads each year, a study by the Policy Studies Institute, published this month, concluded. The study also predicted that a time change would help reduce crime, boost the tourist and travel industries and reduce fuel consumption. An NOP poll of 857 people last month found 59 per cent favoured a change.