Leading Article: Let there be light in the afternoon

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ONCE again a campaign is under way to align British clocks with those on the Continent and thus give us lighter evenings in exchange for darker mornings.

This time there seems to be a small chance of success. The Daylight Extra Now campaign has been backed by 130 organisations. More than 30 backbench MPs have expressed their willingness to table a Private Member's Bill that would transfer an hour of daylight from morning to evening: at present dawn and sunset come an hour earlier to Britain than to the Continent, except for four weeks in the autumn.

The case for change is no less powerful for being familiar. Experts believe it would save lives and reduce injuries on the roads, since accidents are more likely to happen in evening than morning darkness. Alignment would virtually double the hours available for British business people to talk to their Continental counterparts. Longer days would cut crime, which tends to take place in the hours of darkness of late afternoon or evening, rather than in the early morning.

Opposition comes mainly from early risers, such as farmers, builders, postmen, milkmen - and the Scots, to whom the sun comes later and more briefly. Yet there is no obvious reason why farmers and those in the construction industry should begin their often noisy activities so early; and Scotland would benefit from the extra tourist revenue that the longer evenings would bring.

The origins of the present system go back to the last century, when more people worked on the land and in factories. Yet if France's more numerous farmers are satisfied with Central European Time, why should Britain's object?

Ministers are, it seems, too afraid to offend interest groups to take action. MPs should seize the initiative and push through what will be a broadly popular measure.