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May Day Bank Holiday (Amendment)

Volume 26: debated on Tuesday 29 June 1982

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3.33 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to substitute an alternative day for the May Day bank holiday.
It is my intention to abolish the bank holiday on 1 May and substitute an alternative day, preferably, St. George's Day on 23 April—also Shakespeare's birthday—or, if that is impractical, to have the Sovereign's official birthday, which is 12 June. Other appropriate days might be considered although those two are favourite. This is an amendment Bill, to change the date of the holiday, not to take it away altogether.

Since the inception of this politically motivated May Day holiday—announced in 1976 and implemented in 1978—I have never ceased to be astonished by the number of people, from all walks of life and of all ages, who have shown their irritation at the celebration of that day as a holiday, and who, since the announcement of my Bill, have written to me in great numbers—all but one in favour of the Bill. Everyone wants extra holidays and no one will turn down a day off, whatever the national cause. It is my contention, however, and the motivation behind the Bill, that a more appropriate day should be chosen, more in keeping with the traditions of England than the workers' jamboree, most readily associated with the march through Moscow displaying all the military might and hardware of the Communist bloc.

When I tabled the Bill originally, I specified 23 April—St. George's Day—as the alternative date. That is still my first choice, for reasons that I shall amplify. Upon the advice, however, of one of my sponsors, I have altered the terms of the Bill so that, should 23 April prove administratively impossible because of the proximity of Easter, another alternative could be used—for example, the Sovereign's official birthday on 12 June, which is also celebrated by trooping the colour. I hope that flexibility will meet the approval of the Department for Employment which has consulted various organisations to rationalise the early-year holidays. I regret that the Department has not accepted my alternative suggestions.

The Bill is not meant to be provocative, overtly jingoistic or excessively patriotic. It is entirely coincidental to the Falklands conflict and the birth of a future King of England. It is a step towards celebrating an appropriate English festival rather than one of doubtful political and foreign connotation. Patriotism should not be confused with nationalism which may be summed up as:
"our country, right or wrong".
Patriotism has its roots deep in the instincts and affections of the people. Love of country is an emotion of which to be proud; in so far as, for example, St. George or the Sovereign represents a part of that national spirit, surely a day celebrating their existence, achievements and importance to our English way of life is to be welcomed.

To suggest, as does my only opposing letter—unsurprisingly, from the Lancashire Association of Trades Councils—that
"Support for St. George's Day places you in the camp of the National Front, who together with other Fascist organisations claim St. George's day as their own"
is as ridiculous as it is sad. It is also offensive. It shows an obsessive determination to do away with anything that reminds us of tradition, history and even romance. My Bill seeks to remedy that state of affairs.

With all due deference, and intending no slight upon my Sovereign, my preference is for 23 April, the English patronal festival celebrating St. George whose English connection dates back to the Crusades, when it was thought that he rendered spiritual service to the forces serving under Richard the Lionheart. The day of his martyrdom—23 April 1222—was ordered to be a festival by the Synod of Oxford. In 1350 was founded the Order of the Garter with St. George as its patron. Ever since that time, the cross of St. George has been our national emblem.

St. George was a man of courage, social awareness and strong Christian beliefs. The story of his defeat of the dragon is an allegory of the forces of light overcoming the forces of darkness, symbolising the triumph of order and creative power over chaos and disintegration. What better ideals are there for us to celebrate?

The birthday of our greatest man of letters, Shakespeare, whose mastery of the English language and whose contribution to its spread throughout the world is inestimable, is also celebrated on 23 April.

As an Englishman, who—in this context only, regrettably—lives in St. Andrew's Road, Preston, I must emphasise that the Bill is confined to England, although I hope fervently that my hon. Friends from Scotland and Wales will soon take the opportunity to seek to substitute their patronal festivals on 30 November and 1 March respectively for this tedious, unimaginative and unloved 1 May holiday. I hope that the House will support me.

3.41 pm

I understand that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) seeks to oppose the Bill.

Yes, Sir.

The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said that the Bill was not politically motivated, before going on to refer to St. George's Day. The hon. Gentleman omitted to mention also, in continuation of that idea, St. David's Day, St. Patrick's Day and St. Andrew's Day. I am sure that if he sought to bring in a Bill to add those celebrations to May Day, there would be no objection on the Opposition Benches. However, that is obviously not his intention.

The hon. Gentleman's intention is to sweep away a long history of tradition in Britain—[HON. MEMBERS: "Four years".]—where, for many years, there has been a spring holiday at which people come together to celebrate their feeling of community. Many of these holidays grew into celebrations of internationalism. The feeling gained ground that communities should come together to make clear their unwillingness to be involved in inter-capitalist wars.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman sought to withdraw his Bill on an occasion when the House was debating the Falklands. I wonder if he took that decision because he also accepted that there was an international tradition such as I have described. There have been, and continue to be, in many countries celebrations of May Day. The German Social Democratic Labour Party celebrates on that day. Similar celebrations take place in Holland. Those in America have their Labour Day.

It should be noted, incidentally, that May Day became a bank holiday not by the wishes of ordinary British people but by the wishes of the organisations that the hon. Gentleman seeks to represent. I do not think that May Day is a bank holiday. It is a people's holiday. Long may it remain so—on May Day.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 125, Noes 148.

Division No. 248]

[3.45 pm

AYES

Adley, RobertLester, Jim (Beeston)
Alexander, RichardLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Ancram, MichaelLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Aspinwall, JackMcCrindle, Robert
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)McCusker, H.
Atkins, Robert (Preston N)Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Major, John
Banks, RobertMaude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyMawby, Ray
Benyon, Thomas(A'don)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Mayhew, Patrick
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnMeyer, Sir Anthony
Blackburn, JohnMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Bright, GrahamMoate, Roger
Brinton, TimMolyneaux, James
Brotherton, MichaelMonro, Sir Hector
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)Montgomery, Fergus
Browne, John (Winchester)Morgan, Geraint
Bryan, Sir PaulMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Buck, AntonyMudd, David
Budgen, NickMurphy, Christopher
Bulmer, EsmondNeale, Gerrard
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Nelson, Anthony
Chapman, SydneyNeubert, Michael
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Cockeram, EricPawsey, James
Corrie, JohnPollock, Alexander
Costain, Sir AlbertPorter, Barry
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Dover, DenshoreProctor, K. Harvey
Dunlop, JohnRathbone, Tim
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Rhodes James, Robert
Durant, TonyRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Eggar, TimRobinson, P. (Belfast E)
Elliott, Sir WilliamRost, Peter
Fairgrieve, Sir RussellRumbold, Mrs A. C. R.
Farr,JohnSainsbury, Hon Timotny
Fisher, Sir NigelShersby, Michael
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir CharlesSilvester, Fred
Fookes, Miss JanetSims, Roger
Fox, MarcusSkeet, T. H. H.
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Glyn, Dr AlanSmyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)
Goodhew, Sir VictorSpeller, Tony
Gow, IanSpence, John
Greenway, HarrySquire, Robin
Grimond, Rt Hon J.Stanbrook, Ivor
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Stevens, Martin
Hastings, StephenStokes, John
Hawksley, WarrenTapsell, Peter
Heddle, JohnTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Hicks, RobertThornton, Malcolm
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Trippier, David
Holland, Philip (Carlton)van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Hooson, TomViggers, Peter
Hordern, PeterWalters, Dennis
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Wells, Bowen
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Whitney, Raymond
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyWilkinson, John
Kaberry, Sir Donald
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyTellers for the Ayes:
Kimball, Sir MarcusDr. Brian Mawhinney and
Latham, MichaelMr. Nicholas Lyell.
Lawrence, Ivan

NOES

Alton, DavidMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Anderson, DonaldMcElhone, Frank
Ashley, Rt Hon JackMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)McNally, Thomas
Bagier, Gordon A. T.McNamara, Kevin
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)McTaggart, Robert
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)McWilliam, John
Beith, A. J.Marks, Kenneth
Bidwell, SydneyMarshall, D (G'gow S'ton)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyMaxton, John
Bray, Dr JeremyMaynard, Miss Joan
Brown, R.C. (N'castle W)Mikardo, Ian
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Buchan, NormanMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Campbell-Savours, DaleMitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen)
Canavan, DennisMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cartwright, JohnMorris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Morton, George

Clarke, Jhomas C'b'dge, A'drie

O'Halloran, Michael
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)O'Neill, Martin
Cohen, StanleyOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Coleman, DonaldOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Palmer, Arthur
Cowans, HarryPark, George
Crawshaw, RichardParry, Robert
Crowther, StanPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cryer, BobPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
Cunliffe, LawrenceRace, Reg
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)Radice, Giles
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)Richardson, Jo
Deakins, EricRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Dixon, DonaldRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Dormand, JackRobertson, George
Dubs, AlfredRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)Rooker, J. W.
English, MichaelRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidRowlands, Ted
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Sandelson, Neville
Evans, John (Newton)Sheerman, Barry
Ewing, HarrySheldon, Rt Hon R.
Field, FrankSilverman, Julius
Flannery, MartinSkinner, Dennis
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Snape, Peter
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSoley, Clive
Forrester, JohnSpearing, Nigel
Foster, DerekStallard, A. W.
Foulkes, GeorgeSteel, Rt Hon David
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Stoddart, David
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Stott, Roger
Graham, TedStrang, Gavin
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Straw, Jack
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Haynes, FrankThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Heffer, Eric S.Torney, Tom
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Homewood, WilliamWainwright, R. (Colne V)
Hooley, FrankWatkins, David
Howells, GeraintWelsh, Michael
Hoyle, DouglasWhitehead, Phillip
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Whitlock, William
John, BrynmorWilliams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby)
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldWinnick, David
Lamond, JamesWoodall, Alec
Lestor, Miss JoanWoolmer, Kenneth
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Young, David (Bolton E)
Litherland, Robert
Lofthouse, GeoffreyTellers for the Noes:
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)Mr. Ernie Ross and
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonMr. Russell Kerr.

Question accordingly negatived.