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Bank Holidays

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 18 January 2007

The Government have no plans to change the present arrangements. However, because some employers currently include the existing eight bank holidays as part of workers’ statutory 20-day annual leave entitlement, we are committed to making time off for bank holidays additional to that entitlement, which would give about 6 million people an increase in their holiday entitlement from 20 days per year to 28. We are currently consulting on draft legislation.

I welcome that, but the Minister ought to be a little more generous and increase the number of public holidays. May I suggest that Veterans day could be one of them? More important, given that St Patrick’s day is rightly treated as a big day, why should not St George’s day be treated in the same way? Why should we allow the extreme right to think that it is their day? St George’s day belongs to all people and all political sides, and it is a day for England to celebrate. Will the Minister consider that, as a good will gesture?

I know that my hon. Friend is a vigorous campaigner for St George’s day, and as a Londoner—note my classic cockney accent—I can assure him that I always celebrate it. However, I must disappoint him by saying that we have no plans to increase the number of bank holidays.

Much as I agree with the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), who is my colleague on the Catering Committee, about the appropriateness of making St George’s day a bank holiday—it is my brother’s birthday, so he would be especially happy about it—is not part of the problem with the present regime the fact that bank holidays happen in the spring? There are two in May. Would it not appeal to the tourism industry if we moved one of them to the autumn, so that it could extend its “shoulder” season in both directions and make more money as a result?

The hon. Lady should not really support the idea of a bank holiday on her brother’s birthday as that, too, would fall in the spring. What she says about the calendar is accurate, but, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), we have no plans to change the current arrangements.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Minister about unscrupulous employers who deny people their full holiday entitlement. I have received many complaints about that from residents of my constituency. What action can they take now, before legislation is introduced, to try to put the matter right?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point: we are now in the early 21st century and many of us found it scandalous when we realised that, having legislated for 20 days of paid annual leave in 1998, some companies were incorporating the existing eight statutory bank holidays into those 20 days. I do not think that there is any support for those companies in any part of the House, and I hope that they will put their house in order before they are forced to do so by legislation. We are consulting on the introduction of those holidays, and we expect to introduce four later this year and four next year. However, that is a matter for consultation, but we look forward to the legislation being introduced in due course.