I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We often hear from parliamentarians in this and the other place that radical and controversial ideas and legislation should be piloted before being introduced, so I am delighted to tell the House that 50% of my Bill was piloted this year. A quirk of the calendar meant that the nearest working day to St George’s day—23 April—was a bank holiday. Furthermore, thanks to the royal wedding and the Prime Minister’s generosity to the nation, we shall have nine, not eight, bank holidays this year.
Why should we make St George’s day an extra, permanent bank holiday? St George became the patron saint of England 661 years ago; his chivalry, values and story were seen by King Edward III as a better fit to the England he wanted to rule than the previous patron saint, Edward the Confessor. St George lived more than 1,000 years before that date. He was an immigrant, a Roman soldier born in Turkey, or possibly Kurdistan, perhaps with colouring a little closer to mine than most would imagine. We know him most famously as the dragon slayer, a man whose bravery freed a town from the tyranny of a vicious dragon. He was a man whose Christianity led him to be persecuted and eventually executed on the day we now celebrate in his name. He was adopted and taken into the hearts of the English people for the values he represented, not for who he was or where he was from.
Although celebrated before 1350, it was only after St George’s adoption as patron saint that he became ingrained in England’s national psyche. It is said that his popularity and the celebration of his name day increased substantially after Henry V rallied his troops by invoking St George before victory at the battle of Agincourt: “Cry God for England, Harry and St George” wrote the great bard William Shakespeare, in commemoration. It is perhaps fitting that the great bard himself was born on St George’s day in 1564, in my constituency of Stratford-on-Avon; he died on the same date 52 years later.
Today, St George represents part of our often under-celebrated national identity.
When I first saw that my hon. Friend intended to present the Bill, I rejoiced, and I agree with everything he has said so far, but when I saw the contents of the Bill I became alarmed. Does he not agree that the Bill is actually quite divisive? In clause 1, he tells us that the Welsh, but not the English, can celebrate St David’s day and that the English, but not the Welsh, can celebrate St George’s day. Is it not a nationalist measure that is likely to increase friction between England and Wales, rather than a Unionist policy, as I want, because I support the Union? Is the Bill not likely to be very divisive if passed in its present form?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, although I remind him that Scotland celebrates St Andrew’s day and Ireland celebrates St Patrick’s day. I do not believe that it is divisive in any way for England or Wales to uphold their saints. In fact, the more we can deal with such things positively, recognising their importance, the closer and stronger the Union becomes. When things are forced down people’s throats, they begin to become rejectionists. I am afraid that I therefore disagree with my right hon. Friend.
Something concerns me about the Bill. I am all in favour of celebrating St George’s day or St David’s day, but why does the Bill suggest that it is necessary to have a bank holiday to celebrate them on another day? Surely, if those days fall on a weekend, the celebrations can take place then, without the need the for anyone to give up work on the previous Friday or the subsequent Monday.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. If I understand him correctly, he suggests avoiding bank holidays and celebrating at the weekends, but that is precisely my point: if we had a bank holiday, we could celebrate on whichever date the saint’s day falls, not necessarily on a Saturday or Sunday.
My hon. Friend misunderstand my point. If St George’s day was to fall on a weekday, I could understand the case that he makes for having a bank holiday. If St George’s day falls on a weekend, I cannot understand the case for having a bank holiday on the previous Friday or the subsequent Monday.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but it is important to have a bank holiday, because what a bank holiday would do to the nation’s psyche is to deliver a permanent reminder of St George’s day, rather than people casually saying, “Well, if it falls on the weekend, it’s fine.” Otherwise we cannot do the thing that we most want to do, which is to recognise it permanently and specifically.
I saw an example just last month—as my hon. Friend says, St George’s day coincided with a bank holiday this year—in my constituency, where the scouts and guides paraded to Queens square in the centre of the town and sonnets were read to celebrate the bard’s birthday on St George’s day. There was an extra sense of community spirit in celebrating St George, precisely because of the coincidence with the bank holiday. Certainly, enshrining such a bank holiday in law would aid that sense of community in both England and Wales.
I support the proposal and have supported such campaigns in the past. I am keen that we do everything we can to celebrate St George’s day and what it means to be English and British, as well as to celebrate the Union. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing casual about how we celebrate St George’s day already, despite the fact that there is no bank holiday. Just a couple of weeks ago, I proudly took part in the celebrations of St George’s day in Dudley—we have them every year—and there is a nothing casual about them, but the point about the date is an interesting one. There is already a series of bank holidays— Whit and Easter, and so on—at this time of the year. Of course, the Welsh celebrate St David’s day with an Eisteddfod festival. I am not an expert on the Welsh, but I think that that takes place during the summer—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I would just remind him that because of a quirk this year, we have had a number of bank holidays, and the nation found them positive. There were some economic benefits too. It may be preferable to have a bank holiday at a different time of the year, but for me the importance of St George’s day overrides that consideration.
I entirely agree that we should have a bank holiday on St George’s day. Could not the problem be solved by moving the existing bank holiday on May day to 23 April? If we need to create an extra bank holiday, one could be created on, say, Trafalgar day.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. My Bill calls for an additional bank holiday, not the movement of an existing bank holiday. I hope those on the Treasury Bench are listening and taking note of such suggestions. I am pleased that my Bill is provoking debate and such good ideas.
To many, St George’s day is a celebration of all that is great about our nation. At the last election, every major party vowed to promote national integration and social cohesion. A national day celebrated by all, regardless of their background or heritage, would only help that process. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has said, we must all encourage our children to learn about our nation’s past, the bad and the good, and we must celebrate our shared history. What better way to do that than a national day, officially recognised by the Government?
There are those who say that St George’s day is a Christian holiday and not representative of our multicultural nation, and those who say it plays to the fringe right of this country. I disagree. St George, after all, is the only Christian saint to appear in the Koran and the only saint to have a mosque bearing his name. Even in the world of faith, he is not uniquely Christian. Yes, the fringe right may well have hijacked our symbol of patriotism, which should sadden all of us in the Chamber, but today in the House we can go a long way towards reclaiming it.
Let us remember what our Prime Minister said on St George’s day last year:
“Today we are celebrating St George’s Day, and we are reclaiming St George’s Day as an important day . . . for good reasons.
And one of the most important reasons is that we should be reclaiming the flag from the BNP and saying the flag belongs to the English people, all of them.”
He went on to say:
“People come to our country and want to feel part of our country.
They want to feel part of something and celebrating St George’s Day will help them feel that sense of belonging.”
As the son of immigrants to this country, a son of parents who fled persecution to find safe haven here, I could not have put it better myself.
It is important to lay another myth to rest—that an extra bank holiday would affect our productivity and be economically damaging. As a businessman and an entrepreneur, I have built up a strong and enduring business and I totally reject the idea that one extra bank holiday would have that effect. The working people of this country will get done the work that they need to get done, regardless of an extra day away from the office. The concept of work has changed. It is no longer about turning up at a particular time and leaving at another time. It is, instead, about outputs and what is done, not how long it is done for.
On the point that the hon. Gentleman made about reclaiming the flag from the far right, this is a campaign that I have run ever since I became a Member of Parliament in 2005, calling on Dudley council and all other public bodies to fly the Union Jack, our national flag, which contains the flag of St George, on all public buildings all year round. Will he endorse that call? Does he agree that we should fly the Union Jack proudly, as a symbol of the values that make this the greatest country on earth, all year round and not just on the so-called special days of the year?
I commend my hon. Friend’s patriotic zeal, but if he wants a truly national public holiday, why do we not choose 21 October, Trafalgar day, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) suggested, given that it celebrates an event in which 4,000 Irishmen, 6,000 Scotsmen and 600 Welshmen, and even the odd American and French volunteers, fought on the British side, and a true-born Briton gave his life? Why do we not celebrate that day rather than the day of a mythical Greek who went around slaying mythical beasts?
I do not, but I am happy to source more data for Wales. However, I would not be surprised if something similar happened throughout the country, as when people have an additional day off, they use it to visit retail outlets.
The other beneficiaries would be our local pubs and great British breweries, especially the micro-breweries, which would undoubtedly attract many who wish to toast St George, and in Wales, St David, just as many already toast St Patrick and St Andrew. With the creation of special events building on those that already occur throughout the country, our leisure and tourism industries would also do very well.
There has already been some discussion about whether we want an extra day. I entirely support the Bill, but is my hon. Friend aware that the Government are already considering another bank holiday later in the summer to extend the British tourist season? That would not be as welcome as my Daylight Saving Bill in achieving that end, but perhaps we could consider both options.
My hon. Friend is quite right; the Government are considering that. As I cast my eye towards the Treasury Bench, I see no better champion of this country’s patriotism than my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is a great patriot himself.
I apologise for missing the start of the hon. Gentleman’s excellent speech; I was mid-way through my lunch, but I am delighted to be here strongly to support the Bill. Is not the crux of the matter that it would address a grave injustice? The Scots can celebrate St Andrew, the Irish in the north of Ireland can celebrate St Patrick, but the English cannot celebrate St George, and, of course, in Wales we cannot celebrate St David. I want to put it on the record that the entire Welsh nation strongly supports the Bill.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He was a champion in helping me to draft the Bill and putting his name to it right at the outset. I am sure that his constituents and the people of Wales in general will recognise his commitment to putting this Bill on the statute book.
I spoke about the special events that could be developed by the leisure and tourism industries. In Stratford we already celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday on the weekend nearest the 23rd April. I am sure that the turnout would be all the larger and that local businesses would do all the better if the date were set in stone—the same every year—rather than having to be moved around.
We must also put the proposal in context. With only eight a year, the UK ranks 16th in Europe when it comes to bank holidays; France and Sweden have 11 a year and Germany has 12. Even the notoriously hard-working Americans have 13, although I accept that they take shorter summer holidays than we do in Europe. Are critics really saying that these extra bank holidays are pulling down those countries’ economies? Figures today from Germany and France demonstrate the growth in their economies, yet they have more bank holidays.
Finally, this policy has true cross-party support and, more important, huge public support. On St George’s day this year, I teamed up with Facebook’s Democracy UK page to ask users whether they supported the Bill. I am told that the response rate was 800% higher than usual, and I am delighted to say that an incredible 89% of respondents supported the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) has been presented with a petition, to be presented to the House, with the signatures of 3,674 constituents asking for a St George’s day bank holiday. Other Members have received e-mails from constituents asking that they support the Bill. In the world of research, where I hail from, YouGov found that 68% of people thought it appropriate for the country to have an extra bank holiday, with St George’s day being the most popular option.
Today we have an opportunity to do something great for this nation. It is an opportunity to tell the public that we are listening to what they want, and it is an opportunity to deliver real social and economic benefits. I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the Bill in order to turn those opportunities into reality. I commend the Bill to the House.
I rise to make a short contribution to the debate. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) for bringing the debate to the House. I am sure that the campaign he is spearheading is very popular, if not populist. However, I have some slight concerns about the international comparisons that have been made. The reality is that across most of continental Europe, bank holidays, which are normally associated with particular feast days or national events, are not transferred to the following Monday or previous Friday when they fall on the weekend. For example, if Christmas day falls on a Saturday, in Germany that is it and they do not get the following Monday off. That happens in most continental European countries, if not all. My hon. Friend alluded to America, and I appreciate that they tend to take shorter holidays in the summer, with 10 days' statutory entitlement being quite normal.
I applaud my hon. Friend’s patriotic stand in seeking to ensure that we have holidays that celebrate our country, but I would like him to consider the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), which I agree with, that people do not require a holiday to be able to celebrate our wonderful country, as happens in our civic parade in Saxmundham and in similar events elsewhere in Suffolk Coastal.
In reference to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) has just made on how the Government are considering other bank holidays, I see that as a really important contribution to establishing why we need 1 May to be a bank holiday—I know that that may be controversial on the Opposition Benches. Why not choose a day of national celebration? It could be the Queen’s birthday or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) suggested, Trafalgar day.
That is a fair point, and there is no more popular day than a day celebrating one’s country, although, with reference to what was aid by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who is no longer in his place, I am conscious that we have always to support the United Kingdom. We have had the royal wedding day, and with the diamond jubilee next year I think that such moments of unity may be more appropriate dates on which to build.
My hon. Friend mentioned public holidays in the United States earlier, and until not that long ago some states celebrated some public holidays and other states did not; Martin Luther King day is the most relevant example. We could have national and sub-national holidays in this country. They could work quite well, and I see no problem with having a Trafalgar day, a St George’s day, a St David’s day, a St Andrew’s day, a St Patrick’s day and so on. That works in other countries with subdivisions.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. In Scotland they have not only new year’s day off, but 2 January. Perhaps they have such a good time at Hogmanay that they need two days to recover; I do not know the convention around that. Of course, it was not until fairly recently—perhaps within our lifetime, my hon. Friend may note—that Christmas day became a day off in Scotland, so I fully accept that different countries within the United Kingdom might have different traditions that they wish to modify.
In Scotland, apart from the obvious public holidays such as Christmas day that appear on fixed dates, many public holidays are local holidays. Different local authorities will choose different days for their spring or autumn holidays, so the system works perfectly well not just within a whole nation, but locally. Will the hon. Lady be clear about May day, however? I was concerned that she was suggesting that the May holiday should not continue, and I hope she was not, because if that approach were to be associated with introducing St George’s day and St David’s day, it would destroy the otherwise bipartisan approach to the debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who has introduced the Bill, would not want that either.
I am not trying in any way to associate that idea with the Bill; I am trying to suggest that the Government should take some time to think about the public holidays that affect each individual nation and the United Kingdom as a whole, and to decide whether they are well spaced out, whether there is a concentration around a particular time of year and whether we could do with moving some—be they 1 May, 30 May, the one in August or similar—to different points of the year. It is a long stretch from 31 August right through to Christmas day, especially when we have so many holidays granted to us earlier in the year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon commented on economic activity, and I should like to see more understanding of that issue. I will not oppose the Bill, because it merits further debate, but I look forward to the Government’s comments, particularly given that some of my local business people have said, “Another bank holiday means another day that I have to pay someone who may not be generating value for my business.” That might seem a bit miserly, but it is not intended to be. That is the reality, and we need to ensure that we are as productive as we can be. We should fly our flags with pride on St George’s day, 1 March, 30 November and 17 March, but we must ensure that we do not put ourselves at a disadvantage compared with our international competitors, and not just those within the European Union.
I rise to make a short contribution to the debate. I want to make two preliminary points. First, I extend my sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) on moving the Second Reading and on being such an advocate of a full debate about whether St George’s day in England and St David’s day in Wales should form bank holidays, as St Patrick’s day in Northern Ireland and St Andrew’s day in Scotland do.
Secondly, I stress—not least because, for perfectly understandable reasons given the constituency that he represents, my hon. Friend focused his comments on St George’s day—that, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) said, and as I know given my surname and with grandparents and relatives in Troedyrhiw in south Wales, there is great support in Wales for the Bill and for ensuring that there is also a public holiday on St David’s day.
With those preliminary remarks behind me, the only point that I want to address is one that has troubled some hon. Members: whether the Bill, as formulated, is in any way a divisive measure in preventing citizens in the various constituent parts of the United Kingdom from celebrating saints' days that are not public holidays in the constituent part of the UK from which they come. As I understand it, that is not the principle that lies behind the Bill. It would be perfectly acceptable for Englishmen and Englishwomen living in Wales to celebrate St George’s day, or for Welsh people who have the misfortune to live in England to celebrate St David’s day, in just the same way that I am sure many Scots living in other parts of the United Kingdom celebrate St Andrew’s day—and we all know that the Irish celebrate St Patrick’s day wherever they happen to be in the world, and do it very well indeed. That mischief does not exist in the Bill, and hon. Members who have sought to suggest that it does are wrong.
Much more importantly, this is a Bill whose day has come. The time has come for this sort of measure to be properly debated and for the Government to consult on it, because for too long the symbols associated, in particular with St George, have been purloined by the wrong people in this country. It is about time, as any decent and proper Englishman such as the Minister can tell us, that we took those symbols back and began to celebrate what it is to be English, Welsh, Scots or Irish. There is no problem with that. This is a Union of four strong nations, and the Bill would not in any way undermine it.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments and, I hope, to receiving assurances that the Government, even if they will not lend their support to the Second Reading of the Bill, will give it serious consideration in the context of whether there should be further bank holidays in this country. I, for one, look forward to the day when, even if I can celebrate Trafalgar day—although I am not sure what I would do with that day in October—I and all my constituents will have the opportunity to mark the day on which the patron saint of this country is celebrated. For those reasons, I will support my hon. Friend’s Bill, and I hope that others will do the same.
I join other Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) on introducing the Bill. I also congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, because before you became an occupant of the Chair you led the way in previous Parliaments in promoting a series of patriotic measures. I strongly support this proposal. I strongly believe that we should celebrate St George’s day and that we should, as the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) said, reclaim these symbols from those on the far right, who have traduced them.
We heard several other proposals in the debate. For example, the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) suggested a day of national celebration not on St George’s day but on Trafalgar day. I think we should look for a day that enables us to celebrate much more what we are as a people and a nation, and the unique contribution we have made to the rest of the world. People sometimes ask me what it means to be British. I believe that it is not about where you were born, what you look like, where your parents were from, the religion you practise or any other such factors, but the contribution you make, what you believe, and your adherence to the great British values of democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance, to which I believe our country has a particular and unique attachment.
People say that every other country can claim those values just as much as Britain can, but I do not believe that to be true. For example, when other European countries rounded up Jews in the second world war, put them on trains and sent them to concentration camps—we were reminded of that only yesterday with the trial of Demjanjuk—Britain, uniquely, provided a safe haven for Jewish children such as my father, who came here at the age of 10, unable even to speak English. I therefore think we can say that this country has a unique commitment to the values of democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance, and that we should stand up for that. We should pick a day to celebrate that reminds us, children in Britain and everyone who wants to live in this country that it is those values that make us British and that make our country so special.
When the Minister responds, I would like to hear what thought he and his colleagues have given to picking a date that can be set aside for an annual moment of reflection and celebration to remind the whole country of the unique contribution that British people have laid down their lives to give to the rest of the world.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) on moving the Second Reading of his Bill, and on making so many pertinent points.
Many great and some not so great men and women have attempted to define the English identity. I will not compete with them by trying to weave tea, Shakespeare, queuing and tabloids into a national narrative. I am even less well qualified to pontificate on the essence of Welshness.
The Labour party strongly supports the celebration of the English and Welsh national identities. We are proud that we helped to reclaim the cross of St George from the British National party. I think it is true to say that when we now see it flying on our streets, all English hearts can swell with pride, rather than fear racist insults. The Welsh have been ahead of the English in maintaining a strong focus on and pride in their national symbols: the flag of St David, the daffodil and their national dress.
Many St George’s day celebrations are held in my constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne Central. Kids of all ethnic backgrounds delight in recreating St George’s feats of heroism, to which the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon referred. I tried to emulate St George’s courage and skill by competing in the egg and pan race at the Villa Victoria’s St George’s fun day in the Westgate area of Newcastle. I am afraid that I was not worthy of his memory, but I will have another opportunity next year to carry off the golden frying pan.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I will consider that in the run-up to next year’s event.
The royal wedding in April was a huge celebration of national identity. A million people came to London to celebrate with good humour and great pride, and all over the country people gathered in pubs, parks, streets and halls to watch. Even republicans managed to enjoy it in their own way and with good grace. We hope that the Government are already putting in place measures to ensure that the Queen’s diamond jubilee next year is as “amazing” as the wedding, as Her Majesty is reported to have characterised it.
The Opposition do not oppose Second Reading and look forward to seeing the Bill in Committee, but a number of important issues have to be considered before we will support it. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon considered the economic impact, and we are aware of the Government estimate that an additional national bank holiday would cost £2.9 billion. That would have clear implications for business, trade unions and other stakeholders.
There are issues besides costs for the Committee to examine. For example, we must make fair international comparisons. As the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) said, I am not sure it is fair to claim that we have significantly fewer holidays than others, because in France, for example, if May day falls on a Saturday or Sunday there is no day off in lieu. With our strong sense of fairness, we ensure that a bank holiday is always a working day. Taking that into account, I believe that, on average, other European countries have only a slightly larger number of bank holidays. The French Government are reportedly considering reducing the number of public holidays. The hon. Lady pointed out that the US has more, but the trade-off is that far less holiday time is provided for businesses and workers.
There is a further concern that is the subject of daily and hourly discussion throughout these isles—the weather. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) said, an April bank holiday has little chance of coinciding with an English heat wave—nor, I am told, is March the best time to showcase Welsh sunshine. As a nation, we are working harder over longer hours, in more stressful conditions, so should we not have a decent chance of decent weather on a day off?
Furthermore, some might question the principle of telling hard-working men and women what they should do with their time off. It does not sound very English, does it? Unlike the French, the English have no need of an académie to celebrate the language of Shakespeare. Some might question whether a bank holiday is necessary to strengthen the homeland of Churchill, Brunel, Boadicea and St Cuthbert, to name but a few, or for that matter the home of Owain Glyndwr and the Eisteddfod.
As has been mentioned, however, a poll conducted for St David’s day 2006 found that 87% of people in Wales wanted it to be a bank holiday, with 65% being prepared to sacrifice a different bank holiday. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) referred to the strong support in Wales for a St David’s day bank holiday. We therefore believe that there is strong evidence of popular interest in making St David’s day and St George’s day bank holidays, and that it is worth while examining in more detail how the matter can be taken forward. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is in pre-consultation on the May day bank holiday, and as a result we hope to learn more about British attitudes to bank holidays. We hope, though, that we will not lose our May day bank holiday.
We believe that we should celebrate our national identity, and unlike the Government we believe in promoting strong local, regional—we have not yet banned the R-word—and national identities. We look forward to discussions in Committee to see whether the Bill is the best way of doing so.
Would that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, had been in Long Sutton in my constituency when St George’s day was celebrated. You would have been able to enjoy, as I did, adorned by the rose of England, the people and personalities of that splendid town. Many people, like me, enjoyed vanilla ice cream made and served by Laddies of Holbeach at an event organised by Jack Tyrrell, whose triumphant election to Long Sutton parish council I know the whole House will wish to celebrate. I can think of no one better than you, Mr Deputy Speaker—I am not in the habit of flattering the Chair, as you know—to have added their celebrity to that occasion. Perhaps I can take this opportunity to invite you to join me in my constituency when the event is next held.
Last Sunday, I marched, as I do every year, at the head of scouts and guides, cubs and brownies, and beavers and rainbows from Spalding marketplace to the church of St Mary and St Nicholas to celebrate St George’s day —rather late, the House will note, because of the royal wedding and all the events we enjoyed as a nation that obliged those organisations to delay their usual celebrations. It is an annual joy to be part of that and to see young people experiencing the benefits described by so many Members today of national identity, including the purposeful pride instilled in our hearts by our understanding of what we are and where we have come from.
It has been the habit of those in the bourgeois liberal class—by that, of course, I do not mean the Liberal Democrats; I am using “liberal” with a small L—who are doubt-filled and guilt-ridden to understate the significance of that sense of identity. Let that passing phase in our history be now put to one side. Let us all, as a nation, understand that this sense of belonging feeds our sense of worth and value.
To that end, I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s Bill and the chance it has given us to debate these matters. At its heart, it is a celebration not only of St George’s day and St David’s day, but of St George and St David themselves. In anticipation of this day, preparing with the diligence that I hope I usually display, I took the trouble to wander into Central Lobby and look at the fine mosaics of St George and St David—and also of St Andrew and St Patrick—that adorn that place. You will be familiar with them, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have purchased two small postcards for you, which I will give you at the end of today’s proceedings. The mosaics, which were added to Central Lobby a considerable time after the Houses’ rebuilding after 1834, are a wonderful display of the very symbols of identity to which the Bill draws the House’s attention.
St George, you will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, stands between virtue and purity—other elements in the national identity, described by many Members, and exemplified in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), that make England what it is. Virtue is holding a lion’s skin, illustrating the triumph over brute force, whereas purity holds a bunch of white lilies. I do not want to disappoint my hon. Friend, but St George is clearly a rather pale-skinned youth in the illustration, by the way, but of course that might be poetic licence. The figure of St George says so much about what we are as Englishmen.
It is appropriate to take this opportunity to celebrate St George and St David. Lest I be accused of any prejudice, I will say a word about St David too, for there is a fine mosaic of him, too. He stands between two angels. I cannot help but notice my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) at the end of the Treasury Bench, and I want to point out for his benefit alone that St David was originally the saint of Pembrokeshire, and only later became the saint of the whole of Wales. The two angelic figures standing either side of St David in that mosaic, which we pass every day, represent the harp of harmony and the lamp of light. May harmony and light be brought to all our proceedings today and every day.
I would like to put a couple of other things on the record before I move to the specifics of the Bill—mindful, of course, of your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker. No party in this House has a monopoly on patriotism. It would ill serve us to pretend so. Patriotism, the belief in something greater than that which divides us, is an essential component in building a society that works. The things that drive and unite us must be greater than the differences that we enjoy. Indeed, the fact that we can tolerantly enjoy differences is emblematic of what is best about being British.
In those terms, the Bill is topical. I am sure that everyone enjoyed the recent celebrations of national identity, best shown by the royal wedding, to which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) referred. It was a truly happy day for those directly involved, and it is marvellous how that happiness reverberated across the whole nation. Indeed, my young son Edward played the part of the groom in a royal wedding celebration at John Harrox primary school in my village. He was proud to do so, borrowing my top hat for the occasion.
We would all love another holiday—I would love many more holidays—but there are costs to be paid. I hope that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon will not think I am a killjoy for pointing that out. I do so with some reluctance, because I think we are often excessively utilitarian in public policy. I do go with Wilde:
“A cynic is the man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
We weigh and measure public policy solely by utility at great cost. None the less, we must be mindful of cost, in particular because of the times in which we live. It would be less than responsible not to take into account the points made by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central about the possible cost of an additional public holiday, to which I will return in a few moments.
I will now read from the script that was prepared for me, although I will do so fleetingly and will not let that constrain my rhetoric unduly.
The Government regularly receive requests for additional bank holidays to celebrate a variety of occasions. The current pattern of permanent bank holidays is well established, and in recent years leave entitlements for many workers have increased. It might therefore seem, in the eyes of some, unnecessary to announce a further bank holiday, but there will be a holiday next year to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee, as there was to celebrate her golden jubilee. We should celebrate that with exuberance: no understatement and lots of celebration in Westminster and across the country, for my disdain of the bourgeois liberal class extends to its claim that to be exuberant is to be vulgar.
No one has ever suggested that I am a member of any sort of bourgeois liberal group. Thirty years ago next year, British forces liberated the Falkland Islands. They did not just free the Falklands, but fought for democracy and freedom more broadly. Would it not be right for the nation to celebrate that anniversary next year, and every year, on 14 June, as an example of Britain’s commitment to democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance?
In response to that, I should say that a nation that forgets its past is likely to neglect its future. As a conservative—with every kind of “C”—I fully understand that we are part of a continuum, and unless we learn from what we have done, we are unlikely to do well now or as we move forward, so it is right that we mark the occasion that the hon. Gentleman describes. It is important that we celebrate that victory and also pay proper respect to those who were part of it. I do not know what the official plans are, but given the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, the least I can do is ask the Ministers responsible to drop him a line. I think it would be wrong if that passed without any comment or note. Such occasions are worth marking in an appropriate and measured way.
I stand in awe of my hon. Friend’s powers of oratory and sound and clear thinking. On the cost and the point that he has just made about a similar event next year—an extra bank holiday to celebrate, quite rightly, the Queen’s diamond jubilee—could we not in the intervening time assess the cost of an additional bank holiday? We would therefore be able to make a sound decision about whether my Bill’s proposal for a permanent bank holiday could be supported in future.
My hon. Friend is certainly right. Although we cost such proposals in a clear and empirical way—and notwithstanding my comments about utility—it is right that we should consider the matter in the round. We should assess the effects, both good and bad, on business, because clearly many businesses will benefit from an additional holiday. The tourist business, many of our resorts and parts of our leisure industry would benefit. However, there would be other costs to business, and it is right to listen to what business organisations say. Indeed, I will describe what they have said as we progress through this short but important debate.
The history of bank holidays will help us to draw some conclusions. Bank holidays are a relatively new phenomenon, of course. Before 1834, the Bank observed about 33 saints’ days and religious festivals as holidays, but in 1834 the number was reduced to just four: 1 May, 1 November or All Saints day, Good Friday and Christmas day. Frankly, in my view, that was rather a meagre ration. In 1871, the first legislation relating to bank holidays was passed when the banker and politician, Sir John Lubbock, introduced the Bank Holidays Act 1871, which specified the days as holidays.
I understand that Sir John Lubbock was an enthusiastic supporter of national and local cricket, and was firmly of the belief that bank employees should have the opportunity to participate in and attend matches when they were scheduled. Dates of bank holidays are therefore dates when cricket games were traditionally played between villages in the area where Sir John was raised. It is that rather partisan approach to bank holidays, built around Sir John’s personal tastes, which forms the basis, or at least the origins, of the matters we are speaking of today. Nevertheless, people were so glad to be given time off, whether it was to watch cricket or not, they called the first bank holidays St Lubbock’s days for a while. That did not perpetuate, but I hope that politicians of note might consider that, at least in popular if not official terms, special days could be named after them; one never knows, but if my hon. Friend’s Bill were to be successful, his name might, at least colloquially, be attached to the day’s holiday that people enjoyed. However, that rather self-interested motive of course has nothing to do with his bringing the Bill to our attention.
As is often the case, Scotland was treated separately because of its separate traditions, and so, for example, new year’s day was a holiday there whereas Boxing day was not. The 1871 Act did not specify Good Friday and Christmas day as bank holidays in England, Wales and Ireland because they were already recognised as common law holidays, and common observance had meant that they had become customary holidays since before records began.
Exactly a century after the 1871 Act, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which currently regulates bank holidays in the UK, was passed. The majority of the current bank holidays were specified in the 1971 Act, but holidays for new year’s day in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and for May day were introduced later. From 1965, the date of the August bank holiday was changed to the end of the month. Curiously, there were a few years—for example, 1968—when the holiday fell in September, but this no longer occurs, presumably reflecting a change in the way of defining the relevant date. The Whitsun bank holiday, Whit Monday, was replaced by the late spring bank holiday, which was fixed as the last Monday in May in 1971.
Under the 1971 Act, certain holidays are written into legislation. Those which are not are proclaimed each year by the legal device of a royal proclamation. A royal proclamation is also used to move bank holidays that would otherwise fall on a weekend, so adding an additional one-off holiday, as was the case this year. In that way, holidays are not lost in years when they coincide with weekends. These deferred bank holidays are termed bank holidays in lieu of the typical anniversary date and in the legislation are known as “substitute days”. Although we have fewer public or bank holidays than many other European Union member states, they do not always have substitute days and so, in some sense, the comparison is misleading. That point has been made by a variety of speakers today, including the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central.
To give those north of border a chance to have a longer celebration at new year, 2 January was made an additional bank holiday in Scotland by the 1971 Act—the rest of the country was given the chance to celebrate, less enthusiastically perhaps, by having new year’s day off instead. May day is the most recent of the eight bank holidays and is thought by some to be a controversial choice. It was introduced by the then Employment Secretary, Michael Foot, in 1978, just before he went on to lead the Labour party. At the time many opposed the move, saying that the May day holiday was essentially a communist idea because most countries behind the iron curtain enjoyed it, but it is now in the calendar and a fixture in bastions of communism such as the United States. I think we can assume that those charges did not bear as much weight as their advocates suggested.
The first bank holiday Act was a welcome innovation—
On the point of the May day bank holiday. Does the Minister agree that one solution to the problem of finding an extra bank holiday for St George’s day would be simply to move the May day bank holiday to 23 April? That would resolve the problem of a loss to the economy, which has been discussed, and it would create a day around which we could all unite for St George’s day.
I wondered whether a bright Member of this House rather like my hon. Friend—who certainly is that—might make just such an intervention. It is arguable that one might transpose those dates. It is not the spirit of the Bill, which suggests an extra day, but none the less it is an argument that could be made and that has been made very succinctly by my hon. Friend in his brief intervention.
In conclusion, let me say two things. I want to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon—I know how pleased he will be that I am able to make this announcement today—that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport tourism strategy allows for a consultation on moving the May day bank holiday and one suggestion is that it might be moved to St George’s day or St David’s day. That consultation will give everyone an opportunity to have a proper debate about such arguments to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend the Members for Stratford-on-Avon and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). Of course, that is not to prejudge the outcome of the DCMS process.
One can do no better on such occasions than to quote our great poet, who was born on St George’s day and died on St George’s day. Anyone in this place who has doubts about the existence of the divine and would attribute that to coincidence is surely rather less wise than that great man himself. He said:
“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’”
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his response and the positive news that a consultation on a St George’s day bank holiday will definitely be forthcoming. I shall obviously push hard to ensure that the option of an entirely new bank holiday, rather than just moving May day, is included as an option in that consultation and I hope that my hon. Friend will meet me and supportive colleagues to discuss the matter in the near future.
In the light of that fact and of my hon. Friend’s response, I think it would be quite right to withdraw the Bill in order to give the Department time for consultation and an opportunity properly to collect public opinion as well as to give the Government time to respond to that opinion. I am quite sure that the English, Welsh and indeed entire British public will continue to show their strong support and that, in the near future, we will be able to deliver a St George’s day bank holiday for our nation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.