Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to designate the Monday after Remembrance Sunday as an annual bank holiday in the United Kingdom with effect from 2012; and for connected purposes.
This Bill would consolidate and entrench long-term public support for our armed forces. My constituency of Devizes includes many of the Salisbury plain garrison towns and is home to more than 10,000 members of the armed forces and at least the same number of service family members.
My father, both grandfathers and my great-grandfather served in the British Army. I am therefore particularly proud to wear a poppy in early November, sport various charity wristbands, attend homecomings and parades in both Westminster and Wiltshire, observe the silence at 11 am on Armistice Day, and to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday. Indeed, laying a wreath at the Devizes war memorial last November was one of the most solemn and thought-provoking moments of my new career as a Member of Parliament. I am also proud to support armed forces day, introduced more than two years ago and held in late June. I know that in all of this support I am joined by Members on both sides of the House and millions of people across the country.
But I fear that with all these initiatives and opportunities to show our support we have perhaps fragmented that support—diluted the brand. And many events happen at weekends when working families—as I know for myself—can face as many time pressures as they do during the week, sometimes making their participation in weekend events difficult.
I am also concerned that while we have seen a real upwelling of support for the armed forces in the last few years, due in no small part to the tireless work of the Royal British Legion, who are Britain’s “custodians of remembrance”, as well as the work of charities such as Help for Heroes—headquartered in my constituency—SSAFA and the Army Benevolent Fund, when our soldiers return home from their current operations it may be difficult to keep this momentum going and to ensure that we as a country deliver on our obligations under the military covenant. A day set aside in our busy calendars for remembrance, support and celebration of our armed forces would help to keep the support alive in the future.
This is not a radical suggestion. Many other countries pay tribute to their armed forces with a national holiday, including the United States, Canada, Russia, France and Israel. Indeed, among the five countries spending the most on their military budgets, only Britain and China do not have a national holiday commemorating their service personnel—but at least in China soldiers get a half-day off on army day.
With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the House on a 10,000-mile trip to the southern hemisphere and consider Anzac day in New Zealand and Australia. As many Members know, I have the great good fortune to be married to a Kiwi, and it was his reminiscences of Anzac day—a national holiday in those countries on 25 April—that contributed to my proposal today. Many young people from down under could tell us in detail about the brutal Gallipoli campaign of the first world war; how many fought, died and were wounded; and how many and who fell from their school. Furthermore, many will have made a pilgrimage to the Dardanelles site. Do you think, Mr Speaker, that if we asked a similar cohort of British young people to name even one first world war battle, let alone the casualty numbers, we would get a similar result? I think not.
Setting aside a national day of remembrance and celebration would help us all with that collective memory. I have suggested the Monday after Remembrance day as a bank holiday. I would equally be in favour of having the holiday on Armistice day itself, but I am aware that the British Legion has concerns about diluting the long-standing tradition of the silence, and if the Bill is taken forward I would wish to work with the British Legion and other organisations to work out the best day. However, one of these historically resonant dates would be appropriate.
It is not for me to propose an additional holiday, although I know it would be popular in the country, and I am aware that it would cause concerns for businesses. However, there are clearly some anomalies in the current distribution of bank holidays. This year we have had one bank holiday in January, three in April and two in May, but there is only one more to look forward to—at the end of August—before the Christmas break. Many people think that trading one of the bank holidays—one in May, it has been suggested—for a Remembrance day holiday in November would be a reasonable swap. Members on both sides of the House support this proposal, although my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) said that he would do so on the basis that the holiday be called Wootton Bassett day, which is a suggestion I am, of course, prepared to entertain—I am relaxed about the title.
The British people support the idea. In a recent YouGov poll, Remembrance day, along with St George’s day, was the favoured date for an additional holiday in Great Britain. Last week I spent the day with young men and women of the British Army, many of whom were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in the next few months. I was deeply moved by the spirit, dedication, determination and quiet courage of those young people. I would like the whole country to have an opportunity to pay tribute to them, their comrades, veterans of the services and those who have fallen, to whom we owe so much. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Claire Perry, Andrew Rosindell, Bob Stewart, Mr Julian Brazier, Kwasi Kwarteng, Mr James Gray, Mr Michael McCann, Mr Dominic Raab, Chris Heaton-Harris, Charlie Elphicke, Dan Jarvis and John Glen present the Bill.
Claire Perry accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 21 October, and to be printed (Bill 203).