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Bank Holidays

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 19 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will consider introducing a new bank holiday in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the department receives representations on this issue from time to time. However, the present pattern of bank holidays in the UK is well established and accepted, and the Government have no current plans to change the arrangements.

He is honourable as well but noble in this context. Is he aware that, while England has only eight bank holidays and Scotland has eight and a half—if you count the half-hearted St Andrew’s Day holiday introduced by the SNP—the European Union average is 11? Is he also aware that that is why more than a million people have signed two petitions—one arranged by Thomas Cook and the other on the Downing Street website, of which he should take particular notice? Therefore, will he or one of his colleagues agree to meet a deputation from the campaign involving the Fabian Society, the IPPR, the TUC and voluntary organisations which are campaigning for an extra bank holiday because there is a clear and growing demand for it?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend Lord Foulkes that I will arrange for all those people to come and meet either me or one of my colleagues. Secondly, be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. Germany, for instance, has more bank holidays than Britain, but if they fall on a weekend you lose them; whereas in Britain you get them on the following Monday. Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. There is a £2.5 billion loss to the public and private sectors in this country for every bank holiday.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that both he and his noble friend have recently breached Standing Orders? Since the noble Lord, Lord Jones, has famously not joined the Labour Party, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is not his noble friend, and nor is he his.

My Lords, would the Minister be surprised in any way to hear that, in the event of further consideration being given to the question of national holidays, there would be strong feeling in Wales that there is a just and proper claim in regard to St David’s Day? It would be nothing more than courtesy, chivalry and justice to acknowledge that.

My Lords, Scotland is allowed to have St Andrew’s Day, but it loses a bank holiday from the British calendar; it does not get it in addition. At the end of the day, if we saw another bank holiday, I would love it to be a British bank holiday.

My Lords, if the Minister is going to meet the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and his merry band of brothers to discuss holidays, now that the half-term holiday seems to be compulsory for middle class parents, let alone for Members of your Lordships’ House, would this not be an opportunity also to see whether the Government can encourage steps to rationalise the timing of half-term holidays, bearing in mind the disruption that seems to go on for weeks in the spring, summer and autumn, largely because half-term holidays never seem to be the same for any one parent?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, for that. Last week, during the Recess, I visited seven American cities in seven days banging the drum for British business, so I do not understand mid-term Recess.

My Lords, does the Minister think that the dismal economic performance of continental Europe might be attributed to the fact that it has more bank holidays than we do?

My Lords, given that we are the most successful economy in the whole of Europe, the noble Lord is probably right.

My Lords, given the Minister’s comment on St David’s Day, will he in all equity look at the case for Cornwall to have its St Piran’s Day bank holiday?

My Lords, if Cornwall has one, so should Birmingham. I might have been in a different place five minutes ago, but I said that I was not in favour of different parts of the United Kingdom having separate bank holidays. I do not want the economy to have the cost of £2.5 billion every time for more, but if there were to be more, let them be British.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his original Answer will give a great deal of pleasure to many people, not least for the fact that it shows that the Government can at least make one right decision?

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the point made by the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches regarding the spread of half-term holidays is very serious, because it impinges on the ability of working mothers to attend their employment which, as the noble Lord will know, is hugely important to the economy and businesses of this country?

My Lords, as my noble friend rightly states—I would add a further gloss—one reason why we have the most successful economy in the whole of Europe is that we have the most flexible labour market in the whole of Europe. One reason for that is that we have family-friendly policies and at last, under this Government, we recognise that you get more things out of more people if you allow them a work/life balance. At the end of the day, if we take that forward with a view to the regularisation of mid-term breaks, that will be for my ministerial colleagues in the education department, not UK Trade & Investment, that I am proud to lead.

My Lords, is not St Patrick’s Day a bank holiday in Northern Ireland? Can the Minister explain why St Patrick is favoured over St David, St Andrew and, indeed, St George?

My Lords, yes, the noble Lord is right—Northern Ireland has two more bank holidays than Scotland, Wales or England; and, no, I cannot explain it.

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to deplore the Protestant Reformation in that in the Catholic Middle Ages we had many more holidays?

My Lords, as we in this nation were responsible for the first industrial revolution and we are putting up an incredibly good show about dealing with the second commercial revolution, what we did in the Middle Ages and what we do now just defy comparison.

My Lords, would the Minister please consider helping the tourism industry to extend the season by considering having a public holiday at the end of October—maybe associated with Halloween or All Saints’ Day?

My Lords, the tourism industry is a serious player in the British economy. It puts some £6.5 billion to £7 billion a year into the economy and employs about 2.5 million people, a lot of whom have come into the world of work for the first time. It is a fabulous entry place for young people and its importance as an industry is not properly recognised. If we created a public holiday on the shoulder of the year in October or November—it is a time that many people make representations to have one—perhaps we should make due reference, as the Prime Minister has, to those who laid down their lives in so many wars so that we could be free. Perhaps we ought to be celebrating Trafalgar Day; at least that was a British victory.