HC Deb 04 March 1964 vol 690 cc1309-13
The Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about the extension of the holiday season.

The Government have carefully considered the views expressed by a wide variety of organisations and by individual members of the public on the issues set out in the White Paper on Staggered Holidays which was laid before Parliament last July. The response has indicated a general desire that everything possible should be done to alleviate the growing congestion at the peak of the holiday season. The scope for direct intervention in this field is limited, but the Government consider that they should give a lead where it lies within their power.

Our further consultations have confirmed the view that a fixed spring Bank Holiday and a later August Bank Holiday could make a worthwhile contribution to the extension of the holiday season and to the avoidance of congestion for holiday-makers at peak holiday times. The Government have, therefore, decided, after full consultation with the interests concerned, that the August Bank Holiday for the next two years, 1965 and 1966, should be on the last Monday in August.

The Government would have wished to combine this experiment of moving the August Bank Holiday to the end of the month with a fixed spring holiday on the last Monday in May, 1965 and 1966, to replace the present Whit Monday Bank Holiday. This is not possible in 1965 because of the arrangements which have already been made for school examinations. These cannot now be changed without serious inconvenience. In 1966, the Whit Monday Bank Holiday will, in any case, fall on the last Monday in May.

The Government will review these arrangements in the light of experience gained during 1965 and 1966. If, as a result, it is decided that the experiment of moving the August Bank Holiday should be made permanent they will consider replacing the present Whitsun Bank Holiday by a fixed spring holiday on the last Monday in May.

The consultations which we have had also suggest that the question of school examination dates is at least as important as the dates of the Bank holidays. This is not a matter within the control of the Government, but I understand that the Secondary Schools Examination Council has recommended to the examining bodies that the G.C.E. examinations should be completed in future years by the end of June. I hope, therefore, that parents of children of school age will, in future, be able to take family holidays from the beginning of July.

The Government believe that these changes in Bank Holiday and examination dates provide a basis for further action. They are anxious that everything possible should be done throughout industry to spread holidays over a longer season. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will continue to explore with both sides of industry how further progress can be made.

I would urge the holiday trades to make their contribution by extending the season during which they provide full amenities in the resorts and holiday areas, and by offering inducements to the public to take their holidays at the less congested times of the year. In this, they will have the full support and encouragement of the British Travel and Holidays Association.

Mr. Gunter

Is the Minister aware that industry, in particular, will welcome his announcement? I am very glad that he is catching up with events, because it is more than a decade since the Trades Union Congress asked the Government to consider this very question.

The alteration in the date of August Bank Holiday will not of itself alter the habits of industry. Quite a section of industry, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is already conditioned to regarding the first fortnight in August as the most desirable time for its holidays.

The Secretary of State said that the Minister of Labour will continue to explore the possibilities of spreading the holiday season. What consultations have already taken place, and what form will future consultations take, to persuade industry to break, to a great extent at least, from its idea that August is the only month possible?

Mr. Heath

There were consultations through the National Joint Advisory Committee, with the Regional Boards for Industry, and with the Trades Union Congress. I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will wish to use all the channels open to him in continuing these discussions.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

In view of the likelihood that the last Monday in May will become permanent, will my right hon. Friend say whether education authorities will take into account this strong possibility so that the obstacles in the way of it happening next year will not arise in 1967 and 1968?

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education is in contact with the education bodies on this point.

Mr. Wade

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the grandfather of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) first introduced Bank Holidays in 1871 and also endeavoured to introduce a further Bank Holiday at the beginning of this century? Have there been any discussions with a view to having an autumn or Michaelmas Bank Holiday, which would help to break the period between August and Christmas, which is the longest period without a Bank Holiday break?

Mr. Heath

I am not quite clear whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting an additional Bank Holiday for Michaelmas, no doubt to commemorate the founder's grandson. There has not been discussion about this, although there have been suggestions from some of the bodies which were consulted that this would be possible; and some have even suggested a further Bank Holiday in the New Year. There was also a minority who would have preferred to see August Bank Holiday moved well into September, but the general consensus of opinion was that the end of August was the most suitable.

Sir C. Taylor

Is there anything further to report about the discussions on a fixed Easter?

Mr. Heath

No, Sir. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but there is nothing further to report at the moment.

Mr. J. Hynd

The Secretary of State said that some bodies have suggested an extension in the number of Bank Holidays. Has he considered this, and, if so, what are his views on it? Will he give further consideration to this matter, since this country has probably less than half the number of Bank Holidays that most other countries have?

Mr. Heath

That is a much broader question. I was concerned with consulting about the most suitable time for the existing Bank Holiday.

Mr. Gough

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on this very interesting experiment, may I ask whether he is aware that it will cause a large additional expense to the diary trade? Does he agree that his predecessor informed those who make diaries—[Laughter.] This is a serious question. Diary makers work 18 months ahead. Millions of diaries have already been printed for 1965. Will my right hon. Friend look into this and consider paying compensation for losses, which, in some cases, will amount to several thousands of pounds?

Mr. Heath

I appreciate, from the consultations which we had with the manufacturers of diaries, that this poses a problem for them. They indicated to my Department that they would like a maximum notice of two years, if possible, before any date was changed. However, the pressures from the associations which were consulted to make the change as early as possible did not allow us to leave a gap which would take us into 1966 at the earliest before we could make any change. Therefore, it was not possible for us to delay this change.

I hope that it will be possible for the manufacturers of diaries, by a corrigendum slip, to indicate the change. I could not give any undertaking for financial recompense for so doing. This difficulty will arise so long as this is an experimental matter. It is a difficult one for diary manufacturers.

Mr. Barnett

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think there is a strong argument for getting rid of national Bank Holidays and instituting regional bank holidays, in view of the difficulties of seaside resorts, transport facilities and road congestion through carrying the huge number of vehicles and passengers during national Bank Holidays? Has the right hon. Gentleman investigated seriously the possibility of regional or perhaps town holidays and also tying this up with the habits of industry and educational institutions?

Mr. Heath

A number of interesting suggestions of this kind have been made but, as I said in my statement, the sphere for direct intervention by the Government in these matters is very limited. At present, a number of towns and cities voluntarily arrange between themselves when factories will be closed to enable people to go on holiday to the same resorts without congestion. I am sure that this matter must be left to local initiative. It is not a matter for the central Government.