HC Deb 11 June 1984 vol 61 cc632-4
32. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in the light of the experience of the recent spring bank holiday and accompanying adjournment, he will ask the Select Committee on Procedure to examine the possibility of the House not sitting on Whit Monday in future years.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

The Select Committee on Procedure was set up with general terms of reference and can choose for itself what subjects it should inquire into. No doubt the members of the Committee will take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Has not the weather served us right? Will the Government move to reverse the paganisation of the people's festivals, and will they give an assurance that they have no designs on Easter Monday?

Mr. Biffen

I note all that my hon. Friend says, but it does not in any sense alter the general thrust of my original reply.

Mr. Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Select Committee to the fact that for centuries the House has been in recess during the great religious festivals of Easter, Christmas and Whitsun? Will he urge the Select Committee to restore the Whitsun recess on Whit Monday, at the expense, if necessary, of the first Monday in May?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure whether it is appropriate for me to make any representations to the Select Committee, but it is undoubtedly true that it will take note of this exchange.

Mr. Favell

May I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) said about the May day bank holiday, which, after all, is on May day only one year in seven? The only thing that appears to be noteworthy is the series of soldiers and tanks marching through Red square. Is it not far better that we celebrate Whit Monday rather than the May day holiday?

Mr. Biffen

All those arguments were ventilated not long ago. I return to my original observation, that it is entirely within the competence of the Select Committee on Procedure to take account of those representations.

Mr. Nellist

Is the Leader of the House aware that May day was instituted 96 years ago to celebrate the first international strike for the eight-hour day? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it ironic that, 96 years after that first real May day, the average number of working hours in industry in Britain is still 42.6? Will he transmit that to the Select Committee?

Mr. Biffen

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having translated from being a militant to an experienced parliamentarian in so short a period and on using this question for such an ingenious supplementary question. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's Chief Whip will agree with me.

Mrs. Currie

In view of the considerable disruption to our national life caused by the repeated disappearance of Mondays during the late spring and early summer, may I ask my right hon. Friend to exercise the power of the House, which was recently demonstrated by the complete disappearance of one day, by ensuring that at least one Monday is transformed into a Tuesday so that we can have a long weekend? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is scandalous that a Conservative Government should continue to celebrate the Socialist May day holiday? Could he exercise his power to make it disappear altogether?

Mr. Biffen

I have absolutely no power to make May day disappear altogether. Although it is encouraging that my brief appearance on such Mondays as are permitted by our procedures makes my hon. Friends believe that I have such power, I must state that, if this question is relevant, it should be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure.

Mr. Skinner

What is all this nonsense? Why are people getting so worked up about one particular Monday, when on the approximately 35 Mondays per year that the House sits attendance when we kick off at 2.30 pm is under 10 per cent?

Mr. Biffen

I think that that goes a little wide of the question, but I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Marlow

As Her Majesty The Queen has an official birthday, could not the May day bank holiday be renamed the official St. George's day bank holiday, especially in view of the comments of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) about the origins of May day?

Mr. Biffen

As with all the fascinating propositions that have been put to me, I must again give the lack-lustre answer that these are matters for the Select Committee.

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