§ 4.8 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD DRUMALBYN)
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will consider this a reasonably convenient moment for me to make a statement about the extension of the holiday season in the same terms as the statement which has just been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Regional Development, Trade and Industry.
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 holidaymakers at peak holiday times. The Government have, therefore, decided, after full consultation with the interests concerned, that the August Bank Holi- 147 day 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 honourable 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 148 this they will have the full support and encouragement of the British Travel and Holidays Association.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, regretted that he was unable to stay to hear the statement, because he has left to attend a meeting of the Committee on Procedure. But I think I can say that we generally welcome the Government's announcement, which follows the pressure brought to bear on the Government by the debate, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, which we held a fortnight ago on staggered holidays. Certainly we think the Government have taken the right decision to start with the August Bank Holiday Monday, and we certainly support that. For myself, I accept the point of view expressed by the Government that it would have been difficult to fix the Whitsun holiday until the school examinations difficulty was out of the way.
In this connection, we are bound to welcome the decision of the Secondary Schools Examination Council to recommend to their bodies that the G.C.E. examination shall be ended by the end of June. For my part, I would have preferred that it should end halfway through June rather than at the end of June, but this is a step in the right direction. Finally, I would say that I would support the President of the Board of Trade in asking the local authorities and others concerned in the resorts to which people go on holiday that they should commence their holiday season and entertainments earlier. Certainly I think we can say that this is a welcome announcement by the Government.
My Lords, I also should like to congratulate the noble Lord on having the privilege of taking this pioneer step. It is a question that has occupied the minds of many of us, both in this House and in another place, for a long time. But until now nothing has ever been done about it. I think it is a very good step forward, particularly the fixing of the bank holiday in August. The noble Lord's statement says nothing about Easter, and I think we should all like to know whether he can say anything about this, because I believe it was given out from the Spiritual Benches 149 that the Bench of Bishops had no specific or basic objection at least to discussing a fixed Easter.
Since the Government are considering this matter of holidays, I wonder whether I might once more return to a matter which I have mentioned before—the revision of Parliamentary holidays. I have brought up this point on many occasions. Each time I have been told that the Government are taking note; yet they do not seem to have got further than that. I suggest that this is a time to revise the rather lopsided method we have of fixing holidays in this and in the other House. The excuse given, rather "off the cuff", for not taking action was that it was difficult because Budget Day was in April. My answer is that surely Budget Day would be better if it came in December, at the end of the calendar year, as well as at the end of the ordinary year in most commercial and business houses. Your Lordships may remember a late colleague of ours who from these Benches regularly, once a month, raised the question of trade with China and pictorial stamps. When he had got into double or treble figures on each subject, some results actually appeared. I am sorry that my noble friend is not still with us, and I hope that the Government will not put me in the position of asking this question about Parliamentary holidays every month.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Government on the step they have taken on this matter. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn gave us reason to hope, when we debated this matter on February 12, that the Government would move in that direction. I think we ought to express our appreciation and congratulations to him. I would associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said that, while advancing the completion of the G.C.E. examinations to the end of June is a step in the right direction, there is not the slightest reason why they should not be completed earlier in June, and thereby increase still further the period for spreading holidays.
§ LORD MABANE
My Lords, I am sure that I can say that the British Travel and Holidays Association are very grateful indeed for this statement. 150 I am in no doubt that I can join the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland Travel Boards in that expression. I think also that all those connected with travel and tourism will recognise this would not merely ease our burden, but actually would add a considerable amount of money to the national revenue. I am glad to know that, while we have not got the whole loaf, we have a good deal of it.
I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he could consider at last separating public holidays from banks; and, as I have suggested before, public holidays from holy days. There is no reason why, as I should like to see, there should not be two spring and two autumn holidays tied to the banks and particular religious festivals. I should like to ask him also whether consideration can be given to giving us more holidays. Noble Lords know that this country has fewer public holidays than almost every other country in Europe; and I believe, as was said once by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that it is refreshing to us all, and to workers particularly, to have proper breaks. I think we should have two holidays in the spring. Until there is a fixed Easter let us have two holidays then (and throw in Good Friday for good measure) and an extra holiday in the autumn. I should also like to see a holiday at the end of August; and, as one right reverend Prelate has suggested, a holiday towards the beginning of November. This would be a great step forward and would help some way towards the point which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was making about traffic; because this change of holiday would do something to lessen the burden on the roads. As the President of the British Travel and Holidays Association, who so long pressed for this reform, I congratulate the noble Lord very warmly on the statement he has made.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend Lord Mabane in thanking the noble Lord for this statement and to say how pleased the tourist industry in Scotland will be about it. I should like him to confirm that Scotland will not be expected to fall in line with the August Bank Holiday date but will keep its own individual dates by cities and towns. I would suggest that if we have an extra 151 day's holiday in the autumn, it would be just as well that it should be All Saints' Day. It seems to me remarkable that we do not have a holiday on All Saints' Day.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, would not the Government consider that a summer bank holiday, on whatever date it is held, will be too much for our transport services? Would it not be a better idea to free the people to allow each to negotiate for himself his special day's holiday in summer, in the hope that they will not all choose the same day?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, on behalf of the Government I should like to thank the noble Lords who have spoken for the welcome they have given to this announcement. Perhaps I may make some replies to the suggestions which have been made. With regard to the timing of school examinations, I should he glad to pass this suggestion to my right honourable friend the Minister of Education. At the moment, I would only comment that, as I said before during the debate on this question, there is the problem of finding the examiners; but that is a difficulty that will have to be examined. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I would say that the question of Parliamentary holidays has not been considered yet in this context by the Government, but I will pass on what he has said to the proper quarters. Perhaps I could associate what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Champion.
May I couple the comments of my noble friend the Duke of Atholl to the comments of my noble friend Lord Mabane, and say that, so far as Scotland is concerned, public holidays and bank holidays are already separated. In so far as it affects Scotland, the announcement affects only bank holidays and not public holidays. The banks have agreed to change the August Bank Holiday to the end of the month, and they are considering whether they should move the Spring Bank Holiday, which falls on the first Monday in May, to coincide with the bank holiday proposed for England and Wales at the end of the month.
As to the idea of more holidays, this would, of course, be a matter that would 152 fall to be considered when we were thinking of any legislation that might be required. The steps that I have announced to-day can be dealt with by an Order which is not subject to Parliamentary procedure, so there need be no delay at all about this. But when we come to consider the permanent steps to be taken, then we shall have to frame them in the form of legislation, and between now and then we will consider the suggestions that have been made and any further suggestions put forward in the meantime.
My Lords, could the noble Lord say anything about Easter? I do not want to press him, if it is not suitable.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. On the subject of Easter, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in another place on February 27 that he had now instituted consultations with the Churches in this country concerning the possibility of a world-wide agreement among Churches about Easter.
I think that I have dealt with all the points except that of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, regarding the burden on transport in general. Of course, one of the objects of these two changes is to take the congestion away from the period of peak travelling in August and, so far as the May holiday is concerned, to have an earlier and more constant date so as to lengthen out the periods of holidays. Again, I think that we ought to see what is the effect of these two moves and see whether the noble Lord's misgivings are realised. If they are, of course, we shall have to take appropriate steps.