My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the growing habit in industry and the public services in certain parts of England of observing New Year's Day as an additional holiday of equal length and importance as Christmas has their encouragement or approval.]
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD BROWN)
My Lords, New Year's Day is widely taken as a public holiday in certain areas in the North of England. It is primarily for industry to decide whether in other areas New Year's Day should be a working day or a holiday.
My Lords, while we should all agree that it is primarily for industry to decide, would not the noble Lord agree that the front-page comment and headlines in newspapers like The Times and the Guardian this year showed that the situation was quite out of control and would it not be better for the Government to give some lead about this particular holiday? Furthermore, would not the noble Lord agree that the lead given by the Post Office and the Railways, that they were going to provide fewer services than usual over the holidays, may well have encouraged this high rate of absenteeism which is costing us all such a very high price?
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, because certain sections of the Press say that a thing is out of control I am not prepared to say that it is always the fact.
§ LORD BROWN
In the second place, the pattern of holidays taken by industry varies as between industries and between various regions of the country. For the Government to take a stance as being the 930 arbiter of these matters would be wrong. This is a matter of voluntary negotiation between industries, and in so far as the events of the New Year were referred to, these were largely concerned with absenteeism and were not an issue of public holidays or otherwise. In the view of Her Majesty's Government it would be better to leave this to voluntary negotiation by industry with employees.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, will my noble friend do his best to see that no fits of conscience South of the Border are allowed to interfere with Hogmanay?