HL Deb 27 April 1971 vol 317 cc1051-2

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 they will declare the first day of January as a general public holiday.]


My Lords, although existing legislation provides for the appointment of special days to be observed as bank holidays for certain purposes, there is no statutory provision as to which days should be generally observed as public holidays. This is a matter for negotiation between employers and employees.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that this is the day when there is greater absenteeism than probably on any other day in the year. Also is it not a fact that we lag behind other countries in the number of general public holidays that we have?


My Lords, when the noble Baroness refers to "this" day I take it she is referring to New Year's Day and not to to-day It is a fact that there are fewer public holidays in this country than in many other countries, but, as I have said, as a matter of public policy this has been generally considered best left to voluntary negotiation. Agreements which allow the parties to take account of local custom, the needs of the individual undertaking, the preference of employees and other local circumstances can thus be made.


My Lords, may I support my noble friend? Is it not a fact that last New Year's Day was a complete farce; that half the people were taking it as a holiday and that others were not doing so? Would it not have been much better for industry as a whole had it been a Bank Holiday? And are not Bank Holidays the responsibility of the Government rather than that of the two sides of industry?


Yes, my Lords, that is so. But, of course, Bank Holidays concern only certain industries and do not apply necessarily to all other industries. They can be observed as customary holidays by other industries. I should perhaps add that this is a matter which is engaging the attention of the Government, and indeed has been brought to their attention by the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether any discussions are taking place between the two sides of industry? If not, is it the Government's intention to approach both sides of industry to inaugurate these discussions?


My Lords, as I have said, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress has written to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment, and this matter is under consideration.


My Lords, would it not be possible to think up the name of a saint whose day might be celebrated on January 1, and to get over this difficulty in that way?


My Lords, I am afraid that the designation of saints is not a matter for the Government.

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