HL Deb 07 October 1981 vol 424 cc105-7

2.52 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

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, in view of its inconvenient timing in relation to other bank holidays, they are considering the abolition of the May Day holiday.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the Government have no plans at present to change existing bank holiday arrangements.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in giving that Answer had my noble friend in mind the fact that whereas between Easter and Whitsun, a period of only a few weeks, there are three public holidays, after Whitsun there is only one public holiday between the beginning of June and Christmas? Is this not an odd, inefficient and awkward position?

Earl Ferrers

I agree, my Lords, that it may be odd and it may be awkward; I do not know whether it is necessarily inefficient. The trouble is that if you have the bank holidays after June you run into problems with holidays and school examinations; if you have them in July and August there is already one bank holiday there and you run into the holiday season; and between September and March there are not the most clement conditions under which to have holidays. Whenever you change the time to, inevitably there are problems.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, could we not follow the good example of our American and French opposite numbers and have a public holiday in the middle of July, when, humanly speaking, the English climate is at its least unpleasant?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, of course one could have a holiday in July, August, September or October. All I was telling my noble friend is that whatever day one moves it to, almost certainly one will find that there are inconveniences.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the fixing of the May bank holiday stems from the very long series of negotiations which went on in this House about the fixing of the date of Easter? Am I not right in saying that it is fixed under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which arose out of the problem of the moveable Whitsun holiday; that it was decided by the Socialist Government at the time that the right thing to do was to make a May holiday, and that this is what has been done?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend is not strictly correct in that respect because the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 allowed bank holidays on Boxing Day, Easter Monday, the last Monday in May (which is the spring holiday) and the last Monday in August. There are powers in the Act permitting additional holidays every year if a royal proclamation is made, and it is under those powers that the May Day holiday is taken, which is on the first Monday in May.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, is it not the case that Easter Monday can occur as late as April 24th, which is within a week of May Day, and might it not therefore be a good idea to implement the Easter Act 1928 and fix Easter early in April?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I had a curious suspicion that that question might come from one noble Lord. The answer—I fear the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, knows it perfectly well—is that the Easter Act permits the fixing of Easter provided that all the Churches agree; and, as I think the noble Lord knows full well, the Orthodox Churches do not agree on a fixed date for Easter.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Orthodox Church does not take the slightest notice of anybody else's fixing of Easter now, and that whether the Orthodox Church agrees or not has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the case?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am not entirely certain that the Easter Act has anything to do with the Question, but, on the assumption that it has, all I can tell my noble friend is that the powers are there to fix a date for Easter provided the Churches agree, and my information is—and I think my noble friend would agree—that the Churches have not agreed.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a feeling that this May Day holiday is celebrating the Soviet régime, and would it not be suitable if those of us who realise how many people have been tortured and have died under the communist régime all wore black ties on that occasion and not red ties?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I really do not think it is a question of celebrating a Soviet régime at all. It is not on May Day, which is May 1st, but on the first Monday in May. I would also remind my noble friend that there always used to be May Day celebrations and that it was only, I think, way back in the 17th century that May Day was suppressed by none other than Oliver Cromwell.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the air "May Days" is a distress signal?