HL Deb 07 June 1988 vol 497 cc1233-5

2.48 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will restore the late May Bank Holiday to its old relationship with Whit Sunday.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the Government have no plans to do so. The change from the Whitsun Bank Holiday to a fixed Spring Bank Holiday was made in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 following a trial period between 1967 and 1971 and after widespread consultation.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that it is wholly regrettable to separate national holidays from the religious events which originally gave rise to them? Is it not the case in this instance that Whitsun—one of the greatest feasts of the Church—has virtually vanished from the public consciousness? Since this is a government who wish to promote morality, would it not assist if they gave public recognition to the religion on which that morality is based?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not sure that I follow the logic of the very last part of my noble friend's question. However, I am told that the Churches were fully consulted—this took place over 20 years ago—about the move from Whit Monday to a Spring Bank Holiday and accepted the change at that time. It was following widespread consultation, I believe, that there was agreement that this change should be made.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, with regard to the European aspect rather than the religious aspect, would it not make more sense if we tried to re-allocate our hank holidays to coincide with those of our friends in Europe? I refer to Whit Monday and May Day. When their stock exchanges and businesses are running, we are closed, and vice versa. In 1991 would it not make more sense if we were to co-ordinate these matters?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not sure, but I believe that in Italy there are 17 public holidays and I have no doubt that that idea would receive considerable approbation from many in your Lordships House, but not necessarily from industry. It is essential that in some ways we always work at the same time, but there are different habits in different countries. I agree with the noble Lord that it is rather unfortunate that in the period between Easter, which is movable, and the spring bank holiday, which we have just had—some seven weeks or less—there could be four holidays, but nothing from then until Christmas, apart from the August bank holiday. I suspect that it will have to be done by consultation which is continuing at present.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, does the Minister agree that because the original meaning of the word "holiday" is "holy day" there may be a case for re-opening the discussion with the Churches, whatever may have taken place 20 years ago?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I believe that consultations are going on about the spring bank holiday. No doubt they could be widened to introduce this matter.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that his proposal concerning Whitsun would make a great deal of sense if the Government proceed—as I understand they are considering proceeding—to do away with the bank holiday at the beginning of May and to transfer it to October? One would then have Easter and Whitsun, both feasts of the Church and both with a fairly constant margin between them.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, there are consultations going on about the holiday at the beginning of May. I have no doubt that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who is concerned with this matter, will pay attention to what is said in your Lordships' House this afternoon.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that for families heading for the Continent over the May hank holiday period there is a positive advantage in the fact that English public holidays do not always coincide with Continental public holidays?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, there are the tourism and holiday and working aspects and somehow we must come to a balance between them.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, will the Minister give us an assurance that the traditional May Day or Labour Day in this country—which is traditional not only in celebration of organised labour but also in our folk culture—will not be moved without adequate consultation?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not sure how long that has been a tradition in this country. Indeed there are some who sit behind me who may not consider that it is necessary to continue that tradition. It is a matter which is included in the consultations and I have no doubt that my right honourable friend will produce a report in due course.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the Minister said that the present arrangements followed discussions with Church leaders. May I ask the Minister what Church leaders? I do not think that the Roman Catholic Church was asked and that is the biggest.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it was some 21 years ago. My information is that the Churches were fully consulted. I have no reason to believe that the Roman Catholic Church was not consulted. However, I shall check and I shall write to the noble Lord and put a copy of the letter in the Library should I be wrong.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in view of the Premiership under which the change was made, the Whitsuntide bank holiday is now commonly known as Wilsontide?

Lord Diamond

My Lords, is there not a case, especially for this Government, also to take special account in their considerations of the Day of Atonement?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not sure whether I am qualified or unqualified to answer that.