HL Deb 02 February 1989 vol 503 cc1205-7

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to ensure that bank holidays are more evenly distributed throughout the year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, the Government are reviewing the position of the May Day bank holiday, but no decision has yet been taken. We are looking at a wide range of options.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Government are considering the curious concentration of three bank holidays in April and May, followed by a very long gap with only the August holiday between those holidays and Christmas? Will the Government announce a decision in the near future?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, clearly when we have a late Easter there is considerable bunching of bank holidays in mid-spring, and that is one factor of which we are taking account in this review. As to when an announcement will be made, I cannot help the House.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, can the Government not agree to leave May Day alone in view of its tradition in this country? After all, many people like innocent amusements such as dancing round the maypole and attending May Day rallies, even if noble Lords opposite do not. Is there not a case for leaving matters as they are for the time being and perhaps considering more holidays in line with the Continent, where they have far more holidays than we have in this country?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Government are well aware, and I am equally aware, that there is no consensus on this matter. However, there is no doubt that some people's attitudes follow the 1970s popular song which goes something like: Got along without you before I knew you, gonna get along without you now". However, I must say that the Government have not yet formed that view and may never do so.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is it not strange that in a period of 11 weeks we shall have five holidays and then a long gap from the end of May until the end of August when the weather is normally somewhat better? We raise this matter every year. We cannot wait for the Church for ever. We defy the Church often enough. Can we not defy it on this matter?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, because of the date of Easter, the problem is not so severe this year, but it will be severe in 1990 and 1992.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that an Act exists dated 1928 which provides for a fixed date for Easter? It only requires an Order in Council for that to be implemented. Does the noble Lord realise that that would probably be greatly welcomed by the Christian community and would put us alongside the Synod of Whitby and St. Hilda?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I believe that the right reverend Prelate refers to the Easter Act 1928. My understanding is that that can only be implemented with the agreement of all the Churches. Some branches of the Orthodox Church remain opposed and therefore the prospects of that reform are somewhat remote.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is it not well known that dancing round the maypole is a well-known fertility rite and that the accompanying amusements are anything but innocent?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in another part of my work in government 1 am concerned with the birth rate, but I do not think that the two subjects necessarily go together.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, arising from that question, may we be informed when the Opposition Front Bench may be seen dancing round the maypole?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I very often have difficulty in walking and I do not think that your Lordships will see me dancing just yet.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that it is necessary to fix a date for Easter before the problem which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is settled?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, no. Because of the difficulty in fixing a date for Easter to which I have already referred, it will be necessary to change other bank holidays in that period rather than Easter Monday.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, will the Minister have another look at the Easter Act 1928 to find out whether it says that the Churches must agree or whether it says that the Churches must be consulted, which are two very different things?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I know from previous experience of this House that the noble Lord has much more experience of the Easter Act than I have. I shall undertake to look at the matter again, but I referred to my understanding of it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while no one wishes to inhibit the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, from dancing round the maypole to her heart's content, is my noble friend aware that May Day only very occasionally coincides with the May Day holiday because of the provision that it has to be on a Monday?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes; I am well aware of that. There is no reason why one should not dance round a maypole on a Sunday or any other day of the week.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, in view of the British weather being so important to us, might not Her Majesty's Government consider St. Swithun's Day, 15th July, as suitable for a public holiday?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes. All suggestions are gratefully received. Many people do not want the bunching, as has been underlined by the various comments made as a result of my noble friend's Question today.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, in view of what was said by the noble Lord about the intentions of the Opposition in this matter, may we be informed where we can find a maypole?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I understand that maypoles are objects of interest of a very temporary nature. Therefore, one will not necessarily find them in the same place each year.

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