HL Deb 11 May 1992 vol 537 cc139-42

2.47 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in order to secure a more evenly balanced distribution of bank holidays through the year they will take the necessary steps to transfer the May Day bank holiday to the early autumn.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, the Government have no present plans to change the current public holiday arrangements.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while I do not necessarily thank my noble friend for that reply, will he consider whether it is not palpably absurd to have three bank holidays at this time of year, in this particular year separated only by a fortnight, and then for over half a year to have only one? Is that not both socially and economically a very silly way to organise matters?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, of course this year Easter has led to the bunching of holidays. The difficulty remains that there is no consensus on moving May Day. For instance, industry—the CBI and EEF in particular—is opposed to a change because it wants to maintain an uninterrupted production run from the end of August through to Christmas. On the other hand, tourism favours a move from May Day to October. Until a consensus can be arrived at I do not believe that it would be sensible to consider a change.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the celebration of May Day in Britain is in line with a very old tradition; and is not the party opposite dedicated to the maintenance of tradition?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I have to agree with the noble Baroness. People were dancing round maypoles centuries before Marx was born. I believe that Scotland has enjoyed a holiday on that Monday since the Bank Holidays Act 1871 and probably ever since the Act of Union of 1707.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that there is something ridiculous about having not only the May Day holiday but also the late spring holiday? Does he agree that if one wants to maintain the uninterrupted flow of work from 31st August onwards—although it is doubtful whether that really happens—one could at least move the late May holiday to the end of June? Does he also agree that that would spread out the holidays and that the weather is likely to be a good deal better? It is not necessary to wait until the autumn. Is it not nonsense to have the holidays all together—when the weather is likely to be rotten—following an inevitably movable Easter?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, there could probably be a good reason for moving all those days and I dare say there would be opinions about which day to move and which day to fix. I believe that people have now got used to the fact that there are those three days at the beginning of the season and there is no consensus on moving the May Day bank holiday to the autumn.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as May Day is now movable and no longer celebrated on 1st May, unless it happens to be a Monday, it reduces the objections to moving the holiday to early autumn? That would bring it into line with the American equivalent, which is Labor Day.

Viscount Ullswater

Yes, my Lords, I agree with my noble friend that May Day is not celebrated on 1st May unless that date happens to fall on a Monday. Labor Day in America is celebrated on 7th September. However, most of the holidays in the European Community are celebrated on the day on which they fall. In this country those holidays are celebrated on the Monday closest to the day on which they are located. In most countries of the European Community if a holiday falls at a weekend there is no compensatory day.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that there is a widely held consensus that the present arrangements are nonsense?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I recognise that here may be a consensus in your Lordships' House but as I sought to illustrate there is no consensus in industry.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if he were to take the advice of my noble friend sitting immediately behind me and move the May Day holiday to October, it would give a totally new meaning to: "Here we go gathering nuts in May"?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my noble and learned friend puts his own interpretation on this matter. As I said, I believe that people are beginnning to get used to the position of these holidays and there would be a financial cost involved in moving the May Day bank holiday.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, will my noble friend resist the temptation to shift May Day and will he indeed re-invigorate it as a celebration of the defeat of socialism? If he fails to do that, will he reconsider the answer he gave earlier about that day having been a holiday in Scotland since 1707 and perhaps institute a Union Day to underline the importance of the union of the nations of this country?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I take my noble friend's suggestion about celebrating the defeat of socialism—on every day and not only on 1st May. In this country it is perhaps the custom not to celebrate particular events unless they are religious ceremonies and to have only seasonal holidays rather than to celebrate holidays which are attached to any particular day.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, does the noble Viscount feel that perhaps we could satisfy both camps by declaring a new bank holiday—perhaps Michaelmas Day—at the end of September? Can we not still enjoy the spring bank holidays when we celebrate the end of winter?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, there are no plans to increase the current number of bank holidays. There is a considerable cost to industry in terms of disruption, lost output and damaged competitiveness.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the headlong pursuit of consensus, particularly in business and industry, does not necessarily result in benefit to the majority of the population? At the same time will he bear in mind that retailers now count on bank holidays a great deal to do much of their profitable business and if the May Day bank holiday should be moved—I am sure that most people feel that it should—will he bear in mind their interests?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, it is up to any company to declare any day a holiday. It is simply fixed by statute that banks can close on the days mentioned in the Act or under Royal proclamation. There is no instance where there is a national holiday just because it is a bank holiday.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, can the Minister explain why industry does not mind being disrupted in spring but takes exception to disruption in autumn?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe that it is already disrupted by Easter which, as the noble Lord knows, is movable between March and April. However, there is an uninterrupted period between early August in Scotland or late August in England and Wales through until Christmas.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it hardly gives the impression of a dynamic government when they are not prepared to deal with an obvious anomaly because there is not a consensus in favour of remedying it?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, we are always willing to listen to proposals but until those proposals have some degree of unanimity, I do not believe that it would be right to legislate.