Last month the Prime Minister declared that there would be a Bank Holiday to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and I am delighted that as a nation we will have the opportunity to celebrate this momentous occasion on 29th April 2011. It reminded me of an issue that I hold dear to my heart and that is the celebration of St George's Day and St David’s Day’s with Bank Holidays in England and Wales respectively.
This is a subject that means a lot to me and to many of my constituents in Stratford on Avon. Unlike our neighbours in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, England and Wales do not currently celebrate our Saints Days as Bank Holidays; this is something that I want to change. I hope to replace next year’s Royal Wedding Bank Holiday in perpetuity to celebrate our two countries' Patron Saints.
We all know Saint George as the famous dragon slayer, whose bravery led to the freeing of a town from a vicious dragon and thus led them in their subsequent conversion to Christianity. But did you know that he was himself an immigrant to this country? Saint George is widely believed to have been born in Turkey and served in the Roman army. St David is remembered today for his unifying effect and the strengthening of Christianity in Wales as much as for his miracles and close connection to nature.
So we all know about our Patron Saints, but why is it important to celebrate them?
I think the best answer is a simple one – we are a great nation and through these National days we can encourage community cohesion and celebrate all the best aspects of English and Welsh culture and society, an almost endless list of things that include our long history of tolerance, acceptance of all who live here and our pride in being British. In recent years the symbols of our Patriotism have been hijacked by the fringe right wing of our country – let’s reclaim them and ensure that all who live in Britain whatever their background are able to join together and celebrate all the things that make Britain ‘Great’.
I am a firm believer in the celebration of our culture and history. We have so much to be proud of in our great past and we should never let anyone tell us not to celebrate it. Every country has done some things in its past that it would not repeat but I truly believe that Britain has played a vital and successful role in the world’s history and we must always remember that. As my friend the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has said we must all encourage our children to learn about our nations past, the bad and the good, and celebrate our shared history.
YouGov has recently commissioned a survey into the British public’s attitude to this issue. They discovered that there is strong public support for an increase in the number of bank holidays.
Over two thirds of the adult population (68%) think that it would be appropriate for Great Britain to have at least 9 days of public holiday a year and out of the various possible calendar occasion that were candidates for the extra bank holiday, YouGov found that St George’s Day was the most popular. 22% supported it, just ahead of Remembrance Day on 21%. These two were clear favourites, with the Battle of Trafalgar and the Summer Solstice coming third and fourth respectively.
Let me finish by putting to bed the one argument against such a change that I have heard time and time again – that it would be bad for our economy to have an extra Bank Holiday. There is some truth in this but we must remember that the world has changed and it is not just about turning up at a particular place at a particular time and then leaving at another fixed time. Our small shops and businesses in town centres would benefit from the extra customers, our local pubs would undoubtedly attract many who wish to toast St George and St David, and our leisure and tourism industries would also benefit.
To put this in context we should take into account the relatively few Bank Holidays we receive when compared to our European and North American neighbours. We are 16th in Europe with only eight days holiday, whereas France has eleven, Sweden eleven and Germany twelve. Even the notoriously hardworking Americans have thirteen Bank Holidays a year, although I do accept they receive less annual vacation.
Combined with the benefits to community and national cohesion we would see, I think that Saint George and Saint David are both fully deserving of some recognition and Bank Holidays of their own. I hope that you agree with me and I believe that if we all let the Government know our views we can succeed in this aim. It would certainly make a fine wedding present to the Nation.