By Jonathan Isaby
Follow Jonathan on Twitter
This Bill would consolidate and entrench long-term public support for our armed forces. My constituency of Devizes includes many of the Salisbury plain garrison towns and is home to more than 10,000 members of the armed forces and at least the same number of service family members.
My father, both grandfathers and my great-grandfather served in the British Army. I am therefore particularly proud to wear a poppy in early November, sport various charity wristbands, attend homecomings and parades in both Westminster and Wiltshire, observe the silence at 11 am on Armistice Day, and to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday. Indeed, laying a wreath at the Devizes war memorial last November was one of the most solemn and thought-provoking moments of my new career as a Member of Parliament. I am also proud to support armed forces day, introduced more than two years ago and held in late June. I know that in all of this support I am joined by Members on both sides of the House and millions of people across the country.
But I fear that with all of these initiatives and opportunities to show our support we have perhaps fragmented that support—diluted the brand. And many events happen at weekends when working families—as I know for myself—can face as many time pressures as they do during the week, sometimes making their participation in weekend events difficult.
She went on:
I am also concerned that while we have seen a real upwelling of support for the armed forces in the last few years, due in no small part to the tireless work of the Royal British Legion who are Britain’s “custodians of remembrance”, as well as the work of charities such as Help for Heroes—headquartered in my constituency—SSAFA and the Army Benevolent Fund, when our soldiers return home from their current operations it may be difficult to keep this momentum going and to ensure that we as a country deliver on our obligations under the military covenant. A day set aside in our busy calendars for remembrance, support and celebration of our armed forces would help to keep the support alive in the future.
This is not a radical suggestion. Many other countries pay tribute to their armed forces with a national holiday, including the United States, Canada, Russia, France and Israel. Indeed, among the five countries spending the most on their military budgets, only Britain and China do not have a national holiday commemorating their service personnel—but at least in China soldiers get a half-day off on army day.
Crucailly, she emphasised that she did not want to create an additional bank holiday, but rather to replace one of the existing public holidays with the Remembrance Day holiday:
It is not for me to propose an additional holiday, although I know it would be popular in the country, and I am aware that it would cause concerns for businesses. However, there are clearly some anomalies in the current distribution of bank holidays. This year we have had one bank holiday in January, three in April and two in May, but there is only one more to look forward to—at the end of August—before the Christmas break. Many people think that trading one of the bank holidays—one in May, it has been suggested—for a Remembrance day holiday in November would be a reasonable swap.
The British people support the idea. In a recent YouGov poll, Remembrance day, along with St George’s day, was the favoured date for an additional holiday in Great Britain. Last week I spent the day with young men and women of the British Army, many of whom were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in the next few months. I was deeply moved by the spirit, dedication, determination and quiet courage of those young people. I would like the whole country to have an opportunity to pay tribute to them, their comrades, veterans of the services and those who have fallen, to whom we owe so much. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
Her attempt to introduce the Bill was not opposed, allowing her to present it with the stated support of fellow Tory MPs Andrew Rosindell, Bob Stewart, Julian Brazier, Kwasi Kwarteng, James Gray, Dominic Raab, Chris Heaton-Harris, Charlie Elphicke and John Glen, along with Labour MPs Michael McCann and Dan Jarvis. It does, however, have no chance of beocming law without government support.