Chi’s speech in Parliament on St. George’s and St. David’s Day from Hansard

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) on moving the Second Reading of his Bill, and on making so many pertinent points.

Many great and some not so great men and women have attempted to define the English identity. I will not compete with them by trying to weave tea, Shakespeare,

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queuing and tabloids into a national narrative. I am even less well qualified to pontificate on the essence of Welshness.

The Labour party strongly supports the celebration of the English and Welsh national identities. We are proud that we helped to reclaim the cross of St George from the British National party. I think it is true to say that when we now see it flying on our streets, all English hearts can swell with pride, rather than fear racist insults. The Welsh have been ahead of the English in maintaining a strong focus on and pride in their national symbols: the flag of St David, the daffodil and their national dress.

Many St George’s day celebrations are held in my constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne Central. Kids of all ethnic backgrounds delight in recreating St George’s feats of heroism, to which the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon referred. I tried to emulate St George’s courage and skill by competing in the egg and pan race at the Villa Victoria’s St George’s fun day in the Westgate area of Newcastle. I am afraid that I was not worthy of his memory, but I will have another opportunity next year to carry off the golden frying pan.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: Perhaps the hon. Lady would have more joy if she participated in “Dragons’ Den”.

Chi Onwurah: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I will consider that in the run-up to next year’s event.

The royal wedding in April was a huge celebration of national identity. A million people came to London to celebrate with good humour and great pride, and all over the country people gathered in pubs, parks, streets and halls to watch. Even republicans managed to enjoy it in their own way and with good grace. We hope that the Government are already putting in place measures to ensure that the Queen’s diamond jubilee next year is as “amazing” as the wedding, as Her Majesty is reported to have characterised it.

The Opposition do not oppose Second Reading and look forward to seeing the Bill in Committee, but a number of important issues have to be considered before we will support it. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon considered the economic impact, and we are aware of the Government estimate that an additional national bank holiday would cost £2.9 billion. That would have clear implications for business, trade unions and other stakeholders.

There are issues besides costs for the Committee to examine. For example, we must make fair international comparisons. As the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) said, I am not sure it is fair to claim that we have significantly fewer holidays than others because in France, for example, if May day falls on a Saturday or Sunday there is no day off in lieu. With our strong sense of fairness, we ensure that a bank holiday is always a working day. Taking that into account, I believe that, on average, other European countries have only a slightly larger number of bank holidays. The French Government are reportedly considering reducing the number of public holidays. The hon. Lady pointed out that the US has more, but the trade-off is that far less holiday time is provided for businesses and workers.

There is a further concern that is the subject of daily and hourly discussion throughout these isles—the weather. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian

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Austin) said, an April bank holiday has little chance of coinciding with an English heat wave—nor, I am told, is March the best time to showcase Welsh sunshine. As a nation, we are working harder over longer hours, in more stressful conditions, so should we not have a decent chance of decent weather on a day off?

Furthermore, some might question the principle of telling hard-working men and women what they should do with their time off. It does not sound very English, does it? Unlike the French, the English have no need of an académie to celebrate the language of Shakespeare. Some might question whether a bank holiday is necessary to strengthen the homeland of Churchill, Brunel, Boadicea and St Cuthbert, to name but a few, or for that matter the home of Owain Glyndwr and the Eisteddfod.

As has been mentioned, however, a poll conducted for St David’s day 2006 found that 87% of people in Wales wanted it to be a bank holiday, with 65% being prepared to sacrifice a different bank holiday. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) referred to the strong support in Wales for a St David’s day bank holiday. We therefore believe that there is strong evidence of popular interest in making St David’s day and St George’s day bank holidays, and that it is worth while examining in more detail how the matter can be taken forward. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is in pre-consultation on the May day bank holiday, and as a result we hope to learn more about British attitudes to bank holidays. We hope, though, that we will not lose our May day bank holiday.

We believe that we should celebrate our national identity, and unlike the Government we believe in promoting strong local, regional—we have not yet banned the R-word—and national identities. We look forward to discussions in Committee to see whether the Bill is the best way of doing so.

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