St. George's Day (Public Holiday)

– in the House of Commons at 12:35 pm on 27th October 2004.

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Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 12:35 pm, 27th October 2004

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make St. George's Day a public holiday in England in place of the May Day public holiday.

My Bill would designate St. George's day, 23 April, as an annual national public holiday in England. If that date were to fall during a weekend, the following Monday would be a public holiday.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to introduce a Bill on an issue that I sincerely believe to be dear to the hearts of many. The date of 23 April, as the day of the patron saint of England, means a great deal to people throughout our green and pleasant land, but sadly it has become undervalued in recent times. Before I ask the House to vote in favour of giving the people of England a new public holiday to recognise St. George, I should perhaps say a little about the great man himself.

George lived during the 3rd and 4th centuries and spent much of his time as a warrior in the area that we now know as the middle east. He became widely known for his chivalrous behaviour, protecting women and fighting evil. He was noted for his dependence of faith, might of arms and largess to the poor. Devotion to George became commonplace during the 10th century—some 500 years after his martyr's death. The stories of George slaying the dragon emerged later as his legend grew. It is believed that his adoption as a patron saint of England first occurred in 1061 when a church in Doncaster was dedicated to him. As crusaders returned from the middle east, they brought with them stories of the great George and his bravery on the battlefield. Indeed, the red cross on the flag of England might have come into being at the same time.

If the Bill were to reach the statute book, it would not be the first time that St. George's day was a public holiday in England. In 1222, at the Council of Oxford, 23 April was declared a public holiday. The popularity of the day quickly grew in England and it was soon celebrated every year with feasting in towns and cities throughout the land. In 1348, King Edward III introduced the battle cry, "St. George for England", and after the battle of Agincourt in 1415, St. George's day became one of the main features of the year. St. George became the patron saint of England around that time, but it is not clear exactly when. Sadly, the traditions have slowly died away over the centuries, but I am glad to stand before the House today as part of their resurgence.

I believe that all constituents of English Members would be delighted if St. George's day were reintroduced as a national holiday. However, I make it clear that I am also in favour of extending the same rights for St. Andrew's day in Scotland and St. David's day in Wales, but as you will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, I shall leave that to other hon. Members, although I am sure that some of my reasoning would be valid in all parts of the United Kingdom.

The history of the day rightly has religious significance, but I am certain that the legend of St. George and 23 April could be celebrated in such a way as to ensure that everyone felt included. If the day were again to become a public holiday, it could be one of the most inclusive days in our calendar because many existing public holidays are significant to only the Christian faith. As a national holiday for England, St. George's day could become a wonderful springtime celebration, in which everyone takes part in being proud of our history, culture and English heritage.

However, it is not just me who wishes formally to recognise the day. Many people and organisations are clamouring for St. George's day to be given adequate recognition. Only this week, a third of members of the Trades Union Congress voted in favour of reclaiming the day for public enjoyment and celebration. The Royal Society of St. George is also doing an enormous amount to promote St. George's day. Indeed, it is fast becoming a national event. In my constituency and home town of Romford, Havering council ensured that the flag of St. George was displayed throughout the marketplace on 23 April as traders proudly displayed the flag from every stall, as schools held competitions and as children around the borough dressed in red and white specially for the occasion, while red roses were handed out at railway stations by my local St. George's committee.

Many people already choose to celebrate St. George's day because they know that it represents the true spirit of England. To make it a public holiday would be a wonderful opportunity for all the people of England to participate in events and parties celebrating our nation. A fine example of that in practice is Ireland and Northern Ireland, where St. Patrick's day—17 March—is famously celebrated. The people of both sides of the border have a day off, enjoying time with their families and taking part in parades and other celebrations.

In Switzerland on 1 August this year I was pleased to attend its celebrations of Swiss national day. Flags were displayed from every balcony and there were open air concerts, firework displays, alpine bands parading through the streets and the sound of cow bells echoing from every mountain. Gibraltar's national day on 10 September is a magnificent celebration of the Gibraltarian people, showing not only their pride in being British, but also their love of their homeland—the rock itself. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and scores of other countries also celebrate their national days in style. It is no coincidence that all those nations have a strong sense of national identity and pride, something that can only be a source of strength and unity in any country. I hope that England will follow their example and give this country an annual day to remember and cherish.

However, some of those things have been associated with less desirable elements. A tiny minority have used the symbols of our patriotism to promote causes of fear and intolerance. It is high time that we reclaim the flag of St. George and his truly English values for all the people of England. It is time that we promoted pride in our nation; pride in our flag; pride in our English way of life. I would even argue that our country is crying out for an opportunity to celebrate all those things.

As such, recent performances in the Olympics, success in the rugby World cup and the resurgence of England's football team in recent years have all led to the St. George cross becoming a near permanent feature in many high streets, pubs and clubs all over England. It seems that the people of England crave an occasion on which they can show their pride in St. George, their flag and, most importantly, their country. I suggest that 23 April would be the ideal day to allow our nation to come together and celebrate the country of which we are all proud. I ask hon. Members to join me in crying for God, Harry, England and St. George and vote in favour of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

G

A wonderful speech!

Submitted by Gregory Stafford

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch 12:44 pm, 27th October 2004

To return from planet Zarg where we have spent the past 10 minutes, Mr. Rosindell failed to mention one aspect of his Bill. The motion states:

"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make St. George's Day a public holiday in England in place of the May Day public holiday."

[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Judging from their reaction, I suspect that that bothers my hon. Friends and, I believe, other hon. Members. It will be interesting to see whether, in the Division that will follow, Tory Front Benchers will go into the Aye Lobby to attack the labour movement and working people, or whether they will join us in the No Lobby. May day is part of the history of the labour movement, the Labour party and trade unions. The public holiday was introduced by the 1974–79 Labour Government, but it was always an aspiration of the labour and trade union movement to have a May day holiday in the years when miners were being slaughtered by the hundreds in work, and when there was a battle for improved working terms and conditions. Although it was not fundamental to people's lives, it was always a dream to have such a holiday.

May day also has religious connotations, and is a celebration of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph the worker—[Interruption.] I can see that that reference has gone down well among the Tories, as it always does. The Bill is an attack on working people, and the dreams and aspirations of the labour movement, which has been in existence for more than 100 years. In fact, the ambition to make May day a bank holiday predates the foundation of the labour and trade union movement, and is something that many Labour Members would defend as long as we have breath in our bodies. Finally, I was born into the labour movement and I intend to die in it, although not just yet. This is an over-my-dead-body issue, and I will defend May day as long as I live and breathe.

G

"miners were being slaughtered by the hundreds in work" - what utter rubbish.

Submitted by Gregory Stafford Read 1 more annotation

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 83, Noes 112.

Division number 285 St. George's Day (Public Holiday)

Aye: 82 MPs

No: 111 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.