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Public Festivals, Holidays and Commemorations

Part of Bill Presented — Passive Flue Gas Systems (Strategy) – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 13th December 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford 3:38 pm, 13th December 2011

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State annually to prepare and publish a list of the festivals and commemorations which will take place in the year 10 years after publication;
to indicate which days will be designated as Bank or Public Holidays;
to make provision to enable local communities to observe significant occasions;
and for connected purposes.

The United Kingdom has a rich tradition of commemorations and festivals, all of which are rooted in the history of these islands, with origins that date back centuries. Indeed, the British Isles are steeped in tradition, and in every part of the kingdom special days in the calendar are celebrated with pride by people up and down the land, as they are in each and every one of Her Majesty’s realms, dependencies and territories.

British festivals, celebratory days and commemorations are often founded on the Christian heritage of these islands, such as Christmas day, Easter Sunday, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Ascension day and Epiphany. Others are royal anniversaries such as the Queen’s birthday, accession day, coronation day, the Queen’s wedding anniversary and special events such as the diamond jubilee, a truly historic occasion that we will all celebrate with great pageantry in 2012. There are also state occasions such as the state opening of Parliament and trooping the colour.

Then, of course, there are those occasions dedicated to our proud military history, such as Trafalgar day, Waterloo day, D-day, VE-day, VJ-day, Battle of Britain day, Armistice day and of course Remembrance Sunday and Armed Forces day. I believe that Anzac day and Falkland Islands liberation day should also be commemorated with pride.

Our patron saint days of St George, St Andrew, St Patrick and St David have also become increasingly important to the peoples of all four countries in the United Kingdom. One has only to visit Romford market on 23 April to see just how significant that day has become as a celebration for the people of my constituency.

There are also days that have become established over the centuries to mark festivals, historic events or traditions, such as Guy Fawkes night, Burns night in Scotland, 12 July in Ulster, May day, St Valentine’s day, mothering Sunday, fathers’ day, Shrove Tuesday—otherwise known as pancake day—Hallowe’en, harvest festival, apple day, new year or Hogmanay and, of course, twelfth night.

Other religious festivals are also of great significance to millions of British people, such as Eid, Diwali and Hanukkah. There are also days to mark our nation’s international links, such as Commonwealth day, United Nations day and even, dare I say it, Europe day. All such days commemorate something significant in the life and history of our nation and island peoples and should be recognised—not all as public holidays, of course, but as days to mark something important to remember and learn about, especially in our schools.

My Bill would give Her Majesty’s Government the statutory authority to publish an official list of British public festivals, holidays and commemorations that would contain all those days and many more. Because only a small number of them would be designated official bank or public holidays, the list could be extensive and additional dates could be added from time to time.

The most important reason for maintaining such a comprehensive list would be to ensure that schools, churches, voluntary organisations, businesses, local authorities, community groups, charities and scout groups and other youth organisations could, if they chose, celebrate or commemorate those events with their own special activities. It would be a source of education, as school assemblies and classes throughout the country would learn about the history and traditions of our island nation.

We must never forget Her Majesty’s realms, dependencies and territories. They should also be recognised, so that we can mark the national days of the wider British family —Australia day, New Zealand’s Waitangi day, Canada day, Jamaica’s independence day, Channel Islands liberation day, the Isle of Man’s Tynwald day, Gibraltar’s national day, Bermuda day and Norfolk Island’s Bounty day, to name but a few. Indeed, I am sure the whole House would wish to send its warmest greetings to the people of St Lucia, who today celebrate their very own national day. That proud Caribbean nation, which remains one of Her Majesty’s realms, will celebrate with cultural events, dancing and a colourful festival of lights, with lanterns made by children in villages throughout the island.

New days could also be included on the official list, such as a flag day to honour our national flag—the Union Jack, as it is commonly known—or perhaps a Britannia day for all British people and for those descended from the people of these islands who wish to take pride in their British heritage.

Why not set aside one day of the year to celebrate the animal kingdom—a national animal day? It could be a Sunday, when the nation could celebrate the animal kingdom with pet services at churches and events to support animal and wildlife charities. In my constituency, I attend the annual horseman’s Sunday in the historic village of Havering-atte-Bower, where local horses and their owners attend an open air service on the village green and the local MP presents a rosette to every horse.

It is also important that communities have a chance to organise their own local festivals, so why should not each county, town or village designate a particular day of the year as their day to celebrate in whatever way they see fit, bringing everyone together in celebration of their local identity? Fine examples are St Piran’s day in Cornwall and Yorkshire day.

My Bill would also require the Government to prepare and publish a list of festivals and commemorations up to 10 years in advance, to give local communities the chance to plan and prepare fully for all our historic occasions, allowing everyone the opportunity to celebrate those events that are important to them, and to ensure that all anniversaries and traditions are recognised and kept alive rather than relegated to the pages of history books.

My Bill would also address the nature of our bank and public holidays. Under our current system, those that fall on a weekend are transferred to a day following the weekend. For example, this year, Monday 3 January was made a public holiday in lieu of new year’s day, which fell on Saturday 1 January. When that happens, rather than having a meaningless day off next to a weekend, we should use it for a day of greater significance. If we followed that rule for all existing bank holidays, I believe it would be possible to make St George’s day, St Andrew’s day and St David’s day annual public holidays without creating more days off overall, thus not harming businesses or the economy.

Next year is the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. Across our nation, people will celebrate this great milestone in British history, and, God willing, in 2015 we will see Her Majesty reach the next landmark of her reign, when at 63 years and seven months on the throne, the Queen will become the longest ruling monarch in British history. Then, in 2022, I hope and pray that we will celebrate Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee, an anniversary that has never been reached by any British monarch.

We can all look forward to those celebrations, and my Bill will guarantee that all great British festivals, celebratory days and commemorations will always be recognised, celebrated, cherished and passed down to future generations.

I commend my Bill to the House.