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Points of Order

12.31 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the Prime Minister said that only a few dozen Ilois islanders would apparently come to the United Kingdom. He should have been aware that there are about 4,300—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order; it relates to the Prime Minister's reply. Take it up with the Prime Minister.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A few minutes ago, the Prime Minister stated that there would be no reduction in the size of Her Majesty's armed forces. You will recall—

Mr. Speaker: Order. This is not a continuation of Prime Minister's Question Time.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am trying to answer a point of order. The hon. Gentleman is a bit quick.

If there is any concern about the Prime Minister's reply, drop him a note, and I am sure that he will answer.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 19 October, I wrote to the Minister for Local and Regional Government about the people from Diego Garcia, who were referred to in Prime Minister's questions, asking him urgently to contact Reigate and Banstead council to provide advice and assistance. It is simply unfair that my constituents and those of my other hon. Friends whose constituencies are in Surrey should be faced with footing the bill for an event that is entirely of the Government's making—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to stop the hon. Gentleman. If he and other hon. Members who
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represent the area have a difficulty and a concern about these matters, I am very generous in offering Adjournment debates, particularly when a group of MPs is interested. The hon. Gentleman should raise the issue in an Adjournment debate.

Norman Baker: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your protection for the proper role of the House of Commons. At 9 o'clock this morning, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced a major change in environment policy and did so to a collection of journalists and pressure-group people. That change is an application for an increase in carbon emissions—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He applied to me for an urgent question. When I refuse an urgent question, I do not give any reason why, and I do not expect hon. Members to try to raise the issue on a point of order. The Minister to whom the hon. Gentleman refers has made a written statement to the House, and he is perfectly entitled to pursue that matter through oral or written questions.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that last week I raised the issue with you of Ministers talking to the press and issuing press releases on changes in Government policy without coming to the House first. Today, lots of newspapers report a change in Government policy on forced marriages for Asians—a very important issue—and again, the Home Secretary has not sought to come to the House to make a statement but has talked to the press first. I suggested to you in my point of order last week that, if that continued to happen and your ruling on this matter was continually flouted, you should bring certain Ministers to the House and ask for an explanation. I ask for your further ruling on this matter.

Mr. Speaker: I understand from the Clerk that there is a written statement about that matter, so the Minister has acted properly, but I undertake to look at the material that the hon. Gentleman has if he sends it to Speaker's House.
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27 Oct 2004 : Column 1435

St. George's Day (Public Holiday)

12.35 pm

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I beg to move,

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
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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
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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.

12.44 pm

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