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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): The trouble with this sort of thing is that it is one of those motherhood and apple pie issues that sounds so attractive, especially when put so attractively by the hon. Member for Watford (Claire Ward), but it worries me considerably. It is the subliminal message underlying the matter which is bothersome.
The hon. Lady started out by putting the proposition, which she obviously regarded as unarguable, that the British people were in great need of an additional day's rest. That sets the tone for the whole argument, suggesting that we are so hard pressed, in a rather easy, casual world, that we need more time off. Nothing could be further from the truth. The hon. Lady must listen, until she is as bored with it as I am, to the great leaders of her party talking about the global market and global competitiveness. She went on to compound her crime by saying that the British already work the longest hours in Europe. So what? If the hon. Lady were to look at the unemployment rates in the very countries that she quoted with so much approval, and compare them with those of the United States on the one hand or those of the emerging economies of Asia and the far east on the other, she would be much more worried about the idea of British workers taking yet more time off in an ever more competitive world.
The whole basis of the argument that started with the proposition that our poor, hard-working people need lots more time off needs to be challenged. I wonder whether the hon. Lady has checked with her Front-Bench colleagues to see whether she is on or off message on this matter. I should have thought that the Chancellor, for example, might well have a word to say to the hon. Lady if he learned that she was arguing that British workers need more time off when he keeps telling us that we need to be more competitivewhich, sadly, under his Government and hers, has not been the case. By the way, the hon. Lady's claim that British workers are now the most productive in the world certainly requires some analysis. I put it no more strongly than that.
Let us move on to the specifics of the hon. Lady's argument. She said that we could do with another day's holiday in October, and I am sure that many people
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would agree. In fact, I am sure that many of my colleagues would agree. We would probably suggest that we could scrap the May day holiday, with all that it symbolises, and instead have a day off in October. That would be my solution, so that we are not giving people extra time off; we are giving them an alternative day off in the year which would have much more significance. Let us get rid of the ghastly May day and have, for example, Trafalgar day. Why not? It is one of the great days in our history and should be remembered. Or how about Thatcher day or Churchill day? There are any number of possibilities that would bring joy to our people. Instead of the shame of the May day holiday with all its ghastly socialist and communist overtones, we could have a proper holiday in October. I am offering the hon. Lady a helping hand. If her Bill were to make any progress in the House, she and I might work together to amend it to achieve that objective.
I turn now to my third objection to the Bill. The hon. Lady made a plea for recognition of public service, which she went on to define in two ways. The first was to talk of the voluntary sector. I agree with her that we all now should, and increasingly do, recognise the value of the voluntary sector in our society. That is something that President Bush has been encouraging in the United States, and it is something that my party wants to encourage. We can all agree on that as a worthy objective.
When the hon. Lady went on to link that recognition to those working in the public sector, her argument became more problematic. We are rather prone in this House to lavishing endless praise on people who work in the public sector, forgetting that those in the private sector arguably work as long, or longer, and harder to create the wealth that pays for the public sector. To single out those working in the public sector for praise and recognition in an additional bank holiday seems to me slightly odd. Certainly those involved, for example, in retail and in other service provision in the private sector might find it rather hard to swallow the idea that their long hours of hard work dedicated to us consumers were being ignored in favour of those doing excellent work in the public sector.
What I am really saying is that the Bill is wrong at every level. It is wrong because it is arguing for more time off; it is wrong because it does not substitute a day in October for the horrible day in May; and it is wrong because it singles out those in the public sector apparently to the neglect of those working to create the wealth in the private sector. For all those reasons I hope that the Bill makes no further progress.
Claire Ward accordingly presented a Bill to introduce a bank holiday on the third Monday in October in recognition of public service: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed [Bill 53].
(2) at this day's sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr Secretary Clarke relating to Police Grant Report (England and Wales) not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first Motion, and shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr Secretary Prescott relating to Local Government Finance (England) not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first Motion relating to Local Government Finance (England), or six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first Motion relating to Police Grant Report (England and Wales), whichever is later; proceedings may continue after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.
The Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 200506 and the Amending Report 200304 were laid before the House on 27 January. Both reports are due to be considered jointly by the House in the next debate, and this business motion will allow them to be debated at the same time. It will facilitate the discussion on police grant for next year and allow three hours for the debate. Hon. Members will clearly be grateful for that, as it will enable us to explore the issues in considerable detail.
The Amending Report 200304 takes account of changes to Office for National Statistics population data for that year. However, the reports for both years are inextricably linked because the outcome of the amendment proposals inevitably feeds into policing activity in 200506, in the number of people in any given area that the police have to look after, and funding in 200506 also takes that into account. I hope that the House will agree to the motion.
Ms Blears: I am grateful for the invitation to address the House. I am occasionally criticised for my enthusiasm and the fact that I speak rather quickly in the House. I shall endeavour to speak as concisely as I can, as I am aware of the number of hon. Members who wish to make a contribution this afternoon.
The Government remain committed to providing the resources that the police need to do their work effectively and to fulfil the many commitments that we ask them to undertake. We will continue to provide further investment, but that will be linked to change and reform of the way in which the service is provided, to make the police even more effective than they are.
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