British MPs have made a renewed attempt to raise the profile of a long-standing campaign for declaring the festivals of Diwali and Eid public holidays in the UK with a debate in the House of Commons.
The debate on Monday was in response to e-petitions on the Parliament’s official website calling for such a move, with the petition for Eid attracting over 46,500 signatures and the one in favour a Diwali holiday attracting over 11,700 signatures.
“It is fair to say that the petitions are essentially about the same issue: establishing public holidays for religious occasions,” said Scottish National Party (SNP) MP and member of the Parliament’s Petitions Committee Martyn Day, as he opened the debate at Westminster Hall.
“The Muslim and Hindu faiths are the second and third largest religions in the UK, the first being the Christian faith, which has public holidays during its major religious festivals at Easter and Christmas… The celebration of festivals is very important to worshippers of the faiths concerned,” he said.
Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman, who represents the north London constituency of Harrow which has a large Hindu population, has been campaigning in favour of religious holidays for many years.
“We are coming up to Diwali; indeed, the big holiday will not be Diwali itself, but the day after, which is the Hindu new year,” he said during Monday’s debate.
“That is when people of the Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist faiths will all go to their temples to pray for health, wealth and happiness in the new year, and will meet their families in the afternoon a day when the people of those religions will, frankly, not be working anyway. Why not recognise that fact and give everyone the opportunity to have a day off and recharge on that basis,” he said.
In reference to Eid, Blackman added that at the end of Ramadan, people are exhausted from the days of fasting and a day of prayer is important to them.
“Why should that not also be a public holiday, particularly given the range of Muslims now in this country? We should recognise that fact and lead on to it,” he said.
Labour party MP Gareth Thomas also spoke out in favour of the motion, alluding to the positive impact on India-UK ties by declaring Diwali a public holiday.
“It is worth spelling it out that the festival of Diwali is already an official holiday in a number of countries around the world, many of which have hugely close links to the UK. If it can be achieved that Diwali is marked in other countries, why cannot it be marked in the UK,” he said.
Westminster Hall debates are aimed at raising the profile of a campaign in an attempt to influence decision-making in government and Parliament.
A similar debate on the issue of declaring Diwali and Eid public holidays had last been held in 2014 and the UK government response has remained largely unchanged, dismissing any such additional holidays due to “considerable” costs to the economy.
Under the UK’s current system of public holidays, referred to as “bank holidays”, there are eight permanent holidays in England and Wales, nine in Scotland and 10 in Northern Ireland.
The UK’s Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 allows for other special, one-off holidays to be declared.
“The costs to the economy of introducing new public holidays are considerable,” said Conservative Party MP Kelly Tolhurst, representing the government in the debate as minister in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department.
“The most recent assessment of an additional holiday for the Diamond Jubilee [to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years of reign in 2012] showed a total cost to employers of around £1.2 billion.
“Depending on the nature of the holiday that is being proposed, costs may be partially offset by increased revenues for businesses in the leisure and tourism sectors, and by a boost in retail spending. However, it is not expected that public holidays for Eid or Diwali would result in an increase in tourism,” she said.