Former Welsh secretary ‘not persuaded’ St David’s Day should be a bank holiday

St David’s Day should not be made a bank holiday because it would impact the “tremendous role” schools play in fostering Welsh identity, a Conservative former Welsh secretary has suggested.

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb said he was not persuaded by calls for March 1 to be made a bank holiday in Wales as part of the celebrations for the nation’s patron saint.

Mr Crabb told the House of Commons that St David’s Day was “first and foremost about the children” and “nurturing” the traditions it represented.

On St David’s Day, schoolchildren dress in traditional Welsh dress, including the stovepipe hats and woollen shawls known as the Welsh lady costume, as well as Welsh rugby jerseys.

They also take part in singing and poetry events, sometimes in a school eisteddfod, a cultural tradition which sees participants judged for their musical or literary prowess.

There have been growing calls for St David’s Day to be made a bank holiday in Wales in recent years but the UK Government, which holds responsibility over this area of law, has not been receptive to the proposal.

Mr Crabb, who served as Welsh secretary between 2014 and 2016, told the Commons: “I always think that one of the really distinctive things about celebrating St David’s Day perhaps in contrast to St Patrick’s Day or Burn’s Night celebrations – and this might just reflect my own narrow experience of those two events celebrated by our Celtic cousins – but for me St David’s Day is first and foremost about the children.”

After stressing that the day had been “part of the Welsh childhood experience for generations”, he added: “It is one of the reasons why I am not persuaded that St David’s Day should be a national holiday.

“Do we really think that the cultural richness that St David’s Day is today would be the same if it was a day for children to remain at home?

“The schools play a tremendous role in nurturing the St David’s Day tradition and giving children that sense of Welsh identity and growing in that identity.”

As he took part in the debate on Welsh affairs to mark St David’s Day, Mr Crabb also told MPs that Wales should do more to tell its “national story” on an international stage.

“Sport is an incredibly powerful vehicle for actually helping to tell that story,” he said, highlighting Welsh football’s recognition around the world following the World Cup in Qatar.

The Tory MP added: “Certainly when you travel internationally and you meet people who aren’t necessarily that familiar with the slightly complex structure of our United Kingdom family of nations and you say you are from Wales, particularly when you go to North America, yes they get Ireland, they understand the Irish national story, they perhaps understand the Scottish national story, but I sometimes think that the Welsh national story is less well understood.”

He later emphasised that Wales did not “make enough of the Welsh diaspora that moved to the US”, telling MPs: “I think sometimes that the Irish and Scottish make far more of their diaspora and use it more intelligently to further strategic economic objectives than we do.”

Elsewhere in the debate, independent MP for Delyn Rob Roberts suggested the UK Government should bring forward a vote on the future of devolution in Wales, describing it as a “failed 25 year-long experiment that has delivered absolutely nothing for the people of north Wales”.

He went on: “Now they want to expand it even further at the cost of another £100 million. It’s my abiding wish, that I’m sure will never come to fruition, that the UK Government looks at what’s happening in north Wales, puts aside the seeming political position of devolve and forget, and does something to help us by bringing forward measures to test the will of the Welsh people once again as to whether they want to continue with this failed experiment at all.”