HC Deb 17 March 1944 vol 398 cc633-42

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Beechman.]

Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)

From such research as I have been able to carry out it appears to me that it is 192 years since this House had a Debate upon calendar reform, and by calendar reform I mean a question of days and dates rather than the fixing of a religious festival. I may remark in passing that it took 170 years before we decided to have that Debate, so that things move slowly with regard to calendar reform. I make no apology for raising this, and I speak on no one's behalf, at no one's request, and to no brief except my own. I make no apology, because I feel this is a matter very relevant to plans for reconstruction in pretty nearly every phase of our national life. I presume that the House is very much aware of the type of calendar reform to which I propose to refer. At any rate I wish the fact that this idea of bringing in a rational calendar, as I would like to call it, should be in our records. This rational calendar I wish to speak about has been described as a balanced, regular and perpetual calendar, and the present calendar of which we are also aware, and which muddles so many, is in- convenient, irregular, and a source of expense. Its defects, and it has many, are patent and certainly perpetual. I propose before I finish, and I wish to be as quick as I reasonably can, to put the points for and against the rational calendar which I have in mind.

At any rate the rational calendar is based on what we are all accustomed to, namely, the present or Gregorian calendar. To describe quite shortly the rational calendar, the 12 months we know so well remain; each quarter begins on Sunday and has three months, 13 weeks and 91 days; the same dates of the month will fall always on the same-days of the week year after year, perpetually. In fact perhaps one of the most useful aspects of the rational calendar from the point of view of commerce, of business and in almost every other respect is the fact that each month will have 26 week days exclusive of Sundays. The first month in each quarter of the rational calendar always has 31 days and the other two months in each have 30, so that you have 31, 30, 30, in each of the successive quarters. I may perhaps be allowed to remind the House that changes of this sort that are made from time to time take a good deal of time to carry into effect. "Summer time" was certainly a British device, a pleasant convenience, an illogical interference with time and with fact. It took 20 years, if not more, to germinate. I would very respectfully say that the rational calendar of which I am now giving an outline causes very little interference indeed with the national life and it certainly does not fly in the face of astronomical fact.

May I also remind the House that the Gregorian calendar which we now enjoy was the result of a decree passed in the year 1582 by Pope Gregory, and, as was not surprising at that time, the Protestant countries said it was a hopeless affair, a Popish calendar, and they would have nothing to do with it. Another fact of interest in the matter is that it is 16 centuries, or round about 16 centuries, since the Christian Emperor Constantine gave to us what we ail so deeply revere and enjoy, the 7-day week. At any rate there is one thing about the 7-day week which we can usefully remember, that is, that it still retains the names of the pagan gods or of the sun and the planets, a nice mixture. At any rate the defects of the calendar we suffer from, and they really are genuine defects, are entirely due to the 7-day week and the 52-week and 1 day year, and essentially to the odd day, making the calendar irregular, inconvenient and inconsistent. The odd day, as I say, is the cause of the anomalous and unnecessarily variable calendar, but it can be adjusted with quite a small measure of reason and good will.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

I am sorry to interrupt, but a small measure of reason and good will would mean legislation, which is just where we must stop.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

By the word "measure" I did not mean a legislative Measure; I really meant a small amount of good will.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not see how that could alter the law.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

I apologise if I was out of Order. I have no intention of suggesting legislation. I am not sure that legislation would even be necessary in any way. I think that this odd day could be adjusted. The proposal is for the odd day of the rational calendar to be fitted in between the 30th day of December and the first day of January, and it would have no date and no day of the week attached to it. We would call it any name we liked, and every country could have its own name for that particular day. It could be a Freedom Day, or a Humanity Day, or a Brotherhood Day. Whatever it might be called, it certainly could, and should, be a universal holiday. I know, of course, that when people speak of calendars they naturally think they ought to refer to the religious festivals. I merely remark, in passing, that such a thing as the fixed Easter has been talked about for many centuries, and Martin Luther strongly advocated it. We have no necessity to complain about the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar because it will not let us in for serious trouble, amounting to only an odd day in' the course of the next 3,000 years—and before that time we shall have a General Election, which will enable us to discuss it.

There are one or two other points of which I may remind the House, one of which I mentioned just now. It was not until 1752 that this House debated a reform of the calendar, and adopted the Gregorian calendar of 170 years before. Of course, the North American colonies of that time abided by our decision here. At any rate, it created a good deal of discussion. There was a rather ardent debate in the House, I believe, but I have not been able to see the record; and there were riots in the country. The people said, "We have been robbed of 11 days. We ought to be paid for them." At any rate, all countries now use the Gregorian calendar, and they have all, without exception, noted its inconsistencies and inconveniences, and the expense as well. I may mention some of its difficulties. There are four different lengths for the months—28, 29, 30 and 31 days. There are three different lengths for the quarters—90, 91 and 92 days. There are three different lengths for the half-years— 181, 182 and 184 days. It seems to me time that we should be freed of the absurd rhyme which one is always in trouble to remember.

I must mention Lord Desborough in this connection, because he raised this question in another place in 1932 and in 1936, but I think I am right in saying that it has never reached this House. We owe him a debt, because he and others have made a deep study of this matter, for which I, personally, am very grateful. The Fixed Easter Act, which is on the Statute Book, has, of course, some close link with the possibilities of an alteration in the calendar, but the question of an equal-quarter calendar, the calendar that I am now discussing, is not inseparably bound to that of a fixed Easter. There is no logical reason why the English-speaking nations, and any others who like, should not adopt a fixed secular calendar, such as I am describing, leaving the Easter question for settlement by the Churches. I think that is an extremely important point—the most important point of all. In the United States there is a strong movement—which is as it should be at the present time—for this rational calendar, or world calendar as I believe they call it. They are much more active there than we have been here.

This, as I have said before, is not a new step. It was referred to the League of Nations in 1937. Forty-five nations were approached and given the fullest particulars of this rational calendar. Six of them declared themselves against it. I am not able to give the names of the nations concerned. Fourteen said that they thought it an excellent idea and were in favour. The remainder were uncertain or silent, either because they did not know anything about it or because they thought it did not very much matter. At any rate one interesting point emerged: the Vatican, to which we all owe a great debt for the Gregorian calendar, was not opposed. May I tell the House, in case anyone is inclined to suggest that we should be doing away with the beautiful old links with the past, that there is no need to feel any doubts on that score, because the rational calendar retains many of the old cherished associations and oddities of the Gregorian calendar, such as Septr, Octr, Novr, and Deer, which are not, in fact, the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months of the year, as their names imply, but are, as we all know, the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months. That is a cherished association. The other names are either numbers or are derived from Roman emperors. Holidays come into the question. They present no serious difficulties. Religious festivals present difficulties that we all fully appreciate. I say that this rational calendar is primarily a commonsense calendar for all people.

Now I come to the prime difficulties that will face those who want to bring it in. First, the Orthodox Jews, who have a very complicated calendar of their own, will find considerable difficulty in accepting it, but no insuperable difficulty, and their official mouthpieces have made it clear that they would not put serious difficulties in the way of it. There are one or two religious organisations or sects who also find trouble in accepting it. In particular I refer to the Seventh Day Adventists, with whom I am not very familiar.

I just want to give a short idea of -how I think the Minister and the Home Office should proceed in order to popularise and publicise this suggestion that I am putting out. I hope that he will find it simple to circularise chambers of commerce, local authorities, chambers of trade, trade unions, banks, High Commissioners for the Dominions, Colonial representatives, and last, but by no means least, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Then there is the Astronomical Society, the Meteorological Society, the Statistical Society, and in particular, the most im- portant of all from the point of view of expense and bother, the Incorporated Society of Chartered Accountants and Auditors. I may safely say that in almost every phase of national life the rational calendar will bring simplicity and comfort. The first Tuesday after the first Monday in October, for instance, will become an unchanging date, instead of a cumbrous expression. In finance, Government, and education, it will help. In statistics and in accountancy, which I think are of very great importance, comparisons from being odious and anomalous, which they are now, certainly so far as trade and commerce are concerned, will become seductive and consistent.

My last word is to remind the House that there are certain convenient dates when the present calendar fits in with the proposal for a rational calendar. They are not immediate, nor are they very frequent. The first one is January 1st, 1945, the next one July 1st, 1945, the next is March 1st, 1946, and the next January 1st, 1950. The present calendar and the proposed calendar meet on those dates and it would be a great mistake to introduce the rational calendar unless the calendars did meet as I say. So I just want to wind up by saying to the Minister that I beg him to be a little bit enthusiastic about this after a little more study. I feel confident that he will agree with what I have tried to say, and that he will take all possible action in preparation for international agreement about this, which is essential, and the first thing is to make quite sure that everybody in all our home circles and in business are acquainted with the details of the plan.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)

If I might take a moment or two I should like to express my disapproval and disagreement with what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Member Surely, in these days, to suggest that a thing is good because it is rational is to attempt to dam back the whole spirit of the age and put back the clock. The spirit of this age is irrationality in all human activities—the revolt and reaction against the rationality of the 19th century. We see it in art, for example. Anyone studying modern sculpture and painting must agree, that the chief object of the leaders of modernism in art is to divorce rationality of any sort from the particular art which they practise. We see it also in the case of literature, in the works of Mr. James Joyce, for example, and other writers who are gradually producing a formless literature which has no meaning of any sort or kind but is simply a jingle of words. We see it perhaps at its best in some of our modern poetry, where rationality is taboo altogether. There is in it no reason, no rhythm and no rhyme, nor anything at all, except a mass of words, disconnected from one another, and intended not to please the reader or the hearer, but to show what an extraordinarily clever person the writer is.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to suggest that anything which is rational is retrograde?

Mr. Hopkinson

It is, most certainly. It is against the whole spirit of the age. The whole spirit of the age is against reason of every sort. I gave the example of art and literature. Let me turn to economics. The new idea in economics is divorced from reason of every sort. It is based, as Lord Keynes has told us many times, upon the principle that it is possible to get a quart out of a pint pot, and that it is also possible—and the Labour Party have this as the basis of their economic system—to eat your cake to-day and have it to-morrow. I venture to suggest that that is a revolt against the hide-bound rationalism of the 19th century and the Manchester School of Economics. We get the same thing in religion. In the Roman Empire, at the time when it was breaking up—as our appears to be at the present time—a great mass of superstition overcame Rome. The old gods disappeared and every sort of superstition took their place:—astralism, the cult of Magna Mater, of Isis, of Serapis, and so on, just as is happening now with us. In such things as the Oxford Group, you have a perfect example of the effect of irrationalism in religion.

In politics also, we observe the revolt against rationalism and reason of any sort is rapidly being stimulated. Our Parliamentary system now consists of a Labour Party, which is a small minority of this House forming the Government of the country and also forming the Opposition in this House. That is the triumph of irrationality in politics. I stand almost alone in this nation to-day in putting forward the view that irrationality is not a sound basis for human activity. But my point is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is trying to stem the current of modern thought and modern idealism which is entirely irrational.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

My hon. Friend is preventing the Front Bench from giving me a reply.

Mr. Hopkinson

There is a sort of criminal flavour about this whole Debate otherwise, why is the representative of the Home Secretary here to answer? I must repeat that to introduce rationalism into our country would be entirely against the whole spirit of our age, against the spirit of this House in particular, and against the spirit of the Labour Party perhaps even more.

There were two other points, with one of which I agree and the other I disagree. The hon. and gallant Member thinks that there might be some difficulty in getting rid of the extra day; but I understand that in Scotland that difficulty has been completely solved and that the bulk of the population in Scotland after 24 hours, have no recollection of one particular day of the year, a day not very far from 1st January. That day each year is a blank in the memory of all Scotsmen, and, if the same system were introduced into England, we would get over the difficulty which the hon. and gallant Member raised.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

Is the hon. Member aware that now he is descending from being merely facetious, and apparently clever, to being absolutely foolish?

Mr. Hopkinson

The hon. Member should have said, "rational." I am glad he appreciates my point of view. The other point I wish to raise is: Why on earth did the hon. and gallant Member introduce the Emperor Constantine into this? He pointed out that the Emperor Constantine preserved the names of the old gods in his calendar. Of course the reason is this, as a little consideration will show him. The Emperor Constantine was, of all men, a hedger. He was hedging the whole time, and history relates that although he made Christianity the official religion of his Empire, he himself very carefully refrained from being baptised until just before his death. My history is a little vague but I think I am right in saying that only 20 years before he adopted Christianity as the official religion, he had published an edict adopting Mithraism as the official religion and therefore, as an authority upon what is proper and right, the Emperor Constantine might be left out of the argument.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

I was most conscious, as I am sure you were, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of the difficulty in which my hon. and gallant Friend found himself, in raising the subject of calendar reform upon the Adjournment, because our calendar depends upon the Acts of 1750 and 1751, associated with the name of Lord Chesterfield, which produced the riots in London to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred. My hon. and gallant Friend, therefore, had to confine himself, so far as he could, to criticisms of our present calendar, rather than the merit of his own alternative. My hon. Friend below the Gangway was not hampered in that way because, so far as I could see, his speech had very little to do with the subject of calendar reform. In the two minutes that are left to me, I can only say that the necessary conditions under which the reform of our calendar could be undertaken do not exist at the present time. For any steps in this direction, it would be necessary to have the concordance of all the Christian Churches Many Churches would object very strongly to any interference with the succession of seventh days as our Sundays, and having one week every year with eight days in it. Moreover, there are other religious bodies besides the Christian bodies, which are interested in this question of the seventh day.

Mr. Hopkinson

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us about the Seventh Day Adventists?

Mr. Peake

You would require also international agreement. Our Acts of 1750 and 1751 were introduced because our calendar was out of gear with that in use throughout the civilised world, and it is perfectly clear that you must have agreement between the great majority of the civilised countries; before any calendar reform can be introduced. In the last place, you must have a substantial measure of public opinion in this country in favour of making the change. The calendar which my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind—it is only one of 500 different kinds of calendar reform which have been suggested, but is I think the best of them all—would, in fact, abolish four of our present days in the year and thereby deprive, in my calculation, approximately 500,000 people of their birthdays, and those people might have something to say about it. I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on being able to bring this subject forward, but there is a great deal more work to be done before the time is ripe for change.

Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)

I hope the Minister will not overlook one grave defect of this scheme, that every person would have the same day for his birthday every year. It is bad enough to be born on April 1st, but to have one's birthday always on a Monday would be perfectly intolerable. There is also the great historical objection. As this change has been suggested by a member of the traditional party may I as a member of the revolutionary party hope that we shall not destroy the precious links with Numa, Julius Caesar, and Gregory XIII which we have in our present calendar.

It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.