HC Deb 20 March 1951 vol 485 cc2316-23
Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Easter Act, 1928. I should like to ask the House to spend a short time in considering a little problem which has become topical in many British homes in the last few days and which is likely to become more so over the coming week-end. At present the date of Easter wanders between 22nd March and 25th April and, what is perhaps even more important, the date of Whitsun wanders correspondingly with it, between 10th May and 13th June.

Subject only to the question of the date at which it should be brought into force, there is already on the Statute Book the Easter Act, 1928, which, were it in force, would confine Easter within the dates of 9th April and 15th April and Whitsun within the dates 28th May to 3rd June. I hope that no hon. Member will feel obliged to re-argue the secular case which was debated, and I hope settled, 23 years ago. At that time there was shown to be an overwhelming weight of secular opinion in favour of making a change. Resolutions were quoted from the F.B.I., from every railway in Western Europe, from scholastic authorities, from every principal chamber of trade and commerce throughout the British Commonwealth and from many more.

Both Houses passed the Bill in 1928, not indeed without one or two contrary speeches, but without any Division, and the Bill then received the enthusiastic blessing of the right hon. Gentleman the father of the present hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), and of the late Lord Birkenhead in another place. The present Act, by subsection (2) of Clause 2 only comes into operation when His Majesty by Order in Council decides. The Order has to be confirmed by Resolution of both Houses, and it is declared that regard shall be had, very properly to any representation from religious denominations. I ask hon. Members to note that there has from the start been complete and absolute agreement on the point that nothing can be done in this matter which in any way would seriously offend any substantial religious denomination.

It was this Act which brought about the failure of the Motion introduced a few weeks ago in another place by Lord Merthyr. His Motion, had it become effective, would have required that the Act of 1928 should be put into force at once. This would have deprived the religious denominations of any opportunity of expressing their views. The Bill which I shall introduce, if given leave, has a much more moderate aim. It would so amend subsection (2) of Clause 2 of the Act of 1928 as to bring that Act into operation upon 31st December, 1952, or, of course, upon such earlier date as His Majesty by Order in Council might direct.

Even on that date, 31st December, 1952, no Easter would be affected until the Easter of 1954, because by Clause 1 of the principal Act no Easter is affected until the next calendar year but one after the year on which it comes into operation. The delay of almost three years can be tolerated the more happily because, by coincidence, it happens that in 1952 and 1953 the date of Easter will be either identical to, or only one week different from, what it would be if the Act of 1928 were now in force.

I must now try to describe to the House briefly the attitude of the religious denominations towards this Measure. Easter being primarily a religious festival, obviously their attitude is of paramount importance. I think it is true to say that most, if not quite all, of the free churches have already positively expressed a view in favour of the change. The Roman Catholic Church has declared in a Pontifical Message in 1924, that the proposed change does not give rise to any dogmatic or theological difficulty, but that church has not been able so far to give positive approval to the change. The Church of England—and this is most important—has no objection to make on its own behalf, but has given notice that it would not consent to the change unless all other major denominations were also in agreement.

I should like to try to describe what would be the practical consequences of passing the Bill which I ask leave to introduce. No religious denomination would be in any way coerced. But the onus of responsibility for taking positive action of some kind would be shifted. Today the onus of taking positive action rests upon those who would like to see Easter and Whitsun more narrowly confined. They, whether private individuals or Government Ministers, are obliged to go about and try to persuade the religious denominations positively to express their approval, and this will be rather difficult to achieve. Were my Bill to become law, the position would be that the religious denominations would have a period of one and three quarter years during which, if they were so minded, they could put forward their objections towards this proposal.

But let this be observed. If any important religious denomination were to put forward an objection, then it would not stand alone, because already the Church of England has announced that it would refuse consent unless that denomination were agreed, and it is clearly sensible and far better to keep the present arrangement than to get into a situation in which the secular authorities and some denominations celebrated Easter on one day and others celebrated it on another day. If any denomination raised objections, supported as it would be by the Church of England, it is certain that, before the one and three quarters years had passed, the Bill now proposed would have to be repealed.

I must refer to one other point, which is in regard to the desirability of securing not only agreement amongst the important denominations in this country, but also agreement and simultaneous action by all the countries of the Western world. I hope that many, including, as I must frankly tell the House, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, will not feel that this condition need be insisted upon, and, if we must wait until we have agreement and simultaneous action by all countries, I think it would be hopeless. If, for a period, we find that Easter is celebrated on one day in Britain and on a different day in France, I do not anticipate that there would be any great inconvenience, because already another country with which we are closely knit by many ties—Scotland—frequently celebrates its public holidays on different days without any inconvenience. I therefore hope that the House will give me leave to introduce this Bill.

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

I hope the House will not give leave to introduce this Bill. It is no use the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) saying that we cannot consider action taken 22 years ago, because a great many actions taken during the last 20 years will need to be reconsidered, even though some of them have been embodied in Acts of Parliament.

My objection to this Bill is not a theological or religious one, or even a dogmatic one. I have an objection, as many others have, on very much simpler and more human grounds. The fact is that what we have to fight against in our modern civilisation is turning everybody into robots, especially the working class people, who have no opportunity to enjoy considerable leisure. We ought to prevent their being driven into a narrow and limited channel in which they have got to have Easter at the same time of the year.

The hon. Member who asked for leave to introduce the Bill has told us about the Chambers of Commerce and other bodies who were in favour of this more uniform system of having a fixed Easter and a fixed Whitsun. I quite agree with him that Whitsun is more important, in many ways, than Easter, but the hon. Gentleman never mentioned, for example, that any trade union had sent any resolutions in favour of it, and it stands to reason that people with limited leisure do not always want to go to see the country on the 10th or the 11th May. They are delighted to find that Whitsun sometimes falls at the beginning of May and sometimes at the beginning of June, and those people who love to spend their holidays in what is known as hiking, or of walking on the hills and moors want to see as

wide a variety in nature as they possibly can.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the 10th May has the same weather every year?

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

It always rains.

Mr. Colegate

The hon. and learned Gentleman may reflect that during the months in early summer there is a very considerable difference in the aspect of nature, even though the weather may vary. The fact is that we do want to leave as much variety in life as we possibly can, and I think that a movable Easter and Whitsun are not undesirable on any account.

Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman suggest, on the same line of argument, that we should have Christmas at midsummer?

Mr. Colegate

If the hon. Gentleman had been following my argument, he would have realised that some festivals, like Christmas, are fixed, and will remain fixed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because there is no objection to fixed festivals. This desire for a mechanical Easter and the fixing of public holidays at exactly the same time every year is one which I think we should be very-unwise to encourage, and I hope that this Bill will not be proceeded with.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12.

The House divided: Ayes, 279; Noes, 105.

Division No. 62.] AYES [4.8 p.m.
Adams, H. R. Bowden, H. W. Clunie, J.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Cocks, F. S.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Boyle, Sir Edward Coldrick, W.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Collindridge, F
Arbuthnot, John Braine, B. R. Cook, T. F.
Bacon, Miss Alice Brockway, A. F Cooper, Geoffrey (Middlesbrough, W.)
Baldwin, A. E. Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Cooper, John (Deptford)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J Brooks, T. J. (Normanton) Corbett, Lt.-Col. Uvedale (Ludlow)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J Broughton, Dr. A D. D. Cove, W. G.
Benn, Wedgwood Brown, George (Belper) Craddock, George (Bradford, S)
Benson, G. Brown, Thomas (Ince) Crossman, R. H. S.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Burden, Squadron Leader F. A Daines, P.
Bing, G. H. C. Burke, W. A. Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.
Bishop, F. P. Burton, Miss E. Darling, George (Hillsborough)
Blenkinsop, A. Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Davies, Harold (Leek)
Blyton, W. R. Callaghan, L. J. Davies, Nigel (Epping)
Boardman, H Carmichael, J. de Chair, Somerset
Booth, A. Channon, H. de Freitas, G.
Boothby, R. Chetwynd, G. R. Deer, G.
Bottomley, A. G. Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S. Diamond, J.
Dodds, N. N. Langford-Holt, J Robertson, J J (Berwick)
Donnelly, D Lee, Frederick (Newton) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Drayson, G B Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Robson-Brown, W.
Drewe, C. Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon John (W Bromwich) Lindgren, G. S Roper, Sir Harold
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Ropner, Col. L.
Edelman, M. Llewellyn, D. Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Longden, Fred (Small Heath) Royle, C
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Longden, Gilbert (Herts, S. W.) Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Savory, Prof. D. L.
Ewart, R. McAdden, S. J Shackleton, E. A. A.
Fernyhough, E. McAllister, G. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Field, Capt. W J McGhee, H. G. Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Finch, H. J. McGovern, J. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Fisher, Nigel McInnes, J. Simmons, C. J.
Follick, M. Mack, J. D. Slater, J
Foot, M. M. Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Smiles, Lt.-Col Sir Walter
Forman, J. C McKibbin, A. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Fraser, Sir I (Morecambe & Lonsdale) McLeavy, F Sorensen, R W
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon H T N MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.) Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir Frank
Gammans, L. D Maitland, Cmdr J. W Sparks, J. A
Ganley, Mrs. C S Mallalieu, E L. (Brigg) Steele, T
Gilzean, A. Mallalieu, J P W (Huddersfield, E) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Gooch, E. G Mann, Mrs. Jean Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C Manuel, A. C. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Grenfell, D R. Mathers, Rt. Hon. G. Studholme, H. G.
Grey, C. F Medlicott, Brig. F. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith
Griffiths, Rt. Hon James (Llanelly) Mellish, R. J. Sylvester, G. O.
Griffiths, W D (Exchange) Messer, F. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Grimond, J. Mikardo, Ian Taylor, Robert (Morpeth)
Gunter, R J. Mitchison, G. R. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Moeran, E. W. Thomas, David (Aberdare)
Hale, Joseph (Rochdale) Monslow, W. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Hall, John (Gateshead, W.) Moody, A. S. Thomas, Iorworth (Rhondda, W.)
Hall, Rt. Hon Glenvil (Colne Valley) Moore, Lt.-Col., Sir Thomas Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Hamilton, W W Morley, R. Thompson, Lt -Cmdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Hannan, W Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Hardman, D R Mort, D. L. Thurtle, Ernest
Hardy, E A. Moyle, A. Tilney, John
Hargreaves, A Mulley, F. W. Turton, R. H.
Hay, John Murray, J. D. Ungoed-Thomas, A. L
Hayman, F. H. Nally, W Usborne, H.
Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Tipton) Neal Harold (Bolsover) Vosper, D. F.
Herbison, Miss M. Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. Wade, D. W.
Hobson, C. R. Oliver, G. H. Watkins, T. E.
Holman, P. Orbach, M. Webbe, Sir Harold
Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. O. Weitzman, D.
Houghton, D Padley, W. E. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Hoy, J. Paget, R. T. West, D. G.
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly) Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pannell, T. C. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Hurd, A. R Parker, J. Whiteley, Rt. Hon W
Hylton Foster, H. B. Paton, J. Wigg, G
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Peake, Rt. Hon. O. Wilkins, W A.
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Pearson, A. Willey, Frederick (Sunderland)
Irvine W. J. (Wood Green) Peart, T. F Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Poole, C. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Jay, D. P. T. Popplewell, E. Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Jeger, Dr Santo (St Panoras, S.) Porter, G. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Jennings, R Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Johnson, James (Rugby) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'lly)
Johnston. Doug'as (Paisley) Proctor, W. T. Williams, W T (Hammersmith, S.)
Jones, David (Hartlepool) Profumo, J. D. Wills, G
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Pryde, D. J. Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)
Jones, William Elwyn (Conway) Raikes, H. V. Winterboltom, Richard (Brightside)
Kaberry, D Rankin, J. Wise, F. J.
Keenan, W Rees, Mrs. D. Yates, V F.
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Reeves, J. Younger, Hon. K.
Kinghorn, Sqn. Ldr. E. Reid, Thomas (Swindon)
Kinley, J. Reid, William (Camlachie) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D. Remnant, Hon P Sir R. Ac and and
Lambert, Hon G Rhodes, H. Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Lang, Gordon Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Aitken, W T Bromley-Davenport, Lt -Col. W Conant, Maj. R. J. E
Alport, C. J M Bullock Capt M Cooper-Key, E. M
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Bullus, Wing Commander E. E Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H F C
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Butcher, H W. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O E
Banks, Col. C. Carr, Robert (Mitcham) Crouch, R. F.
Blackburn, A. R. Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth. W) Crowder, Capt. John (Finchley)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A Clyde, J. L Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)
Braithwaite, Lt -Cmdr Gurney Collick. P Cundiff, F W
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Smith, E. Martin (Grantham)
Delargy, H. J. Lloyd, Rt. Hn Geoffrey (King's Norton) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Digby, S. W. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Donner, P. W Logan, D. G. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Soames, Capt. C.
Duthie, W. S. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Fort, R. MacColl, J. E. Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Fraser, Hon Hugh (Stone) McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.
Gates, Maj. E. E. Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh) Sutcliffe, H.
George, Lady Megan Lloyd McKay, John (Wallsend) Teevan, T. L.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Thompson, Kenneth Pugh (Walton)
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Thorneycroft, Peter (Monmouth)
Grimston, Robert (Westbury) Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Thorp, Brig. R. A. F.
Harris, Reader (Heston) Marples, A. E. Timmons, J.
Harrison, J. Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin) Turner, H. F. L.
Harvey, Air Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Maude, Angus (Ealing, S.) Vernon, W. F.
Harvie-Watt, Sir G. S. Mellor, Sir John Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Nicholls, Harmar Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Mollis, M. C. Nicholson, G. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Hopkinson, H. L. D'A. Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Hornsby-Smith, Miss P. Oakshott, H. D. Wells, William (Walsall)
Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence O'Brien, T. Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J. (Edinb'gh, E.)
Hudson, W R. A. (Hull, N.) Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.) Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Wood, Hon. R.
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Pursey, Cmdr. H. Wyatt, W. L.
Keeling, E. H. Redmayne, M.
Kenyon, C. Robens, A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lancaster, Col. C. G Scott, Donald Mr. Arthur Colegate and Mr. York.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Richard Acland, Mr. Joynson-Hicks, Mr. Bing, Mr. Parker, Mr. Morley, Mr. John Foster and Sir Herbert Williams.