HL Deb 23 July 1928 vol 71 cc1223-7

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Desborough.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Short title, commencement and extent.

2.—(1) This Act may be cited as the Easter Act, 1928.

(2) This Act shall commence and come into operation on such date as may be fixed by Order of His Majesty in Council, provided that before any such Order in Council is made a draft thereof shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and the Order shall not be made unless both Houses by Resolution approve the draft either without modification or with modifications to which both Houses agree, but upon such approval being given the Order may be made in the form in which it has been so approved: Provided further that before making such draft Order regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian bodies.

THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian bodies" and insert "any Church or other Christian body." The noble and learned Earl said: The words proposed to be left out were inserted in Clause 2, subsection (2), on the Report stage in another place, in order to ensure that the Churches should be considered and their views regarded before any action was taken. The proviso is as follows:— Provided further that before making such draft Order regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian bodies. Before those words were added there was no specific mention on the face of the Bill of the obvious interest of the various Christian bodies in the subject matter of the measure, and the promoters accepted the addition of the words as unobjectionable, accepting a phrase, as so often happens in Committee discussion upon Bills, without having had perhaps the fullest opportunity of examining with precision the implications or the omissions of the words so introduced. The Home Secretary assented to the Amendment and promised to see that the drafting was in order. When the matter came to Third Reading in another place it was pointed out that mention had been omitted of the Churches in Scotland, where, in addition to the Established Church, there are large bodies of Nonconformists. Parliamentary counsel was consulted and the Amendment now proposed will, it is believed, introduce a happier form of wording and at the same time meet the objections raised. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, who had along with other members of the Opposition in the House of Commons taken exception to the Amendment in its original form, has been consulted, I understand, by the Home Secretary and agrees that the wording now proposed will meet the objection which was taken.

On Second Reading in this House, the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, and Lord Parmoor drew attention to the second proviso in Clause 2, subsection (2), of the Bill. It ought to be noted that the effect of the words now in the Bill and also of the more appropriate wording (as we believe) now proposed, is to ensure that the Churches shall be consulted and their views considered before any action is taken. The words do not in terms legally bind the Minister to accept the views of the Churches for the obvious reasons, from which I do not believe the most rev. Primate will dissent, that it would derogate from the admitted authority of Parliament to make the consent of any outside body, however important spiritually, a legal prerequisite to legislation, and that it would make negotiations difficult if the other party were formally given a right of veto. I need hardly assure the most rev. Primate, or the head of any other Christian Church, that there is no fear that the Secretary of State, or the Government, will disregard the opinion of the Churches, but they are not helpless even in the face of an unsympathetic Government, should such a Government arise, for if such a Government showed any disposition unduly and unreasonably to disregard the opinion of the Churches, either of the two Houses could enforce proper respect for the Churches by refusing to pass the Resolution which is necessary under Clause 2, subsection (2), before an Order in Council can be made to put the Act into effect. Therefore the hands of Parliament are in no respect tied in this matter. An appeal and argument can always be put forward, and can always be accepted on ally point, and either House of Parliament can be satisfied that a legitimate grievance has been established. In these circumstances I move this Amendment, in the hope that in the widest and most sympathetic manner we are demonstrating our desire to carry along with us in this great reform the leaders of the Churches and of all religious communities in this country. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 14, leave out from ("by") to end of line 15 and insert ("any Church or other Christian body").—(The Earl of Birkenhead.)


On behalf of those whom I may be taken to represent in this House I raise no objection to the Amendment proposed any more than to the words as they originally stood. They do not, as the noble Earl has pointed out, give, and could not be expected to give, power of absolute and direct veto to any ecclesiastical body. It is clear they could not do that, but they do say that regard shall be had to the opinions of religious bodies, and after the explanation, which will be carefully noted by us all, which the noble Earl has given of the Amendment on behalf of the Government, I do not think that any exception can reasonably be taken. The introduction of the reference to other bodies than those mentioned in the Bill as it stands has a certain historic interest not altogether without humour. I can remember when the Presbyterian Church in Scotland would have looked with horror upon the suggestion that they should have anything to do with the recognition of a particular festival. I can remember when a personal friend of mine, a notable minister in the Church of Scotland, was brought before the General Assembly for observing December 25 as Christmas Day. Things have changed when we find that the Church of Scotland and the other Presbyterian bodies in Scotland desire to be associated with other bodies in fixing the date of Easter. I think it shows a great deal of progress in the direction that I personally desire and welcome. I take no exception to the proposal that has been made.


In my opinion these words are a great improvement on the Bill as it originally stood. I gather from what has been said by the most rev. Primate that all Churches, so far as they have given any expression of their views, have agreed to these new words "any Church or other Christian body," which I presume would include the Quakers, who are certainly a Christian body of very high standing and principle. I am obliged to the noble and learned Earl for what he said about another matter. He has shown that the matter before it is finally settled can come before Parliament again and then it will be time for Parliament to consider whether sufficient regard has been had to any representation made by any Church or other Christian body. I think that is eminently satisfactory and really covers any difficulty there might be about methods of procedure.


My Lords, on behalf of the promoters of the Bill may I say that we most cordially accept the Amendment which has met with acceptance from all those who are interested in the Bill?

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.