HL Deb 15 February 1951 vol 170 cc367-84

4.48 p.m.

LORD MERTHYR rose to move to resolve, That this House, taking into consideration the fact that an Act to regulate the date of Easter Day has been on the Statute Book since 1928, but has since that date been inoperative in consequence of the provisions of subsection two of section two of the Act, is of opinion that the Act should now be brought into force by the repeal of the aforesaid subsection. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name. In the year 1928 Parliament passed into law an Act called the Easter Act, 1928. The Bill was passed through both Houses without a Division, and Section 1 of the Act stated that in future the day of Easter was to be the day following the second Saturday in April. I must tell your Lordships that there was also inserted in the Bill Section 2 (2), which is a subsection that makes a great deal of difference to our debate this afternoon. I think it right, therefore, with the permission of your Lordships, to read this subsection. It is as follows: 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 any Church or other Christian body. That was subsection (2) of Section 2 of the Act. From that day, for twenty years, to the best of my knowledge, nothing happened. In 1948, there was a brief debate upon the Adjournment in another place, but apart from that no more has been heard of the matter. So we have on the Statute Book an Act of Parliament passed twenty-three years ago which has since been inoperative. I hope, therefore, that I may be excused for coming to your Lordships' House this afternoon and asking the question, why has it been so and what are the reasons for it?

During the debate in your Lordships' House in 1928 one of the right reverend Prelates made it perfectly clear that the Church, upon three conditions, agreed with this measure. Those three conditions were: first, that Easter must be on a Sunday; second, that whatever date was fixed it must be within the period of thirty-five days during which Easter has always fallen; and, third, that the consent of the Churches must be obtained. I can dispose briefly of the first two conditions. Everyone agrees that Easter should be on a Sunday, and no one disagrees that it should fall within the present period of thirty-five days, which, if I am correct, runs from March 22 to April 25. The Act provides that the date fixed should be as nearly as possible in the middle of that period. The arithmetical centre of that period is April 8, and the Act says that Easter shall be the day following the second Saturday in April. It was also made perfectly clear in that debate that there was no religious objection—that is, no objection based upon dogma—to the fixing of Easter. I assert that that statement was made, and was not challenged by any authority, religious or lay.

The question I should like to ask to-day, therefore, is: What has happened? Have the Privy Council heard any objections? If so, may we be told what those objections were, who made them and what were the reasons put forward in support? I hope that it is not in any way improper to ask for that information. Since the most reverend Primate said that he was in agreement with this Act, I have looked up to see whether any other Church was not in agreement, and I found it stated in the debate, I do not know on what authority, that the Holy See had said that they would agree to the fixing of Easter provided that it was "desirable for the good of mankind." I ask permission to come to your Lordships' House this afternoon to try and show that the fixing of Easter is "desirable for the good of mankind," and to ask, if it is not desirable, may we be told why?

When I suggest a reform, I am often told that there is no public demand for that reform. Therefore, I have come armed with information about the demand which there has been for this reform. I start with your Lordships' House. Your Lordships not only passed this Act without a Division but passed it enthusiastically. Not only was there no vote against it, but there was no speech against it. One of the speakers was the late noble Lord, Lord Fitzallan, a much respected member of the Roman Catholic Church, while another speaker was one of the Bishops of the Church of England. What is more, the Bill received the support of the Government in both Houses of Parliament. It was a Private Member's Bill, introduced into another place by the late Captain Bourne. It was warmly supported on behalf of the Government by the then Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks. It is fair to say that some objections were raised in another place, but there was no Division. In your Lordships' House the Bill was welcomed, in what I can only call enthusiastic terms, by the late noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, then Secretary of State for India, on behalf of the Government. I do not think anybody could say he minced his words in praising the Bill, and the speech has been described recently as enthusiastic. I ought to add that in 1948, when the matter was raised in another place, the then Home Secretary was much more gloomy about the prospects of the measure. So we find, I much regret to note, that His Majesty's Government in 1948 were much less enthusiastic about this reform than were His Majesty's Government in 1928.


Was the original Act of 1928 introduced as a Government measure?


No, it was introduced as a Private Member's Bill by the late Member for the City of Oxford, Captain Bourne, but it received the support of the Government in both Houses.

I pass to the Church. It is on record in the Report of the debate on the 1928 Bill that upon a gathering of 250 Anglican Bishops being asked—I think it was shortly after the First World War—whether they agreed with this measure, they unanimously said they did. It was also stated that forty countries were in favour of the Bill, and forty countries must include a greater number of religious denominations. In 1920, a meeting of Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire, assembled in Canada, unanimously approved this measure. In 1923, a World Congress of Chambers of Commerce, comprising representatives of thirty-seven nations, met in Rome, and unanimously agreed to this measure. No doubt I could have found more people who demanded the Bill, but I do not want to weary the House with too many details.

I pass to the question: Why have so many people welcomed this Act? I was tempted to say, but I shall not do so, that the arguments in favour of the Act were so obvious that they need not be stated. Perhaps that is a dangerous thing to say, however, so I must ask your Lordships' indulgence if I enumerate a few of the many arguments in favour of the Bill. The first is that in commerce and industry it would be an enormous advantage, spread over the years as they go by, to have Easter on a more fixed date than it is now. Since it must be on a Sunday, it cannot be wholly fixed, but must wander throughout one week. But even that, I submit, is a vast improvement on wandering throughout five weeks.

If your Lordships consider the date of the financial year, and the fact that many concerns in industry make up their accounts either to the end of March or to April 5, is it not at once apparent that there is a grave disadvantage to have two Easters in one financial year and none in the next, as indeed happens this very year? In the financial year ending April or March, 1951, there are two Easters, while in the financial year ending 1952 there will be no Easter—and in some years there are one and a half Easter holidays. Is it not apparent that for a concern like a railway company, which has to deal with holiday traffic, that must, to put it mildly, dislocate accountancy, and increase the worry of carrying on the business? Do not railways need all the assistance they can get in this particular year? In any sphere where comparative statistics are important, I submit that it is equally desirable to have Easter always in one year and as much fixed as possible.

In the realm of education, surely it is an advantage if Easter is either always in the holidays or always in term time. I have seen it stated that one headmaster preferred variations. My reply to that is that he can adjust the term so as to include or exclude Easter, as he so wishes. There is nothing to prevent his doing that and not thereby interfering with business in the process. Generally speaking, I suggest that educational authorities would greatly welcome the fixing of Easter. And what about Parliamentary Sessions? Is it not more difficult for your Lordships when the Easter Recess falls upon different dates every year? This year, if precedent is followed—and I have no means of knowing whether it will be—we shall reassemble here on April 2, just about the time when in most years the Easter holidays are beginning. I must remind your Lordships that not only is Easter affected, but also Whitsun—the Whitsun Recess depends upon the date of Easter. I ask your Lordships to think whether you have not personal inconveniences caused in your daily lives by the wandering of Easter day. I can truthfully say that I have, year after year, and particularly this year when Easter is so early.

I now come to the Church. It is not for me to say whether it is inconvenient in purely Church matters—I should like to say here how delighted I am to see the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury here to-day—but I would respectfully suggest that it is not convenient to have twenty-seven Sundays after Trinity in some years, and twenty-two in others, with a corresponding reduction or increase, as the case may be, in the Sundays after Epiphany. Then it is not unimportant to have in mind what I have mentioned already, that Whitsun depends on Easter, and the Whitsun Bank Holiday likewise. I understand that in the north of England particularly the Whitsun holiday is a great occasion, and that crowds of people from Lancashire and big industrial centres in many cases take their annual holidays at Whitsun. Surely it would be more convenient if there were less variation in the date. Surely it would be better that the holiday should not be quite so early as May 15 in some years—and it can be as early as May 12. Those are some of the arguments in favour of fixing Easter.

There is another matter with which I must deal, because it is certain to be put to me if I do not. I may be asked what will happen if this country has Easter on one day and other countries on other days. Being always in favour of co-operation with others and of having less variation, I should regret that development in itself. But it cannot be denied that it is quite possible to have Easter on one day in England and on another day in France. In any case, Easter in the Orthodox Church has nearly always been on a different day, and nobody seems to mind very much. Again, what would happen if the Bank Holiday was on one day in England and on a different day in France? It is now. Many of the Bank Holidays are quite different in England and France and other countries, but we get along perfectly well. We cannot even agree with Scotland about holidays: they have their holiday on May 1, I believe; and they keep their holiday at the New Year, and we at Christmas. But we get along, and I do not see why we should not get along if the holidays are on different days. With respect, I do not think there is any great weight in the argument that all countries must agree to change at the same time before anything can be done.

The question I really want to ask to-day is this: If Easter cannot be fixed, why cannot it be fixed? In passing, I would ask the House to note that the consent of the Churches is not really necessary; but I want to make it perfectly plain that Easter is not only primarily but entirely a religious festival. Therefore, I have not the slightest wish to interfere with the decision of any of the Churches as to the date on which they keep Easter. If one thing is clear, it is that the Churches have an absolute right to celebrate Easter upon any day which they may choose. Nevertheless, in view of the passing of this Act through Parliament, I think it is pertinent respectfully to ask all the Churches this question: If Easter cannot be fixed, may the public be told why?

Finally, there is this point. If there is some overriding reason of which I do not know (and it may be so) why Easter not only cannot be fixed now, but can never be fixed, then I suggest that the country and perhaps Parliament will have to consider whether it is not necessary to separate the holidays from the Holy Days. It could be done—and I am not sure that it has not already been done in certain parts of the country. The Church leaders said in 1928 that they would rather it were not done; that they preferred the holidays and the religious festival to coincide. So, I suppose, would most people. But certainly it would be possible to separate Easter Monday and Whit Monday from the religious holidays, and it may be desirable to do so if the religious festival cannot be fixed. It is twenty-three years since this Act was passed. I have been unable to discover any other Act of Parliament which has had to wait twenty-three years before being put into operation. For that reason alone, I respectfully suggest that I am justified in moving this Motion.

Moved to resolve, That this House, taking into consideration the fact that an Act to regulate the date of Easter Day has been on the Statute Book since 1928 but has since that date been inoperative in consequence of the provisions of subsection two of section two of the Act, is of opinion that the Act should now be brought into force by the repeal of the aforesaid subsection.—(Lord Merthyr.)

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, having just resisted an invitation to speak on corn rents, I beg leave to make a brief speech on the matter now before the House. Indeed, I think it is almost the normal procedure that whenever this topic is raised in this House—as it is at intervals of ten years or so—the Archbishop of Canterbury for the time being should speak upon it. I confess that I would associate myself with the opening remarks of the late Lord Lang, when he addressed the House on this topic in 1928, by saying that I myself approach the subject With no sort of enthusiasm—that is to say, I personally have very little passionate desire to see Easter fixed; and, like him, unless there is strong reason I dislike any proposals to change any long and well-established custom. As an administrator I spend my time trying to get rid of anomalies. As a personal private individual I love anomalies, and think that the more of them we keep in life the better, for I believe that we are seriously in danger of becoming so systematised that life loses all its interests. I remember once addressing a great society of builders and saying that they had forgotten how to build a house. because every house consisted of rectangles, with no cupboards in awkward places and no steps to trip over. In my view, the only house of any interest to live in is one full of anomalous things of that sort. That is my own personal feeling. To-day, I am here not to discuss the merits of this matter but simply, if I can, to state very briefly once more the attitude of the Church of England towards it.

I would quarrel with practically nothing that the mover of this Motion has said. But the noble Lord's Motion contains one point to which he did not refer at all. His Motion urges that Section 2(2) of the Act should now be repealed, and that the Act should be put into force. Now that is a proposal to which I shall take very strong exception. The position of the Church of England is quite simply this. In the first place, the Church has no objection in principle to a fixed Easter and it is agreed that if there is to be a fixed Easter the date proposed by the Act is the right date. Subject to correction, I think I am right in saying that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have both declared that they see no objection in principle to a fixed Easter. But, secondly, the Church of England has declared that it would not itself consent to the operation of the Easter Act and the fixing of Easter unless there was general agreement between the chief nations and the chief denominations of the Christian world. That was to them, and still is, an essential condition; and it is precisely that condition which is contained in this subsection (2).

Before the Act can be applied there has to be a Resolution before Parliament, and as I look back at past events the purpose of that provision was to give the Government time to ascertain whether there would be general agreement amongst the chief nations, at least of the Western world. The second provision was that regard should be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body. Again, I think I detected in the debates that the reason why it was put in that form was that it is very difficult to require agreement by every Christian body in the Western world. Indeed, it would be ludicrous to impose that. On the other hand, it would be invidious to select a short list of Churches whose consent should be required. Therefore, it was put in this form: "Provided … that … regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body." That would be a relevant consideration, and obviously it meant that if any of the great denominations were unwilling, very great regard would be paid to their objection, but if some small sect objected, then it would be possible to proceed without their consent.

The Church of England regards this condition of general consent as essential and is not prepared, I am sure, to give any continued support to the Easter Act unless that condition is fulfilled. I myself should have thought that it is quite obvious that that condition must be fulfilled. The main denominations in this country—the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Reformed Churches or Free Churches—must, for unity of Christian friendship, act together in this matter. It is true that the Orthodox Church differs in date, but the Orthodox Church has very few adherents in this country, and it does not disturb anybody that they observe their Easter at a later date. But if the Church of England adopted a new date, the Church of Rome adhered to the old date and the Free Churches, if they liked, had yet another date, there would be great religious confusion which would be distressing to the Christian conscience. Easter Day itself is the greatest Festival in the Christian year, and it would be grievous indeed if the chief denominations of the Christian religion in this country separated from one another in the observance of that great Feast.

Secondly, I should have thought it was essential that the chief Western nations should also agree. As I understand it, one of the objects of this proposal was that it would be for the convenience of commerce and industry. I cannot believe that it would be of any help or that it would be convenient if in fact there were different dates for Easter in England and on the Continent, or on the Continent itself between, for instance, Lutheran countries and Roman Catholic countries. It is not just a question of one day's holiday. Easter carries with it, as has been said, Good Friday and the two or three following days. If they were disturbed, and disturbed on different dates on the Continent and in England, I think the purposes of commercial convenience would be frustrated.

Lastly, I would say, I think without dispute, that in this matter of the Easter Act, Church and State must act together, and it is quite unthinkable that either should act without the full support of the other. The Church has no desire to move in this matter, and would certainly not take the initiative: and I think I can-say—it was certainly said again and again in another place when this matter was debated—that the State would not think of acting in this matter without the consent of the Church. It is perfectly true that the State, if it desires, can put its Bank Holidays where it likes. Whether it would be wise or desirable to separate the Bank Holiday which occurs in the spring from the Christian Festival, and put it somewhere else, is a matter for debate; but it cannot be done under this Act. It is a new approach to the matter, and, therefore, this Motion, which deals with the Easter Act, is not relevant to that particular question. I have my own views about that, but we need not discuss them now. I think I may take it for granted that the State would not think of altering the Christian Festival, Easter Day, without the consent of the Church, because it cannot do it. That is the long and short of it.

The Christian Church will observe its Festival when it likes and if, to imagine the impossible, the State said: "We are going to alter the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer by altering the Festival of Easter without your consent"—that is, the consent of the Church of England—then, quite obviously, there would be a row. But that is not suggested. For all these reasons I would say that it is quite impossible to accept this Motion as it stands, its effect being that the Act should now be brought into force by the repeal of the "aforesaid subsection"—that is to say, without requiring the consent of the Churches and of the main nations of the West. If the condition of general consent were fulfilled, however, the Church would be ready to make the change to fix Easter for the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, I have little to add to what has been said by the most reverend Primate, but I am anxious to assist the House and not less the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, by giving any information that I am in a position to give. But since it is obvious that, particularly in its international aspect as well as in its national aspect, the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church on this question is a very important factor indeed. I can only feel some surprise that Lord Merthyr did not take the trouble to ascertain precisely what is she attitude of the Holy See to this question. That attitude has been declared in 1924 and 1928. In 1924 his Holiness Pius XI was approached by the League of Nations on the subject, and through his Nuncio in Berne he sent an official reply stating his attitude. I have to apologise for the fact that I have mislaid my English translation of the Pontifical Message, and I am obliged to rely on my translation from the French. I hope that your Lordships will excuse me. The message was to this effect: The Holy See notes with pleasure that the League of Nations has explicitly recognised 1hat the question of the reform of the calendar, and in particular that which concerns the Festival of Easter, is essentially of a religious order; and that eventual modifications in this matter, although they do not give rise to any dogmatic difficulty, would nevertheless Tender it necessary to abandon traditions that are strongly established and from which it would be neither legitimate nor acceptable to depart without grave reasons of universal interest. Therefore the Holy See does not find any sufficient reason to modify that which has been the constant usage of the Church in the determination of the Ecclesiastical Feasts, and notably of the Feast of Easter, and custom, transmitted by venerable tradition and sanctioned from ancient times by the Councils. Consequently, if it were shown that the general good demands some change in these conditions the Holy See would not be willing to examine the question without the preliminary opinion of a General Council. That, my Lords, was the message sent to the League of Nations in 1924. In 1928 a somewhat similar statement was issued. In that second statement, however, the words "… the forthcoming General Council" were used. I should explain to your Lordships that at the end of the 1920's, and the beginning of the 1930's, it appears to have been in the mind of Pope Pius XI that the time was opportune for the convocation of another General Council, the last having been held in 1870. But the course of temporal history in the 1930's rendered that hope nugatory; and there seems no hope to-day whatever of any General Council being summoned.

If your Lordships will consider the matter from a world-wide point of view (and, despite the specious pleading of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, I think your Lordships would agree that for a world Power like Great Britain to consider the matter from any other point of view would be a most irresponsible action) you will understand very well the position taken up by the Holy See in this matter. Clearly, His Holiness has not only to consider the feelings of this country or that country, of the business man in England or the schoolmaster in America, or whomsoever it may be; he has to consider this highly complicated question in its reactions upon States of totally different traditions and necessities. Therefore, with great and typical good sense he says that he will not act in this matter without obtaining the views of Bishops throughout the world. That was the position of Pope Pius XI; and, so far as I know, and so far as the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has told us, no further opinion has been given by the Holy See. I am a little surprised that the Reformed Calendar Association has not in fact tried to find out what the present Sovereign Pontiff thinks about it. It is a suggestion that might at any rate afford my noble friend a very pleasant trip to Rome.

But I would not wish altogether to pour cold water upon the desires of my noble friend so far as they relate to the fixing of Easter. With his Motion I have no sympathy whatever, and I oppose it on the same grounds as those which have been so ably stated to-day by the most reverend Primate. But with his object I have a certain amount of sympathy. I am a humble admirer of a great ecclesiastic of the Communion to which I have the privilege to belong—the late Abbot Cabrol, formerly the Abbot of Farnborough. He was especially impressed by the desirability of fixing the date of Easter, and so eliminating the very confusing simultaneity of the temporal and sanctoral cycles—which would make it very much easier at any rate for us to follow our missals and office books. If that confusion were eliminated, or at any rate modified, I should be sympathetic to the work of the Reformed Calendar Association. But I shall be unsympathetic to their movement if the Motion which the noble Lord has moved is a specimen of their methods. I am sure that he did not raise this matter as one that has any chance whatsoever of being decided in the present circumstances; but one of the very few things which I sometimes envy my great grandchildren is that they may conceivably live to see reform effected in this direction.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by saying, on behalf of all your Lordships, how we welcome back the most reverend Primate? We are glad to find that in his absence on his strenuous tour he has lost none of his power of exposition and oratory, for I must say that I found his speech to-day completely convincing. I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. I think the reasons for fixing Easter are cogent. The noble Lord gave some of them. So far as I am concerned, I would give another reason. Being very interested in natural history, I think a later Easter, round about the middle of April, provides a much more interesting time in the garden and in the woods, and I should very much rather have my holiday at that time. But I think it is absolutely impracticable to contemplate making this change without the consent of the major Churches.

I think we should find ourselves in a great state of confusion if, for instance, in this country the Church of England had one idea for fixing Easter and the Roman Catholic Church had another idea and had Easter as fixed to-day. That would be another division in Christendom. It is the last thing that any of us would want to bring about. I do not see much chance of what the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and I want, being accomplished. I sometimes talk about the law's delay. The ecclesiastical delay, if I may say so with due respect to the most reverend Primate, seems to be far worse than the law's delay, if it is the fact that we have to wait till the noble Lord's great-grandchildren appear. It is idle to pretend that there is the slightest prospect of the Roman Catholic Church agreeing to this course at the present time, at any rate as far as I know. Certainly Pope Pius XI made it quite plain that he would not act without a meeting of the General Council and that he was not calling a meeting of the General Council.


He thought there was going to be a General Council next year or the year after. A General Council would not be necessary in order to deal with this question. It could be dealt with by correspondence, presumably with Rome.


I dare say that is so, and that was why I was urging the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, to ascertain what is the present view of Rome on the subject.


The facts, as I am told them, are these. In 1938 the Vatican made it clear that it would be unwilling to consider the matter without first calling a General Council of the Church, and the British representative at the Vatican was given to understand that this was a step which Pope Pius XI was then reluctant to take. So the position in 1938 was that the Pope thought that the General Council was, I do not say necessary, but expedient, and he was not prepared at that date to summon a General Council. That is my information. Quite frankly, I have not much hope. I think it is a good idea that inquiries should be made to see whether there has been any change in the attitude of the Churches. Let us get that clear. It really is not the fact that we are less enthusiastic than was the Government of 1928, but it is the fact that we are more realistic. In 1928 everybody hoped that the necessary agreement would be forthcoming. In 1948 I am bound to say it is a little difficult to think that it will be forthcoming, at any rate in the immediate future. But certainly my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made it plain that he thinks there are some practical advantages in fixing Easter. As the most reverend Primate said, we must not forget that if Easter is fixed, Good Friday is fixed too. I can conceive all sorts of difficulties arising when the great religious denominations observe different Good Fridays but the Bank Holiday is celebrated at the same time. That would lead to confusion which would, I think, be very great.

The real difficulty is to get the consent of the Churches. If that is obtained, we can get the consent of our near neighbours and other nations, which would be most desirable. I am afraid that all I can do is to wish the noble Lord luck and to hope that he gets on with this good work and is able to convince everybody concerned. If we get the consent of the Churches we shall be most delighted, but without that I do not think it is practicable. In this matter we cannot act unless we have the approval of the Churches. Therefore I am afraid I cannot accept this Motion.


My Lords, in this matter I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, but it seems to me that if one considers the terms of the Bank Holiday Act, an Act which was introduced for the great benefit of all sorts of people by the late Sir John Lubbock, one finds that one cannot work it unless there is agreement between the religious communities of this country as to what they regard as the date of Easter Sunday. I think I am right that the formula, which I am sure has no ecclesiastical or doctrinal significance, is that Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21. This year it so happens that there is a full moon on what will be Good Friday, and that makes Easter this year about as early as it can be.

We have an Act of Parliament which says that there are to be four Bank Holidays in a year on which the banks can be shut: there is to be New Year's Day, which is a fixed date; there is to be the first Monday in August, which is a fixed date; and there are the other two, the Monday following Easter Sunday and the Monday following Whit Sunday. Unless there is agreement between the great religious communities in the country as to when Easter shall fall, I do not for the moment see how one would determine which was Bank Holiday. We certainly cannot have a Bank Holiday observed by one set of people on one day and by another set of people on another day. That merely confirms what I am afraid is the logical deduction drawn by the Lord Chancellor, but it is not said with any idea of throwing further difficulties in the way of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, with whose motives and purposes I am in entire agreement.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to deal first, if I may, with the last point raised by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. Surely it would be possible to repeal the Act which fixed the Bank Holidays. If there is a demand for, or even agreement with, such a course, I do not see why the April Bark Holiday and the June Bank Holiday should not be re-arranged. Although I follow the point which was raised, I do not understand why such a course would not be possible. I need hardly say that I am profoundly disappointed with the result of this debate. It seems to me that, in some mysterious way which I am entirely unable to understand, it is not possible or practicable to ask this question of the various Churches: Do you or do you not agree that the date of Easter should be fixed? I do not know why that should be impossible. Other decisions, great and momentous decisions, are taken, but the answer to that question is, apparently, inaccessible.


I have given the answer to that question quite clearly on behalf of the Church of England.


I confess that I was thinking primarily of the Church of Rome when I said that. We were told this afternoon, in a very interesting speech from the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, that apparently it is necessary to have a General Council in order to provide the answer, but that there is no prospect of getting a General Council. I must accept that statement, but I cannot accept it as a very satisfactory solution to this problem.


My Lords, I rather thought that we had made this point clear before, on an intervention by the most reverend Primate, but I should like to make it quite clear—for it is an important matter. I have quoted the words of Pope Pius XI on the subject. He then expected to hold a General Council, to which he felt the question should be referred. I do not pretend to know what is the opinion of the present Pope on the matter—whether he would consider that a General Council is required or not—and I do not pretend to know whether or not the Bishops could be consulted by correspondence. But I do know this—that there would be great difficulty in consulting the Bishops on this or any other matters in so far as they are behind the Iron Curtain. Still, I do not pretend to know, and I should have thought that the authorities of the Reformed Calendar Association would be well advised to find out through the United Nations or by some other means.


Of course, I entirely accept what the noble Earl has said. So it boils down to this. I have suggested that the Government, having passed this Act of Parliament, might have been able to tell me whether they had made inquiries of the Churches; and, if so, with what result. I should have thought that technically the Privy Council might have inquired before deciding whether or not to make the Order; but it may be that I am wrong. The noble Earl says that I must do it. He suggests that I should go to Rome in order to do it. The noble Earl perhaps did not know that I may have to go to Rome for other purposes this year, and may fit it in. There is one matter that the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, mentioned upon which I should like to correct him. He several times mentioned the Reformed Calendar Association, though I am not sure what he was referring to. I am a member of one international calendar reform association. It does not bear that name, and in any case I have not communicated with it with regard to Easter. All I wanted to make plain was that it is perfectly possible to fix Easter without fixing the calendar, and it is also possible to fix the calendar without fixing Easter. Although similar, the two things are quite distinct; there is no doubt about that. My Lords, there appears to be no chance of any decision as a result of this debate, and I shall therefore have to put down another Motion at a later date. I shall certainly not press this Motion to a Division. I will withdraw it now but I must consider what the next move, if any, should be. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion which stands in my name.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.