HL Deb 24 July 1962 vol 242 cc965-85

4.1 p.m.

LORD FERRIER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now Jay before both Houses of Parliament for approval a draft Order in Council, in accordance with Section 2 (2) of the Easter Act, 1928. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Unstarred Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, I would remind your Lordships that Easter, as observed in Western countries, falls roughly on the Sunday after the full moon which follows the Vernal Equinox. I say "roughly" because, to quote from Whitaker's Almanack: The moon referred to is not the full moon of the heavens but a hypothetical moon on whose 'full' the date of Easter depends, and so on. Easter has been fixed in these terms for nearly 400 years, and the fact is that its date varies over a range of 35 days. The earliest possible Easter is March 22 and the latest is April 25. Whit Sunday therefore varies from May 10 to June 13.

In 1928, Parliament passed the Easter Act. By this it was decided that Easter should be the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April—namely, the second Sunday in April unless, as was the case this year, April 1 was a Sunday, in which case it would be the third, the fact being that, under the Act, Easter would be the Sunday that falls between April 9 and 15. The Act further went on to say—and I quote: This Act shall commence and come into operation on such date as may be fixed by Order of His Majesty's Order 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. No such official expression of opinion has been made. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that no such expression of opinion has been officially sought. There the matter has rested for 34 years.

At this stage it might be worth mentioning that the average date for Easter over the 19th century lay between April 8 and April 9. Thirty-four years later the world is a smaller place than it was in 1928. The secular reasons which persuaded Parliament to make this decision apply to-day, only more so. There is the increased speed of transport; the increased ability of people, many more people, to travel for their holidays; greater leisure; the consequent growth of the holiday industry—indeed, tourism has become an economic factor to be reckoned with. I will not attempt to expand on this general theme; it is manifest to your Lordships. I mention only one or two special features, though none of them is new.

One odd feature is that, with Easter as at present, there can be two Easters in one fiscal year and none in another. Also worth emphasising is the overlapping of a late Whitsun with June holidays. Further (this is not new, but it is worth remembering) there is a wide difference between the climate in the fourth week of March and that in the last week of April. I will not mention the variations of weather from year to year though much was made of this in the debates in both Houses in 1928, and I am encouraged to keep more or less silent on the subject of the weather because this year, as your Lordships will remember, the "Met." man on Whit Sunday wrongly forecast the Whit Monday weather.

A fixed Easter would also mean a break with the full moon at Easter time. In the days of Shanks's mare this had a value for worshippers returning from midnight service. Indeed, I have a vivid recollection of seeing, in Western India parties of Christians returning from midnight Mass along jungle paths in the bright Easter moon, and of hearing their chants and their cries as they called to one another to keep up their courage and to scare wild beasts and snakes from their path. To-day the motor vehicle and bus have brought an end to any such experiences and to the physical need which existed at one time for a light at night for worshippers at midnight service.

But here, of course, we are referring to the Northern hemisphere and, as such, to the fact that Easter is in the spring, and Whitsun can vary from the beginning of May to high summer. It is well to remember that this does not apply in the Southern hemisphere, where Easter is in the autumn. I think that I am right in saying that in South America their seasonal holiday is Mardi Gras, or Carnival, as they call it, and the date of Shrove Tuesday varies from February 3 to March 9. Later dates in the Southern hemisphere can have cold weather. Something of the same conditions apply in Australia. Take, for instance, the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, which I had the delight of visiting two years ago. There, an early Easter means very hot weather for the show. I think I am right in saying that an Easter as fixed under the Act would mean, in Sydney at least, that it could be expected that their great Royal Easter Show would be held in cooler weather than is possible earlier in the year.

My reference to South America indicates my view that a fixed Easter under the Act could not be effective unless it had the sanction of the Holy See. Indeed in 1928, the late Lord Desborough said—and I quote: It would be intolerable for Britain to have a different Easter from the rest of Europe. I am sure that, had be been here to-day, he would have used the more fashionable phrase that "it would not be possible to act unilaterally in this matter". Nevertheless, to-day this view might not apply with the force that it did hitherto. But I will not develop that point.

The Act is silent about the process of consulting the Churches; and it has interested me to find, in studying the debates, that the final wording of the last proviso which I read to your Lordships in respect of the official opinion of the Churches, was in fact the outcome of an Amendment moved in your Lordships' House. In that connection, after the Bill was through, Lord Des-borough said—again I quote: The Bill will not come into operation without a due interval of time intervening so that all the opinions can be examined. Thirty-four years is a long interval to elapse before the examination should begin. Nevertheless, the fact is that the Act does not lay down the quarter in which the initiative should lie. Perhaps that is a defect in the Act as it stands, but that is the position.

My information is that, in 1928 His Holiness the Pope of that day, When approached unofficially on the subject, laid down that before he could give his answer he would have to consult his (Ecumenical Council, which had not been called for many years. Indeed, it is because the first (Ecumenical Council since the Act was passed has been summoned for this year that I have ventured to put down this Question. If the matter is brought to the notice of His Holiness Pope John, as I believe it should be, then this is the right moment of time. So much, my Lords, for the practical side of the matter, the bread and butter of the business. I believe that there is an overwhelming case for taking steps to implement the Act. Lord Parmoor said in 1928: … on every ground of convenience it is obviously preferable to have a fixed Easter".

But, my Lords, in the eternal structure of our Faith the words continually ring out: Man shall not live by bread only. I hope and pray that nothing I have said, or will say, will give offence to any of your Lordships to whom, as indeed to me, Holy Week and Eastertide mean more than just a break in the day-today routine of life, a holiday as opposed to a Holy Day, a yardstick for Whit Monday, a week-end some time in spring. To us Easter is the pivot of the Christian year, and it is here, on the spiritual side, that the difficulty lies; it is here that the Government must obviously tread warily. In the debate on 1928 it was repeatedly said that there is no doctrinal objection to the proposed change, and I am most glad to see the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter in the Chamber this afternoon, and I hope that we shall hear him on the subject. There has been a pronouncement by the Holy See which would appear to accept the possibility of Change if such would be (and I quote) "desirable for the good of mankind". This pronouncement was, I think, mentioned, in the debates in the other place in 1928.

My Lords, speaking as a Presbyterian Soot, I am sure that your Lordships know that in Scotland the celebration of Easter is a Church affair. There is no holiday connected with it; there is no recognised pause in business, except that the Banks close on Good Friday—they are open on Easter Monday. There are many Christians who feel that the right course would be to separate Holy Days from holidays altogether, and although that would be difficult at Christmastime, there is much in that point of view. Perhaps the noble Earl who is to reply will say that the right course is to overhaul the whole subject of public holidays. I believe that that should be done in any case; but I also believe that, nevertheless (indeed the more so, lest in a shifting Easter we should cut across a fixed secular spring holiday), steps should toe taken to implement the Easter Act now; and that, in any case, the advice of the Holy See should foe sought, through the usual Channels, at this time. It would not toe many years before the old system was forgotten, and perhaps when the right reverend Prelate comes to speak he will mention the aptness of the time, when the Church of England is considering the Prayer Book, though we must admit that if the New Prayer Book is without the "Table to find Easter Day" with its Golden Number and Sunday Letters, many a young person will be robbed of an occupation while not listening to the sermon!

At the same time a fixed Easter in April would mean that the description "Easter term" would no longer properly apply to the spring term. I know that there are many schoolmasters and schoolmistresses who feel that it would be a great loss if never in the school life of a boy or girl would Easter fall in term-time. This might be one of the sacrifices paid to a simpler system. But, against this, I would say, speaking for myself, that I believe that the spiritual gains outweigh such sacrifice.

Now what are these gains, my Lords? As one who has been concerned with the recent contacts which have taken place in Scotland between the Churches, and as one who believes implicitly that the day will come, in God's good time, when all will worship at one shrine, I think it is proper that those who are of the same mind should do what lies to their hand to enhance the position of our Faith as a living faith and to make it a living part of life as it is lived to-day. It is to this end that I have occupied your Lordships' time.

When I asked a Question on this subject in March the reply which I received did not really satisfy—and I quote [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 238, col. 627]: Her Majesty's Government would not feel justified in initiating action … Further, the noble Lord at the Dispatch Box said, and I quote again: I made it quite clear in my Answer that we believe it is up to the Churches … Is it, my Lords? With due respect, it can foe maintained that the Act does not say that the approval of any Church must be obtained; only that regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed". If no such opinion is expressed, it could be said that there is no reason why the Order in Council should not be made. So far as it is known, no Church has opposed the Act. The noble Lord, Lord Fisher of Lambeth, said in March that the Church of England had no objection, so far as he knew; and he quoted Lord Davidson to the same effect. He said that Lord Davidson had made careful inquiries before saying that the Church of England would not wish to raise any Objection. Even if this is only acquiescence, it is not objection.

Another point has been made to me from a very responsible quarter; and it is this: should not Her Majesty's Government carry out the express wishes of Parliament? If it is not the wish of Parliament, Parliament will not approve the Order. It is for that reason I read in detail that particular section in the Act. If Parliament will not pass the Order, there is no danger of Parliament's wishes being overruled.

My Lords, I have detained you long enough, but there is much more that can be said, and perhaps other noble Lords may be able to add points. For instance, I have not mentioned the Synod of Whitby and its bloody sequel. I have not mentioned the position of the Eastern Churches, including the Copts—I think I am right in saying that they observe Easter every Sunday. I have not mentioned the debates of 1752 in connection with the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar; nor the present movement for a revised calendar through and through, such as the Desborough Scheme.

Nor have I mentioned the special position of the U.S.A., made more important than ever by the rapidity of transportation to which I have already referred, and the amazing evidence put on last night of the way that distance is shrinking. Nor have I mentioned (I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has gone) the effect on the fishing trade. Your Lordships may be surprised to hear that this is of concern in connection with the supply of fish to market for Good Friday. Perhaps some other noble Lords more knowledgeable than myself will be able to enlighten your Lordships, but I imagine that they much prefer to fish in April than at the time of the Equinox.

I feel that I must end with a disclaimer. I have no technical interest in the transport industry or the holiday trade; nor am I a member of any society for the promotion of anything, unless the Church of Scotland can be so described. If so, I would make it plain that I have no authority even to speak for the Church of Scotland. But I do speak, my Lords, as an ordinary person interested in ordinary people; and I believe that ordinary people are interested in this situation. I accordingly beg your Lordships' leave to ask the Question which stands in my name.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Lord, both on putting this Question down for us to have a chance of looking at the subject this afternoon, and on the matter which he has presented to your Lordships? He has declared his own religion and his lack of interest in the transport industry, so may I equally say that I have no particular claim in either direction. A member of the Church of England, I am bound to say that I was first interested in this matter by a member of the Roman Catholic faith. Indeed, as a boy at school I had a very great interest in the man who I thought was standing up so much to the tyranny of the Germans at the end of the Great War, Cardinal Mercier. He it was who set up the first committee after the Great War to look into the question of the reform of the calendar in this regard. When I saw the noble Lord's Question, I could not help but go to my files, and I have something that very few of your Lord- ships can have these days, an Act of Parliament that cost a penny—the original Act as I bought it in 1928, with its price printed largely upon it.

I support the noble Lord in the desire that we should do something. I am bound to say that I do not, in all honesty, see how the Government could very quickly place anything before both Houses for Affirmative Resolution, in the way that would be desired if this matter were to go to the Council as a fait accompli. But I do see that we can look at the whole question again, in the light of the deadlock that has been reached through the tangle that has taken place, between the question of fixing Easter and the question of changing the calendar. Soon after the Mercier Committee had reported, the League of Nations having by then been established, the matter went to the Communications and Transit section of the League at Geneva. I remember the discussions there in 1923 to 1925, and it was arising out of those that the great fathers of this Bill came to Parliament.

A very great and respected Member of this House, who was a Minister of the Crown at one time, Lord Des-borough, was called the father of the fixed Easter. As a young man in politics, I remember that he collaborated largely with the then Archbishop, Cosmo Gordon Lang, and we got this Act of Parliament, which was to give us a fixed Easter and to help us on many things, always provided that there was some consultation with the Churches. I was never worried about the Holy See or the Church of England in this matter. The Eastern Church has, I believe, kept throughout to the Julian calendar, for fear of being thought to be too much approaching Rome, about which there might have been more difficulty. I was glad to see that in The Times of yesterday there was a picture of the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, standing with Bishop James Virvof of Apameia at the Sunday service of the Armenian Church of St. Sarkis in London, where he went out of his way to talk of his urgent hope to heal the feeling between the East and the West. I think it is between the East and the West that there has to be some healing of opinion about Easter. I am not worried about the Holy See, because I think it has been most helpful throughout, just as the Church of England has been.

When Cardinal Mercier's Committee first met, and the first material was put to the League of Nations, it was already clear—and the noble Lord made a passing reference to it—that the Holy See had already made a pronouncement. It made it in 1912, when the International Chambers of Commerce were, for quite different reasons, seeking various changes in the calendar. The Holy See issued a statement that it makes no objection. It invites the civil powers to enter into accord. The See would willingly grant its collaboration in so far as the matter affects religious feasts. I think it is important to emphasise certain words, in view of what the noble Lord said about the Government's wanting to put the responsibility on to religious bodies. There the civil powers were being invited to have a look at this problem. The war came along and then the League of Nations, succeeded as it was by the United Nations, found itself faced with large-scale propaganda for world calendar reform, torn between proposals for two different kinds of 13-month years and three different kinds of 12-month years, with world days and the like.

Finally, in 1954, Ecosoc, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, decided to embark upon an investigation. I remember discussing this subject with Dag Hammarskjoeld at the time when he proceeded to secure the information for examination, during 1955 and 1956. The material came in but it was all about the secular calendar. The Easter question was pushed into the background, the more so by the fact that the people who were sponsoring calendar reform were the Indians. The Indians have more reason than most to want calendar reform, because in addition to the Julian and Gregorian calendars they have 30 of their own, and the sight of the annual calendar published by the Indians, running into about 3,000 pages of calendars, plus timings of stars, moons and so on—as the noble Lord must know, as he has been to that country and I have not—is something well worth examination. Of course, the inevitable happened. Having obtained all this vast quantity of material which had been assembled, Ecosoc in 1956 considered the subject and then adjourned consideration sine die. There the matter will remain; and in the midst of this great mass of material that has been pushed on one side for ever, unless somebody does something—and the noble Lord is trying to do it to-day— will be the question of Easter.

There is no reason at all why Easter and the reform of the calendar, and where the 365th or 366th days go in a year that has fifty-two and one-seventh weeks in it, should be tangled up. The truth is that we are discussing a calendar which is based on the sun, and mixing it up with considerations of the moon. It has always been, right from the earliest days of calendars, that we have had a solar calendar and have had considerations of the moon inserted in the middle of it. I thought, as many others thought, that this had been solved by the 1928 Act, when we took part in the propaganda which produced the Bill, as it was then, which later became an Act of Parliament.

The noble Lord who has asked the Question has already pointed out some of the benefits that would come to all of us if this change were really brought into effect. Anybody who works in business, and anybody who has to deal with or has responsibilities to the national Boards, as I have, would know that many of the comparisons that one tries to make are completely invalidated over a large part of the year. There is not just invalidation over an odd week or two. Comparisons between the first quarter of one year and the first quarter of the next are wrong, and comparisons between the second quarter of one year and the second quarter of the next year are probably wrong. As the noble Lord said, we can in one financial year get two Easters, and then no Easter at all the year following. Indeed, we are going to get into that very soon, when we run once again into the thing which swings Easter so much (which again is a mixture of the sun and the moon calendars), and that is when we get to Leap Year in 1964. We are going to have Easter Day then on March 29.

If we look at the five-year period from 1961 to 1965, we shall find that Easter has swung from March 29 to April 22, and that that in turn has swung Whitsun from May 17 to June 10. That means that in every businessman's examination of statistics the weekly comparisons, apart from the quarterly ones, run into this trouble: that three weeks in March and five weeks in April are affected by Easter swinging between the dates that I have indicated, and four weeks in May and four weeks in June are affected by Whitsun, which depends upon the date of Easter. So there is no proper comparison in sixteen early weeks of the year in any field of business. It is not much good getting up here, as I did last Thursday, and asking your Lordships to pay some regard to National Productivity Year if we do not look at some of the things we could do to try to ease this kind of thing.

The railways, which are trying to put themselves on a paying basis, we understand, are one of the biggest possible sufferers from this shifting date of Easter and lack of comparison. Indeed, one of the men whose name is connected with the subject we are discussing this afternoon was a humble member of the North-Eastern Railway Company, who, while stationed in Yorkshire, first invented the thirteen-month year and, I believe, pioneered many of the changes in the accountancy system, some of which still exist to-day in British Railways and the Ministry of Transport. For my sins, or my pleasure, I deal with the National Dock Labour Board during my everyday life, and I see something of the movement of ships—perhaps more than most people do. You cannot alter the scheduling of ships coming in and out on varying dates when a long voyage is made. Even under the Act, if carried out by an Order in Council, we should admittedly still have a swing of one week, but it would be only the one week instead of the many weeks that we talk about now. We should, in fact, swing Easter from April 9 to April 15—and I would mention that April 9 is, by tradition, the date of Easter Sunday, April 7 being the traditional date of Our Lord's crucifixion and the 9th the Sunday after the Friday. That, in turn, would mean that the new Whitsun would swing between May 28 and June 3.

I have mentioned ships and timetables, but what about the hotel and catering pepole? They are always complaining (in fact, they have a special committee inside this Building which keeps large numbers of Members of the other place busy) about the difficulties they are running into. They never know when their season is going to start; and this at least would help them. It is equally true that the schools run into this trouble. We could have a good twelve-week term before and a twelve-week term after Easter, and many of the problems could, I think, be avoided.

Now I have said to your Lordships—I hope I have not kept you too long; I think perhaps I may have done—that I see no difficulty with the Holy See. Nor do I with our own Church. I looked up some of the material I had concerning the discussions, and so on, in 1954, when this subject was rife in Geneva, and I found I had a cutting from L'Osservatore Romano of June 28, 1954, which is normally regarded as expressing the views of the Holy See in its editorials. It said: The Church has no reason to oppose in principle a modification of the present calendar. If there were a general desire to reform, motivated by serious requirements of the economic and social life of the peoples of the world, the Catholic Church would not fail to consider the question, provided, naturally, that certain conditions which She Herself cannot overlook, are observed". Nor have I any reason to believe that there would be any difficulty in my own Church, but I shall not say anything about my own Church since I know my own Bishop is going to follow, and it is far better to leave it to him. I would only say one other thing about the religious aspect, and that is that the Act of 1928, as an Act, was an improvement on the original Bill because of an Amendment which swung it into the Sunday after the second Saturday. That was done in order to meet the views of the Roman Church, which pointed out that in certain periods of history, if that were not the date, it would be possible for the Feast of the Annunciation to coincide with Passion Sunday, which they would not have liked. That point was actually met in this Act; it is there and is clear.

I think the Government can take new action on this matter if they want to, now that there has been the adjournment sine die of the general calendar reform. One of the curious things, I always think, is the difficulties that people place in the way of this subject. Nobody ever worried that, as long ago as the fourth century, we fixed the date of the birth of Our Lord, by regard entirely to solar considerations in the calendar, as December 25; but we have always wanted to go on using the moon for completely different reasons—mainly Nicene reasons, we know—for the last 1,700 years. I hope it will be possible for the Government, if they cannot, as asked in the Question, make any pronouncement about immediate steps to put before the House an Order in Council for discussion and for Affirmative Resolution, at least to tell us that they can make some communication before the Œcumenical Council gets down to its work, and that they will try to pick out from the remains of the calendar reform resolutions of the United Nations the one essential feature of Easter which can be dealt with without dealing with the whole of calendar reform.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I have been asked to make an intervention in this debate from these Benches. The instructions which I have received are couched in such Delphic and sibylline terms that I am not sure I understand them—indeed, I am not sure that I was meant to understand them. So whatever I slay must be taken as an expression of my own opinion rather than as an official pronouncement on behalf of the Church of England. I think it would toe fair to say that on this matter the Church of England experiences no marked enthusiasm. On the other hand, it has no wish to be in any way obstructive. We recognise that there are indeed great advantages to be had for a fixed Easter. We recognise that there is a widespread desire in England for a fixed Easter, very largely from those members of our population who are not themselves associated with any form of the Christian religion at all, and we recognise that their wishes and convenience have just as much right to he taken into account as have ours. Nor do we consider that there is any theological objection to fixing Easter, but what we do feel very strongly is that we would not be prepared to agree to a fixed Easter in isolation from other Churches of the West.

I do not think that in this matter we need wait for agreement with the Eastern Orthodox Churches; they calculate the date of Easter in a different way from ours, in any case. Their Easter in most years is on a different day from ours. But we should feed it essential to obtain unanimity, or at least a very great area of agreement, both among and within the Western Churches. I say "within the Western Churches" because all the major ones have, in one form or another, branches outside this country and all over the world. This is obviously true of the Church of Rome; it is true of the Anglican Communion, it is true of the Methodists; it is true of the Baptists; and it is true, to some extent, of the Presbyterians. And not one of us, I think, would be prepared to observe Easter on one day here in England, while the members of our sister churches beyond the seas were observing Easter on some other date. That is what I mean by saying that agreement would have to be obtained within the Churches.

Or course, agreement would have to be obtained also among the Churches, for it would be indeed unfortunate if here in England some of us Christians observed Easter on one day, and others on another. Indeed, it would be an extraordinary anomaly that just precisely now, when some slight progress towards reunion is beginning to be perceptible, new grounds of division should be introduced. On these grounds, therefore, it seems to me quite certain that the Church of England would still adhere in substance to the Resolution which it passed in the Church Assembly in 1927, which reads as follows That nothing should be done in fixing the date of Easter unless Christian people in all countries will generally concur in it; and that the time has not yet arrived for any legislation on that subject. I do not think that that Church of England would any longer adhere to the last sentence; it would, however, adhere to the necessity for general agreement.

I do not know whether it is for the Churches to take the initiative in this matter and to ask one another what they think, or, rather, whether it is not for Her Majesty's Government, with this Act of Parliament of 1928 behind them, to approach the Churches and to ask what is the opinion of the Churches in this matter. I am quite certain that if the Government were to make such an approach to the Churches, and if it appeared, as a result of that approach, that there was the prospect of even a reasonable degree of agreement, then the Church of England in general, and the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular—for this he has instructed me to say—would be ready to give whatever help in this matter should prove acceptable to the country and to the Government.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, might I support my noble friend Lord Ferrier from a different point of view, I think a rather more particular point of view, than has so far been put forward? May I say that I do not support him in asking for an order to be made now, but that I do support him in saying that I think the initiative in this question should come from the Government to the Churches; and I rather understood that the right reverend Prelate took the same point of view. I want to urge the Government to take active steps on behalf of all those who are employed in that rapidly growing industry, the holiday industry. I will start by saying that, if you are going to fix Easter, I think from the point of view of that industry the best date is between the 2nd and the 8th of April. Then Whitsun would fall between the 21st and 27th May. Dealing with the date of Easter, my noble friend has suggested that under the present system of fixing Easter you could have two Easters in one fiscal year. We can have that at present, but it is quite easy to avoid, because one has only to change the beginning of the fiscal year to the far more appropriate date of April 1, and one could then have one's Easter period starting April 2.

From the point of view of the holiday industry, what matters is not the date of Easter but the date of Whitsun. In the South of England, in such resorts as Brighton and Bournemouth, there is, of course, to a larger or smaller extent, a season all the year round. But in the Northern resorts the holiday season is in June, July, August, and part of September. If you are going to have Whitsun at the end of May, it will not interfere with the main holiday season, which in fact starts in June. But one of the difficulties in this industry—and it is not only hotels, boardinghouses and restaurants who are concerned, but also those who run ice-cream parlours, those who entertain, those who run the donkeys on the beach; all are part of this increasing industry nowadays—is this. At present, if we have an early Easter, and therefore an early Whitsun, or even one that is fairly early, the employees of this rather difficult industry are taken on for Whitsun in these Northern resorts, and are then stood off for a fortnight or three weeks. Anything which can bring order into this industry is to be recommended. If Whitsun were to fall towards the end of May, these employees would be kept on and would be ready for the summer holiday season, which in the North and the Midlands will start immediately afterwards.

This will help the transport problem. Arrangements will be able to be made a long time in advance. It will help the Wakes weeks. Those who live in the South have never heard of them, but in Lancashire they have things called Wakes weeks, when virtually a whole town will shut down for a period. Of course, all the towns in Lancashire do not shut for the same week, because these weeks are timed so as not to clash. If you have a fixed Easter and Whitsun, you will find that the Wakes weeks will be settled a long time in advance, and because of their being settled year after year in advance, virtually on the same dates, we shall not have the position we sometimes have now, in which, owing to a changing Easter and Whitsun, people very often go on their week's holiday in Wakes week after a short week's work and with less money in their pockets than they would have otherwise. That is an important point. Anything that can regularise this holiday industry, and make it easier for the employees in the industry, and for people in taking their holidays, should be encouraged.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House is very grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity of discussing this complex and not altogether easy problem. I, for one, listened with deep interest and respect to what he had to say. I think the House is also very much indebted to other noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion for the informative and informed speeches they have made on this subject. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to indicate the present approach of the Government to this matter.

The background is, of course, familiar to your Lordships, and I think that it has been broadly sketched this afternoon. Under the long-established tradition, going back to the early days of the Western Church, the Feast of Easter has always been a movable one. In this country the rule for calculating Easter in its present wandering form has been given statutory support by the Calendar (New Style) Act, 1750. This means that the date for Easter wanders, as noble Lords have explained, between March 22 and April 22. As has also been made clear, the date so fixed is universally observed by all Christians, except those who are members of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. These, of course, use the Julian Calendar, rather than the Gregorian Calendar, which is favoured in the West and which, as your Lordships will know, was introduced in this country rather late in the day, in 1752, to the accompaniment of some Trafalgar Square-like disturbances, under the slogan of, "Give us back our eleven days." As a side-line, I may remind your Lordships that Russia did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until 1918.

The movement for stabilising the date of Easter, particularly or primarily with the convenience of the commercial community in mind, got going about 1910, and culminated in 1928 in the passing of the Easter Act of that year. The provisions of this Act are familiar to your Lordships and have been clearly explained by my noble friend Lord Ferrier. I think that it is clear to anyone who reads the debates which took place in both Houses on that Act, that it was not seriously contemplated by anyone that the Act would be brought into operation unless and until the general agreement of all the Christian Churches of Western Europe had first been obtained. Despite much public discussion of this matter in the inter-war years, and despite the active intervention of the League of Nations in this matter, about which the noble Lord, Lord Crook, has informed us, since 1928 the Churches have not reached any such general agreement about varying the traditional custom observed by our predecessors throughout the last sixteen centuries. In these circumstances, I think that at present the short answer to my noble friend's request must still be in the negative.

Your Lordships will remember that this matter was fully debated in this House some eleven years ago, on a Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Merthyr. The then Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (now Lord Fisher of Lambeth) said that the Act should not be brought into force unless two conditions were satisfied: first, that the Christian denominations should agree; and, secondly, that the chief Western nations should agree. I think I am right in (believing that, broadly speaking, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter has reaffirmed that position this evening. But at present there is no such general agreement.

So far as the Churches are concerned, as I understand it, the position is as follows. I gather from what the right reverend Prelate told us, that the Church of England, whilst it has no objection in principle to stabilising Easter, has apparently no ardent wish to take the initiative in the matter. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, of which my noble friend Lord Ferrier is such a prominent member, resolved, I gather, many years ago, not to express an opinion either way. The Church of Rome, I understand, is also unwilling to move without taking the views of its Bishops at a General Council.

Now, your Lordships know that a Vatican Council, the first since 1870, is due to be held in October of this year in Rome. Informal inquiry of the Roman Catholic authorities in London has disclosed that the Central Preparatory Commission, which is charged with the task of preparing a draft agenda for the Council, has indeed considered the possible inclusion of the liturgical calendar on the agenda, including the question of a more stabilised Easter. As the Commission's recommendation to His Holiness The Pope has not been made public, we do not, of course, know whether the Roman Catholic Church will eventually decide to consider this question at the Vatican Council. As I have said, we have been in informal contact with the Roman Catholic authorities on this matter, but I am myself inclined to doubt whether it would be right, or indeed appropriate, for us to go further, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Crook, would like us to, and to take action which I feel could be represented as the Government's seeking to intervene in the conduct of the business of the Roman Catholic Church. So much for the position of some of the Churches, as I understand them.

There would likewise seem no prospect of any early general agreement among what I would term the temporal powers. The question of calendar reform, including the possibility of a non-wandering Easter, was discussed in 1956, as the noble Lord, Lord Crook, mentioned, at a meeting of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Personally, I think that it is significant that a vote was taken, without opposition, to postpone indefinitely further discussion of the more general and more controversial topic, but, of course, I would grant that there was no discussion of a fixed Easter as a separate operation. I think that it is also relevant that public opinion in this country does not appear to be violently exercised about this question at present. For example, I understand that the Board of Trade have encountered no general desire of late in business and commercial circles for a more stabilised Easter. There was, of course, in the inter-war years very considerable pressure for such stabilisation from bodies like the various chambers of commerce.

As regards the tourist industry, and the effect of stabilising Easter and Whit-sun on the tourist industry, to which my noble friend Lord Derwent alluded. I would just say this. Again I understand that the industry has lately tended to lose interest in fixing Easter—and thus Whitsun—and that their current representations are directed to obtaining a fixed June bank holiday, divorced from the Whitsun Festival. But the Board of Trade Committee has been considering what action the Government can take to encourage the extension of the summer holiday season in this country in order to relieve congestion at the peak holiday periods. It has sought the views of interested organisations and will shortly submit a report to the President of the Board of Trade. Until that report has been submitted, I should not wish to comment much further upon the implications of this question in relation to the tourist industry. As regards the schools, I understand that the Ministry of Education, for their part, have received no representations of late from the various education authorities in. this country.

It is, of course, true that the issue has been ventilated from time to time in both Houses of Parliament, and not least by my noble friend Lord Ferrier. Yet since 1951 the Home Office have received only eight letters urging the stabilisation of Easter or Whitsun. In the same period we have received two letters from people opposed to stabilisation. This does not betoken keen or violent public interest. I should perhaps add that we recently received a letter from some undergraduates on the linked and distinct issue of the calendar. They advocated a return to the Julian Calendar in order to have eleven more days in which to prepare for their examinations. Nevertheless, and more seriously, whatever the reason may be, it would appear that, right or wrong, opinion as a whole is less exercised about this matter than it was in the inter-war years.

I do not wish to appear unduly discouraging to my noble friend, for whose general viewpoint on this matter I personally have considerable sympathy. I do not dissent from what he has said, or indeed what other noble Lords have said, about the practical benefits which would flow from a stabilised Easter. Nor am I unaware, I hope, of the wider, less secular considerations on which he touched. Yet, in all the circumstances, I seriously suggest to your Lordships that it would be wrong for this country or the Government to act alone in this matter. I agree that one can possibly exaggerate the administrative inconvenience of our celebrating Easter and taking our holidays over the Easter weekend at a different period, for example, from that adopted by our friends across the Channel. But, be that as it may, I suggest that it would be really unwise for us to proceed unilaterally (to use that fashionable phrase) in this matter.

I think it most unlikely—and what the right reverend Prelate said this afternoon has confirmed me in my belief—that the Churches in this country would agree to the fixing of Easter unless the Western Churches, as a whole, agreed. For us to proceed in the teeth of disagreement, or in the absence of agreement, would almost certainly lead to the different Churches in this country celebrating Easter on different days. I cannot believe that this would be a desirable situation: indeed, it might serve to reopen old controversies. The Government of the day would, indeed, I feel, be assuming a heavy responsibility if, by precipitate action of this sort, they in any way served to reopen the controversy in the West, which has been virtually closed, or at least adjourned, since the Synod of Whitby in 664.

My short reply, therefore, to my noble friend is that if we cannot proceed together on this matter it would be preferable not to move at all. However, I can assure him—and I do so very willingly—that the Government will give the most careful consideration to any Views which may be expressed on this question at the forthcoming Vatican Council, and also to any views expressed by other Christian bodies in deciding whether any further action on our part could suitably be taken. I, for my part, also gladly undertake to consider most carefully the various views expressed in your Lordships' House this evening.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl, before he concludes, whether the Government are prepared to do anything to try to secure agreement on this matter with other principal Governments in the Western hemisphere?


My Lords, the noble Bad had, in fact, concluded; but in concluding I said that I would give careful consideration to all the views expressed in your Lordships' House this evening. That was one of the views expressed.