HL Deb 16 April 1980 vol 408 cc282-4

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will move to bring into force the Easter Act 1928.


My Lords, the Government continue to take the view that it would not he appropriate to implement the Easter Act 1928 without the full concurrence of the Churches. We understand that such concurrence is not likely at present.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, but was not that circumstance known to Parliament in 1928? What is the advantage of retaining Easter as a movable feast which was not apparent to Parliament in 1928?


My Lords, I think that our predecessors in Parliament were wise in their generation. The noble Lord will be aware that when they passed the 1928 Act it was written into it that it could come into operation only by Order in Council, and it was provided that in bringing the draft order in: regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body". Since then it has always been reckoned by successive Governments that this meant that one wanted a view agreed by the Churches, and that view simply has not been given.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether anybody is working on this problem to try to obtain an agreed view?


My Lords, I gather that the World Council of Churches was very much exercised with this at the World Council of Churches Fifth Assembly at Nairobi in 1975.


My Lords, will the Minister help me on this, and as I read it in a newspaper perhaps he will be able to tell me if I am correct. Is he aware that I thought I read in the newspapers recently that certainly the countries in the EEC, and I think all countries in Europe with the exception of Switzerland, have now brought their summer time into line with ours? Would it be possible, in view of that co-operation, to see what line they would take on the question of Easter?


My Lords, I have not had the pleasure of replying to Questions recently from the noble Baroness. I have only been able to sit on the sidelines and watch as she manages to steer matters in the direction that she particularly wants. The question the noble Baroness asks does not arise from the Question on the Order Paper. I will, however, try to find out the answer, and I promise the noble Baroness that I will write to her.

The Lord Bishop of CHELMSFORD

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a growing convergence among the Churches on this subject? The British Council of Churches, which incorporates all the major Churches except the Roman Church, and many smaller Churches have a policy that there should be a fixed Easter. Is he aware that the Roman Catholic Church has itself accepted in principle that this should be so? This leaves the Orthodox Churches of the East, the 11 Patriarchates, and there I think the picture is very different; I think there would be considerable difficulty there in a change of this sort. In any case it would be necessary that the 11 Patriarchates should meet together in Holy Synod in order to approve a matter which they see as extremely important. Is the Minister aware that the 11 Patriarchates have been waiting for such a synod for 800 years?


My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the information which he has given to the Government and the questions he has asked. All we can do is to pray that the Churches will soon reach a conclusion.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in fact the Orthodox Churches now usually have Easter on a different date from anybody else? Would it make any difference at all to them if the rest of the Churches should settle on a fixed date and leave them to go their own way?


My Lords, perhaps I ought to add that I am advised that since 1928 successive Governments have always looked for the full assent of the ecclesiastical authorities. We believe, therefore, that the view of the Orthodox Church is important in this matter.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that, if it is quite impossible to get a sensible arrangement over the date of Easter, it calls for a further review of our public holidays? Next year Easter falls on 19th April. This means that we shall have four of our precious public holidays pushed into a period of seven and a half weeks. For the rest of the year, whatever seven and a half from 52 is, we shall have the remaining holidays spread out. It is quite ridiculous to concentrate four public holidays—Good Friday, Easter Monday, the May Day holiday and the Spring Holiday—in seven and a half weeks.


My Lords, it is most unfair, but that is life.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is a matter of Government policy and principle to secure the consent of all interested parties before they legislate?


Yes, my Lords, on this particular matter.