HL Deb 15 April 1981 vol 419 cc977-8
Lord Avebury

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Airedale, who is in committee upstairs, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are continuing to give thought to the implementation of the Easter Act 1928 whereby Easter Day would always be the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the Government's position, like that of their predecessors, is that the Easter Act 1928 should not be implemented without the full concurrence of the Churches. Our discussions with the authorities of the Church of England and the British Council of Churches lead us to believe that the Churches are unlikely to agree on the date provided for in the Act.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that when my noble friend last raised this matter before Easter 1980 the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said that the British Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church had come to an agreement on this matter and that it was only in the Orthodox Churches of the East and the 11 Patriarchates where there was still some doubt as to whether this was a sensible proposal? Is the noble Lord saying that we have to wait until every single Christian denomination is in agreement with the fixing of Easter before the Act will be implemented?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am saying that most of the members of the British Council of Churches would be reluctant to see Easter Day kept within the period 9th to 15th April without general agreement among the Western Churches. My information is not the same as that of the noble Lord, for I understand that that agreement is unlikely for the present.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it might be a good compromise to have it on a fixed date every Leap year?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not sure that I am as keen on that compromise as is the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. This year we are celebrating Easter a week later than the last date on which, under the Easter Act, we could have done so. That means that, without the Easter Act, this year we still have Easter to look forward to.

Lord Morris

My Lords, does not my noble friend find it somewhat ironical that it should dare to be the Liberal Party to attempt to change a tradition of some 2,000 years?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that the Government position is—and it is the right position—that we leave things as they are at the moment until there is general agreement from the Churches.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that it is a matter for worldwide discussion rather than for action to be taken in only one country? Easter is celebrated by Christians all over the world.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate in that opinion.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Liberal Party does not necessarily believe that what has been done in a certain way for 2,000 years should continue to be done in that way indefinitely into the future? Can he say whether it is the Government which take the initiative on this or whether they wait to be approached by the British Council of Churches? In view of what the right reverend Prelate said last year, will he not seek a fresh opinion from the British Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church and, if they are unanimous, will he take the initiative in this matter?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it has always been the view of the Government ever since the Act was passed in 1928 that regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body; and it is to that view that we continue to pay regard.