HL Deb 03 April 1990 vol 517 cc1248-51

2.40 p.m.

Lord Airedale asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether the proviso in Section 2 (2) of the Easter Act 1928 that "regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body" continues to inhibit the implementation of that Act, whereby Easter would be celebrated during the first half of April in every year.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I am obliged for that very full reply. Do the Government accept that Easter is commonly regarded as the first outdoor holiday of the year? Do they also accept that Easter in March is not popular because the weather is too unreliable, but that a later Easter in April runs up against the May Day Holiday? Therefore did not our elders and betters in Parliament in 1928 get it about right?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, we have had the same Question, to my certain knowledge, for the past 20 years. I admire the intellectual gymnastics of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, in tabling the same Question hoping for a different Answer but knowing perfectly well that he will get the same Answer. Whatever the noble Lord may say regarding Easter being the first outdoor Bank Holiday, Good Friday and Easter Day are the most solemn dates in the Christian calendar and it is a theological issue which transcends frontiers. If the Churches agree on a fixed date for Easter, then the Government should be happy to consider incorporating the Easter Act.

Lord Soper

My Lords, is the Minister aware that recently the Patriarch of Moscow became an elected member of the Supreme Soviet? Is it not then likely that a new approach might be made to the problem which has vexed the united Churches for so long, with the coming together of the Patriarch of Moscow with the authorities in the Anglican Church in order to promote at least the possibility of a fixed Easter?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have to say that I did not know that the Patriarch of Moscow had become a member of the Supreme Soviet. If that is so, I am sure that it will do the Supreme Soviet a great deal of good. The problem is that the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which was way back in AD 325, had, as one of the documents of the Greek Orthodox Church said, as its timely goal the bringing about of Christian unity through the common celebration of Easter. I know that some time has elapsed since the date when the church first came to that conclusion, but I lope that the inauguration of the Patriarch of Moscow into the Supreme Soviet will have some effect— but I am not sure what the effect will be!

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

My Lords, does the Minister accept that with the vagaries of the British climate it is extremely unlikely that an April Easter would have given a finer Sunday than we had last Sunday, which will be Easter Day next year? Therefore, does he agree that the way forward might be to restore the greatly valued link between the spring holiday and Whitsun which was so unfortunately broken some years ago?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield on working out when Easter falls next year. I find it difficult to know when it falls in the current year. I certainly hope that we shall have the weather that he hopes we will have.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many years ago— 25 to be precise, when I first came to this House— the reply given was that Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following 21st March? I have not heard that repeated, but that seems to have nothing whatever to do with the Christian calendar and more to do with the stars or the weather.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is exactly what it is to do with, because the Greek Orthodox Church said in a document that all Orthodox Churches following the First Ecumenical Council were bound to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. That is the way in which the Churches fix the date of Easter and it goes back for many years.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, which calendar are we working on? Is this country using the Gregorian or the Julian calendar? Whichever it is, why does the Greek Orthodox Church refuse to contemplate any change?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Greek Orthodox Church is on the Julian calendar and we are on the Gregorian calendar. The United Kingdom changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 by omitting 11 days. Your Lordships may remember— at least your Lordships' knowledge of history might remind you— that there were then riots because we lost 10 days. The new year changed from 25th March and 3rd September became 14th September. That is why we are now on the Gregorian calendar.

I can only tell my noble friend that the reason why the Greek Orthodox Church will not change is a matter for that Church, but if it did change these matters would be far simpler.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is that not an explanation of why the Orthodox Christmas is different from our Christmas, in that the Orthodox Christmas follows the Julian calendar whereas we follow the Gregorian calendar? However, that has nothing to do with Easter Day because that is a lunar calendar. That is the answer to the question put to the Minister by his noble friend.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that may be so, but some Orthodox Churches have made modifications by adopting the new calendar and they observe the Gregorian calendar for fixed feasts and the Julian calendar for movable feasts. For that reason the complications are even greater.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, is it not far more interesting and in a way more fun for us that Easter is movable? Further, is it not far better that Easter is distinctly a Christian day of festival not tied up with a secular one, so that it can be seen by all and for Christians to show that it is a day to revere, respect and honour? I believe that it is far better that Easter is movable. I hope that it stays that way and the Christians will show that it is a day to respect and observe, not tied up with any secular matter.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as one who is always having to answer questions suggesting that there should be an alteration, perhaps I may say that my noble friend's intervention is most helpful.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, although I am not sure whether this has anything to do with the Question, may I ask the Government whether they are aware as a matter of interest that it is not only the Greek Orthodox Church which keeps to the Julian calendar? Certain parts of the Shetlands also keep to the Julian calendar and celebrate old Christmas and old New Year— as well, I may say, as new Christmas and new New Year.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that merely confirms my view that the Scots are even more idiosyncratic than I expect them to be.