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Lord Hacking: My Lords, I say from these Benches that I entirely accept what my noble friend the Minister

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says; namely, that until the Churches agree on the date of Easter it cannot be fixed because it is a religious ceremony wholly connected with the Christian Churches. However, does not my noble friend the Minister agree that there is a problem as regards the distribution of holidays?

I believe it is a matter of supreme importance in our society to retain the family and the meeting together of the family. I do not have so much experience of European holidays, but I have a great deal of experience of American holidays. The fact is that Labour Day, which comes at the end of September, Thanksgiving, which comes in November, Christmas and the Spring bank holiday--Memorial Day Holiday, as it is called--which comes in May, are occasions for families to join together. We have to recognise that.

If we have our secular holidays bunched, with Easter as a roving date somewhere towards late March-- I should disclose the interest that I was born on Easter Sunday in 1938 and I have had only one opportunity to celebrate my birthday on Easter Sunday since that date--there is a problem. I believe that we should address that matter. All I ask the Government to do is to look at the distribution of bank holidays, recognising the point that I believe is essential; namely, that these are occasions when families come together. Families in America come together on Memorial Day, on Labor Day, on Thanksgiving and at Christmas. That is also an important point which should be brought into the equation.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I understand the point my noble friend makes but it is wider than the issue we are discussing tonight. We have considered the bunching of holidays, but they are settled and recognised. I think there is a great coming together of families over Easter. Not only are they celebrating a secular holiday but also one of religious significance. That is of vital importance. I think my noble friend ought to take that into account. I emphasise again what I said earlier. I think it would be totally wrong at this time when the Christian Churches throughout the world are moving towards a common date for we in this country unilaterally to alter it and try to implement the 1928 Act.

10.38 p.m.

The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, I shall briefly discuss what has been said by the various speakers. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford-- the university of which town I am a graduate--mentioned that the Churches are currently negotiating a common but not a fixed date. It may be a common date

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but that still makes it moveable. Of course these negotiations have been going on for a long time. I believe there is a good argument for breaking the Gordian knot, as it were, and encouraging the Churches to finalise their mutual negotiations by passing this Bill.

The right reverend Prelate answered my points very eloquently. Perhaps I may say for the record that I regard "disjunction" as a much better coinage than my word "decoupling". But neither of us answered the problem very well. The right reverend Prelate made a good point when he said that Easter can be predicted even under the current arrangements. But, of course, very few people have the ability or the commitment to do so. Even if one can predict what the date of Easter will be in five or even 10 years' time, it does not invalidate the point that the date is still moving; is still floating, as it were.

I much appreciated the eloquent support given to my case by my noble friend Lord Manton. I just wish to place that on the record.

I now wish to turn to the points made by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman. He is right to say that if the Bill were passed there would be the possibility Easter being celebrated on different days in different countries. But that is exactly what applies at the moment with numerous other holidays apart from Easter. Anyone who has spent time in the United States will know that Thanksgiving and Labor Day are major holidays which are not recognised in other countries. There is also the divergence which presently exists between the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and the western Churches on the very date of Easter itself. It may be of passing amusement to the House to know that I researched most of my material for my speech from the debates which took place in 1928. It was clear from what my noble friend Lord Bridgeman said that most of the research for his speech came from the debates in this House and elsewhere in 1984. On that basis--1928 and 1984--who can say that the Conservative Opposition are not fully wired into the information revolution of the millennium?

I wish to thank the Minister for the serious response he made to my remarks. In particular, I was very taken by the points he made about the 1997 consultation by the Churches. Furthermore, he telegraphed that a further meeting is planned by the Churches in 2001. Even though that meeting between the Churches only envisages a common date for Easter, it is nonetheless a significant stepping stone towards a fixed date for Easter. In view of those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Second Reading.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

        House adjourned at nineteen minutes before eleven o'clock.

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