(2) For subsection (1)(b) (Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday) there shall be substituted—
(b) in paragraph (b), for the words "on Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday" there shall be substituted the words "on Christmas Day" and in sub-paragraph (ii) of that paragraph for the word "two" there shall be substituted the word "three", and for the word "three" there shall be substituted the word "two".'.
Very strong views were expressed during the Committee stage of the Bill about the inclusion of Christmas day in the terms of the legislation. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is not present in the Chamber, because in Committee he said that there was no point in hon. Members attending if Ministers were not prepared to listen to their arguments.
I listened to the arguments on this occasion. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the Opposition spokesman pressed me on the matter. Since then, a number of other hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), have approached me about leaving Christmas day licensing hours as they stand at present.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said in Committee—and I agree with him—there is nothing in the Bill which would require public houses to open for the additional hours on Christmas day. Most public houses do not open for the full hours that are presently permitted on Christmas day.
However, in deference to the views that hon. Members have expressed, I have tabled the amendments—I admit that I did not appreciate that it would take quite so many words to remove "Christmas day" from the legislation. I know that the amendments address the concerns of a number of hon. Members, and I hope that they will speed the Bill's passage through the Parliament.
The effect of the amendments is to ensure that people who are employed in licensed premises do not have to work on Christmas afternoon. They will be able to spend that time with their families and listen to Her Majesty's broadcast to the nation or whatever. I hope that that accords with the wishes of the House.
I warmly welcome the Minister's decision to move the amendments. He listened to the arguments that hon. Members put during the Committee. I discussed those points with him following the Committee proceedings, and I know that several other hon. Members also approached him about the subject.
When I moved an amendment along those lines in Committee, I called it the "Bet Lynch Christmas dinner amendment". There is no doubt that it is very important to many landlords and public house managers to be able to shut their doors on Christmas day, get the turkeys out of the oven and spend some time with their families in what are their homes.
Although the Minister is correct when he says that public houses are not obliged to open on Christmas day, it is at least possible—I think it is quite likely—that competitive pressure in some areas would lead the breweries to force managers in their employ to open on Christmas day. In some cases, licensees would feel obliged to open rather than allow their competitors to test the Christmas afternoon market.
That would mean the loss of a very special time for almost every family in the country. There are very few families to whom Christmas day is not important, and we try as much as we can to allow workers in all but the most essential industries to spend that time with their families.
There is no real evidence of a strong demand for Christmas day opening in the same way that there is a genuine call for the relaxation of hours on Sunday afternoons throughout the year. The issue was not addressed by the Prime Minister in his trailer for the legislation. In stressing the importance that he attached to Sunday deregulation, he made no mention of Christmas day. Therefore, I think it right that we should have second thoughts about it.
Following the Committee stage, I received letters of support from licensees and public house managers, who agreed that it was not necessary to include Christmas day in the terms of the Bill. People should be given a clear assurance that they will not be required to work on Christmas afternoon.
I am grateful to hon. Members from other parties, including the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson)— and other Government Members, whom I shall not name lest I should embarrass them, who also made their views known—who joined me in seeking to persuade the Minister about the matter. I am very glad that the Minister has listened to our views and has moved amendments in order to achieve the intended effect. There are some technical differences between my amendments and the Government's amendments, but they are of no consequence, and I shall not press my amendments.
I was going to ask the right hon. Member whether he intended to press his amendments. They are somewhat different from the Government's, and I think that they may tighten the current position further.
The hon. Member is correct in one respect: my amendments would effect a 2 o'clock closure on Christmas day. That was the position until a few years ago, and it is generally thought that the hours on Sunday changed to 3 o'clock because of a mistake on the part of the Home Office. There is a case for at least returning to that original intention, but we can set that aside. There is consensus in favour of accepting the Minister's amendments. I certainly accept them, and I am glad that the Minister has taken that decision.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on the persistence and perspicacity with which he pursued this narrow but important and valuable point, and on the way in which he argued his case in Committee. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister most warmly on his typical receptiveness and sensitivity in accepting a proposal which I believe will cause general rejoicing in every part of the House and the country.
It is not merely a symbolic gesture, although the Christmas festival remains a special time in Britain; the measure is also a practical one. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently stated that a quarter of the British population attended Christmas day church services in 1994. That is an almost unimaginable number.
The amendment will allow more time for family life on Christmas day, and it is symbolic of our national tendency at present—we are militant in the Christian sense of the word, if not in the socialist sense. I congratulate the Minister most warmly on introducing those important amendments.
On behalf of the Opposition, I place on record the fact that we also warmly welcome the conversion on the part of the Minister. We accept that Christmas day has a number of meanings for different people. The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), the Church Commissioner, has given one side of the argument. The other side is that, even if Christmas day does not have the same Christian significance for everyone, it has a broader family significance for many. We welcome the Government amendments to the extent that they recognise that fact, and we certainly do not intend to impede them in any way.