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Mr. Edward Davey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Teddy Taylor: Certainly--but the hon. Gentleman spoke for a very long time.

Mr. Davey: I want to reinforce the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. The DVLA argued that smaller number plates might not be visible to speed detection cameras--until the owners of American cars sent the DVLA their speeding fines.

Sir Teddy Taylor: The hon. Gentleman refers to another point that has been mentioned.

If the Minister considers the issue, he will discover that there is no argument. He must ask himself what is to be done. He will know that we are not dealing with the big battalions of the motor industry and with big firms that can spend a lot of money on alterations. He will know that those businesses have difficulties because American cars cost a lot of money. If the regulations involve more discomfort, more trouble and more expense, what is the point?

The Minister could very easily include an exemption for American cars. That would be as easy as pie. It could be done specifically for left-hand drive American vehicles. However, people might ask why an exemption should be made for American cars. We want such an exemption because American number plates are different and the structure of American cars is different. The modifications will involve a lot of extra work. The manufacturers calculate that, apart from a tiny number of cars to which bigger number plates can be attached, the alterations will cost more than £1,000.

I am afraid that Governments of all parties have sometimes introduced legislation that involves a lot of expenditure, bureaucracy and distress, and I ask myself,

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"Why on earth do they do it?" Can the Minister give us any good reason for introducing the regulations? I can see no advantage of any sort to anyone; I can see a great deal of trouble and distress. That matters to a small number of people who might be daft enough to want to own an American car. Some people love owning American cars; some of them look terrific. This is a country where people should have that freedom, and it must not be taken away. So why should more unnecessary bureaucracy be introduced?

The Government should be aware that there is no need to aim for consistency. There is almost an obsession with ensuring that everything is the same--but there is no need. We have repeatedly asked the Government to tell us what is the argument for introducing the regulations. The argument about crime does not stand up, given what has been said about motor cycle number plates. The argument adduced about speed cameras is not very relevant. Given the recent test case in Scotland, the Minister will be well aware that we may have to do away with speed cameras because of the European rules.

Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the ruling in the case to which he refers was overturned by the House of Lords.

Sir Teddy Taylor: I am well aware of what happened. I have had the pleasure of being a Member of Parliament for a very long time. When something stems from European law, it can be stopped in various ways in the House of Lords. I do not want to be ruled out of order, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider what happened in relation to the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, when many hon. Members cheered their heads off because Parliament's decision was overturned. The hon. Gentleman is always trying to cause trouble, but there is no need. If he really thinks that democracy is safe from European rules, he honestly has a lot of rethinking to do, and I ask him to think about that very carefully indeed.

I simply tell the Minister that we should forget about the big issues because they will be resolved at the next election. If people want to go the Government's way, they can vote them back into power. If they want to retain their national freedoms, they can vote for the Conservative party, along with the Welsh nationalists and all our other new friends--the popular front. The crucial question is this: why should we introduce a measure that will cause a lot of trouble, involve great expense and make many people unhappy when no one can see any benefit from it?

I hope that the Government will show common sense and agree to a tiny amendment to the regulations. That would be better for everyone and save a lot of trouble and unhappiness when there is no benefit to be obtained. I hope that the Minister will at least say that the Government will reconsider the matter and perhaps bring in a minor change to help decent people who deserve some attention.

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10.30 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): This is an historic night because there has been such a broad consensus among the Opposition parties. We are all united in our belief in the concept of choice--choice which the Government wish to extinguish. Had it not been for the perception of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and the determination of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) to pray against the regulations and to seek to have them revoked, there would have been no debate on the matter. I salute them for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

The regulations are extensive and they are made up of 19 paragraphs that do not relate to just a couple of issues. In them, the Government are guilty not only of crushing individuality and choice, but of being something of a spoilsport.

The first issue that I wish to raise relates to paragraph 11 on the nature of registration plates and the way in which the characters are laid out. Sub-paragraph (2) states:

Sub-paragraph (3) adds that a registration plate must not be fixed to a vehicle in such a way

The effect of such provisions will be that those of us who have an enormous interest in looking at number plates and at the ingenious way in which our fellow countrymen manage to order the letters of the alphabet and numbers in such a way as to make their number plates interesting reading will have that possibility denied to us. For example, I see a Jeep Cherokee near where I live in London--I have no idea who owns it--which has the registration "L10N TV". For all I know there may be a production company called Lion TV, but I find it interesting to see the way in which that number plate is laid out. Other obvious examples spell out names such as "SUS1E" and "ANG1E", although I do not know the ladies in question. Hon. Members may have seen some rude examples, but I will not repeat them to the House because even though it is after the watershed and sensitive journalists have gone to bed, they may be videoing our proceedings. My son's girlfriend Tammy has a car and the number plate on it spells out her name--"T4MY"--and that makes her car recognisable. Such registrations are so much more noticeable, visible and memorable than the boring old number plates that there will be if the regulations come into effect.

Those of us who have had the displeasure of engaging libel lawyers know that there is a splendid firm of libel lawyers called Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners, of whom I have been the beneficiary.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: They are expensive.

Mr. Howarth: They are extremely expensive, but they were very good value in my case. Peter Carter-Ruck

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wanted a particular number plate. When the DVLA auctioned licence plates, he asked me whether I would be prepared to help because he did not want to be seen to be bidding in case it pushed up the price. Instead, his partners bid for "L1BEL" and he now drives around in a Rolls-Royce with a plate that reads "libel". That makes two statements: "Don't mess with me" and "My profession warrants a Rolls-Royce". However, in my case, the BBC paid, not me.

The Government are determined to crush individuality. They are in favour of big brother. They want our number plates to be uniform so that we can be photographed and our movements recorded everywhere we go. We do not know why. It might be fine to do that to catch criminals, but for what other purposes are we to have our vehicles photographed?

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): The hon. Gentleman's example of "ANG1E" is fascinating. Perhaps the vehicle in question belongs to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). On the matter before us, the regulations on the sequencing and placement of letters on number plates have been in existence for many years. Did the hon. Gentleman raise concerns in previous debates?

Mr. Howarth: It was not necessary. The citizens of our country enjoyed the freedom conferred on them which was not allowed in other European countries. In addition, the DVLA cashed in on specialist number plates and coined money for the Government by flogging them. It will be interesting to see how the agency will be affected by the regulations and whether they will reduce substantially its receipts from the sale of specialist number plates.

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