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Mr. Bercow: Although it is true, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, that the European Commission is not currently planning to impose complete uniformity on this country, the Government are preparing to soften us up for that scenario. Is my hon. Friend aware that, when challenged to commit the Government to oppose rigorously any such intended uniformity, the Minister came over all shy and reticent in the Standing Committee on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill? He said:

Very touching, but not very convincing.

Mr. Howarth: Indeed not. However, the Minister is modest. No doubt he will be even more modest by the end of the debate and will not want to have anything to do with the measure. He will ascribe to his Secretary of State the responsibility to take the decision.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): The buck stops here.

Mr. Howarth: Unfortunately it does not; we know that only too well. However, the Minister would enhance enormously his standing in the Chamber, and, no doubt, in his constituency of Streatham, if he persuaded the

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Secretary of State to abandon the measure. No Opposition Member--I suspect this is true of many absent Labour Members--wants the measure enacted.

The second issue that concerns me was splendidly covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) and the hon. Members for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). The fact is that it is not legal for cars to travel around the country with blue strips on the left hand side of their number plates bearing the letters GB and the European symbol. They will be made legal only if this measure is enacted.

That is fine, but the Government have tried to smuggle the business through the House and they have been less than open about the way in which that has been done. [Interruption.] The Whip, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), suggests that I am being unfair. I invite hon. Members to read paragraph 16(2) of the regulations, under the heading "Miscellaneous", which says:

To all intents and purposes, the casual reader seeking to understand what the Government are on about would think it perfectly in order to display a United Kingdom international distinguishing sign, which for many of us is the union flag.

What does the reference to "Council Registration" mean? Does it refer to local authorities? Are we talking about Buckinghamshire county council, Hampshire county council or perhaps town councils in Streatham or Hawley? Fortunately, there is an explanatory note, and sub-paragraph (g) on page 25 of the regulations refers to:

Therein lies the secret of what this is all about.

One has to go to another document--the European Council regulation of 3 November 1998, to read, if not the full story, at least part of it. The preamble to that document reads as follows:

the Vienna convention of 1968, I can tell the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. That is the only indication that the only international symbol that will be lawful is the EU flag. One has to turn to the annexe to the regulations to see what is proposed. All that will be permitted is the European symbol with the national symbol beneath it. It will be a criminal offence to display any other symbol. It is a circuitous way of introducing a measure that will greatly offend our fellow citizens once they discover the enormity of what the Government are up to.

To some, this may seem a trivial matter, but it is not trivial to all the hon. Members in the Chamber tonight. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton said that as

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far as he is concerned it is a matter of choice. The hon. Gentleman is a committed pro-European, and he has chided us for the anti-European motives that he believes lie behind our opposition to the measure. I have explained why I am opposed to one part of it. I oppose the requirement to authorise only the European symbol. I say to the hon. Gentleman that I see this as another attempt to foist a European identity on this country. We have a European Parliament, a European Court, a European currency, a European anthem and a European flag, and we are about to have a European army, so we have all those symbols of nation statehood. That is what worries us: our driving licences have to have the Euro symbol--we cannot have the union flag--and now our registration plates have to have it as well. It is an affront to the British people to authorise motorists to bear the Euro symbol on their cars and make it a criminal offence for Englishmen proudly to proclaim the cross of St. George on their motor cars, for hon. Members from Wales proudly to bear the Welsh dragon on their number plates, and for the saltire of Scotland to be borne on Scottish number plates. Indeed, my French car--a blue Picasso--is outside the Members' entrance and carries the Union Jack, but I would be made a criminal if I put such a new number plate on it after 1 September this year. People in this country will find that deeply offensive.

However, there is a solution. Between now and 1 September it will be possible for us to have things other than Euro symbols on our cars. I can tell the House that I have a number plate with a blue strip bearing the Union Jack and the letters "GB" on the left-hand side because there is a splendid company called I-N-M(UK) Ltd., which, for the sum of £27, provided me with a set of number plates. It is based at 22 Kingswood Gardens, Leeds LS8 2BT, and Mr. Peter Rogers, a company director, has said that he is prepared to make to order a set of number plates for Members of Parliament, whatever their shade of opinion. I am sure that he will provide a Welsh dragon or indeed, a fish symbol for those who wish to proclaim their Christian faith on their vehicles. Members can have whatever they like on their registration plates and Mr. Rogers will provide it not for £27, which I was charged, but for £25. There will be no commission for me; I am doing this in the interests of our country and to ensure that we retain some individuality and maintain pride in our national symbols, which should not be taken over by the dreaded Euro flag.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I endorse everything that my hon. Friend has said. Does he believe that on the blue strip on the left of the registration plate one should be able to put not only the Union flag--the Union Jack--but the cross of St. George? Why should we not boast not only of the Union of the United Kingdom but of England, which comprises the greater part of that union?

Mr. Howarth: As my hon. Friend said, that is a possibility. I do not know what is in Mr. Rogers's extensive range, so I cannot say what he can provide, but I am sure that a call to him--

Mr. David Taylor: Is this a commercial break?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is perceptive; this is an unashamed commercial in support of a man who, I believe, is doing good for our country and providing us

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all with the means to proclaim pride in our country--and, if I may say to the Minister, for whom I have high regard, metaphorically to put two fingers up to those who would have us behave in a uniform fashion. As Mr. Churchill might have said, that is something up with which we will not put.

Of course, the House cannot vote on the regulations tonight because we are muzzled under our new arrangements and are denied the opportunity to vote. However, when the measure does come to a vote, I hope that the House will ensure that it is thrown out, because a comprehensive case has been made across the board. In conclusion, may I ask the Minister for an assurance that cars bearing those number plates perfectly legitimately after 1 September 2001 will not fail their MOT on the grounds that they do not have the appropriate symbol on their number plates? I seek an assurance from the Minister that there will be no attempt to stop people having such number plates after 1 September by making it a requirement that their cars fail the MOT if the number plates do not bear the Euro symbol, should they choose to put any symbol at all on their number plates. With that, I rest my case.

10.50 pm

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): I shall be brief, not from any uncharacteristic compassion for the sentiments of the House, but simply because I want to enjoy the spectacle of the Minister, who is a popular and intelligent person, having to justify the wholly unjustifiable.

I have not always led a blameless life. I have been in the House for 18 years, but before that, I was a humble country lawyer--or at least, I was a country lawyer. One of the attributes of humble country lawyers is that they have a certain interest in good law being passed. Good law is not necessarily popular or welcome, but it is obeyed. I remember that many years ago, before I came to the House, there was a great feeling of outrage when we made safety belts compulsory. It was thought to be an infringement of civil liberties and there was a great brouhaha about it, but the day that law came into force, it was observed. No matter how much people may grumble about it, everybody now puts on a safety belt, because they acknowledge that the law is right.

As a lawyer and a parliamentarian, I am worried when I see that the House is prepared to enact law that will not be obeyed. We Conservatives have learned the lesson. We saw what happened with the council tax: excellent measure though it was in many ways, it lacked the essential ingredient, and ultimately, people would not accept it. That was an isolated case under the Conservative Government, but the present Government have shown time and again that they are prepared to enact legislation which ordinary, decent, law-abiding people will not obey.

We have seen that, and we will see it again in due course if the Government win the next election. We will see them outlawing foxhunting. They will take a swathe of ordinary, straightforward, decent, law-abiding human beings and provoke them into breaking the law. I appreciate that there are passions on both sides of the argument, and it might be argued that the issue is so

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important that Parliament is entitled to take a view. However, there is no earthly reason why the regulations before us should be pushed through the House.

If Labour win the next general election, we face the prospect of pointing out to any policeman whom we may see that some horse boxes on their way to a foxhunt, which have stopped off to buy some non-metric bananas, have dodgy illegal number plates. Is that the choice that we are to present to our police forces? Are they to chase non-metric bananas, foxhunters, or those with dodgy number plates? That is the nonsense that the Government are prepared to inflict.

I warn the Government that there are many people who, on an issue such as foxhunting, may feel deeply upset but will not break the law. However, with the regulations before us, the Government could face a string of vehicles parked all the way up Whitehall, with people rattling the gates outside No. 10, saying, "Come on, big boy. Come and prosecute me on the grounds of public policy." That is what the Government are in the business of doing. The one thing that they do not have in the slightest degree is any sense of humility or propriety about what they are and are not entitled to do.

I shall now sit down to watch the Minister, who is extremely popular, and who has great charm and intelligence, standing at the Dispatch Box to justify the unjustifiable. It will not be a pretty sight.

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