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:
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.
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
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:
(a) no material other than the international distinguishing sign of the United Kingdom displayed in accordance with the Council Registration may be placed in the space provided on the plate for that purpose".
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:
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?
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.
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
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.