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Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I can disagree with hardly a word that the hon. Gentleman has said. I know his area quite well because I have relatives who live just outside his constituency. However, will he make clear what boundaries he proposes to use? If we went back to the 1974 boundaries and included the Wirral and Stockport in Cheshire, I would describe that as an historic boundary. However, that has the potential to create some confusion now that Greater Manchester is such a well established concept. According to which years is he setting his boundaries?

Andrew Rosindell: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I am not going to go through the history and origins of every county and how they should be recreated according to historic boundaries—I probably could do that but it would take too long. The Association of British Counties lists the historic boundaries. For the hon. Gentleman’s benefit, let me say that, according to that organisation, the historic boundaries of Cheshire would include Chester, Stockport, Birkenhead, Wallasey, Runcorn, Macclesfield and Crewe.

Parts of the country have changed radically over the years and have a city identity. For example, it is hard to say to people in some parts of central London that they are in Middlesex, although the traditional boundaries of Middlesex include central London. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) is present because he has campaigned tirelessly to ensure that the historic boundary of the county of Middlesex is properly recognised. Indeed, the inspiration for my measure is the ten-minute Bill that he presented in 2002. Many hon. Members feel strongly about the matter.

The boundaries that we should recognise will always be open to debate, but we should be able to examine each one carefully and base the decision on geography, history, tradition and local feeling. We know what our constituents feel in their hearts about their area. Everybody in Romford says that they are from Essex. They understand that, for administrative purposes, we are part of the London borough of Havering, which is part of Greater London, but that does not replace our traditional, county identities, which I am promoting today.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned “hearts” and I therefore thought of Hertfordshire. When one enters Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire, a sign indicates that and the names of the towns are mentioned as one travels in and out of them. Is the problem that he identifies specifically a London problem? If not, what are the main problem areas?

Andrew Rosindell: The whole country is affected in different ways. Before the 1960s and 1970s, especially 1974, the historic county boundaries remained almost unaltered for nearly 1,000 years. They have been discarded only in the modern era. Those who know far better than us and our constituents—those who sit in Whitehall Departments—suddenly decided to rename things.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Michael Heseltine.

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Andrew Rosindell: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. However, we can resolve the matter simply. Existing local authorities, county councils or local government do not need to be changed as a result of the Bill. The measure is about marking on the map and through traffic signs traditional identities so that, as one enters a county, town or village, one knows exactly where one is, divorced from the administrative name of the borough or county council.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Given that I represent the beautiful East Riding of Yorkshire, I support everything that my hon. Friend says. For a time, that area was told, against its will, that it was no longer the East Riding but part of Humberside—a name that no one in the East Riding accepted or wanted.

Will the Bill enable signs to include an emblem, motif or coat of arms? Many people would like their local emblem—whether a white rose or a coat of arms that relates to an area—to be displayed on the sign.

Andrew Rosindell: I sincerely thank my right hon. Friend for making that point, which I intended to mention later.

Mr. Heald: Hertfordshire traditionally included places such as Barnet and Enfield Chase, which are on the other side of the M25. Does my hon. Friend suggest that those areas, which are now in London boroughs, should display signs that state, “Welcome to historic Hertfordshire”?

Andrew Rosindell: Let me first deal with the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) made. Part of the reason for the Bill is to restore historic identities, and a town or a county crest is essential to that. I find it annoying when I travel around London and see London borough logos. My town of Romford has a wonderful historic town crest, which includes the River Rom, a Roman eagle—Romford was originally a Roman town on the way to Colchester—and the crown of St. Edward. Those are historic Romford symbols, which date back centuries. Yet what happened? When the London borough of Havering was created, the traditional town crest was ditched and a big “H” for Havering was introduced. That lasted for many years, but I am pleased to say that attempts have been made to restore a more traditional image as part of the borough logo.

Two or three years ago, I decided that I would restore my local town crest. When I first became a Member of Parliament, I found the county books in the bookcases near the Terrace. I asked to borrow the one about Essex and found the old town crest of Romford. I took it to a company that produces badges and managed to get a local business to sponsor the production of the Romford badges. I had 20,000 produced and gave them to every school and local organisation, and every local resident who wanted one. Every single one has now been taken. People wear them—they are proud of being from Romford and of their traditional town crest. I must now have more produced. Nobody wears a London borough of Havering logo—that has no link to people’s emotions
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or sense of pride. They are proud of their town and their county identity, and I object to the loss of county identity.

I am sure that the effects have not been so bad in Hertfordshire, but I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) that I recently visited Enfield, and I must have crossed the old boundary, because I saw a sign, which must have been 30 or 40 years old, saying “Welcome to Middlesex”. I know that parts of Barnet, Enfield and other areas of north London would be in Hertfordshire, and I am sure that they would feel a strong sense of identity as well. The provisions in the Bill would not take away the reality of their being part of Greater London. Greater London is an administrative region, not an historic county. It has been established for administrative purposes such as local government and the provision of police, fire and civil defence services. We can divorce all that from historic identities.

England has no Government or Parliament of its own, but it is a country. No one denies that England exists. We have the flag of England, and we see signs as we cross the boundary from Scotland to England that say “Welcome to England”, and quite rightly so. Identity exists at every level: country, county, town, village, hamlet and community. All those levels of identity exist, so why should not we allow local people to have that identity and to be proud of it?

Mr. Heald: I am somewhat surprised to hear my hon. Friend talk about England in those terms. I do not think that I have ever heard a Minister talk about England. They talk about Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the regions. Perhaps there should be a sign at Dover that says “Welcome to the regions”.

Andrew Rosindell: My hon. Friend makes an interesting and valid point, although I suspect that it was slightly tongue in cheek. I do not believe that we should have a sign saying “Welcome to the regions”. I have said, and I shall keep saying, that a region exists purely for administrative purposes, whether to do with the Government, the European Union or whatever. No one has loyalty to a region or, these days, to a London borough. People have loyalty to their town or their county—the true place from which they originate.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Would it not add enormously to the hon. Gentleman’s argument if, in seeking to define these strange boroughs of Havering, Tameside or Kirklees, or my own borough of Sefton, it were done in terms of the historic counties, because they are the only names and locales that people can understand and identify from afar?

Andrew Rosindell: I am not sure of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, to be honest. Would he like to clarify it?

Dr. Pugh: Part of the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that the names that he wishes to popularise and to make more widespread use of are the names that are traditionally known and identified, and the names that people commonly understand. If I am asked to identify where Havering is, I have to be told that it is in Essex, and I have to know where Essex is first.

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Andrew Rosindell: I think I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He gives the example of Havering. Other examples include the neighbouring borough of Redbridge, or Waltham Forest—a made-up name for an area comprising a bit of Walthamstow and a bit of Epping forest. Instead of giving it a proper name, people have created what I consider to be an artificial identity. That can cause enormous confusion and the areas suffer as a result.

If we capitalise on a town or county’s identity for tourism, business or other reasons for promoting the area, people will understand what we are talking about. If, however, we have to explain that part of an historic country is not part of the administrative county, we create a muddle and a mess and a lot of confusion. Why should we allow this state of affairs to carry on? Why cannot we just acknowledge the importance of divorcing the administrative purpose of a county, town or borough from its historic identity, and ensure that the signage reflects that?

The signage in Romford, for example, should say “Welcome to Romford”, not “Welcome to Havering”. When people go to Romford market, they do not look for Havering, they look for Romford market. People travel to shop at Romford market all year round. It is an incredible place. It is very hard to campaign there, because I meet people from a huge area of London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent. They come to Romford market, but when they enter Romford, the sign says “Welcome to Havering”. My proposal is simply common sense, but for many years the idea has been completely ignored.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): My hon. Friend is right to say that people are confused. My constituency, for example, is partly urban, centring on Milton Keynes, and partly rural, centring on the old part of Buckinghamshire to the north. The whole constituency is now part of the unitary authority of Milton Keynes, but those who live in the north still consider themselves to be part of Buckinghamshire. They still come under the lord lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, and they still have the Buckinghamshire fire authority, yet, technically, they are no longer part of Buckinghamshire. The situation is confused even further by the Royal Mail, which insists on putting “Bucks” on all the postal addresses. It is confusing for many people.

Andrew Rosindell: It is confusing. My hon. Friend is completely correct. It does not need to be confusing, however. There would probably not even be any cost involved, because we could gradually replace the signs as they needed to be replaced, and thereby restore the identity of local people.

The historic counties were never abolished; they are still in place. No measure has ever been passed in this House to abolish 1,000-year-old counties; they still exist. I am arguing that we should recognise those historic boundaries, clear up the confusion and reverse the loss of identity. This is a popular idea across the country. Anyone who understands what we are talking about realises the importance of the proposal. People rarely object to it. I honestly hope that the Government will take on board what I believe is a sensible proposal to ensure that we restore local identity and get rid of the confusion that has existed since the 1960s.

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Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman referred to parts of Enfield and Barnet being in Hertfordshire, but I will argue later that they are in Middlesex.

Andrew Rosindell: The hon. Gentleman knows Barnet far better than I do, and I will not presume to dictate identities to other hon. Members who are proud of their counties and towns. I am an expert on my part of the world; I know exactly which river, which street and which area fits into which county or town. I know my area and the hon. Gentleman knows his. We can all work together to ensure that when the provisions of the Bill are implemented, as I hope they will be, the identities are correct. Over many years, people have taken a lazy approach to creating administrative areas. They have not taken local identities into account, but simply pushed areas together without any consideration for what local people feel or for what history shows them. That is what we now need to put right.

I have talked a lot about counties, and I could say a lot more, but our time is limited today. Looking around the Chamber today, I see many hon. Friends from Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Somerset and Buckinghamshire, and I see you, Madam Deputy Speaker. According to the Association of British Counties, Halesowen is part of the historic county of Worcestershire. I am sure that many people in our constituencies would celebrate the day on which their local county identity was restored. The counties would remain under the existing local government administration while being able to celebrate their historic identity.

That point also extends to towns—I have referred to Romford many times, and I shall not do so continually, but I happen to understand the nature of my town. It is also important that the communities and villages in each of our constituencies are given recognition. Ward and electoral boundaries sometimes remove identities. There are many examples of that, but I shall give the example of the ward in which I live: Pettits, which was created a few years ago in the London borough of Havering. The ward was given its name because a road called Pettits lane runs through it—I happen to live off Pettits lane. Pettits ward, however, is not a community; it has no identity. It has a chunk of Collier Row, which is in the north of my constituency, two thirds of an area called Marshalls Park, which is where I live and went to school, one little chunk of a large area called Gidea Park, and the whole of a community called Rise Park. It is a hotch-potch. Locally, everything is being referred to as belonging to Pettits ward: the neighbourhood police team is referred to as Pettits ward neighbourhood—neighbourhood!—police team, but nobody understands what that is about. People refer only to their local communities—if they live in Rise Park, they say that they live in Rise Park; and if they live in Collier Row, they say that they live in Collier Row.

Boundaries, whether local government boundaries set for administrative purposes or ward boundaries set for electoral purposes, are then used by other authorities, such as the police, to impose that identity at another level. In the neighbouring borough of Barking and Dagenham, there is a sign saying, “Welcome to the Whalebone ward”. There is no such
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place as Whalebone ward in Barking and Dagenham; it is just a road. There is Chadwell Heath and Marks Gate.

I am sorry to talk about such local areas, but it is obvious that all that is going wrong. The Government need to return to common sense and an even keel. Local identities, town identities and county identities should be properly recognised. We can then all celebrate those identities. I know that that will be popular with the people whom we represent. The solution is to divorce historic identities from those that are created purely for administrative and electoral purposes.

Mr. Heath: As a native of a severed county who would very much like its northern part to be brought back into a clear Somerset identity, I strongly agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Does he agree, however, that his Bill does not require the Post Office to recognise the historic identities? In terms of the acceptance of new local boundaries, the greatest mistake of the Heseltine reforms was that people were told that they did not live where they always knew that they lived, and had lived all their lives.

Andrew Rosindell: It is vital to make that clear. My Bill does not contain such a requirement, but I would certainly support that. Fortunately, in my area the identity of Romford, Essex, is still reflected in the postal address. Other parts of Essex, however, have lost that identity and have London postal districts. The muddle and confusion need to be dealt with.

This is not a difficult matter to resolve, but to put it right requires will on the part of the Government, and a little time to reconsider the proposals, which I support, from the Association of British Counties and to work with local councillors, Members of Parliament and local groups who understand the subject. The process has gone on for several decades. For a thousand years before that, there was no problem. I propose that we address the matter as soon as we can, so that future generations do not lose their identity. We can resolve the problems, because the development is relatively new. In 10, 20 or 30 years’ time, however, it may be too late, because the knowledge will have gone. Now is the time to restore the identities of which we and our constituents are proud.

My Bill has the support of Members on both sides of the Chamber. It is on an issue that should unite us all. It will strengthen the heritage and culture of the country, restore our history and give identity back to communities, villages, towns and counties. It will not affect local government, but it will ensure that the history of the country is not forgotten or left behind, and that once again we can be proud of our identity. To my mind, that is something worth supporting. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.26 am

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I rarely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion he is making a valid point. This matter has been raised a great deal in my constituency, as I shall
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describe to the House. I struggle with his notion, however, that what he is trying to do is simple. It is not. It is a complicated matter. It is a worthy cause, but I advise caution about arguing that it is simple. The Bill would have regulatory impacts, which would impose burdens. Given that Members on both sides of the House are signed up to the agenda to try to remove burdens on both public and private sector providers, we need to think carefully about that. I say that not to try to kill off his Bill, but merely to flag up an observation.

The hon. Gentleman’s description of how well his exercise to promote the crest of Romford was received was intriguing. I must go and look at that book, because the coats of arms of communities have an interesting history. The main town of Ellesmere Port in my constituency is a much newer town than the other half, Neston, which has a heritage going back hundreds of years. Ellesmere Port was the port of Ellesmere in Shropshire, and is a relatively recent title—it has only a 200-year history. If it had kept its original name, it would have confused the postman even more, as it would have been called Whitby—currently a ward in my constituency and the address of my constituency office. In some cases, as in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, history can go back hundreds of years, whereas in others, post-industrial revolution history has created an identity.

My own little campaign to persuade the Post Office not to provide all my constituents with a Merseyside postcode—the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) also referred to this issue—but to revert to a Cheshire postcode, was extraordinarily popular. A very good friend of mine, now Alderman Stewart Hayward, led that charge. We eventually persuaded the Post Office that we were in Cheshire, not Merseyside. Even on today’s boundaries, that is a matter of fact, and it was supported by a huge number of people. In discussions with the Post Office, we ensured that the change happened in a way that did not impose cost burdens on businesses—for example, M64 became CH64. We made the change neatly, and there was a transitional period, which the Post Office carried on for a considerable time, when we used up headed notepaper and so on. No one had to go off and spend heaps of money. Such things can be done practically, example by example. In a global sense, however, it might be a tad more complicated than the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) suggests.

Dr. Pugh: The hon. Gentleman may be aware that my constituency, which is also technically in Merseyside, has a Preston post code. That arrangement has been made on more than one occasion.

Andrew Miller: The hon. Gentleman should fight for a Southport post code. I am sure that there could be such a thing if the Post Office set its mind to it. He is right, however.

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