Previous Section Index Home Page

The borough of Bridlington tootled along pretty well. My grandfather was mayor-elect in the early 1960s, although he unfortunately died before he could take office. My father was the deputy mayor, although I regret to say that he had a fatal accident while on council business. My mother was all set to be mayor of Bridlington in the 1970s, but then it suddenly changed to the borough of North Wolds, contrary to the desire of every single inhabitant of the town. That was certainly against the wishes of my mother, who became the first mayor of North Wolds. She was one of the
29 Jun 2007 : Column 608
very few such mayors because the borough was abolished by popular demand in 1981 and the authority became East Yorkshire. Even worse, it later became Humberside. We Yorkshiremen certainly did not identify with being part of Humberside. There were big arguments about whether we could still qualify to play for the Yorkshire county cricket club—not that I was ever good enough to do so. It was the dream of every small boy in my home town that one day they would put on the white rose county’s colours, along with Geoffrey Boycott, Freddy Trueman, Brian Close and all the rest of my childhood heroes, and play cricket for Yorkshire. That was in the days when a person had to be born in Yorkshire to play cricket for their county, and before the days of the foreign player, which have disgraced our county cricket sides.

Mr. Goodwill rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Perhaps I can prevent the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) from leading the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) astray. May we get back to the content of the Bill?

Mr. Goodwill: I was going to mention the fact that Middlesbrough was traditionally in the county of Yorkshire. Thank goodness that those born in Middlesbrough were still able to play cricket for the county of Yorkshire, because Chris Old, the amazing fast bowler—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. There has been some levity, but I think that the sporting analogies had better cease, and we should get back to the content of the Bill.

Mr. Dismore: I shall take your strictures on county cricket to heart, Madam Deputy Speaker, but there is a relevance to the Bill: will the street signs around the traditional boundaries of Yorkshire identify those boundaries, so that we can get back to the good old days when a person had to be born in the county to play cricket for it, even if we never won anything until all the foreign players came along? I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who is from Lancashire, was about to intervene—

Dr. Iddon indicated dissent.

Mr. Dismore: I am glad that my hon. Friend and I did not get into a war of the roses. Anyway, the important point is that Humberside was rejected by everyone who lived in east Yorkshire, and I am pleased to say that it has since been abolished. There was local civil disobedience of the kind that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) mentioned as having taken place in Avon. I remember a chap in the town, Trevor Pearson—I think that he is now dead—who ran the campaign. Although the Post Office insisted on “Humberside” being included on the postal address, no one took any notice, and everybody wrote “East Yorkshire”. I think that the Post Office had a policy of delaying those letters, although the delays might just have been due to its traditional inefficiencies.

29 Jun 2007 : Column 609

The old boundaries were very important. They included places such as Stamford Bridge, which was the boundary between east Yorkshire and the rest of the county, going back, I suppose, to the days of King Harold II and the famous battle of Stamford Bridge. The point is that if there are to be boundary signs, it is important that the deep-rooted local feeling in the counties is recognised. As I have said, I now represent an area of London. It was originally part of Middlesex, which is one of the 39 historic counties of England, and it was the second-smallest county after Rutland, so perhaps the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) should tack an extra clause about Middlesex on to his Streetscape and Highways Design Bill.

When county councils were introduced in England in 1889, part of Middlesex was used to form the county of London, and the remainder formed the administrative county of Middlesex. By 1965, urban London had expanded further, and almost all the original area was incorporated into Greater London, but “Middlesex” is still used informally as an area name, and it is included in some postal addresses; I shall come back to that point later. When talking about historic counties, boundaries, towns and boroughs, the question is how far back we should go. Middlesex was recorded in the Domesday Book. To settle my dispute with the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), in the Domesday Book, Middlesex was divided into six hundreds, including the Edmonton hundred, in which Enfield was situated, the Gore hundred, in which Edgware and Hendon were situated, and the Ossulstone hundred, in which Finchley and Friern Barnet were situated. If we go back to 1086, when the Domesday Book was created, we find that I am winning the battle.

Mr. Heald: I have not studied the issue in the detail that the hon. Gentleman has, but certainly it is my understanding that Southgate in Enfield is the south gate of Enfield Chase, which was traditionally in Hertfordshire. Certainly, parts of Barnet were in Hertfordshire; I know that Sydney Chapman, who used to be the Member for Chipping Barnet, was convinced that part of his constituency was in Hertfordshire at one time.

Mr. Dismore: I may give the hon. Gentleman a small crumb of comfort later, when we start to look at subsequent developments. He might be slightly satisfied with one or two things that I say about the fringes of Barnet, but I do not doubt that the vast bulk of Barnet was within the boundaries of Middlesex.

One of the problems with Middlesex was that it did not have an established historic county town. The assizes were at the Old Bailey in the City, and the sessions house was at Clerkenwell green. Although New Brentford was first described as the county town in 1789, which was the first time that knights of the shire were elected to sit in Parliament since 1701, it did not have a town or public hall in which the election could take place, so the position was rather peculiar. Middlesex county council, which took over the quarter sessions in 1889, was based on the other side of Parliament square at the Guildhall, which will become the site of the new supreme court when it is finally constructed.

29 Jun 2007 : Column 610

There were many market towns, including Edgware in my constituency, but as the county councils were established, new suburbs in north-west London started to grow with the arrival of the railways and the underground in the 19th century. Eventually, district councils were formed, including Hendon urban district council. Barnet was a mixed bag: Finchley was an urban district, but Freirn Barnet was a rural district. It was confusing, and eventually we ended up with the existing boundaries of the London borough of Barnet, which incorporates three earlier boroughs. We have discussed the arms of various places, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford on finding out what the arms of Romford are and putting them on badges for schoolchildren. I have looked up the arms of Middlesex. The blazon of the arms—I shall try to get this right—are

It does not say “or what”; I think that “or” means gold in that context. The Middlesex coat of arms appears on the cricket club colours.

When Greater London was created, Middlesex started to vanish. However, the word is still used in the names of many organisations based in the area, including the cricket club, which is a first-class county team—unlike Yorkshire, it is not in the first division, although I was pleased to see Yorkshire beat Surrey in the first division earlier this season—and Middlesex university, which is largely based in my constituency. The university is starting to expand on that site and it, too, uses the traditional coat of arms.

We have already had a little spat between Hertfordshire and Barnet, and the difficulty of working out where boundaries lie is a problem for the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Romford. Traditionally, rivers were boundaries, but it would be difficult to put a street in the middle of a river. The Thames, the Lea and the Colne were the historic boundaries of Middlesex, and the Middlesex side of the river is still mentioned in commentary on the boat race. We have heard about the postal county. Again, the position is complicated, particularly in Hendon, as part of the constituency has a London postcode and part has an HA postcode, as Harrow was part of the postal county of Middlesex. That creates considerable confusion, as BT, for example, issues phone books for each postcode area. It is difficult for people who want to look up Barnet phone numbers to do so if they live on the Edgware side of my constituency. The council’s office numbers do not appear in their phone book, as it lists only Harrow numbers.

The London borough of Barnet was created as a result of local government reorganisation in 1965. Its historic boundaries include the Edgware road and Watling street, which was a Roman route. The main mediaeval route has since become the A1000, further to the east. There are many other boundaries, too, so may I put to the hon. Gentleman the question of where the signs would go? In parenthesis, I should say that we have our own important local traditions. The Cockney rhyming slang for hair is “barnet”, which goes back to Barnet fair of mediaeval times. At the battle of Barnet, Warwick the Kingmaker was killed and the Yorkists, I am pleased to say, defeated the Lancastrians. We have a mapmaking history, too, and Hendon school is built on
29 Jun 2007 : Column 611
the site of the house of John Norden, the 16th-century mapmaker. He would recognise the old boundaries, but not, obviously, the new ones. The hon. Gentleman must answer the question of where the boundary signs would go, bearing in mind those historic distinctions. In London there are distinctive areas such as Hampstead garden suburb, which would see itself as a separate location.

My main concern is not the theory or idea behind the Bill. It is important to remind people of our local history. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, unfortunately schools these days do not teach local history. In my view, they do not teach enough of our nation’s history, either. I hope that sooner or later people will come to recognise the importance of that. It is a unifying factor and part of our identity, locally as well as nationally.

My main concern with the Bill is that it is mandatory. It states:

There is a strong argument, perhaps less so in rural areas, that that will create more street clutter. We have far too many street signs already in urban areas. Adding more will create confusion and may be a road safety hazard as people try to work out why a sign is there.

One of the Bill’s strengths is that is does not try to define what is an historic area, but it leaves that to designation, presumably by a statutory instrument. That would create a huge bureaucracy between local and central Government as people try to decide what is to be designated, for the purposes of the Bill, an historic county town or village boundary. That could entail some cost, and putting up the signs will undoubtedly involve cost. I remember the outcry in my borough at the cost involved when the incoming Conservative administration five years ago decided to change all the street signs to a bluish colour—I wonder why. If signs are put up as a result of the Bill, there may be concerns about the burden on the council tax payer.

The hon. Member for Romford has done the House a service by bringing his Bill before it today. He has raised some important issues about local and national identity, but I hope that when he replies to the debate, he can answer some of the practical difficulties in terms of cost, road safety and clutter, and in particular the mandatory nature of his Bill.

12.17 pm

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). I commiserate with him on the fact that he had to emigrate from God’s own county down to Hendon. He can rest assured that the Opposition will be working very hard to ensure that following the next election, he will have an opportunity to return to those broad acres.

I am pleased that the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has reached Second Reading. It started life as a ten-minute Bill, and such Bills sometimes sink without
29 Jun 2007 : Column 612
trace, but it is probably a measure of the importance of its subject matter around the country that the Bill has got this far.

I make no apologies for coming from Yorkshire. They say one should never ask anyone if they are from Yorkshire, because if they are, they will say so in the first five minutes, and if they are not, why humiliate them unnecessarily? Yorkshire has a proud tradition. We have our own flag, with the white rose, our own pudding, our own newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, and now our own regiment, and there are more acres in Yorkshire than there are words in the Bible. Of all the counties in the country, Yorkshire people can be the most proud of their heritage. That is why it is important that there should be signs marking historic county boundaries so that people can be aware of that.

Yorkshire is split into three ridings—the North Riding, the East Riding and the West Riding. Contrary to some popular opinion in the south of England, there is no south riding, except in literature. Within Yorkshire there is tremendous rivalry between the ridings. In my constituency, in Scarborough, people who come on holiday from the West Riding are commonly known as wezzies. They are looked down upon as second class citizens by the people in north Yorkshire. That feeling is reciprocated, but it is a positive and beneficial rivalry from which everybody gains.

It is said that one can always tell a Yorkshireman, but one cannot tell him much. Telling a Yorkshireman that he lived in Cleveland or Humberside did not go down well. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said that people in Somerset did not like being told that they lived in Avon. A similar situation occurred in my part of the world, particularly in Humberside, where signs were not just whitewashed over but physically removed by Yorkshiremen who regretted having that name attached to the county that they loved.

When I went up to Cleveland—which as I mentioned was for the purposes of cricket—south of the river, always in Yorkshire, there were big signs declaring Cleveland to be a nuclear-free zone. That always tickled me because not only does Cleveland have a very good radiological unit at its hospital, but in Hartlepool a nuclear power station. Such signs turned people off the new regions. If the Bill is enacted, the traditional county boundaries will be recognised. People like to feel a sense of identity and they do not identify with Humberside or Cleveland, but they do identify with Yorkshire, and that gives them a real sense of belonging.

People in Whitby, recently voted by the readers of Saga Magazine as the No. 1 weekend holiday destination, feel a certain resentment because they live in Scarborough borough council, and they make representations to me that they would like to live in Scarborough and—no, correction—they would like to live in Whitby and Scarborough borough council. But one thing that we can all agree on is that we live in Yorkshire.

In many ways we are in danger of losing our history and heritage by these new county names, such as Kirklees and Calderdale. The people who live there know where they live because it appears on their council tax bills, and they are one thing that people in
29 Jun 2007 : Column 613
west Yorkshire do know about. The Bill allows us to claw a little of that history and heritage back.

One of the most tragic cases is in the west of my county where a small number of people find themselves, for administrative purposes, in Lancashire. Can anyone imagine anything worse for a Yorkshireman than being told that he now lives in Lancashire? That is part of the way in which our heritage is being eroded. Restoring the signs would be a good thing.

I am saddened by the loss of many traditional field names. The Bill does not extend to labelling every field, but as farms change hands many of the traditional field names that go back to mediaeval times have been lost. On my farm, where we have been since 1850, we try hard to retain the traditional field names. That is another example of where history can be lost because of changes.

It is a little much to expect new immigrants to this country—people from Pakistan and India, and more recently from Poland—to support the English football team in the World cup or the English cricket team when it is playing Pakistan, or Poland in a World cup match. But it is quite realistic to expect them to identify with the regions in which they live. There is no reason why Polish people who come to the UK—I have many in my constituency—should not feel proud to live in Yorkshire, and signs will tell them exactly where they live. These people have not been taught about English history and this may be an answer to that problem. The Tebbit question was which cricket team do such people support. Many people who have come from India or Pakistan to west Yorkshire will support their own country’s cricket team, and I am pleased that they do, but they can also support the Yorkshire cricket team, not least because we have players such as Sachin Tendulkar, who played for Yorkshire with such prowess. So the answer to the Tebbit question may be to have more emphasis and stress on our traditional county boundaries and market towns, so that people can feel a sense of belonging, albeit that they have lived in the country for only a short time.

I represented Yorkshire in the European Parliament for five years, but it was not just Yorkshire, it was Yorkshire and the Humber. People in the north of Lincolnshire resent that—the part of the world that the Minister represents. If I could digress for one second, I would like to thank the Minister for the decriminalisation of the parking scheme in Scarborough and Whitby, on which we have had much correspondence and which I have raised on a number of occasions.

People who live in north Lincolnshire resent the fact that from an administrative point of view they are now in the Yorkshire and the Humber region. They thought that they had got rid of Humberside, but the region is still referred to as Yorkshire and the Humber.

Our regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, represents not only Yorkshire but north Lincolnshire. One councillor from north Lincolnshire told me, “As far as we are concerned, it is Yorkshire Forward and Lincolnshire backwards.” [ Interruption. ] A Conservative councillor mentioned that to me. Informing people when they cross the Humber bridge that they are entering Lincolnshire is much more relevant than informing people who live in Grimsby,
29 Jun 2007 : Column 614
Cleethorpes or Scunthorpe that they live in Yorkshire and the Humber—“the Humber” is tacked on to “Yorkshire”.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) raised the problem of postcodes, which is especially relevant to people in the north of north Yorkshire, who have TS postcodes. I am not sure whether they are concerned because of their pride in Yorkshire and their desire to have a YO postcode or because their insurance premiums are higher because people think that they live on Teesside. I guess that the same point applies to people who live in Cheshire, but who have Merseyside postcodes. We should examine aligning our postcodes with our traditional county boundaries.

I support the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and hope that it ends up on the statute book. In years to come, when people enter Yorkshire I hope that they will be proud to see a sign letting them know that they are doing so. I can think of only one downside to the Bill—although we will have signs for people entering Yorkshire giving them the good news that they are entering God’s own county, we will have to give people heading in the opposite direction the devastating news that they are leaving Yorkshire.

Next Section Index Home Page