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Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): If there were any logic in the hon. Gentleman's argument, General Motors and Ford, two rather large American companies, would surely, through the SMMT, have raised objections. Is he aware of such objections?

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman shows that he knows nothing about the subject, because the cars that he is talking about have regulatory approval as a class. The cars that we are talking about must go through single vehicle approval. General Motors and Ford make, to my knowledge, very few cars in that sector. We are not talking about the mass car market. We are talking about a niche market. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to say that I am wrong, I hope that he will intervene on me formally to try to make his point and to prove his case, rather than shout from a sedentary position, which certainly does not become him.

I do not believe that the Government have made any attempt to defend the proposal. The letters that I have seen passing between the industry and the Department are unconvincing. The argument does not stand up. I am sure that the Minister will use the debate to reflect very carefully on the matter and to bring his civil servants to book. I do not believe that he intends to damage the sector. He needs to ensure that his civil servants are not misleading him about that sector.

There have been other cases--for example, those involving type approval--where bureaucratic pressure and problems have been put in the way of that reputable car market sector. It has had to battle at great legal expense, employing expensive QCs, going to Brussels, regulating, and getting Brussels to tell the British civil

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service that it should not be gold-plating regulations from Brussels. It is having to fight the whole time. This is not the right way to promote business. The Minister is in a position to bring those civil servants to book, to listen to the Commission and to British industry, and to get it right.

I want to talk about the issue that many other hon. Members wish to talk about. I agree--I signed the early-day motion--that if the Government are, through the regulations, introducing a new option to have a flag on the registration plate, that option could be multiple. One understands the argument following on from the discussions in Europe for the right to have a European flag. That enables people to meet the requirements of the Vienna convention without necessarily having the nationality indicated on the registration plate when they go through the countries of the European Union, although hon. Members may wish to correct me on that point. One can understand why the option came about in the first place. The Government have the chance, because they want to implement the regulations and to give people that option, to give people other options.

That has never been done by a previous Government, so let us not have too much hypocrisy. The previous Government did not want to make that option available. When Conservative Members speak later, I hope that they will realise that their Government did not make that option available to people.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.

Question again proposed.

Mr. Davey: I am tempted to use a French phrase--revenons a nos moutons--to come back to the point that I was making, but I am sure that some Conservative Members would not appreciate it.

If we are making new regulations to allow the European flag on registration plates, it makes sense to allow some flexibility. There is no European plot and no harmonisation of registration regulation is proposed. It will be an option, and we should remember that no right is being removed, only given. The real issue is how many other rights should be given, and I agree with the hon. Member for Poole that we should have the right to have the UK, Welsh and Scottish flags, as well as the flag of St. George. I speak as a pro-European, because it is an issue of choice.

The Minister may argue that he cannot act because of problems with space on the registration plate or with visibility, but those problems are not insurmountable. If a European flag can be fitted on a registration plate, so can another flag. I hope that the Minister will show flexibility in the American case and in this.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): The hon. Gentleman is right that it is possible to have the union flag in place of the Euro stars. He may care to examine

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my car, which is standing at the Members' Entrance and which displays an illegal number plate with a blue strip down the left-hand side, proudly bearing a union flag.

Mr. Davey: That does not surprise me.

I hope that the Minister will not be intimidated by the anti-Europeans who will contribute to the debate. This is not a debate between anti-Europeans and pro-Europeans, although some of the hon. Members present are certainly more Eurosceptic than Europhile. The issue is one of choice, and I hope that the Minister will give the English, Scottish and Welsh peoples that choice.

10.4 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I speak as someone who is Welsh and proud to be so, and British and proud to be so. That is something that some Labour Members fail to understand. I do not see why I as a Welshman ought not to have the opportunity to display the Welsh flag on my car registration plate if I so wish. Indeed, when I was in Wales a month ago I saw a Welsh flag displayed on somebody's registration plate. I have also seen Union Jacks and Scottish solents--[Hon. Members: "Saltires!"] That is what I mean.

The Government should say whether the Home Office has given guidance and advice to police forces throughout the country as to whether people who display symbols other than the union flag will be prosecuted. I pointed out a union flag on a car to someone the other day. I said that that was illegal and that the owner could be prosecuted. I was asked who would be stupid enough to prosecute people for displaying the union flag on their cars, and in reply I asked who would be stupid enough to prosecute someone for selling bananas by the pound instead of the kilogram. That happened the other day in Sunderland, where there is clearly no other crime.

The Government say that they are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, yet they have created a new crime. There are fewer police on the streets than four years ago, but the police will have to check out cars to see if they are displaying anything other than the union symbol.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) said that between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of his constituents drive cars that proudly display the Welsh flag. They are breaking the law, and are therefore criminals. They can be stopped by the Welsh police or their counterparts in the United Kingdom, and prosecuted for displaying the fact that they are Welsh.

That comes very rich from this Government, given that the census forms that we have to return by 29 April allow people to say that they are Scottish or from Northern Ireland, but not that they are Welsh or English. What is wrong with the Government? Why do they not believe that people should be able to say whether they are Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, or English?

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Although I recognise the right of people to put a Union Jack on their cars if that is what they want, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that our advice to the thousands of drivers in Wales whose cars bear the Welsh flag should be that they carry on showing the flags and ignore these stupid regulations? If the Government insist on introducing them, they will be bringing the law into infamy.

Mr. Evans: This is a bad law. A law that is widely flouted needs to be looked at again. I do not believe that

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the consultation procedure that the Government followed was right. They did not consult widely with the motoring organisations, which would have told them that the introduction of space for symbols on registration plates would mean that people in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England would want to display their nationality. People would also want to display the Union Jack as well. I cannot believe that that was not pointed out to the Government in the consultation that was held.

The Minister must tell the House what the guidance is. Will people driving around with their national flags displayed proudly on their cares be told that they are breaking the law? Will they run the risk of being stopped by the police and prosecuted, and of having to pay a fine of £1,000? If the Government want to create martyrs, they are going about it the right way--they will create thousands, as people ensure that they change their registration plates to show the flags of the nations of which they are proud.

I am not one of the nutters who wants to throw up whenever they see the euro symbol--[Interruption.] However, I do not jump for joy when I see it. In contrast, when I see the Union Jack, there is a flutter in my heart. When I see the Welsh flag, there is a bit of hwyl about me. I am also proud to represent an English constituency. Thank goodness the Government had the good grace not to insult us all by having this debate yesterday. I am also proud whenever I see England playing football or the flag of St. George being displayed throughout England and people wearing red roses, as they did yesterday. It is quite right that they should be proud as well.

I find it incredible that we do not have the Minister for patriotism here. During one of their frights, the Government decided that they were being charged with not being sufficiently patriotic. They therefore dredged up a Minister who not many people had heard of and gave him the title of Minister for patriotism.

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