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Mr. Edward Davey: Will the Minister go slightly further than he has done? He seemed to suggest that we needed to wait for the Commission to take on the Government. Could not the Government listen to the argument that has been put very strongly from all parts of the House and--rather than wait for the Commission to take the Government on using European law--move to anticipate the outcome, given that they might well be contravening European law by introducing this measure?

Mr. Hill: I have just spent a long time explaining why there are powerful safety reasons for the regulations. It is possible that they will be found to be defective according to the European Union's commercial legislation, but I cleave to the view that we have the right to assert our commitment to road safety in this regard.

Mr. Syms: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: I will, very briefly.

Mr. Syms: Small businesses that have already spent considerable sums on sending letters to the European Commission, the DVLA and DETR feel very frustrated because no one has listened. We are at the end of the process. The Minister acknowledges that there is a problem. Why can we not sort it out now?

Mr. Hill: I have spent some time telling the hon. Gentleman and the House that we are talking not just about American imported vehicles, but about up to 50,000 vehicles from the far east and Japan that fall into the same category.

Mr. Evans rose--

Mr. Davey rose--

Sir Teddy Taylor rose--

Mr. Hill: I do not want to engage in a protracted discussion, but I will give way to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East, because he spoke about this issue specifically.

Sir Teddy Taylor: The Minister has implied that we have not been applying the law correctly--that what we have been doing has been illegal, but that we have not been bothering about it because the police have been concentrating on other issues. Would it not be appropriate to apply the same policy until some decision is made by Europe? I appreciate that that is not an easy thing for a

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Minister to say, but is it possible that the new law might not be applied in the foreseeable future, given that the police have much to do and many issues to face up to?

Mr. Hill: The hon. Gentleman would hardly expect me to incite people to break the law from the Dispatch Box. Let me add that this is essentially a matter for the discretion of the police force.

Mr. Davey: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: No. I have given way sufficiently, and I dare say I shall give way again later.

Let me deal with an issue that was raised with rather more passion: voluntary provision for the display of the GB national identifier and the European circle of stars on number plates. I must confess that I cannot deal with the extraordinarily complicated question asked by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) about permanent adhesive, but I shall peruse Hansard carefully and in due course, if I am able, respond to the hon. Gentleman in writing. The hon. Member for Poole asked whether it was illegal to produce plates featuring a European Union symbol. It is not illegal: there is no provision relating to the symbol in current legislation. Use of it, however, might be illegal if it affected the size or legibility of a registration mark.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) asked about consultation. Letters were sent to both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Executive. How those devolved authorities have dealt with the issue is, of course, entirely a matter for them, but they had two bites at the cherry, because they were involved in the two rounds of consultation. The hon. Gentleman also asked--as did others--who else was consulted. The Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Road Haulage Association, the Confederation of British Industry, the number plate industry and the Association of Chief Police Officers were all consulted, and welcomed the regulations.

Mr. Llwyd: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: Let me answer the questions first--this set of questions, at least.

The hon. Member for Aldershot asked for an assurance that after 1 September the display of a number plate not conforming to the regulations would not be a cause for failure of an MOT test. I consider that an important and interesting point. I confess that I do not have the answer; however, I give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that I will make it my business to find it, and write to him. I am grateful to him for raising the issue.

Mr. Llwyd: The Minister said that the Welsh Assembly had had two bites at the cherry. At the time of the first consultation, the Assembly did not even exist.

Mr. Hill: I am tempted to say, "Touche!" I take that point, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if it had been in existence, the Welsh Assembly would certainly have been consulted.

I would like the House to be clear about the issue of the European symbol on number plates. There is no provision within the regulations for either the GB logo or European

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flag to be mandatory on vehicle number plates. All the regulations do is to allow motorists to take advantage, if they so wish, of a European Commission regulation that allows vehicles displaying the Euro symbol on their number plates to dispense with the need for a separate national identity sticker for journeys within the Community.

Where the Euro symbol appears on the number plate, it must be accompanied by the GB national identifier. It will also be possible for neither logo to appear. It will also be possible for neither logo to appear on the number plate and for the conventional GB decal, as it is known, to be attached to the rear of the vehicle. All those options will be available and acceptable, entirely according to the voluntary desires of the vehicle keeper.

Mr. Evans: Will the Minister now give a direct answer? If motorists in the Ribble Valley display the flag of St. George alone or the Union Jack alone, will they face prosecution because of the regulations?

Mr. Hill: Not if they are displayed as a decal on the rear of the vehicle. There would be no question of a prosecution in those circumstances.

Mr. Evans: I am happy to clarify the situation for the Minister. If a motorist does not have the European Union symbol on the registration plate and just has the union flag on the plate, which I have already seen in the Ribble Valley, could the motorist be stopped and prosecuted because of that?

Mr. Hill: I think that the answer is yes. [Interruption.] There are roars of surprise from Opposition Members but I think that they already knew the answer to that question.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Given that the police are not enforcing the law in respect of those number plates anyway, why are the Government changing the law to allow this practice to be made legal, unless it is because they know that, further down the line, it will be made compulsory?

Mr. Hill: Let me come back to the deep-dyed suspicion of a conspiracy. The fact is that the essence of the scheme is to permit ease of circulation in certain European countries. That is the whole basis of the use of these symbols, which after all are 98 mm by between 40 to 50 mm--4 by 2 inches in the old measurement, for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman. This is not a major deal.

Mr. Bercow: Whenever the Minister has not a leg on which to stand, the decibel level of his oration rises proportionately. Given the concern that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) has expressed--that this measure is the prelude to a compulsory imposition of an EU symbol, a concern that I expressed to the Minister in the Vehicles (Crime) Bill Standing Committee in January--why will he not now abandon his procrastination, give up the coy nonsense about being merely a junior Minister and pledge in front of you, Mr. Speaker, and the House that he will always oppose any such compulsory EU imposition? It is blindingly simple. Is he up to it?

Mr. Hill: The British Government have no intention of making such a symbol compulsory on number plates. I cannot go further than that.

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I stress the voluntary nature of the arrangement. I know that many of our compatriots are keen to exhibit their national identity, whether it be through the display of the Union Jack or other flags from within the United Kingdom. The Government have absolutely no desire to impede perfectly proper displays of national pride. Of course, as I have said, vehicle keepers may continue to use stickers and transfers on their vehicles. We simply do not believe that the number plate is the right place for such flags or logos. The watchword here is clarity and the need for a standard mark on the number plate.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) rose--

Mr. Hill: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, although he is a somewhat belated, if not entirely unpredictable, sojourner in our proceedings.

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