Dr Julian Lewis: After that introduction, I hesitate to rise and speak. I am almost tempted to quote the number-plate "VOM1T", which is the reaction of most of us to the measure proposed. This will probably be my shortest ever parliamentary speech, but I hope that it will make up in quality what it lacks in quantity.
There are three points to make. First, why are the Government introducing a measure to allow the European symbol to be put on number-plates, when, as everyone knows, the law that prevents people from doing that now is not being enforced? The answer is fairly obvious. The Government are introducing the measure to allow that to be done in preparation for the time, which they know will come, when it will be made compulsory. Otherwise, there is no reason for them to introduce the provision. They are trying to make it legal for the EU symbol to be displayed on number-plates throughout the United Kingdom and the European Union only because they know that it will be impossible to order that to happen if the practice is technically illegal.
Thus the first point – or question – is why the Government are doing this, and the second point is the answer to that question, which is that they know that what is now to be permitted will later be made compulsory.
The third point is this: what are the various pressure groups that oppose the creeping federalism of the European Union going to do about the regulations? As somebody who was once arrested for playing the National Anthem in public, I have a certain amount of experience of what pressure groups do in such circumstances. I predict that they will commission quality printing firms to prepare Union Flag stickers with permanent, self-adhesive backs that can easily be stuck over the European symbol on future number-plates.
That will have a double effect. It will mean that people who want the Union Flag to cover the relevant part of their number-plates can stick it on. Such people can claim when they are stopped by the police that some opponent must have stuck the symbol on, and that they did not do it themselves. Alternatively, it will be possible to place stickers on the number-plates of car owners who support the European Union, which will mean that they are done for a criminal offence and fined £1,000.
Will the Under-Secretary address that problem and explain how it will be dealt with? How should the police respond when they discover that somebody is driving around with a regulation number-plate on which the British flag is displayed in the form of a sticker of the sort that I have described? Will such a person be fined, or will it be enough of an excuse for him to say that he did not do it himself? Will he be obliged to check his number-plates every time he takes his car out? Will he be required not to take the car out because he cannot remove a sticker and make his number-plate legal again?
The whole process is fatuous, unenforceable and deeply sinister. The provisions are not permissive, as the Government are trying to suggest. They are being introduced to pave the way for a compulsory measure, and I predict that that measure will not be long in coming down the line.