Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 10:45 am on 29th June 2007.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:56 am, 29th June 2007

I am delighted to be given a second opportunity to talk about the Bill that I am putting before the House for its Second Reading. It originated as a ten-minute Bill. I am thrilled that it has come up again and delighted to be able to present my argument to the Minister.

Essentially, what needs to happen in our country is the restoration of identities at every level, whether it be a county, a town, a village or even a local community or small hamlet. Everybody is proud of where they come from—I certainly am. As the Minister knows, our new Prime Minister represents the town where he grew up and lived in his younger days, and so do I. It makes a Member of Parliament particularly proud to represent their home town. I hope that the House will understand when I say that Members who represent the local community where they went to school and were brought up understand it more than if they are parachuted into a constituency with which they have few links.

I have deep-rooted links to my constituency and to my county of Essex. I am proud to come from Essex, but Essex is a particularly obvious example of how local government administrative changes over the years have ripped counties apart and put pieces of them into other areas—in my case, into Greater London. My part of the country is not the only place so affected: there are many examples of the red pen of the bureaucrat in Whitehall decimating local identities and taking away real meaning from towns, villages, communities and, indeed, counties. If we fail to understand and acknowledge the history of this country, the traditions, the roots and everything that was founded so many centuries ago, and if we allow short-term ideas to get in the way of upholding those traditions, the country will be the poorer as a result. The main purpose of my Bill is to restore identity.

When I travel, as I do all the time, from Westminster to my home town of Romford, it never ceases to anger me that there is no sign to say that I am crossing the historic county boundary of Essex. The Minister may know that the boundary is the River Lee, which was the historic boundary of Essex for many centuries before the local government changes of the 1960s and 1970s, yet there is no indication of that.

I know from speaking to many people in my part of the country that they are proud of their local identity and angry about being branded part of "Greater London". They understand that, for administrative purposes, there are occasionally reasons to create a regional administrative authority; there is also a purpose in creating an electoral boundary. However, those boundaries are only for administrative and electoral purposes and should never be allowed to take away the true identities of counties, towns, villages and communities the length and breadth of this country. That is exactly what has been happening since the changes were made.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

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?

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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 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.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

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?

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

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.

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You think we care about this anymore? England is finished - it's lost. Incidentaly is the national Britain day you've all been talking about a day of mourning? It should be.

Submitted by Paula

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

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"?

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

Let me first deal with the point that my right hon. Friend 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 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 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?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

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".

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Health)

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?

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Health)

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.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Opposition Whip (Commons)

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.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The hon. Gentleman referred to parts of Enfield and Barnet being in Hertfordshire, but I will argue later that they are in Middlesex.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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 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.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

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.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

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.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 11:26 am, 29th June 2007

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 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—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 Andrew Rosindell suggests.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Health)

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.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

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.

The biggest argument in favour of the Bill relates to tourism. The county of Cheshire is an enormously popular tourist destination for all sorts of good reasons ranging from the Jodrell Bank telescope to the National Waterways museum in Ellesmere Port and the historic town of Chester and its zoo. Amazingly, my constituency attracts 7 million people a year just for shopping purposes. They come to one shopping location. My hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt like to know that a large number of our parliamentary colleagues shop there. When she visits, I shall show her.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

One she cannot refuse. To go back to the subject of the previous Bill, I also want to show the Minister the destinations where I want civil servants to be relocated.

Tourism is hugely important. I am in discussions at the moment in which I find myself in relatively close harmony with my good friend Sir Nicholas Winterton. We are arguing roughly the same thing, which is that the county council's proposals in response to the debate on local government reviews are wrong. I am in favour of splitting the current county council, for administrative purposes, into two unitary authorities. In reading out the list of historic towns that comprise old Cheshire as it was prior to 1974, the hon. Member for Romford rightly referred to Birkenhead, which is in Merseyside, and Stockport, with is in Greater Manchester. A more recent example is Halton, which historically is half in Lancashire and half in Cheshire. It spans the river and is an unusual unitary authority, connected by the Runcorn bridge and, thanks to the Government, soon to be connected by a second major crossing. Warrington spans the river further upstream.

Nevertheless, in what is perceived by people as being the county of Cheshire, we have a common fire authority and police authority that cover the current county council of Cheshire, Warrington and Halton. The two big authorities operating on a pan-authority basis works pretty well. However, when we have discussed with the business community the merits of splitting Cheshire down the middle—a case that I hope the Government have listened to carefully—we have come to a conclusion based on the economic situation. Part of the population faces eastwards towards Manchester and slightly south-eastwards towards Stoke. The rest of the population—my constituency, the city of Chester and Vale Royal—faces westwards towards the Welsh boundary and northwards towards the Merseyside boundary. That is why in the east of the county, AstraZeneca, and in the west of the county, Shell, have supported the notion of splitting.

We have discussed that idea with the business community. I was recently privileged to sit in a meeting of the business ambassadors in Cheshire. The representative of the tourism industry, which is significant in the county, said, "Yes, but"—and the but is exemplified by the Bill. We need to find a way to identify the historic unit that we describe as Cheshire, plus or minus Birkenhead and Stockport—that is the debating point—and to protect that identity for purposes such as tourism. That is a feasible proposition, but we need to be flexible and not impose a single set of rules, because we would come up with illogical outcomes.

Madam Deputy Speaker, your recall of the Welsh changes might be better than mine, but I seem to remember that back in the days when I was in school, which was a very long time ago, my old atlas had a county called Flint Removed. [Interruption.] I am certain that I have the name right, but I am looking around for someone who is more knowledgeable. There were some strange geographical constructs that were quirks of history. Some boundaries have changed a considerable number of times, as has the one between north Wales and England. If we said that we should go back to the original boundary and push it back to Offa's dyke, I suspect that our friends in the Welsh Assembly would think that that was not a terribly good idea. If we took the hon. Gentleman's speech literally, that would be the consequence.

However, the hon. Gentleman is making a serious proposition. It needs to be thought through in more detail, identifying some of the areas where we know he does not mean to tread, but his point is worthy of more detailed examination.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Health)

The corollary of the argument is that because Liverpool was once in the historic county of Lancashire, it would not therefore be in Merseyside, because there was no historic county of Merseyside. A major review would be required.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

A major discussion is going on about the concepts of city regions and so on. In terms of improving the economic competitiveness of the great towns and cities in the north-west of England, the debate about administration is important. It does not detract, however, from the observations about my county. I cannot, however, claim to match the hon. Member for Romford or the Prime Minister in terms of historic attachments to my county. I guess that I was covered by the previous Bill when I moved to Kettering in 1977, as an incomer. Cheshire is a county with a tremendous history and it has an identity, but there are some quirks in it, such as the artificial boundary—immediately to the north of my constituency—that denotes the metropolitan county of Merseyside. Wirral is a unitary authority on its own, but I guess that under this well-meaning Bill it could easily be redesignated as part of Cheshire, where, in historic terms, it belonged.

It would be much more difficult to change the boundaries with Greater Manchester to the east, and that is why I urge the hon. Gentleman, if the Bill reaches Committee, to take a flexible approach to the practicalities of finding solutions. Not all the history of the area starts in Roman times; in one or two places it starts before, but many of the boundaries reflect post-industrial revolution history. For that reason, a one-size-fits-all solution is not desirable, because it might lead to some quirky results.

As a statement of principle, the Bill makes eminent sense, but it should be amended to take into account those practical realities. The proposals in the Bill would certainly help the tourist industry. I wish the hon. Gentleman well in his attempts to make progress, and I agree that some of the signage that we see can be a little odd. In my county, we are used to seeing bilingual road signs as we approach Wales. I was slightly confused recently when I saw some road signs that I thought were in Welsh, but they were a bit too far east to justify being bilingual. Then I discovered that they were in Polish —[ Interruption. ] Well, when I drive down a lane at 40 mph I am focusing on the road, and it requires greater linguistic skills than I have to distinguish between Polish and Welsh. Signage is confusing and should be simplified. We need to consider the overuse of signage in some communities, although that is not the subject of this Bill.

The Bill would be helpful in the context of trying to define sensible historic identities and boundaries that the people in the communities recognise as appropriate. I wish the hon. Gentleman well with it, but I am concerned about the regulatory impact, although there may be a solution to that. If he is prepared to add some flexibility in Committee, to ensure that the Bill addresses the practicalities that arise from the historic changes that are not included, I wish it well.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:45 am, 29th June 2007

I, too, congratulate Andrew Rosindell on introducing the Bill. It is perhaps a self-evident point, but the Bill is not about local government re-organisation. Indeed, it is the reverse, because it is about recognising the historic geographical and cultural entities that underpin this country and inform the identities of the people who live here; successive waves of those who have sought to reorganise local government boundaries have ignored that. They have not understood the relevance of identification with a place and community. It does not matter who empties the dustbins, because that is a matter of the efficiency and effectiveness of local government. People are not defined by the authority that collects their rubbish, but by the place in which they grew up and live, which may be where their ancestors lived—although that is not necessarily the case.

I feel strongly about this issue because I am a man of Somerset. I grew up in Somerset and generations of my family have lived in Somerset. There is a strong possibility that we came a cropper in 1685 because we fought for Somerset against England in the Monmouth rebellion and lost—because the English cheated. There is a huge sense of identity in the county, which was seriously undermined in the early 1970s by the Heseltine reforms of local government. Suddenly, the northern part of an entity that had existed since Saxon times was lopped off and called after the river that runs through Bristol. The new region of Avon never caught the imagination of the people who lived there. As far as they were concerned, they still lived either in north Somerset, south Gloucestershire or the city and county of Bristol.

Avon was an artificial construct, but the signs went up. We would drive from Bristol to Bath and see a sign saying "Welcome to Somerset" although we had been driving through Somerset for the previous 20 miles. Going the other way, we would see signs saying "Welcome to Avon", although such signs were regularly whitewashed over, because people felt so strongly that they did not live in an area named after a river. People did not use the term "Avon" as their postal address. They were enjoined to do so and told that their address was "Bath, Avon", not "Bath, Somerset". People did not use that address; they carried on using Somerset, because they understood the identity they had grown up with—the county cricket team still played at the recreation ground in Bath, and at Clarence gardens in Weston-super-Mare. They knew perfectly well that they were still Somerset people.

There was general rejoicing when Avon finally met its end. The one good thing to come out of the Banham review was the abolition of those completely unwanted new council areas. They were replaced by unitaries, not, in our case, by reabsorption into the administrative county of Somerset, but by Bath and North East Somerset council on one side and North Somerset council on the other. At least people had regained some of the identity they shared with the rest of the county.

Identity matters to people, and when we lose it, we lose something important. In Education and Skills questions yesterday, the hon. Member for Romford asked a question about history, which I followed up with a question about local history. One of the things I notice is that our sense of shared history in a locality is being gradually lost, partly by the exigencies of the national curriculum and partly by the tendency to sweep away previously understood identities. When I take groups of children from Somerset schools around the Palace of Westminster I like to show them things that relate to our history. I show them King Arthur in the Robing Room, King Alfred the great and the scenes from Monmouth's rebellion on the murals in the Corridor between the two Houses; but a little while ago a teacher took me aside and said, "You know, David, all that is very interesting, but they don't know what you're talking about, because they're not taught it." Children are taught about the Romans and the Egyptians.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

And then the second world war—and the second world war again and again, because it comes up about five times in the history that is taught at present, but children are never taught about the history of their own area. They are never taught about what made us, rightly or wrongly, what we are. Most countries understand that. Scotland understands it. Scotland teaches Scottish history, which is a quite different history from the history of England. In England, however, we have lost that capacity to understand. That is a shame. We are the less for it.

We talk about diversity in this country and we rightly recognise and celebrate it, but we should also celebrate the diversity within the English. We are an extraordinarily diverse nation in ourselves. I have a very small ethnic minority population in my area; historically it is less than 1 per cent., and by far the greatest majority of that minority is Romany. We are mono-ethnic, or perhaps bi-ethnic, because we are Celts and Saxons, too, which still shows through, or it did until relatively recently. Now we have much more immigration, which is a good thing and I do not argue against it. I am simply saying that having some understanding of the roots of our populations is a good thing, as is recognising the strength of the contributions made in an area.

The Bill goes a little way towards that. I do not think that the hon. Member for Romford would suggest for a moment that it is the answer to everything, but it recognises the fact that sticking up a sign because a cloth-eared bureaucrat thinks it a sensible idea to tell people that they are driving into a particular district council area, so it is important for them to know who collects the rubbish, disguises far more important things, such as where people are in the country. To be perfectly honest with the hon. Gentleman, I worry about some of the practicalities of the Bill; no one wants to see a proliferation of confusing signs. I shall get into terrible trouble with my colleagues on district councils for saying this, but I would be happy if every district council boundary sign was taken away; they do no good to anybody. Nobody actually wants to know about those various entities—district councils that are almost all modern constructs, usually named after a geographical feature that they do not actually represent, such as Mendip, which contains only part of the Mendips, and Sedgemoor, which comprises part of Sedgemoor but not all of it. There are many similar areas. Their names are meaningless both to the people who live in the area and to the people who visit it; they give no meaningful information.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

Has the hon. Gentleman seen some of the signage in France, which actually tells people about the places they are passing? There may be information about the main industry or about a particularly beautiful cathedral. That relates to the approach he is outlining, so does he think that my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell should consider it, too?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The French are better at that. They have a strong sense of local identity and are good at recognising the history of their towns. People are invited to visit a town "with its church from the 14th century and its famous murals". In America, a much newer country, most towns turn out to be the world capital of something or other. There is no town in America so small that it does not turn out to be the world capital of peaches, furniture, false teeth or something else that people identify with as their significant product, and which they believe makes them world-famous.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Opposition Whip (Commons)

On the subject of the plethora of signs in our towns and cities, is the hon. Gentleman aware that my hon. Friend Alan Duncan has a private Member's Bill aimed at reducing the number of signs? Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, perhaps he would care to support that Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I did not know about that Bill, and I am not sure where it comes in the order of Bills that are being considered today—if it is being considered today. If it competes with my Bill I shall, in preference, support my Bill, but it certainly sounds like a good idea to get rid of some of the clutter.

When people come down to the west country, they are interested in the fact that they are entering Somerset, Devon or Cornwall. They recognise those places as historic entities. The same is true of other parts of the country. However, people are not interested in a lot of the information that they are currently given. The Bill is a small step.

The issue about postal addresses is also important. Understandably, people get upset about postal addresses. Part of my constituency is in Dorset for postal purposes. Incomers to Milborne Port think that they live in Dorset. They do not know that they live in Somerset, because the postal address is "Sherborne, Dorset." To them, it is a mystery where they actually live. That is an extraordinary thing. So, that would also be a useful issue to take up.

In some areas, the historic entities are being recognised. Sport has always been reluctant to move away from the historic counties, and rightly so. The lords lieutenant often represent historic counties, rather than more recent entities. Some of them cover not only administrative counties, but unitaries that are within the same historic county. There are signs that some people, at least, understand the situation. The issue is about trying to keep local identity out of the hands of the bureaucrats and the homogenisers who simply do not understand diversity in this country.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating Friends of Real Lancashire, of which I am a patron, and of which my hon. Friend Janet Anderson is the president? That group protects the old county boundaries, which include Liverpool and Warrington, which is now considered to be part of Cheshire, and a considerable part of the Lake District, including the town of Barrow-in-Furness.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Of course I congratulate that organisation, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his membership of it. Lancashire is a proud county and a proud part of our history. I have a wholly biased view that categorises counties as either first-class counties or minor counties in cricket, and I always find it hard to get to grips with minor counties such as Hertfordshire. Lancashire is a proper county, like Somerset. [ Interruption. ] No, I take that back. It has been pointed out that it is not going to help Liberal Democrat votes in Hertfordshire one bit if I maintain that view, so I rescind it entirely.

Whether the Bill gets through or not, I hope that people understand what makes this country tick and what is important to many people. The more uncertainty we have in this world, the better it is that we are rooted in a sense of common identity, principle and history. The historic counties of this country form part of that mosaic and are worth remembering.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 12:00 pm, 29th June 2007

I congratulate Andrew Rosindell on his Bill. While there are practical problems with it, to which I shall refer later, he raises an interesting issue in the House. We live in an era of geographical confusion, yet people still get a strong sense of identity from their original cultural entities: the old counties. Many sporting, social and cultural activities are based on those counties. They are widely used as a popular geographical framework, despite bureaucrats' attempts to use the more modern local government areas.

The ages and origins of the counties of Britain vary, but most of them, in England at least, predate the Norman conquest and have become the bedrock of Britain's history, culture and geography. They provide an instant means of reference to different parts of the country; sets of cities, towns and villages; distinctive scenery; architecture; wildlife; industries; pastimes; accents and dialects; tourist attractions; and even the weather. Indeed, while each county might have been originally set up for some public purpose long before the beginning of the 19th century, the counties' geographic identity was paramount. The counties were considered to be territorial divisions of the country with names and areas that had been fixed for many centuries and were universally known and accepted. At the time of the Napoleonic wars, the counties were the bedrock of the militia. The lords lieutenant were allocated to the counties, including three to the ridings of Yorkshire, my home county.

The era of modern government began with the Local Government Act 1888, which defined a new set of administrative areas in statute, although I do not know how many reviews and changes have taken place since then. While no subsequent Act of Parliament has altered or abolished the historic counties, they are no longer used as a basis for any major public administration. While administrative geography is important in many contexts, such administrative areas can never form a proper geographical framework because their names and areas are subject to such frequent change.

I am sorry that Mr. Knight is no longer in the Chamber because he represents my home area. I am proud to represent a London constituency—indeed, I have lived in London for more than 30 years, which is most of my life—but as the old saying goes, "You can take the man out of Yorkshire, but you can't take Yorkshire out of the man." I am proud of both my east Yorkshire origin and roots and my present identity as a Londoner. While I think that my Yorkshire accent has diminished a little, that is for others to judge. When I go back to Yorkshire, people think that I talk southern. However, the accent seems to come back after I have been visiting my mother for a few days.

My home town was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Bretlinton. The hon. Member for Romford has not said whether the boundaries under his Bill would go back as far as the Domesday Book. My home town of Bridlington was first formally recognised in 1895 when it became an urban district council. In 1906, London's lord mayor was invited to open new terraces by the seaside. I am not quite sure why the lord major of London was invited—I have never been invited back to open anything.

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 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.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps I can prevent Mr. Dismore from leading Mr. Goodwill astray. May we get back to the content of the Bill?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Opposition Whip (Commons)

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—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal 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.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

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 Dr. Iddon, who is from Lancashire, was about to intervene—

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

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 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.

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 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 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.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

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.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

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.

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

"gules, three seaxes fessewise points the sinister proper, pomels and hilts, and in the centre chief point a Saxon crown or".

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 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 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:

"A traffic authority must take such steps as they consider reasonable".

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.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:17 pm, 29th June 2007

It is a great pleasure to follow 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 Andrew Rosindell has reached Second Reading. It started life as a ten-minute Bill, and such Bills sometimes sink without 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. 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 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, 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 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.

K

Apologies for being a pedant, but...........

Hartlepool is part of the Tees Valley, and has been for the past 10 years.

Cleveland as a County had a short existence, created in 1974 from its predecessor, Teesside, which was in turn created from parts of County Durham and the North Riding of Yorkshire.

The county ceased to exist in April 1996 when a further round of local government reorganisation saw the creation of four Unitary Authorities that were Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees from the carcass of Cleveland.

The Tees Valley consists of these four unitary authorities and Darlington.

Submitted by Kerry Jonas

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip (Commons) 12:27 pm, 29th June 2007

This debate is very interesting, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell on introducing the Bill.

This debate shows the appetite in this place for maintaining historic traditions throughout the country. Although some people think that this House discusses such issues on Fridays and not at other times, some very serious issues are being discussed across Government and elsewhere about our identity and the whole concept of Britishness. As my hon. Friend has said, our sense of belonging to a nation devolves down to the lowest level of strata, which is just as important, namely the sense of belonging to a community.

As my hon. Friend has rightly said, I am a passionate advocate for Middlesex. Perhaps uniquely among historic counties, we have very little left, except in the hearts and minds of those Middle Saxons who live in the county and who have emigrated. About 15 or 20 years ago, in my part of Middlesex we pioneered, under the guidance of that eminent Middlesex expert, broadcaster and historian, Russell Grant, the setting up of signs, which were sponsored by local businesses, to tell people that they were entering Middlesex. The back of the sign mentioned the sponsors, and I remember my company sponsoring one. I was proud to see that sign, although I think it has unfortunately been removed by souvenir hunters.

There should not be any cost implications. My hon. Friend has stated that the signs should be put in when the old signs need to be replaced. The new signs would recognise the historic traditions of counties. Unfortunately, we recently missed a trick in Uxbridge when the Rotary club, Brunel university and the local council put up some signs saying, "Welcome to Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon: Home of Brunel University". I maintain that they should have said, "in the Historic County of Middlesex". It would not have cost any more and would have recognised the importance of Middlesex to our history.

Many Members have referred to new names. Hillingdon is a place, but it became the name of the borough because nobody in the other places in the borough could agree on what they wanted it to be called. Ruislip said it should be the London borough of Ruislip; Northwood said it should be Northwood; Uxbridge said it should be Uxbridge; West Drayton said it should be West Drayton, and so on. It was even suggested that it should be called the London borough of Queensborough because Her Majesty landed for the first time as monarch at Heathrow airport, which is in the borough. Although that would have recognised a royal connection, I think it would have confused people because nobody would have had any idea where it was. There is a similar problem whereby nobody knows where Brunel university is. As I said recently in the debate on the Sustainable Communities Bill, I would prefer it to have been called Uxbridge university, if for no other reason than when large donors in America wrote out cheques they might think that they were donating to Oxbridge rather than Uxbridge—but that is a retailer's point of view.

These things matter to us—it is not just a case of a few people banging on. Ten years ago, we had just embarked on a by-election that I was lucky enough to win and so end up representing the constituency of Uxbridge. The Labour candidate, who is now safely ensconced in the House for a constituency that is much more appropriate for him in that he was mayor and council leader in Hammersmith and Fulham, made the mistake of describing Uxbridge as being in west London. Without any stirring at all from the Conservative or Liberal Democrat ranks, the local newspaper was full of outrage that this man could describe Uxbridge as being in west London when we all knew that it was in Middlesex. For two or three weeks that became a real issue in the local paper, which exemplifies how much this can mean to people.

Uxbridge and the surrounding area has always prided itself as being on the edge of London. We regard London as being our city, but we also regard ourselves as being rural Middlesex. Unfortunately, a lot of the rural aspects have somewhat dissipated, although any hon. Members lucky enough to visit will know that it has lots of green open spaces and is a very pleasant place. However, it still feels as though it is not quite London. It is the gateway to the Chilterns and has a great history. It would be a good idea for people to be able somehow to recognise that they are entering the historic county of Middlesex, or Uxbridge in the historic county of Middlesex, because that would give its residents a sense of identity that is sadly lacking.

Another issue is that of postal addresses and postcodes. I am not a great fan of early-day motions, but the first one that I tabled was to try to maintain Ickenham as a postal address. That was not simply because the people of Ickenham rightly regard their community and village as an entity, but because of the implications for deliveries. For example, most of Ickenham is now put down as "Uxbridge" because the Post Office likes to call it that, but there is a "Greenway" in Uxbridge and a "Greenway" in Ickenham, and people were getting the wrong things delivered. When one goes online or gives a postcode on the phone, "Uxbridge" immediately appears.

Let me now plead for the village in which I live. Most people who know where I live would wonder why I call the area a village. It is because I am rather old and remember when Cowley was a village. Its identity has almost disappeared. I believe that the children of the Minister for Science and Innovation, who is now sitting on the Treasury Bench, were born in Hillingdon hospital. He therefore knows that Cowley is just alongside the hospital, and he probably also knows that it was a separate place at that time. Unfortunately, the Post Office has taken Cowley off the postal address and only people of a certain age, like me, refer to "going down to the village" when we simply mean going to the newsagent's. The Brunel students who now inhabit that area look at me rather strangely—as many people do these days; that may be for many other reasons—because I talk about "going down to the village."

The discussion about identity and maintaining traditions is important, and I know that the subject of historic pub names has previously been raised in the House in that context. I would love to see the Bill on the statute book because it is important that everybody has a sense of identity with something—not only a country or a region but a county and a town. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, who is a champion of Romford and of Essex, and the Association of British Counties, which is doing the same throughout our realm.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Caroline Flint, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions 12:37 pm, 29th June 2007

After hearing the speech of Mr. Goodwill, I wanted to participate in the debate. The same controversial topic that he mentioned rages around my constituency. I represent Cleethorpes, which is in Lincolnshire. However, three local authorities cover the historic county of Lincolnshire: Lincolnshire county council, North Lincolnshire council and, to add to the confusion, North-East Lincolnshire council.

It is not only local people who get confused. When I table parliamentary questions that ask for facts and figures about North-East Lincolnshire and North Lincolnshire, I often get figures for Lincolnshire. Even here, there is confusion about exactly where Cleethorpes is.

For years, Humberside was the local authority. When that was abolished, the area on the south bank of the River Humber, formerly known as South Humberside, became North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire. However, some young people grew up with the name "Humberside" and do not identify with "Lincolnshire". Others genuinely loathe "Humberside" and hate "South Humberside" even more. I do not know whether it is down to the Post Office or other services, but when organisations buy mailing lists and databases, "South Humberside" continues to turn up. People do not like getting junk mail, but when they get it with "South Humberside" on it, they write to me saying, "The council was abolished years ago. We live in Lincolnshire." So there is certainly merit in the hon. Gentleman's Bill.

Another problem, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, is that we are also represented by Yorkshire and the Humber. My constituents repeatedly tell me that we are in Lincolnshire, and that the Humber is a river. When Humberside was abolished, people must have said, "Oh, what shall we call the Government region? Ah, yes, we'll call it the Humber!" That irritates my constituents as well, because there are only three and a half constituencies in Lincolnshire that are in the Yorkshire and the Humber region—Brigg and Goole is split between Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. That issue still creates problems. The police force is still called Humberside police, and we still have Radio Humberside.

I have been told by the Post Office that all that is required to avoid confusion when addressing a letter is the postal town and the postcode. My constituents write to me to say, "Why is 'South Humberside' still appearing on our mail? Why is 'Humberside' still appearing? Why can't people just put 'Lincolnshire'?" I write back and tell them that the Post Office has advised me that all they need is the postal town and the postcode. Well, I am sorry, but that does not make them any happier, because the postcode that is used for the part of Lincolnshire that I represent—apart from a handful of houses in the southernmost corner—is DN, which is the postcode for Doncaster, in Yorkshire. People should be able to express their identity on road signs and on their addresses, to avoid some of the daft situations that we end up in.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State 12:41 pm, 29th June 2007

We have had an excellent debate today, in which we heard from the ancient counties of England. It has been a very pleasant experience, recalling the great history of our nation. Hon. Members will be grateful to my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell for introducing the Bill. The subject has previously been aired by my hon. Friend Mr. Randall, who has also attempted to get such a measure through the House. There was a good deal of support around the House for the principle behind the Bill, although important matters of detail were contested.

The Association of British Counties has been the inspiration for this measure. Its contention is that the counties are an important part of the history, geography and cultural life of our country. It argues that Britain needs a fixed popular geography that is divorced from the ever-changing names and areas of local government. It wants us to have a real sense of history over time, and roots that people commonly understand and that are held to be part of our cultural identity. The point has been made that the fact that we are debating this matter today is excellent timing, given that we are having a national debate on identity and cohesion at the moment.

The issue of postcodes and postal names was raised by Shona McIsaac. In my own county of Hertfordshire, we have acquired areas of Cambridgeshire for postal purposes. People in Melbourn, which is in Cambridgeshire, are not at all happy to have a Hertfordshire postcode or to have Hertfordshire as part of their postal address, because they do not live in Hertfordshire. There is also a commercial aspect to this issue, because Cambridgeshire is well recognised as a centre for information technology, and people with IT businesses in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, find it quite commercially damaging to have to describe themselves as being in Hertfordshire.

Having said that, Hertfordshire is of course a fantastic county with an ancient history. I had an interesting discussion earlier with Mr. Dismore about exactly where its ancient borders were. I was in Southgate recently, and I was told that it was originally the south gate of the Enfield chase and traditionally part of Hertfordshire. Indeed, one of the people I spoke to there was Hertfordshire through and through, having a family that was originally based in my constituency and that had moved south to that location. The former Member for Chipping Barnet, Sir Sydney Chapman, was always an honorary Hertfordshire MP as far as the Conservative party was concerned, and he was proud that his area had a Hertfordshire tradition, although he was happy to be a Londoner too. These are important matters, and we should not minimise them in any way.

The Bill would compel traffic authorities to

"cause traffic signs to be placed on or near roads for the purpose of indicating the location of historic county, town or village boundaries", to try to re-establish the identity of traditional counties. During the debate, an argument developed about the form of those signs. There is a case for trying to highlight some of the points about an area on a sign. Under the regulations that would be used, Ministers would have powers to designate the sort of information that a sign could display. If people wanted more descriptive signs, such as those used in France, where the presence of fruit growing, a good wine area or a special cathedral is often reflected on signs, that might be possible. That would give our road signs a little more character and better meet the needs of the public and for education.

We heard a good deal about Yorkshire, which is a fine county. I rather shared the sense of sadness that my hon. Friend Mr. Goodwill portrayed of the Yorkshireman leaving his county. He highlighted that such signs would bring a tear to his eye. The signs that said, "Welcome to Yorkshire", however, would lift him to a new level of happiness and give him a great thrill, as would be the case with almost any Yorkshireman. He did not say whether the signs should have a bat and ball on them or some other sporting sign, but he did mention Geoffrey Boycott, a great Yorkshireman. I once played at Headingley, and managed to hit the old pavilion roof, and Geoffrey Boycott was there. That was one of the great moments of my sporting life, although it was only a very amateur match.

The Bill's frame of reference is provided by the traditional county boundaries, defined with respect to counties set out in the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844. In many instances, those bear little relationship to the current, amorphous local government administrative areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge made that point about his county of Middlesex, which has a proud tradition, with its great Guildhall near the House of Commons, and its rural areas, some of which are perhaps not as rural as they once were—he referred to Cowley in that context. None the less, there is a pride in the county of Middlesex, as we understood from his point about the candidate who described it as being in west London, to the absolute horror of the local media. He did not even have to prompt them to run a campaign that lasted for some weeks.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip (Commons)

This might be a good moment to remind my hon. Friend that Middlesex has a Middlesex day in May, on the anniversary of the battle of Albuhera. [Interruption.]

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

Well, apparently, some Members of the House knew that, as I heard a comment from a sedentary position to that effect. That just goes to show the detailed knowledge in all parts of the House. It is good to know that the county is still cherished and has its own special day, as well as the other attributes that my hon. Friend described.

This is the third attempt to introduce the measure through a private Member's Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge has had a go, as I mentioned, and the former Member for Taunton also tried in 2004. Both of them rightly paid tribute to the Association of British Counties for trail blazing.

The one thing I am not sure about is the reference to the Ordnance Survey, which is effectively a commercial body. However, the extent to which it would be right to force a commercial body to take a particular action could be considered in Committee. It may be that other mechanisms would be needed to get the map side of the problem sorted out, but one can understand and sympathise with the general aims.

Historic boundaries give us a sense of who we are—a feeling of the great traditions and heritage of the nation. They also have references to the roots of our language, which Mr. Heath mentioned. Local people are often greatly attached to the traditional names and boundaries of their historic counties long after they have ceased to exist as administrative areas. I felt a sense of sadness—perhaps other hon. Members did, too—when I heard the hon. Member for Cleethorpes describe young people who did not realise that they were in north Lincolnshire but thought that they were in Humberside, which has no real historical meaning. It is important that young people understand that history.

Similarly, in terms of marking the boundaries of ancient villages and towns, the Bill proposes signs that contain the traditional crest of the town or village. That is an idea with resonance. I was interested to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford had gone to the trouble of researching the crest for Romford and that he gave it so much currency by transmitting it across Romford in the way that he did. I think it is a rather good idea; I might even be tempted to do it myself in parts of Hertfordshire, although I shall have to see how practical that would be. [Interruption.] I am told that I might be able to do it on the communications allowance. That is probably pushing it; it would depend on the information engraved on the other side of the badge. However, we need not go into that in too much detail.

We have to wonder whether signing the boundaries should be the responsibility of the traffic authorities or English Heritage or its equivalent body in Wales. It is part of their mandate to mark historical sites and they are experts in such matters. Perhaps they should have a role in conjunction with the highways authorities. That would be an example of partnership working, something that Labour always welcomes.

I am only thinking aloud, but one thing is for sure: the subject has a resonance in the House. Many hon. Members have spoken in the debate.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's argument. I want to put to him an observation that I made in my contribution. I do not know how well he knows the roads from Cheshire into north Wales, but a major road construction is under way, so it is an opportune time to be precise. Would he move the sign that says "England" several miles to the west, or would he leave it exactly where it is? He needs to explain that to help us understand his case.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

That is an excellent attempt to get me into terrible trouble. I am not thinking of going down that route. I certainly do not want to steal part of Wales. That would be a bit strong for a Friday.

The Bill—or at least the underlying principles—has attracted a good deal of support in all parts of the House. It is the sort of Bill that needs an airing in Committee. It would be useful to tease out some of the difficulties, such as the one that the hon. Gentleman so mischievously presented to me. It is a Friday and a day for private Members' Bills. We should give Bills that have a good element of support in the House an opportunity to be considered in Committee.

In 1974, when the reorganisation took place, an official from the Department of the Environment said that the new county boundaries were solely for the purpose of defining areas of first level government of the future. He said

"They are administrative areas and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change."

The example he gave was Middlesex, and he said that although the county had been swallowed up in Greater London in 1965 and disappeared for governmental purposes, the name still existed for postal and other reasons. He pointed out the affection in which Middlesex was held and also made the point that

"the broad acres known as Yorkshire will remain unaltered despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties."

Those assurances were given then, and it is clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House think that those assurances should be fulfilled and we should have a proper respect for the ancient counties, cities, towns, villages and hamlets.

On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the Bill, which deserves to be fully examined in Committee, where we can see its possible pitfalls, but also its strengths.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office 12:56 pm, 29th June 2007

I congratulate Andrew Rosindell on introducing this Bill, which has excited much interest and local pride. I have heard him speak twice now on this issue and I know how passionate he is about promoting his constituency, as many of us are about our own constituencies. I pay tribute to him for that.

For the benefit of the House, I wish to clarify that although Ordnance Survey Great Britain and Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland are two distinct organisations, I will refer to them collectively as "Ordnance Survey" during the rest of this debate.

There is no doubt about the importance of historic counties, towns and villages as part of our history and cultural life. I agree that they provide many people with a strong sense of identity and local pride. Indeed, the continued use of traditional county names and areas in tourism, sport, business, literature and the arts, to name but a few examples, bears testament to that. Of course, we should all be proud of where we come from. However, we have difficulty with the detail of the Bill. It is not appropriate or practical to introduce legislation to require either traffic authorities to include historic information on traffic signs or Ordnance Survey to show the same on its current mapping. The Government therefore oppose the Bill.

The Bill is disadvantaged by a number of critical omissions. It is noteworthy that it does not propose a point in time at which to freeze-frame history, to be represented both on current Ordnance Survey mapping and at the roadside. The Bill is further inconvenienced by the fact that the boundaries of areas themselves have changed many times over the centuries, and in many cases now bear little or no resemblance to their original incarnation. That would also present the difficulty of selecting a boundary date that would be acceptable to all.

A further difficulty is that the Bill would require by law the complex differences between the geography of traditional counties and present-day administrative areas to be represented on current Ordnance Survey maps. That sounds good in theory, but in reality it would not be possible to present that amount of information in a clear, unambiguous and meaningful way. But that is just the beginning of the difficulties. The Bill goes beyond proposals advanced in a previous Bill by suggesting that historic town and village boundaries might also be included on the same map, although again without any clues as to a starting date.

It should go without saying that most town and village boundaries have shifted constantly as a direct result of their economic and demographic evolution. In many cases, residents of the same town may have very different understandings of their town boundary, depending on their age. In London, for example, the area covered by the vast metropolis that we see today bears no relation at all to the myriad unconnected towns and villages that have gradually spread and evolved. Long-time Southall residents in their 80s will hardly share the same view of the boundary of Southall as a teenage resident. So whose memory does the Bill intend to satisfy? The boundaries of such areas—some of which appear in the Domesday Book—would be impossible to track through the ages on one map.

Ordnance Survey's products give business, individuals and Government the information they need to make key decisions. Ordnance Survey's primary role is to represent today's world by providing on its mapping current geographic referencing information, including administrative boundaries and the corresponding electoral boundaries. Ordnance Survey mapping has many uses in commercial, public and private life; it is a working tool for industry and an aid to Government—for example, helping local or national government in debates, discussion and decisions about where to site new developments. It is not a decorative feature to frame and hang on the wall. A key point, which I emphasise to the House, is that the emergency services rely on accurate and up to date Ordnance Survey mapping data to reach the scene of an incident in the shortest possible time. I am sure that the hon. Member for Romford would not want to cause them difficulties in that regard.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip (Commons)

I am slightly disappointed to hear that the Government will not let the Bill go into Committee, where some of those points could be examined, but do not the emergency services use postcode information rather than Ordnance Survey maps these days?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

I was trying to point out that the Bill's provisions do not take into account the practicalities of Ordnance Survey mapping, which is not intended for historical purposes; it is a current working tool, which includes use by the emergency services.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

There are some extremely well-researched websites with good sources of information about historic boundaries. The Ordnance Survey, on the other hand, should have a forward-looking approach to its work. We should commend it for that work, which includes engagement with schoolchildren, but ancient boundaries are better covered in the information available on the web.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

I thank my hon. Friend. Sensible as ever, he reminds us of the point that I wanted to emphasise. Although the Bill is well intentioned and worthy, there are difficulties in translating it into practice. To attempt to represent history on one map would be unworkable. As my hon. Friend suggested, people who want to study historic boundaries on Ordnance Survey maps can easily obtain historical mapping at a reasonable cost from the Ordnance Survey's archives, or through its commercial partners.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip (Commons)

Andrew Miller said that we should be looking forward, not back, but if I am correct in thinking that battle sites are marked on Ordnance Survey maps, which surely relates to the historical side of things, is not his argument slightly flawed?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

Historic battle sites—although not current ones—are indeed marked, particularly those in Yorkshire.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

In terms of the history of the Ordnance Survey, can my hon. Friend confirm that it was set up in the early 19th century to provide military maps for the armed forces? It is thus not surprising either that battle sites are indicated, as are ancient tumuli of one sort or another, or that we can see the ancient county boundaries on which the old regiments were founded.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

I bow to my hon. Friend's expertise in this area and thank him for that contribution.

Turning to the requirement that the Bill makes for historic boundaries to be represented on traffic signs, there are only two distinct categories of sign that may lawfully be placed on the roadside: outdoor advertisements and traffic signs. Outdoor advertisements are defined by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as amended, as being solely or partly for the purpose of advertisement, announcement or direction. The placing of those signs is controlled by the local planning authority. Traffic signs, on the other hand, are not subject to local planning controls. They are clearly defined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and their prescribed purpose is simple: they act as

"an object or device (whether fixed or portable) for conveying, to traffic on roads or specified classes of traffic, warnings, information, requirements, restrictions or prohibitions of any description".

Clearly that is about getting people and vehicles around safely and efficiently. Traffic signs have no other lawful purpose.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

Clearly it is important that there should not be confusion and that local authorities should not be overburdened, but, given that the Minister would be able to specify what the traffic signs could be like, is it not worth at least examining the issue properly in Committee?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

Perhaps it would be helpful if I confirmed to the hon. Gentleman that existing regulations already allow the addition of crests, coats of arms and items of geographical or historical interest—perhaps even in the style of "Market Town of Romford", which may please the hon. Member for Romford. Hon. Members should consider the existing regulations before going down another road—if I can use that expression—which might not be helpful.

Traffic signs must either conform to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002, which specify the appearance and meaning of traffic signs, or be especially authorised by the Secretary of State. Decisions on what restrictions should be applied and signed, and where, are a matter for local discretion. Decisions about the placing of information signs at particular locations are the responsibility of the relevant traffic and highway authority. The only specific statutory requirement for local authorities to place traffic signs is that they must provide signs that are adequate to indicate the provisions of their local traffic regulation orders, so that drivers will not unwittingly contravene local traffic regulations and be unfairly penalised for doing so—a concern that hon. Members often raise on behalf of their constituents.

To blur the edges with additional, historic boundary signs would bring the risk of confusing road users, thereby defeating the primary purpose for which the signs are prescribed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who are supporting him will bear that in mind when thinking about how to respond. Traffic signs are not provided for commemorative purposes, nor should they be. They are used to guide and control traffic and to promote road safety. They should be used only where they can usefully serve these functions.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I am most grateful for that definition of the utility of traffic signs, but what is the utility of district council signs that welcome people to some administrative area that does not relate to any historical or cultural entity?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

We are here to discuss the issue of traffic signs, which, together with mapping, is one of the primary aspects of the Bill, so I will confine myself to that subject. The House has often discussed concerns about the proliferation of traffic signs at the roadside, and hon. Members have raised complaints with me about an unavoidable increase in the number of traffic signs on our highways. The proposed legislative changes required by the Bill are in direct conflict with the fundamental need to maintain the delicate balance between minimising sign clutter and providing signs that meet the changing needs of all local authorities on behalf of the people they serve, at a time when there is pressure to meet the ever-increasing demand as more people seek to use the roads.

That brings me on to the most important issue when considering the consequences—no doubt unintended—of the Bill: road safety. Given the shift of boundaries over the centuries, putting in place additional signs to illustrate superseded county, town and village boundaries might be confusing to drivers. It would also contribute yet more towards unfortunate and unnecessary street and sign clutter.

Traffic signs can be distractions in themselves, so we must minimise their number and keep their message short. The information that they convey must be concise and consistent for all road users and presented in a manner that can be assimilated quickly. For example, it is prescribed that a county boundary sign shall contain a maximum of eight words, not including the place name. We also require that direction signs should not show more than five destinations, or six at most, because even six destinations take up to four seconds to read. Clearly, a car driver speeding at the maximum limit of 70 mph should not be distracted any more than is absolutely necessary. Every moment spent reading a traffic sign is a moment spent without the driver's undivided attention on the road ahead. It goes without saying that the potential hazards for other vehicles and people on the road are almost endless.

Let me offer the hon. Member for Romford some comfort. I am sure that he has noted that the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill is continuing its parliamentary passage in another place. The Bill will allow local authorities to change the names of electoral areas following consultation. I hope that he will ensure that his party gives the Bill its full support, because it might help to address the point that he is putting forward on behalf of his constituents.

The hon. Gentleman's Bill is based on sentiment—although I regret having to describe it in such a way. It has been drafted without any consideration of the consequences of what it would achieve. An attempt to represent the plethora of historical county, town and village boundaries in one hit on Ordnance Survey mapping could not be achieved and would only confuse the reader. Further to our discussion about battle sites, let me make it clear that they are shown when they are relevant in a tourism context. There are thus restrictions on the appearance even of battle sites on Ordnance Survey mapping. There would be no benefit in attempting the cartographic feat suggested by the hon. Gentleman, especially given that historical mapping can be obtained easily and at relatively little cost.

Following consultation on the development of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002, we took the decision that only existing boundaries should be marked by traffic signs, not those that have been superseded. I still believe that that was the right decision. Traffic signs should be provided solely for the purposes of road safety and effective traffic management, and should convey clear, concise and consistent information to all road users.

Regrettably, the Bill fails to acknowledge the financial implications for stretched local government budgets of putting in place additional traffic signs. Providing in legislation a requirement for local authorities to place signs indicating the location of what some might regard as obsolete boundaries would be disproportionate and burdensome.

We appreciate and respect the fact that many people, including the hon. Member for Romford, hold their heritage very dear—rightly so. We do not want to take that away from them. However, it is clear that the open road is not the place to conduct a history lesson. I hope that the House will agree that the Bill should be opposed.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons) 1:14 pm, 29th June 2007

I thank the hon. Members who took part in today's debate, which has been useful and interesting. It has highlighted many issues, and it shows that there is common concern about the issue across the parties, and across the country. That is why I am very disappointed by the Minister's conclusion. I think that she may have missed the real point of what I am proposing. It appears that she has concluded that if my Bill became law, there would be many more traffic signs posted all around the country—that there would be more clutter, and greater expense. That is not the intention behind my Bill.

The intention is to ensure that our signs accurately reflect the counties, towns and villages that truly exist. To make a point that was ably emphasised by Mr. Heath, if what I am proposing is unnecessary, surely the signs that currently exist are also unnecessary. I propose that they gradually be replaced over time, when they need to be. There will not be a huge expense at one go, but a gradual evolution from signs that show the name of a council, to signs that show the name of the town. We also want signs that show the name of the county not to be far away from the traditional boundary that most people accept.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's intention. However, the Bill would do something rather different from what he intends: it would impose a requirement on traffic authorities. That is the point that I sought to make.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

I re-emphasise the fact that the change does not need to happen in one go. It can take place gradually over a long period. There is no need to replace every sign overnight with a brand new one. New signs can be erected as and when they are needed. If the Minister visits my borough, the London borough of Havering, as I hope she will, she will see a sign saying "Welcome to Havering" as she enters Romford. Havering is a London borough; it is a construction for administrative purposes. The sign should really say, "Welcome to Romford". It should show the Romford crest, not the borough logo, which holds no meaning or sense of identity for anybody.

The measure is not too complicated. A number of hon. Members have said that the provisions are rather difficult, and that the changes are not easy to make, but I do not accept that. With the political will, and with an understanding of what is needed, the changes can be made very easily over a period of time, and the benefits will be enormous.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

The Minister, and voices from all parts of the House, mentioned the importance of history, and said that the matters before us are important, but expressed concerns about the detail. Does my hon. Friend agree that surely what should happen next is that amendments should be discussed in Committee? Surely there is no real excuse for voting against the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is, of course, absolutely correct. It would be a great pity if the Bill did not go to Committee, where we could properly analyse and look into the points that have been made. The Minister acknowledged that there is merit in much of what I propose. Members of all parties have spoken passionately today, and have highlighted many local anomalies and confusions that have resulted from the current situation. To ignore them and let them continue would be completely irresponsible. We have an opportunity today. Shona McIsaac made an important point; I believe that she is from the same county as the Minister—Lincolnshire, I think.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

Okay. There is confusion across the country, and although I was aware of the confusion in Lincolnshire, Humberside, and Yorkshire, I did not have detailed knowledge of it. However, I do have detailed knowledge of the ridiculous confusions within Essex and London, and of the loss of identity that has resulted from the current situation.

Mr. Heath referred to Lord Heseltine's administrative changes, and said that much of the problem was to do with mistakes made then. He may have a point, but there is cross-party concern about the issue, which we all understand from experience of our locality and the constituencies that we represent. I merely introduced the Bill in the hope that we can make progress and look at the issue properly. Of course, we can make changes in Committee if things prove impractical, as the Minister suggested.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

As I said, I am sympathetic to the Bill's aims. I would be grateful, however, if the hon. Gentleman told the House what assessment he has made of its regulatory impact on local authorities and agencies such as Ordnance Survey. We in Parliament have a duty to look at the regulatory impact of anything that we propose.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Opposition Whip (Commons)

Ordnance Survey is a private company —[ Interruption. ] As far as I am aware, it is an independently operated company, and we have no ultimate power to tell it what to do. At the end of the day, we have to ensure that accuracy is available. At the moment, it is not. Local authorities do one thing, and Ordnance Survey does something else. People have a clear idea about where their identity lies, and that cannot be ignored. The Government, however, appear to have decided that they want to kill the opportunity to take the Bill one stage further and look at it in greater detail—I accept that flexibility is required—so that it is practical, and does not create burdens and expenditure that no one wants.

There is a valid case for the Bill, which is popular and necessary. The British people feel strongly about their identity; we all do, and I certainly do. I hope that we will be given one further chance to look at the matter in greater detail to ensure that the idea is not killed stone dead today. I hope that the Minister understands that unless we address that today, future generations will not have any knowledge of it. All that could be lost, and things would fall into history. Today, we have a chance to restore them and put them back together without undoing the existing system of local government or creating huge extra expenditure or necessarily causing extra signs to be put up—which, as the Minister pointed out, could create clutter and have other implications. I therefore hope that my Bill is allowed to go into Committee. I hope that hon. Members will give it one more chance to go forward, and on that basis I commend it to the House.

C

Ordnance Survey is a government-owned organisation. "Company", well, perhaps, sort of. But "private company"? Very much not. And should not be, nor become.

Submitted by Charles Arthur

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second Time:—

The House divided: Ayes 19, Noes 1.

V

So it seems that many MP's from all parties support this bill and what it stands for, yet somehow government...

Submitted by Vic Annells Continue reading

Division number 168

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than 40 Members having taken part in the Division, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the business under consideration stood over until the next s itting of the House.