§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill to-day, which I do with very great pleasure, I think it would be interesting to the House if I were to give some historical background showing how this problem arose. If in the course of giving historical background I keep rather closely to my notes I am sure the House will forgive me, as I am very anxious to be accurate, and I know there are a number of Welsh Members in the House who will promptly pull me up if my history is wrong. Therefore, I hope I shall be forgiven if I stick closely to my notes and that nobody will be so unkind as to get up and cross-examine me on any of my Welsh history, because I could not stand up to it. I thought it desirable that this Bill should be brought in, and before moving the Second Reading, I proceeded to make what study I could of the circumstances attending the passage of the Henry. VIII Statute of 1536.
By Edward I's Statute of Wales, as long ago as 1284, Wales and its inhabitants had been annexed and united to the English Crown. Although at that time alterations were made in the Welsh laws, the people of Wales still retained their provincial immunities. During the Middle Ages, they had no representation in the House of Commons, with the exception of the two Parliaments of Edward II in 1322 and 1326, to which 46 Members were summoned as representatives of Wales; but the Principality was, in fact, controlled by the Welsh Princes and the Lords Marchers, under whose jurisdiction 1658 Wales was really divided into a number of petty kingdoms where crime and disorder were prevalent in the 16th Century. With the Tudors, who, it must never be forgotten, were themselves of Welsh origin, there came a strong Monarchy, a powerful central Government and a political philosophy which would not accept a State within the State. In Western Europe at that time powerful rulers were consolidating their territories and extinguishing the local liberties of feudal times, which too often meant privilege for the few. In this country order was substituted for the chaos left by the Wars of the Roses. The process started with the accession of Henry VII in 1485. To end the disorder in Wales, the Marcher Lordships were converted into Shires, and Wales was incorporated with England. This was done by Henry VIII's Statute of 1536, which was described as:An Act for law and justice to be administered in Wales in like form as it is in this Realm";and the Preamble to the Statute of Wales of 1536 refers to The King'ssingular zeal, love and favour that he bears towards his subjects of his said dominion of Wales"—this was before the Statute of Westminster—minding and intending to reduce them to the perfect order, notice and knowledge of his laws of this his Realm and utterly to extirpe to all and singular the sinister usages and customs differing from the same and to bring his said subjects of this his Realm and of his said dominion of Wales to an amicable concord and unity.Section I of this Statute of Henry VIII providedthat his said country or dominion of Wales shall be stoned and continue for ever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to and with this his realm of England.It was decided that justice was to be administered according to the laws and customs of England and such other Welsh customs and laws as the King and his Council would allow, and Wales was accorded representation in Parliament. Section (17) of the Statute to which I have referred provided that,Sessions courts, hundred-leets, sheriffs' courts and all other courts shall be proclaimed and kept in the English tongue, and all oaths of officers, juries and inquests and all other affidavits, verdicts and wagers of law shall be given and done in the English tongue, and that henceforth no person or persons that use the 1659 Welsh speech or language shall have or enjoy any manner of office or fees within this realm of England, Wales or other the King's Dominions, upon pain of forfeiting the same offices or fees unless, he or they use and exercise the speech or language of English.That is a fairly sweeping prohibition, and I am glad that last provision is in, for otherwise it might have denied to us the great services of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is himself a very great exponent of the Welsh tongue. And by the way, may I express my very-deep regret that, owing to the illness of my right hon. Friend, he is unable to be with us to-day. He has taken a great interest in the framing of this Bill, as have other hon. Members to whom I will refer later, and I know he would wish to have been here. His good-will and encouragement have been a source of great aid to me, and I confess that I should have been stimulated and bucked up if my right hon. Friend had been able to be here, and to follow me and say, "Bless you, my child." The Statute of 1536 was, I learn, not a gratuitous piece of tyranny on the part of an English parliament. It was an instance of the pursuit of national unity common at that time in Western Europe, and as a matter of fact common in our country at the present time, though not in the same form. Indeed, this purpose of national unity and the unification of the State was set out in the Preamble, which actually reads:Because that in the country, principality and dominion of Wales divers rights usages, laws and customs be far discrepant from the laws and customs of this Realm, and also because the people of the same dominion have and do daily use a speech nothing like nor consonant to the natural mother tongue used within this Realm, some rude and ignorant people have made distinction and diversity between the King's subjects of this Realm and his subjects of the said dominion and principality of Wales whereby great discord, variance, debate, division, murmur and sedition hath grown between his said subjects.That was the problem as it was seen at that time, and I understand that historians generally approve the assimilation of England and Wales for the peace and order which resulted. The Tudors, however, suffered from the mistakes of their age, and one was the belief that before we can have national unity we must have national uniformity. We know to-day that such nationalism can have disastrous consequences, as indeed we are seeing 1660 on the Continent of Europe at this time. That, however, did not prevent the Welsh from keeping alive their national heritage. I for one am all in favour of that national spirit which is characteristic of Wales, and, let me add for greater security, is characteristic of Scotland as well; a national spirit which takes pride in the traditions, the history and the customs of the country; takes pride, if one may say it, in the differences in the way of life and outlook and temperament of the people of one part of this Kingdom from another; but which, despite its pride in its national characteristics and its national tradition, has no spirit of spite or enmity towards the others of this Kingdom.
That is a patriotism which is not a menace to the well-being of mankind; it is a patriotism which adds to the fineness of mankind by adding to the variety and the differences of outlook and temperament of different peoples. Therefore, I am, as I have said, all in favour of that national spirit which takes pride in its individuality, in its culture, in its literature, but which is not so exclusive and intolerant as to require the repression of all other forms of language, literature, and culture. One of the most vital and striking instances of that national spirit is, I venture to suggest, to be found in Wales. Moreover, as I had occasion to say lately, speaking in my other capacity as Minister of Home Security, Wales has a fine public spirit, a fine sense of public and civic service, and I, at any rate, was not surprised to find that notwithstanding the great economic troubles of Wales, the great industrial depression before the war among those areas with the highest proportion of part-time, unpaid Civil Defence workers, Wales occupies one of the highest places in the country. That is a great testimony to the public spirit of the Welsh people.
I have given the House some indication of the historical background of the situation which was complained of, and I think rightly complained of, by hon. Members from Wales. For some years there has been a considerable public feeling concerning this Statute of Henry VIII. Although its legal validity is a matter of some doubt and argument, nevertheless it was felt by the Welsh people that, as long as it was there, it was in a sense a reflection upon, an insult to, and a limitation upon the freedom of, 1661 our Welsh fellow-countrymen. In October last year a petition signed by nearly 400,000 residents of Wales was presented to Parliament for the repeal of Section 17 of the Statute and the placing of the Welsh language on an equality with English in the courts in Wales. My hon. Friends who represent Welsh constituencies will recall that in August, 1938, the status of the Welsh language in the courts in Wales was discussed at a National Conference at Cardiff during the sessions of the National Eisteddfod. From the Conference originated the petition to which I have referred. It is based on the view that Section 17 of the Act of 1536 prohibits the giving of evidence in Welsh. Whether that is the effect of the Statute is doubtful, and the House will see that the Bill is for the purpose of removing any such doubt as may exist. It may be that the Section means no more than that English shall be established as the official language of the courts and that the records of the courts shall be kept in English. In any case, my hon. Friends will also be aware that it is the common practice of the courts to allow a witness to give evidence in Welsh, if he can satisfy the court that although he may have a knowledge of English, Welsh is the tongue in which he naturally thinks and speaks and that he would be at a disadvantage if required to speak in English.
It is the case that for many years past, the Lord Chancellor's Department has facilitated the conduct of business in county courts in Wales by appointing judges and registrars familiar with the Welsh language. In the summary courts, many of the magistrates are, themselves, Welsh-speaking, and it is the common practice for the police to provide Welsh interpreters wherever necessary. In assize courts and courts of quarter session interpreters are also provided. In practice, therefore, much has already been done to prevent any risk that Welsh-speaking litigants or witnesses might be subject to disadvantages in the courts of law. The use of Welsh in the courts however, is as the law now stands, a matter not of right, but for the discretion of the judge or chairman, and despite the facilities which in practice are afforded in the courts and make the statutory provision, in effect, a dead letter, the retention on the Statute Book of the Statute of Henry VIII is undoubtedly offensive to Welsh 1662 national sentiment, and therefore we think it should be removed.
Accordingly, Clause 1 provides that Section 17 of the Act of 1536 shall be repealed. It also declares that the Welsh language may be used in any court by any party or witness who considers that he would otherwise be at a disadvantage by reason of his natural language of communication being Welsh. I understand that the number of monoglot Welshmen is comparatively small, but the number of English-speaking Welsh who think in Welsh and feel more at ease speaking Welsh is larger. I put it to hon. Members who like myself do not speak Welsh but who have tried—some have succeeded though I have not—to acquire a foreign language, that the real barrier, as I myself found even as far as I got with French, is In getting to the point of ceasing to think in English and beginning to think in the other language. I can understand therefore that Welshmen who speak English quite well and intelligently but whose minds are nevertheless working in Welsh and who consequently, in giving evidence before the courts and particularly when under cross-examination, would be at a disadvantage if compelled to speak English. We considered whether to confer upon the courts, in order to remove any doubts, an absolute discretion to grant the use of the Welsh language, but the more I considered it, the more I came to the conclusion that the only thing was to come absolutely clean and give the party before the court the absolute right of speaking in the Welsh language, if he thought that he would be at a disadvantage otherwise. That has been provided for in the Bill. We have asserted the right of persons who normally think and speak in Welsh, whether or not they understand and speak English, to use the Welsh language in the Welsh courts of law.
To complete the picture which I have drawn I must refer to Clause 3 (2). We have to make provision for those with little or no Welsh, that is to say, those who prefer English or who must speak in English. This we do in Clause 3 (2), under which any part of the proceedings rendered in Welsh must be translated unless the court is satisfied that such translation is not necessary for securing the due and proper public administration of justice; Where, as is frequently the case the Court, the parties and witnesses are all 1663 conversant with Welsh, then the proceedings will not need to be translated into English. The records of the courts will, as a matter of convenience, be kept in English, for they may be required at a later stage on appeal. Clause 2 provides for the administration in the courts of oaths and affirmations in the Welsh language. We thought the best way to meet this point was that they should be in a form to be prescribed by the Lord Chancellor. Such oaths or affirmations shall, without interpretation in the courts, be as legally effective as if they were in English.
There is another Clause which deals with interpretation. I have put this in partly because of a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Hughes) in a Question concerning a case in which a court awarded costs against a party to certain proceedings. These were partly general costs, but there was an added element for the costs of interpretation. I think it would be quite wrong that any Welsh person should be involved in any financial disability as the result of speaking Welsh, and interpretation consequently being required, and therefore we have made provision whereby the cost of interpreters will be met from local or public funds, so there will be no further difficulties such as that to which my attention was called by the hon. Member for Carmarthen.
I should like to pay a tribute to those who have given us great assistance. This is a matter which affects not only the Home Office but the Lord Chancellor's Department, and I should like to say how close and helpful has been my cooperation with the Lord Chancellor in all the discussions which have taken place since this issue was raised this year. Indeed, if the Lord Chancellor had not been willing to march the same road, I should have been in difficulties. I should like to express my thanks for the cordial help which the Lord Chancellor, out of his great legal knowledge, has given me in the framing of the Bill. I should also like to pay my tribute to the Welsh Members. There is a Committee of the Welsh Parliamentary Party over which the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) presides and of which my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly 1664 (Mr. J. Griffiths) is now the Secretary and of which the Secretary in the earlier days of this discussion was the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John). All the Welsh Members have given us very great help, counsel and advice, which counsel and advice have been of the most clear-cut and unhesitating order. The Lord Chancellor and I have met them from time to time. We told them we were sympathetic about the matter but that obviously we could only bring in a Bill if there was the general assent of the Welsh Members. Once we had settled the principles of the Bill, the Welsh Members have been very co-operative, and the position is that the Bill has their unanimous assent and approval. It was conveyed to me not only by the Members to whom I have referred, but I had the great pleasure of hearing it from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who is very keen about this and whom we all admire and respect as a great and outstanding representative of the Principality. I thank all these colleagues for the great help they have given us.
I move the Second Reading at a time when nationalism of a spiteful, destructive and disastrous order is spreading misery and destruction over the Continent of Europe and, so far as it can, elsewhere. It is perhaps characteristic of the extraordinary generous-mindedness of the British House of Commons that the Government should feel that, in asking for this Bill in the midst of a great war, the House of Commons will not scorn us but will welcome our action. Perhaps it distinguishes the mind and temper of this great country from the mind and temper of Nazi Germany and its associates at present. It is a good thing that this should be done. It is right to condemn the excesses of nationalism. The excesses of nationalism are a great curse to humanity and to the world. The best way to prevent these excesses is always to be forthcoming in removing grievances which people reasonably feel in accordance with their national spirit. We believe, and the Government believe, that the Welsh protest against the state of the law as it is is right, and that it is fair and just that that injustice should be removed. It is therefore with very great pleasure— and I feel it a great privilege—that I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill with unanimity and warmth of heart.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I can say on behalf of all members of Parliament from Wales, of all parties and no party, that we welcome the Bill, we are very grateful to the Government for introducing it, and we are very thankful to the right hon. Gentleman and the Lord Chancellor for the sympathetic interest that they have taken in the matter and for their rapidity of action. It has been asked, Why introduce a Bill of this character in time of war? We are fighting this war amongst other things for the suppression of injustices. It is well therefore to have a clean slate at our own door. Wales has had a grievance in this matter for a very long time. I am very glad that the Government have recognised that there is a real, live Welsh language in this country. It is not long since we had in the House the President of the Board of Education who gave a very enlightened view as to the position that the Welsh language holds and should hold in Wales, and will hold in the future, and we are grateful for this further recognition. After all, the language is one of immense antiquity. George Borrow, who was an authority because he spoke nine or ten languages and had a very profound knowledge of them, said that Welsh was one of the most ancient languages in the world, one of the purest, and one with a richer vocabulary than almost any language, and was even the parent of the Greek language and purer than Greek. It was spoken in this Island hundreds, it may be thousands of years before the Normans and Saxons ever came here so that after all it is a very belated recognition that we are giving to-day in this Measure. We are only giving to Wales what is given to-day to the Gaelic language in Scotland. There is no comparison whatever between the hold which Gaelic and Welsh retain in their respective countries. When I came to the House 13 years ago, when I was more impressionable than I am now, I was amused at frequent paragraphs in the London Press which in referring to an hon. member—a right hon. member-stated that he was able to speak Gaelic. Such a paragraph about a Welsh Member in Wales would be meaningless. There might have been some meaning in it if it said that he did not know the Welsh language.
Out of 36 Members of Parliament for Wales 23 speak the Welsh tongue and not 1666 as a foreign language either. It is the language with which they have been brought up and the language in which they think. Many of my hon. Friends no doubt say their prayers in the Welsh language. I am glad that reference has been made by the Home Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I am sure that he would have been here to-day if he could, with the interest he takes in Wales after his distinguished record of half a century of service to the Principality. In the course of those years he has addressed hundreds of meetings entirely in the Welsh language. Some of the Members from Wales would not be here at all if they did not speak the Welsh language, for they could not have won their seats otherwise. Is there any constituency in Scotland or Ireland about which such a thing could be said? That is proof in itself of the extent to which the Welsh language is used. Wales is taking as full a share in the war as any other part of the British Isles. It knows it is fighting in this world war for world freedom, and the rights of small nationalities.
I am glad that Section 17 in the old Act of Henry VIII has been repealed. Many people say it is moribund already from desuetude. Let us then give it a final burial. We can regard this as its funeral to-day, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary seemed to enjoy himself a good deal in burying it. I had intended to make; the quotation which the Home Secretary read, and I will not repeat it except to emphasise that Henry VIII, in the first clause to his Caput 26, used words which to-day sound melancholy reading. This Welsh Tudor King says, after referring to his desire to "achieve concord and amity amongst his Welsh people," that he apparently intended to secure it byminding and intending to reduce them to the perfect order, notice and knowledge of the laws of his realm and utterly to extirp all and singular the sinister usages and customs differing from the same.
§ Dim rhyfedd man cynhebrwng sŷch iawn gaiff y corph yma yng'hymru heddyw.
§ I have just said in more picturesque language than I could use in English that the burial of this section in Wales will have no tears accompanying it. It is a dry skeleton that Wales will be glad to see buried and forgotten.1667
§ Clause I is the kernal and pivot of the whole Bill. The Bill does not give Wales all that it asked in that remarkable petition signed by 365,000 people which was presented to Parliament. We could not expect a Bill of this character to do so. It is limited in its scope, but it is in the right direction. It is a definite advance. It is a milestone. That petition was signed not only by Welsh people but by a large number of English people as well. That is a testimony to the fair-mindedness of the English nation. Many English people in Wales felt that the position of the Welsh language in the Welsh courts was unfair. We shall have to observe the operation of this Bill from day to day in practice, and if in the course of its application it is found that further provisions and amendments are required, it will be for this Government or some future Government to show more clearly and unequivocally still if necessary that the Welsh language must have absolute equality in Wales with the English language. The provisions of this Bill will help Wales considerably in that direction.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans (University of Wales)
Like my hon. Friend, who has worked very hard and successfully in this matter, I should like to extend a cordial welcome to this Bill. The difficulties of the Welsh people in exercising the elementary right of seeking access to the courts have been brought before the House on many occasions. I find that the matter was raised in 1872 by the late Mr. Osborn Morgan, a highly respected Welsh Member, and in 1892 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I have been asked to say how very much we regret his inability to be present to-day to extend a welcome to the Bill. Every Welsh Member is grateful to the Home Secretary for the acknowledgment he made to the great interest my right hon. Friend has taken in this matter. More recently my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) introduced a Bill similar to that which we are discussing, but unfortunately it had the fate of many other well-intentioned contributions to the legal literature of this country. Many committees and public authorities in Wales and a large number of private individuals have been pressing for this reform for a long time. Our difficulty was to make an effective 1668 approach to those in high places. Ultimately we reached the Lord Chancellor, who immediately appreciated the importance of the position and expressed sympathy and agreement with our suggestions. He in consultation with the Home Secretary set to work and Welsh Members are grateful to both of them for preparing this Bill. Like my hon. Friend, I welcome this Bill as a recognition of our rights as a distinctive nationality, but I do not wish to pursue that topic and will pass to another aspect of the matter.
There has been a tendency in references to this Bill to suggest that it is nothing but a recognition of a Welsh right and is of little practical importance. What I would emphasise is that it is of great practical importance. It is not only the monoglot Welshman who is under a handicap. For him an interpreter is provided, although in such a case there has been hardship, because often the cost of the interpreter has been put on the parties, as a rule the unsuccessful parties, to the proceedings. That was not fair, and that has now been put right. But the greater difficulty arises in the cases of the very much larger number of people who are able to carry on a short conversation in English on ordinary day-to-day matters, but who find themselves in great difficulty when they have to express themselves in English on more serious and important matters, and particularly when they are facing the ordeal of being in the witness-box on oath before a judge, and possibly a jury, and in the presence of the public. I can speak from experience of the many people whom I have seen faced with this embarrassment, from which they have suffered.
It is a natural and, within limits, a very proper desire on the part of the president of any court to conduct the proceedings as expeditiously as possible, but what happens is this: A man goes into the witness-box and answers quite easily the preliminary questions as to his name, his place of residence and his occupation. When he asks later for an interpreter the tendency has been for the president of the court to say to him, "You speak English very well, as well as I do; carry on as best you can. Do your best." That is not fair. It has created a great deal of practical hardship, and I am very glad that this Bill makes it clear that such a person is entitled in future to give 1669 evidence in Welsh. It is a very difficult thing to think in Welsh and to convey your thoughts in English, particularly when you are doing it under the stress of being a party to an action or a witness in a court of law. Therefore, I cordially welcome this Bill from the practical point of view as well as from the point of view of its recognition of our Welsh nationality. I am sure that it will do a lot not only to remove an ancient injustice but also to promote the more effective administration of justice in Wales and enhance the prestige of the courts.
§ Mr. Lewis Jones (Swansea, West)
This is really a red letter day for Wales, and I wish to join with other hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Principality in thanking the Government not only for providing the Bill but for giving facilities for it to go through Parliament in the shortest possible time. I would say to the Home Secretary how very grateful the Welsh people are for all that he has done in this matter. I was particularly glad to hear his testimony, and that of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans), to the interest which the Lord Chancellor has shown in this Measure. I have had opportunities of discussing this problem with the Lord Chancellor on many occasions during the last few years, and I know how keen he has been to see this Measure introduced, and I am proud to think it was left to a Welsh Lord Chancellor to play his part in this connection. I should like to emphasise what the hon. Member for the University of Wales said a moment ago about the man who thinks in Welsh. I know that it can be argued that a Welshman has always had the opportunity, or could demand the right, to give evidence in Welsh in a court of law, but it has always been left to the presiding officer in the court to decide whether that Welshman had made out his case for giving his evidence in his native language. The great feature of this Bill is the provision which gives to the Welshman himself an inalienable right to choose the language in which he shall give his evidence. That is of vital importance.
I think of the case of my own father. He was a prolific reader. He read Welsh philosophy and Welsh theological books, and always had by his side a Welsh and English dictionary for translation purposes. He had a very fine English 1670 vocabulary, speaking the most perfect and grammatical English, but I think I can honestly say of my father that quite 98 per cent. of his speaking and writing was done in the Welsh language. His letters to me were in Welsh, he always talked to us in Welsh, his talks in his chapel and elsewhere were always in Welsh. If my father had gone into a court of law and had been asked questions in English by the judge my father would have been able to answer in perfect English, but I am confident that had he gone into the witness-box and been put under cross-examination he would have made a hopeless mess of things, for the simple reason that at all times he was thinking in Welsh. Therefore, when I think of men like my own father I want to thank the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor for the part they have played in making it possible now for Welsh people in Wales to give their evidence in a court of law in their own language. I think the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) mentioned this earlier, but I am told that so much enthusiasm has been created by the introduction of this Bill that it will give an impetus to the demand for the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales, and some of the Welsh Members who do not speak Welsh are already, I am told, hastening to study the Welsh language, because they rather fear that as a result of this Bill there may be a demand that Welsh Members should be bilingual.
I would utter one word of warning. I hope that my fellow countrymen will use this power that has been given to them wisely. I hope that it will not result in delays in the hearing of cases and in the administration of justice, and that Welsh people will show the British Parliament and the British people that we can make use of this new right to our considerable advantage and in the interests of justice. Somehow or other I feel that the Welsh people will be anxious to use this new power wisely in the hope of being able to get something more from Parliament later. So many Welsh Members of Parliament would like to say something about this Bill that I will not detain the House longer; I think we are setting a wise example in being as brief as possible, and I will conclude by joining with my colleagues in expressing our thanks for the facilities which have been given for passing the Bill.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I congratulate and thank the Home Secretary and, through him, the Government, for bringing forward this Bill. This year will be a memorable one in the history of Wales, just as 1536 was also a memorable one in another sense. It would be almost ungracious of me if I were to express the wish that this Bill might have been introduced, not by the Home Secretary, but by a Secretary of State for Wales, a Bill in respect of which has been presented by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) and myself, but which, unfortunately, met the same fate as the other effort we made to get the present Bill passed before to-day. I suggest the, possibility also of this Bill having been introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister. The Preamble to the Statute of Wales took away from Wales the right to have its records kept in the Welsh language, but in that very Act Wales was described as a dominion. It might therefore have been possible for the Deputy Prime Minister to take advantage of his position and to introduce the Bill. However, we are grateful to the Government and in particular to the Home Secretary, who has been most understanding and sympathetic, I would pay a tribute also to the Lord Chancellor. So far as I am aware, he is the first Lord Chancellor since the days of Charles II to have a Welsh-speaking father. It may be that that is the reason why, for the first time, the occupant of the Woolsack has been sympathetic towards us.
I would refer to another matter. It has taken us from 1536 to 1942 to get this stigma removed from the Statute Book. I would remind those who are unfortunately monoglot that it took them almost as long to remove a similar stigma. It took longer to remove the requirement that the records should not be kept in English. It may not be known to the House that the records of the English courts had to be kept in Latin until 1731, when a Statute was passed through this House and the other place in the reign of George II. What is more, for some hundreds of years after 1066 the language of the courts, the pleadings and the evidence were all in French, and they so remained until 1362. When people think that some special privilege is being granted to us Welsh people they should remember that 1672 they themselves had to pass through a struggle somewhat similar to ours.
I do not want to go deeply into history. I want to emphasise, however, that the purpose of a court is to administer justice and that justice can be administered only after the proper ascertainment of the facts. In order to ascertain those facts, verbal evidence is taken, and in order therefore to ascertain the facts correctly and properly, that evidence should be given precisely. It is difficult for anyone to express a precise meaning in a language which is not natural to him. There are shades of meaning which it is difficult for a person to convey in a language which he has acquired, and that is the reason we have been so anxious that our proceedings should be conducted in the language understood by the witnesses and the parties concerned. Welsh is the language of the home and of everyday life among them but suddenly they may have to appear in a court, where they are asked to convey their thoughts in another language. For these reasons I join with my colleagues in welcoming the Bill, which will bring a high degree of satisfaction throughout the Principality.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
As a Member representing a Welsh constituency, I have been asked to speak for the party with which I am associated and to convey our tribute to the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary, as well as to the House of Commons, for permitting us to give this Bill a unanimous Second Reading, as I am sure we shall. There are two reasons why I welcome the Bill. It is of practical value. I would like to add a word or two from my own experience to show how valuable the Bill will be in the practice and administration of justice in the courts in Wales. I was privileged for 10 years to be a miners' agent in the most Welsh part of the Welsh coalfield, the anthracite coalfield, and part of my work was to handle disputes. I have negotiated almost as many settlements in Welsh as in English, and oftentimes it was easier to settle in Welsh than in English. We had occasion to go to the courts on compensation cases. I wish to pay tribute to the judges of the county courts in Wales. They always recognised very fully, and have sought at all times to ensure, that parties in the courts should get the fullest opportunity of testifying in Welsh. From my experience in those county courts I 1673 realise how very important it is that, say, a Welsh-speaking woman who, has to appear in a court in Wales, shall have the right to testify in the Welsh language.
Take cases connected with collieries. In the area from which I come, as well as from other areas, Welsh is not only the language of the home but the language of the work. It is the language of the pit and of the tinplate works. The technical terms are in Welsh. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, who is present, knows how very important it is in all cases connected with collieries to use everyday language to describe the work of the pit. In this area, all that is done in Welsh. Unless these men are allowed to testify in their own language I have always felt they could not do themselves justice. In the past the right to speak their own language has been denied them. It has been admitted in practice but denied as a right. Men are often reluctant to ask for something given as a favour whereas they will claim it if it becomes a right. I therefore welcome the Bill, because it has that practical use to large numbers of people. Hon. Members who do not sit for Welsh constituencies should realise that Welsh is not a museum language. It is the language of everyday life, of the home, the pit and the village. It is the language of the community, which thousands of people use every day. Therefore to deny its use in the courts means that those people cannot get the justice to which they are entitled.
There is a symbolic value about this proposal. It is the recognition of a nation. To recognise a nation is to recognise its language. If there is anything distinctive of a nation, it is its language. Therefore I accept and welcome the Bill because it recognises the Welsh nation and the right to use that language in its own country. In his very delightful historical survey, which we very much enjoyed and will be as much enjoyed in Wales as elsewhere, the Home Secretary referred to the Welsh Tudor Kings and to Henry VIII and his professed love for our nation—he had a very curious way of expressing that love, I must say. Anyhow, we have wiped out that stigma now. We are recognising the Welsh nation.
At the end of his speech the Home Secretary said very wise words which I hope we shall all ponder. There are two kinds of nationalism. As he said, we see 1674 one kind of nationalism in Europe to-day, a nationalism that becomes a hatred of others, and which embitters, corrodes, destroys. That is a nationalism we want to put down, but the way to prevent a nationalism of that kind arising is to recognise and to encourage the other kind of nationalism. Very often it is because the real, true, natural, instinctive national aspirations and needs are not recognised that the other kind of nationalism grows at all. I wish to say one word about Wales in this connection. The Welsh language is thriving to-day more than for generations back. There is a real, live, vital, living literature; more people write it and more books are read in Welsh. There is an extraordinarily thriving Welsh Book Club. The Welsh language has a bigger part in the life of Wales than it has had for several generations past. Arising from that and accompanying it are a feeling of national pride and consciousness of nation and the desire that it shall be recognised more.
I welcome this Bill because of its symbolic value, because it recognises the nationality of Wales by recognising its language. I am sure that in the days to come proposals will be made and other demands may be made upon the Government to recognise in other spheres and walks of life the needs and rights of Wales, I desire to see the nationalism of my country develop into the right kind of nationalism, a love of soil which does not become hatred of anyone else, a love of community which can co-operate with anyone else. I want my people through so developing to make their common contribution to the welfare of mankind. If they are to do that, I think we are doing wisely in recognising and giving a place to the language of Wales. I hope we shall give that recognition in other spheres of public life in Wales also and prevent nationalism from becoming embittered and soured, and so that it may be a nationalism that will enable Wales to contribute her best to the common store of mankind.
§ Colonel Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)
As the representative of the Conservative Party on the Committee of the Welsh Parliamentary Party to which the Home Secretary has referred in his delightful speech, I would like to associate myself with the sentiments which have been expressed by my colleagues of the Welsh 1675 Parliamentary Party of all political parties which go to make up that organisation. In fact, the Home Secretary not only gave a most interesting historical review, but indeed one might use the language of previous Measures which have come before this House in days gone by and congratulate him on "the zeal, love and favour" which his Majesty's Government have shown towards the Principality by the introduction of this overdue measure of elementary justice.
We realise, of course, that this is not the first time that the Parliamentary representatives of the Principality have endeavoured to persuade the Government of the day to take practical action in this matter. I well remember when I entered this House for the first time, 20 years ago this month, hearing rumours then of a Measure which was to be presented. But nothing came of it. It is interesting to observe that it was only as a result of 365,000 people from the Principality, petitioning this House, a petition which received the unanimous support of the 36 Members of Parliament of Wales and Monmouthshire who make up the Welsh Parliamentary Party, that His Majesty's Government saw fit to pay attention to our request. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, the Lord Chancellor was the first of His Majesty's Ministers to give us that official encouragement which we required to pursue the matter further. At a later stage in the proceedings of the Committee we came in contact with the Home Secretary and his legal advisers. There again we met with that sympathetic encouragement of which we are all so conscious to-day.
I think we are entitled to say that this is an illustration of the valuable results which can be achieved by Members of all political parties when they get together as a Council of State, sink their political prejudices and go forward together with a single purpose in the national interest. It is not the first time during the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) that results have been achieved in this way. We have evidence in the setting-up of the Welsh Advisory Council, and I hope too that in view of the sympathetic encouragement which has been afforded to us by the Government in this Measure, it will be the forerunner of a practical 1676 recognition of the claims of the Principality for adequate representation in the Cabinet of the Government of the day. In the past Members of Parliament for Wales and Monmouthshire have had a right to complain that not only the Government of the day but indeed the party caucuses have been rather apt to regard the Principality as a political area and not as a nation. But, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), Wales is a nation of 3½ millions, a live nation with national ambitions and aspirations. For that reason I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary drew attention to the fact that in days gone by, we were regarded as a Dominion. I doubt frankly whether any Welshman to-day wishes Wales to be regarded as a Dominion, but we do wish at the earliest opportunity to see that Welsh problems and Welsh affairs are in a position to receive the attention of a Member of the Cabinet particularly appointed for that sole purpose, and follow the excellent example set by the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary.
To-day it was suggested, I think by the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Lewis Jones), that there might be a tendency for some Welsh-speaking people to abuse the privilege granted by the passage of this Bill and demand that their case be heard in Welsh, quite unnecessarily, in order to delay the proceedings of the court. I cannot believe that will happen, because it would be an act of lunacy on the part of the person concerned, whether it was a trivial or a major offence, to annoy the court in that unnecessary way as he would, of course, only be prejudicing the court against him.
I would like to associate myself with the regret which has been expressed by Members of all parties at the unavoidable absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and to say how disappointed we all are that on this historic occasion, when a further step has been taken towards that practical freedom which Wales has a right to enjoy, my right hon. Friend, the Father of the House and the most famous of modern Welshmen, is unable to be here to share our joy. Perhaps I might be permitted to ask the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) to convey to her right hon. 1677 Friend the feelings of all Welsh Members of Parliament in this regard. I would only say, in conclusion, with what pride and pleasure I join with the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary, and my Welsh Parliamentary colleagues of all political parties in crying "Cymru am Byth."
§ Major Owen (Carnarvon)
For 19 years I have had the honour to represent in this House one of the most Welsh constituencies in spirit in the whole of Wales. During that period, with other Members, I have never allowed an opportunity to pass of drawing the attention of the Government of the day to the necessity of recognising the Welsh language and giving it its proper place in the administration of Wales. I do not want to enter into any recriminations, but on many of those occasions our pleas were received with derision, if not with contempt. It is with all the greater pleasure that I welcome this change of attitude, not merely of the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor but of the Government. I hope that that change will have permeated into the minds of the permanent officials of Government Departments. I represent, as I have said, one of the most Welsh constituencies in Wales. During election campaigns, at which I have addressed 100 or more meetings, I have rarely made a speech in English. That is not because the people of Carnarvonshire do not speak English as well as Welsh, but because English is not the language in which they think and live: it is not for them the language of the hearth, nor is it the language of the heart. For that reason I have always wanted to see the Welsh language properly recognised, not as a favour, but as the right of a nation distinct in itself.
The Welsh language and the Welsh nation have gone through many vicissitudes. We had the Roman occupation; we had the invasions of the Jutes, the Angles, the Saxons, the Danes and the Normans. All through that period, in spite of the inhibitions placed on the Welsh language, it has survived, and today it is more alive, more virile than ever, more than ever the expression of the will, the aspirations, the traditions, and the hopes of the Welsh people. When Henry II returned from his victorious conquest of Ireland, he landed on the shores of Wales, and at Pencader he came across an old Welshman, whom he rather chided 1678 about Wales and its language. I would like the House to listen to what the old Welshman said in reply, and how true a prophecy it has turned out to be:This nation, O King, may often be weakened, and in great part destroyed, by the power of yourself and others, but many a time, as it deserves, it will rise triumphant, but never will it be wholly destroyed by the wrath of man unless the wrath of God be added. Nor do I think that any other nation than this of Wales, or any other tongue, whatever may hereafter come to pass, shall on the day of reckoning before the Most High Judge answer for this corner of the earth.I have always been proud that the Welsh nation, though small in number, though not endowed with great wealth, though not endowed with great armaments or anything of that kind, has played its part as a partner in the commonwealth of nations which makes up the United Kingdom. I look upon the nations of these islands as an example to the rest of humanity. Here for centuries the English, the Scots, and the Welsh have lived together in amity, have worked together in co-operation. But there was always one weak link in that combination. It was a tendency by the senior partner, if we may call it so, to disregard what is essential for the Welsh nation in order that it may realise that it is a partner in the true sense in that combination. It was a lack of recognition of the language which has survived through all these tribulations. I trust that this country, with all sections of it combining together, will now prove to the world that it is possible for separate nations to live in amity together as one family.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
I would like to add my tribute of thanks to the Home Secretary and to the Lord Chancellor, as has already been indicated, for the great interest and courage that they have shown in this matter. Colleagues of mine have already referred to the fact that they have attempted to remove this great deterrent to justice, but they have not succeeded until to-day. It is important, when we are talking at large about the principles of the Atlantic Charter and things of that kind, that we should really be able, in concrete instances, to apply those principles to countries like India one week and Wales another. I am certain that Wales will be delighted with what is happening on the Floor of the House of Commons today.
1679 I was particularly interested in the historical incursions indulged in by the Home Secretary. It was very illuminating, and I think he was quite right to go back to the Act with which we are dealing to-day in order that we might secure something of the background. I would like to remind the House, as the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) reminded it, that we are dealing today with the oldest of the Dominions that have been associated a long time with this House of Commons, with the Imperial Crown, as it is mentioned in the Act, and it is an act of justice that is being done to a very old Ally that has been associated for many centuries with this country. It is obvious, if we read the Act, that the intention was that, despite the Welsh-speaking on the part of certain people in Wales, they were not to suffer any disability on that account. The Act refers to the fact that there is a considerable amount of Welsh-speaking in Wales, but it notes it in this way:That all and singular persons born in the said Principality shall have, enjoy and inherit all and singular freedoms, liberties, rights, privileges and laws within this realm.The intention of the Act was quite clear, that despite the fact that many of them spoke a tongue other than English, they should not thereby suffer any legal disability. Unfortunately they did not realise that the introduction of the Clause to which reference has been made to-day in the course of time did lead to a particular disability being felt by certain Welshmen, and so we are at last removing that disability.
I would like to point out too how long and intimate the connection between Wales and this country has been. Our reading of history from this point of view is very frequently incorrect. For example, I was very interested to find, I presume it is true to say, that the most distinctive Anglo-Saxon governmental institution was the Witenagemot, the meeting of the wise men of the nation and the realm, and, as the order goes, everything that was enacted was enacted with the counsel and the teaching of the Witenagemot. This was the usual formula in old Anglo-Saxon Acts of Parliament. I was interested to find that in the Witenagemot that was held as early as the year 931 there were two Welsh princes present. It was not a great assembly. It 1680 consisted of about 100 members. The two archbishops and the two Welsh princes are mentioned and, if I remember rightly, 17 bishops. In the year 934 there were four Welsh kings present at the Witenagemot. It is important that we should remember when we are discussing these questions the very intimate part that Wales has played in building up the British Constitution, and when we come to the struggle for constitutional reform, there is no doubt at all about the very active and prominent part that was taken by the Welsh Prince Llewellyn the Great. There are two Clauses in the Great Charter which refer specifically to the services that he had rendered in that respect, and to the fact that he was entitled to justice as well as the Welsh-speaking people.
The conquest of Wales in 1282, to which the Home Secretary referred, really made very little difference to the legal position of the majority of Welsh people. It is important that we should remember, when we speak of the Principality in those days, that it included only three counties— Anglesey, Carnarvon and Merioneth. That was the Principality and the Statute of Rhudlan, which dealt with the newly conquered, probably dealt merely with that part of Wales. The rest of Wales was entirely outside the scope of the Statute of Rhudlan, and even in the case of the Statute of Rhudlan Edward I was sufficient of a statesman to recognise that certain practices and customs of longstanding in Wales should be continued, and they are incorporated in that Act. But outside that, I would point out to the House, Welshmen did enjoy their own customs and practices and had the right to carry on their own legislation. If we turn to the history of the period with which we are dealing to-day—the history of the reign of Henry VIII—a very quaint history of that reign was written by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and he made this very interesting remark:As the Kings of England heretofore had many times brought armies to conquer that country, Wales, defended both by mountains and stout people, without yet reducing them to a final and entire obedience, so they resolved at last to give all that could be gained there to those who would attempt it.That is the beginning of the Lord Marchers having failed to conquer Wales, and it is important that we should remember these historical facts because they have a bearing upon the particular Act we are discussing. 1681 They gave it over practically to the Lord Marchers to take what they could and to keep it, with this result in the marchers. As the learned Attorney-General well knows, the English law did not run. It had no effect at all. Every Lord Marcher did what was right in his own eyes, and the reason why Henry was particularly anxious to assimilate Wales to England was not because of the riots and the murders that were taking place in Wales, but because he was unable to deal with these Lord Marchers and consequently he introduced an Act to relate and to connect more securely what he called the Dominion of Wales with England, particularly with various shires in England and with shires in Wales too, in order, as I have indicated already, that he might put down what was happening not in Wales itself but in the marshes. This is what he says:And for as much as there will be many and diverse Lordships Marchers within said country, and being no parcels of any other shires where the laws and due correction is effected. … and within and among the said lordships' manifold and divers detestable murders, burning of houses, robbers, thefts, routs, riots and unlawful assemblies. … it be enacted that divers of the said lordships marchers shall be joined to divers of the shires of England and several to divers shires of Wales.That was the object. I think that sometimes we forget the object we had in view. It was to get law and order instituted, particularly on the Borders of Wales. It was to establish peace and good government in Wales, particularly on the Border. It was the intention of the Act that Welshmen should share to the full in the benefits of the peace that it was expected would ensue, but by a chapter of accidents, as we have seen, it so happened that it led to certain disabilities being placed upon certain Welshmen. I am glad, indeed, that the House of Commons, after hundreds of years, has at last seen in its wisdom that it ought to remove this disability.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)
I, also, would like in a few words to express my appreciation of the action of the Government in introducing this Bill and the gratitude of the Welsh people for whom I can speak at the fact that the House of Commons is prepared to welcome it. It is, indeed, a practical Measure. I will not refer to its need, particularly in the courts, but I would like to point out how live is the Welsh language to-day, 1682 not only in North Wales but in South Wales as well. In the course of the last General Election I did my best to deprive this House of the advantages of the services of the hon. Member for the County of Cardigan (Mr. Owen Evans). In the course of that election campaign in Cardiganshire I addressed 100 meetings. If there is anything a candidate wants to do, it is to please and convince those whom he addresses, and he seeks the best and most effective method of doing so. Out of that 100 meetings, 97 did not contain in my remarks a single word of English. It may be said, "That is not a great tribute to your Welsh advocacy, because you did not succeed in keeping the hon. Member for Cardigan away from this House." But perhaps in my justification for introducing this I might say that the votes of the party for whom I was contesting increased from over 5,000 to over 10,000.
I would like to refer to the historical aspect. I do not intend to go over the historical background which the Home Secretary gave to the House and which has been so well added to by one of the ablest historians of Wales we have to-day, namely, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), but I want to bring it up-to-date. How is it that, after many previous attempts by those who are now in this House and those who have gone, to get this obvious measure of justice for Wales, we should get it to-day? We have pushed the door often enough, but it has never opened until now. It might well be that there has been more energetic pushing and that through the petition, leadership and cohesion of the Welsh Parliamentary Party there has been a greater impetus against the door, but that in itself would not account for it. There are, I think, three factors, and the first is the greater readiness in an Imperial Government in these days when freedom is at stake to remove wherever it may well do so the hallmarks of conquest from those with whom it collaborates. I regard this Measure as being in the same category as the readiness of the British Government to discuss with China the abolition of extra-territorial rights. This part of the Tudor settlement, this endeavour to exterminate the Welsh language, was a hallmark of conquest, and an Imperial Government is more ready in these days to remove this hallmark.
1683 The circumstances of war make it possible, but combined with that is the fact that we have, as has been pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), a Lord Chancellor with Welsh blood in his veins and one who is, therefore, more ready and willing to give ear to Welsh claims. But there is a third reason, and that is the sympathy and understanding of the Home Secretary. Why should it be so? Why should the present Home Secretary extend a more sympathetic ear than others who have preceded him in his high office? The fact is that this Section which we are now repealing did, to a considerable extent, succeed. Its endeavour was to stamp out the Welsh language. It did not succeed altogether, but it did succeed in the course of the last century in Anglicising a section of the community that one might describe for want of a better word as "gentry". In doing so, it deprived Wales of a leadership and a guidance in culture and the arts which would have been of great assistance to it, but it left the culture, traditions and the glorious inheritance of the Welsh people in the hands of the common people. I do not like the term "common people"; I know a better one, in the Welsh language—"y werin"—a term of more dignity. It left its culture and traditions in their charge, and it is in the charge of the common people that the culture and traditions of Wales have remained to this day.
We have had Home Secretaries who have been frankly antagonistic; some have been indifferent, some patronising, and at best we have had some who have been jocularly kind. This is the first time we have had a Home Secretary with a real understanding of the Welsh people and sympathy with them. That sympathy comes because the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary is himself a son of the common people and remains of the common people, and understands and sympathises with the claims of Wales. I am glad to pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Lord Chancellor for conceding at last to Wales a claim which Wales has long deserved and of which, I would like to assure the House, Wales will show its appreciation by using it without abusing it.
§ Sir Charles Edwards (Bedwellty)
I want to say a word or two about this Bill, because Monmouthshire is brought in, and I happen to be the senior Member for Monmouthshire, and indeed, for the whole of South Wales, and very nearly North Wales, if it were not for two others. I welcome the Bill. It is a common-sense thing that a man should be able to defend himself in his own country in his own language. I do not know that the provision will be very much wanted in Monmouthshire, because although there is in Monmouthshire a lot of Welsh spoken, it is chiefly English that is spoken. We have lived too near to Bristol and the Forest of Dean, and a large number of people have come over from those places. It used to be said that the first thing a Bristol baby said was: "Packet, mother," because they came over in the packet. There has been a large influx of those people into Monmouthshire, so that Welsh is not spoken there to the same extent as in other parts of the country. I was at one time check-weigher at the Nine-Mile Point colliery and local representative of the men. When the pit was first sunk, many people came to it from other parts, and I remember that some of the North Welshmen who came could not speak a word of English. When they came to see me about something or other, I could not follow their deep Welsh, and there had to be an interpreter between us. If those men did something wrong and had to go to the local courts, they were at a great disadvantage. It is for that sort of reason that I think this Bill does a very reasonable thing.
I know I shall be treading on delicate ground when I say that I am not sure that Welshmen have not paid too much attention to the language. In Wales it has been all language. In Scotland it has been nationhood—quite a different thing. When I was in Scotland at one time, I went for a motor ride, and when we were crossing a stream, I asked the Scotsman next to me what was the name of the stream. It was a dirty little stream and not half as beautiful as the streams in Wales. He said, "Gala water." I said, "Did not Robert Burns write something about it?" He said, "Yes." When I got home I looked up the little poem, and I have been interested in that little stream there because Robert Burns wrote about it If a Welshman had written about it, 1685 he would have written in the Welsh language, which is a closed book to half the people in Wales itself, and to the whole of England. Here I think the Scotsmen have beaten us, because although their dialect is a very strong one and they take a pride in it—my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) represents it very well—their poets have written sufficiently in English for us to grasp them, and this has made us interested in many things in Scotland that have been a closed bock to us in Wales because our people there insist on writing in the Welsh language. I do not know that any Welshman will agree with me in these remarks. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
§ Sir C. Edwards
I have lived in the same place as one who is considered by some people to be one of our best Welsh poets—Islwyn, who took his title From the mountain on which he lived Mynyd-dislwyn. He was a great poet, but he wrote in Welsh; he wrote about that great mountain that I know and love so well, but I do not know what he said about it. It seems to me that there have been no successful translations of these Welsh writings. I do not know whether it is more difficult to translate from Welsh, but at any rate, there are no good translations. However, I agree that if people speak Welsh, they should teach Welsh to their children. My mother-in-law used to speak Welsh to my wife and my wife used always to answer in English. I think that was wrong. I believe that the Welsh people should teach their children their own language, but I believe that the Welsh language as such, and in the sense I have described and in no other sense, has been overdone.
In conclusion, let me repeat that I welcome this Bill. A man ought to have this right in his own country. After all, we are the original inhabitants of this island. I do not speak the Welsh language, but I am a Welshman, with all the sentiment, feeling and pride of a Welshman. I believe that in his own country, if a man cannot speak English, he should be given the right to speak Welsh. For a long time we have had some sort of system by which a man, if he could not speak English, was allowed to speak his own language, and many times it has been 1686 necessary to canvass the court to find an interpreter. This Bill gets over that difficulty, and the interpreter is to be an official institution in the courts. This is all to the good. Let me say that I hope the Bill will lead to a Chief Secretary for Wales. Again, I am opposed to Scotland being ahead of us. I hope this matter will be pressed, too. However, for the moment I am pleased with the Bill.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
As a representative of an English constituency but as a native of Wales, possessing some of the faults and, I hope, a few of the many virtues of my fellow countrymen, I wish to add my tribute to those of my fellow Members in thanking the Government for bringing forward this Bill and removing a very long-standing injustice. I am not so much concerned with the sentiment which has been underlying the speeches of many of my hon Friends. I am glad this injustice is being removed, because, as the Home Secretary showed, there is no greater difficulty than that in which a man finds himself when he is brought before a court to be tried for some offence, or is taking part in some civil action, and cannot think in the language which is being used, but has to translate in his own mind. Such a man, however well he speaks English, is under a disability. In what I am going to say I do not wish to be misconstrued by my fellow Welshmen, but I believe in the decentralisation of a certain amount of government both in regard to Wales and Scotland. I think that the domestic policy of Wales could be better activated, as it were, if there were a form of local government in Wales, and I think the same thing applies to Scotland, but I should deplore unbridled Welsh or Scottish nationalism—
§ Dr. Thomas
Any kind. I should not support it. I hope that we are not moving in that direction and that this Bill will not become a stepping stone for the extreme nationalists to proceed further with their particular ideas. Do not let us look upon it in that way. We have seen the effect of that in Ireland and South Africa, where there are two races speaking different languages. A great deal has been said about the Tudor dynasty. Whatever their faults, they had great personality, which they probably owed to 1687 their Welsh blood. I always looked upon Henry VII as a Celtic king, and it was a great triumph for the Celtic race when once more a Celtic king ruled England over all the different peoples that went to make this realm. I feel that perhaps his son Henry VIII did not realise, in the application of his Statutes to Wales, that in fact the people were thinking as well as speaking in a strange tongue. If you follow him closely, you will find that he hoped to educate Wales in order to meet that difficulty. One of the Charters that he granted to a school in Wales shows that he was concerned not only for the ecclesiastical but for the educational welfare of the people. Let me read the Preamble to the Charter. I do not think it is amiss:Our subjects and lieges dwelling in the southern part of Wales, being sore pressed by poverty be not able to bring up their sons in sound learning, and no Grammar School is kept therein, whereby not only shall the clergy and laity of all ages and conditions become rude and unlearned men, and ignorant of their duty unto God and of the obedience which they owe to [...] but shall also be unacquainted with the English tongue and therefore unable to observe the Statutes which we have set forth and provided thereunto or to understand what they are bound to do in accordance with the form and tenour of such Statutes inasmuch as they know not the tongue of the English people.But he endeavoured to teach them as it were, and he appointed a schoolmaster, and of course a lecturer of divinity at the same time. So that he concerned himself with education in order that the people should the better understand and obey the laws. Let us by all means encourage the culture of the different elements which go to make this kingdom in so far as it will have no ill effect on the whole, but do not let us encourage those violent protagonists of nationalism to proclaim the doctrine of separatism. Let us guard against this Bill being made the beginning of a revival of intense nationalism and racialism. The greatness of our country lies in the unity and singleness of purpose of the whole people, whose blood is made up of so many virile kinds. Do not let us by misplaced sentiment impair it. I join with my countrymen in thanking the Government for the gesture it has made.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I hope I may be forgiven for intervening in this very interesting Debate. I have, at any rate, one or two slight qualifications for speaking about my native land. I, 1688 like my colleagues, welcome this Measure. I sat here some months ago and witnessed the British Government introducing a Measure, which became the law of the land, giving the Norwegian, Czech and Polish Governments the right to establish courts in this country in which all the business would be conducted in their native tongues. Such foreign courts can be established even at Cardiff, Carnarvon, or Swansea. I thought to myself, How comes it about that a Polish subject could have all the business of his court transacted in his own language in Wales whereas the Welsh people are not allowed in their own courts to speak their own tongue? I am very pleased that this Bill gets rid of that disability. I speak with some feeling, because the English language to me is still what the French is to my right hon. Friend. It is a foreign tongue. I still prefer speaking in Welsh, and I would address this House right away in my native tongue, but I understand there is a regulation that I shall not. I can, however, quote a sentence:
Câs Gŵr na charo'r wlâd a'i maco.
I think I am almost the only Welsh-speaking Welshman representing an English seat. There are tens of thousands of Welsh people in London, Liverpool, Manchester and other English cities, and there are also about a quarter of a million of Welsh stock in America, who will be very pleased at the step the Home Secretary has taken to-day. My own relations in Wales, if any of them were at any time unfortunately found in a court of law, though they speak some English could not express themselves as well as they can in Welsh. Even I, after 21 years in the House of Commons, having lived the larger part of my life in England, still think in Welsh. I hope I shall not be blamed for that. I have always held the view that if a man does not love the country of his birth, he has not much capacity for loving any other country. I welcome above all the toleration that has been exhibited to-day. I have travelled much through Central Europe and the Balkans. I know the problems of the Croats and Slovenes, I have seen the Magyars and Serbs and Macedonians too, and have been as far as Turkey where the alphabet has changed its character recently. One of the ugliest problems in Central Europe arises from the intolerance shown by the larger nations to the language of the 1689 smaller. In that respect I very much welcome this Measure.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
May I ask whether the Welsh Members, having got this Bill, will not worry about creating a separate Parliament?
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I understand that they have given no pledges, but there is this fact which may comfort my hon. Friend: they have stated that they started agitating for this Measure 462 years ago, and if that is a precedent, it will be 462 years before there is another Bill.
§ The Attorney-General
From the debating point of view, this is an easy Debate to wind up. I want to say on behalf of my right hon. Friend and the Government how much he and the Government appreciate the reception that this Bill has had, apart from the help that has been given in its preparation and in deciding as to its form. There has today been almost complete harmony among the speeches, until, of course, a discordant note was struck by one of the Members for Monmouthshire with regard to whether poetry should be written in Welsh or English. It is possible that Wales, with its great imaginative resources, will be able to produce poets who write in Welsh and poets who write in English. One or two personal notes have been struck, and I should like to strike one and say that, as the spokesman who on behalf of the Government in 1938, on a Friday afternoon, spoke the concluding words in an unsuccessful attempt made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Wales (Mr. Ernest Evans) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), it gives me special pleasure to wind up this Debate when the differences which were then uncomposed have been composed and this Bill has been welcomed.
Those of us who sit in this House do not need to be told that people who speak Welsh may not also be able to express themselves adequately and fluently in English. My right hon. Friend, if I may call him so, the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whose 1690 absence and the reason for it we all deplore, could not dispute that statement. I was interested, and I am sure the House was, to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) still thinks in Welsh. I will not go into the discussion as to whether my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary speaks French as well as he speaks English, because I have not enough evidence. Of course, there are people who can speak Welsh who would be perfectly happy in giving evidence in English, but there are undoubtedly cases of people who can understand and speak English in the ordinary sense who not only would be happier themselves but would give their evidence more clearly and efficiently if they were able to give it in what is really their natural language, the language in which, as some hon. Member said, they think and live. Therefore, this Bill, although it may not make a great difference to what actually happens, lays down that the language can be spoken as of right. It recognises that, and that is the thing which is welcomed by the House as the right and proper thing to do. It also has some significance that in the days in which we live we can turn aside from other matters to pass this Bill, recognising as it does, and remedying, a grievance based on the language differences of two nations which live together under the same King in happy concord.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the
§ Whole House for the next Sitting Day.— [Major Sir James Edmondson.]