§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill comes to us from another place, where it received a warm and generous welcome and was passed without Amendment.
The Welsh Language Bill honours the pledge made in the Welsh Grand Committee on 14th December, 1965, by the then Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), to introduce a Bill to remove the existing legal obstacles to the use of Welsh and to repeal or amend those Acts which at present prevent or limit its use.
The Bill will do away with the remaining legacy of those legal restrictions in the fields of public administration which have beset the Welsh language since Tudor times. Indeed, a quirk of fate has decreed that it shall be the fortune of the Member for Anglesey to be responsible for a Bill which restores to the Welsh language much of the status it lost at the hands of the Tudors, a dynasty which was founded in Anglesey at Plas Penmynydd, in the 14th century.
The Act of 1536 passed by Henry VIII declared:henceforth no person or persons that use the Welsh speech or language shall have or enjoy any manner of office or fees within this realm of England, Wales or other of 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 the language has survived despite such legislation and that it still shows such vigour over four centuries later are facts to ponder upon.
When introducing the Welsh Courts Bill in 1942, the then Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, made some comments which are as true today as when they were first spoken. He said: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. … I am all in favour of that national spirit which takes pride in its individuality, in its culture, its literature, but which is not so exclusive and 1464 intolerant as to require the repression of all other forms of language, literature and culture." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, 1942; Vol. 383, c. 1659–60.]I can only echo these sentiments and admire the faith in the future shown by Parliament at that time of crisis during the last war in devoting time to legislating about the rights of the oldest language of the United Kingdom.
The Welsh Courts Act, 1942, enacted thatthe Welsh language may be used in any court in Wales by any party or witness who considers that he would otherwise be at any disadvantage by reason of his natural language of communication being Welsh".No prior notice of the intention to speak Welsh is required. This was a big step forward at the time, but conditions change, and with it the nature of society. There are now few persons in Wales who are unable to speak English. Many who speak English may prefer to express themselves in Welsh. But an increasing number of Welsh-speaking persons speak English as fluently as they speak Welsh, and it is these persons who are deprived by the 1942 Act of the right to speak Welsh, their mother tongue, in court.
The Bill is designed to restore to the Welsh language in the fields of administration of justice and public business in Wales the status and respect which it should rightly have, while, at the same time, recognising the consequences of the fact that the majority of Welshmen do not now speak the language. Much of the administrative and legal business of the country has indeed for centuries been undertaken not in Welsh, but in English. The Bill is, therefore, a sincere attempt to strengthen and dignify the status of the Welsh language while respecting the rights of the majority in Wales who do not speak it.
Clause 1 of the Bill is intended to give the right of any man or woman to speak Welsh in legal proceedings in Wales or Monmouthshire on the same terms as he or she has the right to speak English. This gives effect to Recommendation No. 14 of the Hughes Parry Report that all witnesses who desire to do so should be able to give their evidence in Welsh in civil and criminal cases.
The provision extends this right to any legal proceeding. The Clause does not 1465 contain any elaboration of what is meant by legal proceedings, but the implication, from the repeal in subsection (2) of this Clause of most of paragraph 7 of the Schedule to the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943, is that a person has the right to speak Welsh in proceedings before a Pensions Appeal Tribunal.
The intention is clear, namely to confer the fundamental right to speak Welsh. In so far as any proceedings, for instance, a public inquiry, may be said not to be a legal proceeding, arrangements to allow persons to speak Welsh will continue to be made administratively. There should now be no circumstances in which a person is denied the right to speak Welsh if he so desires in such proceedings.
In the case of proceedings in a court other than a magistrates' court prior notice may be required by rules of court. In the case of these higher courts it would be to the convenience of the courts and to the parties to the proceedings that advance arrangements should be made for interpretation if required. This is a matter of convenience. The possibility of expensive adjournments and waste of time which might result whilst the services of an interpreter are obtained will be avoided.
The Hughes Parry Committee—and here may I pay a warm tribute to Sir David Hughes Parry, Professor Glanmor Williams and Mr. Jones Williams for the Report which they produced on the Legal Status of the Welsh Language—recognised this fact.
The considerations that I have mentioned with regard to higher courts do not apply to the same extent in magistrates' courts. The right to speak Welsh in such courts will, in the majority of cases, be exercised in Welsh-speaking areas. In these areas no difficulty of interpretation seems likely to arise. As one who for many years practised in magistrates' courts in Welsh-speaking areas, this is my experience. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that this is the general experience in these areas.
In cases occurring in mainly English-speaking areas, arrangements can often be made for interpretation at short notice; and even in the event of an adjournment being necessary, the persons 1466 concerned will usually live locally and an adjournment will not cause as much inconvenience or expense as in the higher courts.
The need for interpretation in courts in Wales has long been recognised. Rules under the Welsh Courts Act, 1942, have laid down the court's responsibility to provide at its expense for interpretation. The provisions contained in Section 3 of the Welsh Courts Act regarding interpreters are retained, but it has been thought desirable to include in the Bill the statement that… any necessary provision for interpretation shall be made".The object here is to indicate in the case of all legal proceedings that if Welsh or English is spoken in the presence of those who do not understand it, it must be translated.
This, I would have thought, is the only reasonable arrangement. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has already indicated that if additional interpreters are required in future, in consequence of the Bill, the necessary arrangements will be made.
Subsection (2) repeals those Sections of the Welsh Courts Act 1942 and the Schedule to the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943 which impose a restriction on the use of the Welsh language in court. Under these existing enactments, the Welsh language could be used 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. It is these provisions which have caused difficulty and embarrassment in the courts of Wales in recent months, and the repeal will go far towards removing what the Government feel to be a legitimate cause of complaint.
Clause 2 authorises the provision of Welsh versions of certain forms and words which are specified by or under Acts of Parliament, and makes provision for determining the circumstances and conditions subject to which these versions may be used.
This Clause is intended to clarify the status of Welsh in official forms. There has been doubt as to whether it has been possible to prescribe Welsh versions of forms which have been prescribed in English only. To remove any possible 1467 doubt, the Clause has been drafted in the widest possible terms to give Ministers the power in future to prescribe Welsh versions of any documents or words which they may decide to prescribe.
It is not possible to foresee at present the documents or words in regard to which the power to prescribe Welsh versions may be exercised, nor is it possible to assess what difficulties or complications may arise with regard to any documents or words that may be prescribed in Welsh or in Welsh and English.
A considerable amount of work has been done to test the application of this provision in particular instances. But to go through all the enactments and Statutory Instruments to try to determine those in which the power to prescribe Welsh versions might be used would be an impossible task. Circumstances change, and it is not possible to determine in advance whether a Welsh version of a particular document or form of words will be required in the future. It is for this reason that the prescribing authority is being given the widest discretion to decide in what circumstances to exercise the power.
Hon. Members will perhaps be wondering whether any indication can be given of the sort of circumstances in which it is likely that the power will be exercised. The view of the Hughes Parry Committee was thatA Welsh form would be appropriate where it was likely that the recipient would regard it as natural that he should be addressed in Welsh or if as a matter of principle he wished to be so addressed. We recommend that special arrangements shall be made to ensure a supply of Welsh documents in fair demand.It is not, however, the intention of the Government to produce a large number of Welsh versions immediately. The purpose of the Bill is to open the way to the translation of these forms should the responsible Ministers decide that there is justification for them.
It has been suggested in certain quarters that Welsh versions should be provided regardless of cost. This, clearly, is not possible. We have a responsibility to the electors not only as Welshmen and women, but also as taxpayers. We would be failing in our duty if we did not take each of those duties seriously and make a decision on the merits of each case.
1468 Perhaps I can best illustrate the considerations that the Government have in mind by referring to a specific instance —the use of Welsh versions of forms for the purpose of legal proceedings.
How the powers conferred by Clause 2 will be exercised is, of course, a matter for the Ministers concerned, but I think I can say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will probably wish to take advantage of the provisions of Clause 2 so as to make available, in appropriate cases, Welsh versions of the forms most commonly used in criminal proceedings, and in some proceedings in juvenile courts relating to children who are in need of care and control or who fail to attend school.
Thus I think that it is very likely that there will be available—as I understand there is already avaliable on an unofficial basis—a Welsh version of the form of summons used in a magistrates' court.
But forms used in civil proceedings in the High Court and the county courts stand on a rather different footing as the Hughes Parry Committee recognised in paragraph 206 of its Report. As the Committee said, summonses and other documents used in criminal proceedings normally emanate from the court itself and there may well be little difficulty in ascertaining whether the defendant to whom the document is addressed would expect to be addressed in Welsh. Moreover, criminal proceedings have a territorial association with the defendant which may be altogether lacking in civil proceedings between private individuals.
In civil proceedings, the court has little control over documents passing between one party and another and it would be quite wrong for one side to send the other a document in Welsh which the other party might be quite incapable of understanding.
It is doubtful whether there is really any demand for documents used in such proceedings to be in the Welsh language at all and it would certainly be a waste of time and money to produce Welsh translations of the enormous number of forms used in civil proceedings in the county courts in the absence of clear evidence of a need for them.
This is a matter on which the decision must rest with my right hon. Friend the 1469 Lord Chancellor, but I think it quite likely that he will not wish to prescribe Welsh versions of forms of this kind unless it could be shown that they would really serve a useful purpose.
Clause 2 also gives the appropriate Minister or body the discretion to precribe conditions subject to which a Welsh version may be used. I will illustrate the manner in which this discretion might be exercised by reference to the courts. Where a Welsh version of a form is used in court proceedings, an English version will have to be made available as well. This will be particularly necessary where the forms are needed in a court outside Wales at a later stage in the proceedings; in the event, for instance, of an appeal. It is obviously essential that anyone into whose hands any form may come should be able to understand everything in it. It will be possible to provide for this, as well as for the possibility of any discrepancy between the Welsh and English versions of a completed form, by means of any order that may be made under Clause 2 of the Bill.
It is the Government's intention under this provision to authorise entries in Welsh in the registers and certificates of births, marriages and deaths as soon as the powers conferred by the Bill are exercised on behalf of the Registrar General and subject to any conditions that may then be prescribed.
Clause 3 contains supplementary proviiions in respect to the Welsh versions authorised in Clause 2. Subsection (2,a) contains a power to provide that, in the case of any discrepancy between an English and Welsh text, the English text shall prevail. The example has already been given that where a Welsh version of a form is used in court proceedings, an English version will have to be made available as well.
It may well be necessary to stipulate, when prescribing a Welsh form of notice which has to be published, that the requirements for publication will be satisfied only by the publication of two forms, one in each language, or of a notice in both languages. In such cases it may be necessary to prescribe that the English version shall prevail in the event of any discrepancy between the text in English and Welsh. The purpose here is not to 1470 detract from the validity of the Welsh version as such, but in the interests of certainty to make clear which version shall prevail in the unlikely event of discrepancy between the texts.
Subsection (2,b) prescribes the conditions subject to which a document shall be treated as a true copy of another document. It may be used, for example, to enable certified copies to be provided on birth, death or marriage forms with bilingual headings, of the original entry on forms with only English headings and for such certified copies to be treated as true copies.
Some statutory provisions allow the use of a document or words to the like effect as a prescribed form of document or words. Subsection (3) authorises a similar departure from the prescribed form of document or words in the case of a Welsh version as is allowed in the case of the English version.
Subsection (4) provides that the powers conferred by Clause 2(1) shall be exercisable by Statutory Instrument to be laid before Parliament. It includes the power to vary or revoke an order under that subsection. I have gone in some detail into these provisions because it is important that the courts in Wales and the general public of Wales should be certain of what this Measure intends.
Under Clause 4, the Wales and Berwick Act, 1746, is amended so that "dominion of Wales" shall not, in future legislation, be covered by the expression "England". This brings the law into line with current drafting practice.
These are the provisions of the Bill—a Bill which contains all those legislative changes recommended by the Hughes Parry Committee which the Government have accepted. Many of the other recommendations can be, and are being, put into effect by administrative measures. I am glad to announce that the Lord Chancellor has issued the necessary instructions to the district Probate Registries in Wales to ensure that wills in Welsh are treated in the same way as those in English. Indeed, the Government have already gone a long way to implementing most of the recommendations of the Hughes Parry Report.
But throughout all their consideration of this Report the Government have never lost sight of the fact that it would 1471 be nothing short of a tragedy if the Welsh nation, from Holyhead to Chepstow—o Fon i Fynwy—were to be split on the issue of the language. The Government have therefore, rejected those recommendations of the Hughes Parry Report which appear to give preference to those who speak the Welsh language. Until we arrive in heaven, those of us who speak Welsh will have to compete on equal terms with those who do not.
Four hundred years ago an event of the greatest importance to Wales occurred—the translation into Welsh of the New Testament by William Salesbury. The survival of the Welsh language was secured because the people of Wales took advantage of the opportunity that this great translation presented. Although I cannot claim that the Bill is of comparable importance, it is another historic milestone. Although no Parliament can legislate so as to compel people to speak a language, the Bill provides another opportunity for the Welsh people.
The Council for Wales, in its Report on the "Welsh Language Today", stated:… language cannot be imposed on a people; it must be embraced voluntarily".No power or influence can compel society to accept that which it is not willing or ready to accept, and to divide Wales on this issue would be to imperil the future of the language. Nevertheless, the Government are anxious to create those conditions which will favour the continued growth and use of the language. It is with this in mind that the Bill is now before the House. I am proud of its provisions. It is a sincere endeavour by the Government to do justice to the Welsh language and, at the same time, to the people of Wales as a whole.
The Bill incorporates those amendments of the law recommended by the Hughes Parry Committee which the Government have accepted. It gives the Welsh language its rightful place in the administration of courts and public business in Wales. This is an historic Bill and I am proud to commend it to the House.
§ 11.9 a.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
My hon. Friends and I warmly and 1472 wholeheartedly welcome the Bill and I underline the felicitous way in which the right hon. Gentleman opened the debate. The Bill has already had a happy and quiet passage through another place. I well remember that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) who set up the Hughes Parry Committee when the Conservative Party was in office. It is right for the House to pay tribute to the three great Welshmen who sat on that Committee—Sir David Hughes Parry, the Chairman, Mr. Jones Williams and Professor Glanmor Williams—and we debated their Report in the Welsh Grand Committee in December, 1965.
I have said before, and I repeat, that I regret that the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) sat on the Report for as long as he did. There may have been reasons for that, but my hon. Friends and I would have welcomed to have seen this Bill on the Statute Book at the earliest possible time and, for his part, the Secretary of State has done his best in this respect.
As I say, we on this side welcome the Bill. The only note of dissent that I intend to make is to ask the Secretary of State whether he will consider changing part of Clause 1. Whereas in what are called senior courts, which are more senior than magistrates' courts, prior notice of the desire to use the Welsh language must be given, for ordinary benches notice will not be given. I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said about this, but I did not quite agree with him when he said that more often than not, from his experience of magistrates' courts, those who came before the courts were almost always local people.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
From my experience, I do not think that is so. The right hon. Gentleman may have added reasons which he is prepared to give to explain why it is necessary that magistrates' courts should be treated differently, for instance, from county courts and other courts.
That was brought out fairly well by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, when he said in another place that in Welsh-speaking areas there may well be no 1473 need to specify that prior notice must be given, but that in certain other areas, where the normal language is English, the rules of the court could specify that if a person wished to speak Welsh, he should give notice.
I only say from my experience in working in a court in a predominantly English-speaking area, where some people can speak Welsh but where the language is seldom used in court, that it might be as well to stipulate that notice should be given in the same way as in the other courts. There should not be any difficulty provided that notice is given, because, obviously, interpreters are not difficult to find in the local schools. I merely put it to the House that this might be a sensible arrangement and that it would work.
I strongly underline what the Secretary of State said when he gave it as his firm intention and the intention of his party that the future of Wales and its people should not be split on the issue of language. I heartily echo that view.
I live right in the middle of Wales. If you were to put a pin in the middle of a map of Wales, Mr. Speaker, there you would find my home. I understand, therefore, perhaps as much as anybody the difficulties and the problems between North and South and the various differences which exist. For these reasons, I ask the Secretary of State to consider my suggestion and to see whether, during the later stages of the Bill, he might be prepared to change it to that extent.
I do not intend to detain the House, certainly on a Monday morning. I simply wish to commend the Bill heartily from this side of the House and to tell the Secretary of State that we shall continue to be with him in the production of the Bill as we have been up to date.
§ 11.14 a.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, which is not only of great historical significance to Wales but is concerned with legislation which is almost unique in character and purpose in that it is dedicated to the preservation of a language.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has noted, there are many in Wales who think of 1967 as the 400th anniversary of the translation of the New 1474 Testament into Welsh by William Sales-bury. There are, indeed, many who wish that the event should have been formally acknowledged by the Government for the great and decisive contribution that it made to the preservation of the language at a time when pressure against its life was very severe. I am sure, however, that all who have a sense of history will acknowledge that the Bill constitutes a practical way of celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Salesbury's translation.
It already seems likely that certain elements in Wales will scour the Bill with microscopic concentration to find faults for condemnation. I do not for one moment think that the Bill is perfect. It lacks a great deal in that there is not a general declaratory Clause of the equal validity of the language in all legal and public situations.
Nevertheless, it is only fair to consider that there is now probably ten times—a hundred times—more bitterness felt and manifested in Wales with regard to the Welsh language when the Welsh Office is actively dealing with this question and seeking to safeguard its existence than there was in all the years of smug, silent complacency that preceded it.
I should like to stress three factors which I believe to be relevant to the Bill. First, there is its legal and constitutional significance. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has reminded us, the Welsh language lost its full legal status in 1536 by Section 17 of the Act of Union; but in all probability in the many Anglicised boroughs in Wales the language had really lost its full status sometime after 1284. The position with regard to the Bill, therefore, is that in large measure it reinstates the status of the Welsh language. In fact, it creates for it a status which it has never hitherto enjoyed in modern times.
Such Measures cannot but have an effect beyond the field of language. In the months preceding this event, I have had testimony from people in all parts of Wales who, in many cases by pure accidents of childhood and environment, cannot speak the Welsh language but who view with pride, this elevation of the language and the fuller status given thereby to the Welsh nation. However significant and constitutional aspects of the question might be, the legal status 1475 of the language represents but a small fragment of a pattern of circumstances which decides whether a language will survive or not.
That brings me to my second point. As we have already been reminded, we cannot legislate for the survival of a language any more than Henry VIII could legislate for its extinction when he sought to abolish the language along with the other "sinister usages and customs" which differentiated the Welsh from his subjects in England and which, together with those customs and usages, he sought "utterly to extirp". That was the purpose which was given in the lengthy Preamble to the 1536 Act of Union.
All that legislation can do in the context of a language is to create conditions which are either favourable or unfavourable to its existence. It can do no more. A language like nationhood itself lives essentially in the hearts or minds of its people. Such basic attitudes are determined not so much by legal but by social status. I believe that the condition of the continued existence of the Welsh language in the end is the actual status that it has in the hearths and in the homes of all the people of Wales, especially of those who do not at present speak the Welsh language.
It is obvious that many of the motives and purposes behind the Bill cannot be furthered by legislation. The criticism has been made from time to time that although the Hughes Parry Report contains 31 recommendations, only four or five of them are implemented in the Bill. It is only fair to make the point that all but four or five of the recommendations of the Hughes Parry Report were administrative in character and effect.
Therefore, it is no valid criticism to say that the Bill has failed to do that which it could not possibly achieve, in any event. I believe that the legislative provisions are most important not for their immediate practical effect, but for the new mentality which, I trust, will be created. The first attack on the language four centuries ago came in the courts of justice, and it is very appropriate that the reinstatement should also begin here.
Under the Act of 1942 there was not given any absolute right to speak Welsh, 1476 and that right to speak it in any event was confined to parties or witnesses. This privilege of speaking Welsh was something which was given to one as compensation for an incomplete mastery of the English language and who would otherwise have been at a disadvantage had he to use the English tongue. The position under the Bill is that the Welsh language is given a situation of absolute right, not relying upon any charity whatsoever as far as the courts are concerned.
I hope that the Bill will have very much wider effects. I hope that it will inspire every administrator, every official in central and local government, and everybody who has a function in or connections with Wales, to consider what part can be played by each and every one of them in the revival of the Welsh language. I again stress that this is basically a question of elevating the social status of the Welsh language. Clause 2 of the Bill empowers translations of official forms and documents to be made, as we have already heard. A point which has been made by the Secretary of State is that the main criterion in this connection in deciding whether or not a translation could be made should be the question of demand.
I hope that he and the other Ministers concerned in the interpretation of this Bill will not limit their consideration merely to that of demand. I hope that those who are responsible for such translations will consider not only the demand which now exists but how it can be created and how they can themselves inspire such demand. Unless the Welsh language is associated with the status of officialdom then there can be no future for it. This is a campaign which must be waged at every level from the home to the factory, from the kindergarten to the Government Department.
I was very glad to note that some months ago the Ministry of Education in Wales was granting £200,000 to undertake research in the next few years in the ways of teaching Welsh to children who do not at the moment possess the language I am quite certain that there is one point here which will be conceded by all hon. Members who wish to see the Welsh language survive, and that is that it can only survive by gaining new recruits from those who at the moment 1477 do not speak it; and a recruit can only be won by his or her own volition. Good will is the touchstone and determining factor in all this, but I believe that the Bill, when it becomes law, can be an inspiration to such endeavour. Unless, however, there is a good will and this militant crusading spirit for its preservation there is no future for Wales.
Today, Welsh is spoken by 650,000 or one-quarter of the population. A very high preponderance of those 650,000 are over the age of 65. I am sure that hon. Members here this morning know the miserable statistics which show how the language has failed over the decades to recruit new speakers from amongst the young. Only a bold, crusading spirit can enable the Welsh language to survive. Dainty sympathies are of no avail in this connection.
I believe that it was Edmund Burke who said:For evil to triumph it is only necessary for men of good will to do nothing.For the evil of the extinction of the Welsh language to take place it is necessary only for men of good will to mumble benevolences and do nothing concrete for saving it.
Some may ask: why should this deliberate effort be indulged in? Why is it proper and necessary to save the Welsh language? Are there not too many languages in the world already? Are we not moving towards one world language which will cement humanity in a unified brotherhood? Would it not be magnanimous for the Welsh people to anticipate such an event and now to surrender their language? Indeed, it would be magnanimous, but I wonder where such magnanimity may be found? Do those who put forward such an argument propound such an argument in relation to any other nation or any part of any other nation? Unless and until such magnanimity is found among all nations of the world I can see no reason whatsoever why it should not be practised and exercised by the Welsh. I trust that in this debate there will be no hon. Member who will affect such feeble-mindedness in argument against he provision of the Bill.
I come to my last point, that the case for preservation of the Welsh language rests upon a very broad base indeed. For 1478 a great number of people in Wales who speak the language it is the language of daily life and intercourse. For the many who do not speak the Welsh language it is still the traditional language of the Welsh nation, and there is a feeling of loyalty towards it. Appreciating that it is purely a matter of accident that those who speak it do speak it, I can claim no credit whatsoever for the fact that I speak Welsh, having been brought up, and living, in a home which is wholly and absolutely Welsh. There is no blame to be attached to anyone else who is deprived by circumstances of speaking the language.
But I believe that there are many outside Wales who feel that the case for the Welsh language is founded on a very much broader principle, and it is this. Each language is unique; there is no language without its genius and grace. Each language known to humanity is a priceless and irreplaceable treasure, and the challenge which confronts the whole of humanity, therefore, when any language is based in jeopardy is the challenge of trusteeship, trusteeship of men of culture and civilised intelligence towards that language.
I believe that it is right and proper to regard such a priceless and irreplaceable thing as a language exactly as the greatest treasures of art which have come from the hands of the painter or the sculptor. This was put very clearly by Dr. Johnson, when he said:I am horrified to learn of the death of another language.It is on such grounds that I plead for generous support from all hon. Members 6n both sides of the House for the passage of the Bill, and for good will and chivalry in the interpretation of its provisions.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. W. G. Morgan (Denbigh)
I am grateful for this opportunity of expressing my warm support of the Bill, which has been generally welcomed, and I also take the opportunity of congratulating the Government on its introduction. It is an achievement for which both this and the last Conservative Government can claim some credit, because the Hughes Parry Committee was appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in 1963.
1479 We in the Welsh Parliamentary Party may also take some credit because the initial impetus came from there. I am glad to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), here, because we would all pay tribute to the diligent research he made into this matter before the Welsh Parliamentary Party made its recommendation.
We had two very valuable reports. The Hughes Parry Report is the best known, but the other is perhaps not so well remembered. This was the one by the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire on the State of the Welsh Language Today. It was a matter of great pleasure and pride throughout Wales that the Government were able to announce in December, 1965, that they could accept the main recommendations of the Hughes Parry Report.
I suppose that the Hughes Parry Committee had three main courses to consider. It could have decided to leave things as they were, a state of affairs which would not have commended itself to the majority of Welshmen, whether Welsh speaking or not; it could have advocated some sort of bilingualism of the type, for example, existing in Belgium until fairly recently.
This, ideally, is what many Welshman would like to see, but I believe that the Committee was right to reject that course because of the expense and administrative inconvenience it would entail. The third course, which the Committee adopted, was to accept the principle of equal validity of the two languages. This was accepted by the Government and is the basis of the Bill we are discussing today.
I turn now to Clause 1 of the Bill. It was highly desirable that the provisions of the Welsh Courts Act, 1942, should be enlarged. I agree with what the Secretary of State said about it. No doubt it was a step forward and something for which we had to be grateful. It pointed the direction to a more equitable state of affairs, but it was designed to deal solely with the case of a person under a disadvantage when using the English language.
As hon. Members who are fluent both in Welsh and English know, the Act has had a curious result in that they would 1480 not be entitled to give evidence in their native tongue. The Act was in the nature of a condescending statute for Wales. It was an irritant to national pride in many ways and it is right to make the point that some judges, in interpreting it, showed rather too nice a regard for the letter of the law.
Clause 1 is intended to enable any person who wishes to do so to speak Welsh as a matter of right in legal proceedings in Wales and Monmouthshire and sensible provisions are made about prior notice with regard to interpretation. I do not agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) about the necessity for prior notice for magistrates' courts. Experience shows that that is not necessary and the Government have been right to exclude it from the Bill.
Clause 1 refers to… any party, witness or other person …That is more widely drawn than Section 1 of the 1942 Act, which refers only to… any party or witness …I presume that the extension is deliberate and I would like an assurance that this expression includes "advocate". That may seem highly academic and a somewhat and point, but we have a Welsh proverb "Ysgol orau, ysgol profiad" which, being translated, means, "The best school is the school of experience."
I have been given an instance of the importance of this point by a solicitor friend of mine who used to practise in a Welsh-speaking area of my constituency and practises now in Caernarvon. He once had a bizarre experience in a case concerning a client who was not fluent in English. All his discussions with the client before the hearing were in Welsh.
At the county court, the judge, the registrar and the solicitor representing the opposing side were all, if not fluent in Welsh, at any rate able to understand it. The judge for some reason tried hard to persuade my friend's client to give evidence in English but he stood by his rights and insisted upon giving it in Welsh. He was, indeed, a classic example of the case to which the 1942 Act was intended to apply. The extraordinary result was that the client gave his evidence in Welsh, but the solicitor had to examine him in English. If we can have 1481 an assurance about the meaning of these words in the Bill, this sort of thing will be avoided in future.
I note that Clause 1 repeals only Section 1 of the 1942 Act as well as part of the Schedule to the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act, 1943. I suggest that, to give equal validity to the Welsh language in this connection some amendment should be made also to Section 3 (2) of that Act. This could be done by providing in appropriate cases, that a judge or chairman would be empowered to order that any part of the proceedings spoken or read in English should be translated into Welsh.
That would be an eminently reasonable provision because the final word in the matter would be by the judge or chairman and this in itself would be sufficient safeguard against any frivolous Dr vexatious abuse of the provision. Indeed, most magistrates' clerks in strongly Welsh-speaking areas already act in the spirit of the amendment which I propose.
Clause 2 will be generally welcome. It is desirable to remove doubt as to the validity of Welsh versions of forms. It is regrettable that many Government Departments have shown a tendency to spurn Welsh versions of forms. The Post Office and the Inland Revenue are among the principal offenders. The Inland Revenue argues that it is because the wording of the Income Tax Act 1952 is dubious, but that uncertainty can now be remedied. I hope that the Secretary of State will give us an assurance that Welsh-language forms will be given validity with the least possible delay.
I had hoped to find time today to talk about the effect of Clause 4, but I may have an opportunity to deal with that at a later stage of the Bill. I hope that the criticisms I have raised have been constructive. They are on points of detail only. I regard the Bill as a sincere attempt by the Government to strengthen and dignify the Welsh language while, at the same time, paying due regard and respect for the rights of those Welshmen who do not speak it.
I am tempted to wonder how much could have been achieved if such a Measure had been introduced a century, or even half a century, ago, when the Welsh language was in a much stronger position. Regrets, however, are pointless. 1482 We must now try and make up for the failures of past generations. This Bill is evidence of the desire not only of the Government but of all parties in this House to do all they can to foster the Welsh language and to wipe away forever those irritating anomalies and anachronisms and that inferior status from which it has suffered for centuries.
As the Secretary of State said, this is an historic Bill and in passing it today we Welsh Members are achieving one of the most important things that we have been able to do for our country since we first assembled here more than 400 years ago.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
In an uncharacteristic display of immodesty, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales suggested—indeed, declared it to be his faith—that Welsh was the language of heaven. It is a view which I suspect that most of my constituents—many of whom are most certainly eligible for heaven, if it exists —will not share and I am certain that my right hon. Friend had no intention of making that witty and pungent aside in any way to embarrass most of my constituents when they reach, as they surely will, immortality.
If we look at the myths of heaven, or of Golden Ages, there is one feature of these myths which is bound to be relevant when we are discussing a Bill of this kind. I was brought up, as I believe I have mentioned before, to regard the number of languages which burden the world as a curse and not as a blessing, and there is the old story of the pride of man, symbolised in the Tower of Babel, which brought great vengeance upon those people replete with conceit. The great tower crumbled, and the men and women building it were lost in the confusion that resulted from the divisive consequences of so many languages.
Every man has his prejudice and I have mine; a certain diffidence towards the notion that it is irrevocable that language must be the depository and the sole means of containing the wisdom of nations. Perhaps it is not surprising that someone representing a constituency such as mine, a Monmouthshire constituency, should declare his prejudice on an occasion like 1483 this. Monmouthshire has a large population. Indeed, Monmouthshire and Newport together—and it is necessary for Wales to be reminded of this occasionally—have a population approximately equivalent to all the populations put together of Anglesey, Caernarvonshire, Merionethshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Carmarthenshire, Radnor and Brecon.
It is, therefore, important to realise that as 97 per cent. of the population of Monmouthshire do not speak Welsh, and not many of the remaining 3 per cent. would claim to speak Welsh with the fluency and pride with which it is spoken by many hon. Members here who represent other constituencies, we are, therefore, dealing in Monmouthshire with a large section of the Welsh community. No Bill which touches on the Welsh language should have the divisive effect which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has so clearly indicated it is not the Government's intention to create.
It is with some pleasure that, speaking as the only Monmouthshire Member who seems likely to catch the eye of the Chair this morning, I can reassure the people of Monmouthshire that the Government, while presenting a Bill which gives due recognition to the Welsh language, have been scrupulous in seeing that it in no way affects the right of every Monmouthshire man and woman. I am pleased, as I am sure Monmouthshire will be, that the Government have totally eschewed some of the more extravagant recommendations which characterised the Hughes Parry Report. I am sure that Monmouthshire will welcome my right hon. Friend's statement which made it abundantly clear that the Government have no intention of allowing any preference to be given in any job or post in Wales as a consequence of a man or woman having the ability to speak Welsh in addition to English, and that all applications for posts will be dealt with on merit, and on merit alone.
If the recommendations of the Hughes Parry Committee had been put into effect in their entirety, they would have resulted in a grave disadvantage to the young people of Monmouthshire.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan
I am following my hon. Friend's argument very closely. 1484 Is he saying that the ability to speak Welsh should not, in certain circumstances, in itself constitute added merit? Does he not agree that the ability to speak Welsh in addition to the basic English language should, in certain circumstances, be recognised as an additional ability, in the same way as one recognises the ability to speak French or German?
§ Mr. Abse
The point that I am making, and which I understood my right hon. Friend was making, is that in rejecting the recommendations of the Hughes Parry Report, for example, the recommendation which included the notion that the Civil Service of Wales should have at its head people who speak Welsh, the Government are setting their face, as they should, against the idea that a young man in Monmouthshire who speaks English only should not have the right and the opportunity to be head of the Welsh Civil Service, to become a county court judge in Wales, or to become the chairman of a Welsh regional hospital committee. These things would not be possible if the Government had listened to the siren voices which were coming from the Hughes Parry Committee.
I think that Monmouthshire will welcome the Bill which, while it accords to the Welsh language the greatest respect to which it is entitled, does so without in any way lending aid to those people who seem to think that it is impossible for a person to be thoroughly Welsh unless he is Welsh speaking. This is not a figment of the imagination of people in Monmouthshire. Many in Monmouthshire are disturbed that such a view prevails. It was most unfortunate, for example, that among the evidence given to the Hughes Parry Committee was that of the B.B.C., who clearly stated that the Controller, the head of programmes, his planners, his information officers and his staff, are people who have to bethoroughly Welsh to maintain close and effective contact with the public in Wales which the B.B.C. serves.We must refuse to distinguish between thoroughbred Welshmen and so-called mongrel Welshmen. The people of Monmouthshire are as thoroughly Welsh, to take up the unfortunate term used by the B.B.C., as anybody who speaks Welsh in North Wales. It is important that such a pejorative attitude should not be given 1485 any approval in any official quarter. I hope that those who are genuinely concerned in making certain that the whole question of the language does not become a divisive issue in Wales will take care in the words they use, words which can often prove very offensive to people who are thoroughly identified with Wales a and who live in the great County of Monmouth.
How offensive this language can sometimes be is indicated by the very understandable current reluctance of the Monmouthshire County Council to continue giving funds to the Welsh Eisteddfod. It is my hope, as I am sure it is the hope of most of the people of Monmouthshire, that those in the House who have given full support to the Bill appreciate that there is a need for a caveat, namely, that the Bill must never be used as a divisive technique in Wales. And I hope that that caveat will be noted in other places in Wales so that the day may come when those who have said that the Eisteddfod should become a genuine national festival to bind together the English-speaking and Welsh-speaking Welshmen will find some response.
If the young people of South Wales and Monmouthshire who speak no Welsh are to become interested in the language, and to find a challenge in the realisation that one-quarter of the nation speaks a language of which they know nothing, it must be possible for them to come into contact with it on occasions such as the National Eisteddfod.
There in such a bilingual Eisteddfod one could bind together a profound culture—an Anglo-Welsh culture that thrives in counties like Monmouthshire, together with the more traditional Welsh culture of which they hear much and know so little—so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in no spirit of churlishness, but rather with a full acknowledgment of the value and wisdom of the Bill, and the reservations implicit in it, I am sure that I can speak on behalf of my constituents and, I believe, the whole of Monmouthshire, when I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
I want to remind the House of the place which the Welsh language had for centuries in the life of Wales. This is how the matter was put by a Government 1486 publication in 1927 called Welsh in Education and Life. It said thatin the early ages, the laws of Wales were not written in Latin and translated into Welsh, but were necessarily and inevitably first written down in Welsh by the scholars whom Hywel Dda who died in about 1910 or some other law-giver summoned to make the code. Reading the different versions of the Welsh Laws, we are struck by the significant fact that here is no striving and straining to twist word and idiom to meet the punctilious demands of legal expression but that, on the contrary, the language in which the laws are written has ample reserves, and is more than adequate to its purpose. We find, in fact, that even the Laws show the exuberance and exultation of the artist just as truly as the Mabinogian do, and that the magnificence and majesty of the Welsh Codes are the fruit of a rich, ample and well ordered culture, among a people speaking and hearing a language which, when other modern tongues were regarded as despicable vernaculars, was exalted in its own home to a degree elsewhere unequalled. Those who drew up the Laws were, in the first instance, artificers of cunning Welsh, as jealous in guarding the ancient customs and precepts of the language as in conserving the usages and maxims of the common law; in short, it is clear that the jewel of Welsh life and culture, during the period of independence, was the Welsh language.The language fell on evil days not because the Welsh people ceased to cherish it; indeed, one of the most remarkable things about the life and history of this island is the way in which the Welsh people have remained loyal to their language. It fell on evil days because the Government of a nation overwhelmingly bigger than Wales wanted to destroy Welsh nationhood and sought to assimilate the Welsh people into England. The language was proscribed and exiled from places where formerly it had had most honour, including the legal system. Every weapon in the armoury of the State was used against it.
Recently these weapons have been strengthened by new techniques of immense power so that instead of succouring the life of Wales the only State that we have had in recent centuries has sought to destroy it. This is the background against which the present Measure must be viewed.
Perhaps the most powerful of all the agencies of destruction was the education system imposed on Wales in 1870. Two generations of this viciously anti-Welsh system did more injury to Wales and her language than the efforts of previous centuries. In 1870 the proportion of Welsh-speaking people in Wales was 1487 between 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. By 1961 we know that the proportion had fallen to about 26 per cent. This was due mainly to the fact that the Welsh language had, for a long time, been completely excluded from the schools of Wales. Since the 1920s there has been an improvement in the system, but we have a long way to go and in the meantime the destruction has been immense.
The exclusion of the Welsh language from the country's official and legal life was as thorough as its exclusion from the schools of Wales. Until the 1940s, if a Welshman wished to use his language in a court of law in Wales he had to have an interpreter, even where every person inside the court understood the language. More than that, he had to pay the interpreter. An Arab, a Greek or a Chinese in the courts of Wales—as I have seen—does not have to pay an interpreter, but until the 1940s a Welshman, speaking Welsh in his own courts, did. This necessity was abolished by the Welsh Courts Act of 1942.
Even that Act did not give Welshmen a right to speak Welsh in the courts of his own land. He could do so only if he were under a disadvantage in speaking English. The present Bill goes some way towards removing the injustice suffered by Welshmen in this matter, but it does not go a great way forward. In fact, there is bitter disappointment in Wales about it. I am not personally disappointed, but that is because my expectations were not high. Disappointment in Wales, however, is all the greater because of the tremendous development in Welsh national consciousness during the last two years. If the Government had produced the Bill immediately after the Hughes Parry Report, more people would have been satisfied with it. But today, two years after the publication of the Report, the Measure lags a long way behind public opinion in Wales.
One feature which has caused a great deal of adverse comment in Wales is the absence of a declaratory Clause. One of the main recommendations of the Hughes Parry Report was thatthere should be a clear, positive, legislative declaration of general application to the effect that any act, writing or thing done in Wales or Monmouthshire should have the like legal force as if it had been in English.1488 That would have put the position quite beyond doubt. We see, in that sentence, the phrase "Wales or Monmouthshire", which is perpetuated in the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that the people of Monmouthshire are as thoroughly Welsh as the people of any other part of Wales. Why, then, perpetuate a phrase which seems to imply that Monmouthshire is not part of Wales?
When the Bill becomes law Welshmen will be able, as of right, to speak Welsh in the courts of their own country, but what a commentary it is on the position of Britain in 1967 that this acknowledgment of an elementary human right should be regarded as a magnanimous act. Even here, the right does not go all the way. A Welshman still has no right to have his case tried entirely in the Welsh language, although our right to Welsh-language courts, in the name of justice, is as great as it is to Welsh language schools.
Compare this situation with that which exists in Switzerland, where all four languages have national status. French is spoken by about 20 per cent. of the people—Welsh is spoken by 26 per cent. of Welsh people—and Italian is spoken by a far smaller percentage. French has complete equality with German in Switzerland. Romansch in Switzerland is spoken by only 40,000 people, although the number has been increasing steadily in recent generations. A student of Swiss affairs, Mr. Ioan Bowen Rees, writes this of Romansch:There are five distinct dialects. Even literary language has two versions, the Ladin of the Engadine and the Surselvisch of the Upper Rhine, while there have to be four versions of each Romansch primary school textbook"—this is for a population of 40,000—yet the formal status of Welsh in official life is negligible compared with that of Romansch. … All cantonal laws are published in Romansch as well as in Italian and German.To appreciate that, we must remember that the canton has complete rights of legislation over all matters except a few reserved to the central Federal Government.
In local government proper, each commune decides on its own official language. Thus in Camedan, a town about the size of Bala"—where the national Eisteddfod is to be held next year— 1489the notices outside the town hall were in Romansch: ten miles further West such notices were in Italian. … In the Grisons an accused person who wishes to use Romansch is tried by a Romansch-speaking bench and prosecuted by a Romansch-speaking advocate. Even the indictment has to be in Romansch.I emphasise the next passage, because it shows that this is a matter not of need but of right:Yet most Romansch-speaking people speak German fluently, in the way that most Welsh-speaking people speak English and although Romansch is spoken by only 0.9 per cent. of the population of Switzerland, it has national status and may be spoken in the National Federal Parliament of Switzerland.How different is the status of Welsh, which I may not speak in this Parliament, the only one which Wales has; I may not even take the oath in Welsh. But then, Switzerland is highly civilised and democratic.
So is Yugoslavia, which is comparable, having six languages. These nations have a multi-national State which values diversity. Wales has a long way to go before her language enjoys the same status as the languages of these countries. Even after this Bill, English will be "more equal" than Welsh in Wales.
Finally, I turn to other recommendations of the Hughes Parry Report. What steps are the Government taking to implement them, because they are essential to establishing the principle of equal validity? Will they establish a panel of interpreters? This is a difficult and highly-skilled profession; interpretation and translation cannot be left to simply anyone who speaks both languages. Will they establish a panel of translators? How many are employed now in the Welsh Office? Will a Welsh version of the Judges' Rules be prepared and distributed?
Will the Government publish an adequate number of forms in Welsh or, better still, bilingually, and make them readily available, so that it is no more trouble to get a Welsh form than to get an English one. These forms should be available as of right. This should not be based on need but on the same right as the counterparts of the Welsh people enjoy in Switzerland and Yugoslavia.
Will the Government use more Welsh in their public notices on buildings and vehicles all over Wales? It cannot but anger Welshmen when English Ministers 1490 who often know little of Wales say, as I have been told in answers to Questions, that they will use Welsh in this way if they think that it is "necessary", "appropriate" or where they are "satisfied that it is justified" or where there is "evidence of need".
The principle seems to be that Whitehall always knows best and, of course, Whitehall decides, even on such matters as the language to be used by sub-post offices in rural areas where everybody uses Welsh for all purposes. Sub-postmasters in Wales cannot put up notices in Welsh unless there is one in English as well in lettering equally big. This is infuriating for a Welshman.
Will the Government succour the language by using it constantly in their own diverse publications? Stationery Office bookshops have a wide range of books, but how few are in Welsh. Will the Government use it far more in their own advertisements? Over £6,350,000 was spent in the last year on Press advertising by the Government, but the evidence I have is that only £49 was spent on Welsh advertisements in the total of nearly 70 Welsh language newspapers. Finally, how well will the Government publicise the new rights of Welshmen—in the Press, on radio and on television?
The liberty to speak one's own language anywhere in one's own country is a basic human liberty and it is slowly being established in Wales. However, since language is the greatest tradition of a nation, the Government have the duty to create the conditions in which it can develop and gain strength. One of the main conditions is to secure for Welsh equality of status with English—but we have a long way to go before that is achieved.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
When I entered the Chamber with the intention of opposing the Bill, I felt like Daniel in the lions' den, because the House was filled with Welshmen, but, after listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), I realise that they are not all that unanimous among themselves.
The Bill is a backward step and one which I regret. The Welsh language can be spoken in courts at present by anyone who is disadvantaged by not being allowed to use it. The Bill seeks to allow 1491 anyone to use it if he desires. However, in a court case in a part of Wales where very few people understood Welsh, one awkward person who can speak English perfectly well could decide to delay or obstruct by electing to give evidence in Welsh, and this is plain nonsense—
§ Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies (Conway)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that a Welsh-speaking Welshman who chose to use his own language, with which he might be more conversant than with English, is necessarily being awkward?
§ Mr. Doig
No, but I am suggesting that, if he fully understood English as well as Welsh, he could decide, because he was in a part of the country where it was not understood, to make things difficult and awkward by speaking in Welsh. The law already provides that, if there is any disadvantage, people can now choose to speak Welsh, so the Bill would leave the position wide open.
In Scotland, one is thought not to be a real Highlander unless one can speak Gaelic, but hardly anyone in Scotland can speak Gaelic, so I can understand that there might be a similar position in Wales, where one is not considered a 100 per cent. Welshman unless one can speak Welsh.
I am puzzled about the Bill. The last subsection says:Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds. …Surely, if an interpreter is employed in a court, someone has to pay. Who will do so? If not the public or those involved, who will? If official documents are to be printed in Welsh as well as in English, who will pay for that? Everything is in two languages in Brussels and someone has to pay. Packages sent to me from Montreal are printed in two languages, thus taking up twice as much space as would otherwise be necessary. I have been in India where four different languages are used on coins and where people cannot talk to each other, although they are all Indian, but have to get someone from another country to act as an interpreter.
Why should we try to extend the use of Welsh? It has already been admitted, even by a rabid Welsh Nationalist, that only 26 per cent, of the people in Wales understand the language. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor 1492 Evans) complained of post offices using English as well as Welsh, but a post office is used by everyone and if three-quarters of the people in Wales, not to mention tourists or visitors, cannot understand Welsh, surely a post office of all places should use English as well as Welsh.
One of my hon. Friends who knew that I was to oppose the Bill said that it showed feeble-mindedness. There is nothing feeble-minded about trying to get people to understand each other. The feeble-mindedness is in trying to bolster up a language which three-quarters of the people in Wales itself do not understand.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
As a Welsh Member for a Scottish constituency, can I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) what he knows about Wales?
§ Mr. Doig
I know as much about Wales as my hon. Friend knows about Scotland.
Although teachers are scarce, qualified teachers cannot get teaching appointments in Wales if they cannot speak Welsh. That is the sort of situation which occurs when languages are multiplied. How many other workers going to Wales, perhaps to remote parts of Wales where Welsh is still spoken, find it difficult to accept a job because of the language problem, or find it difficult to get their children taught? This is the sort of problem which arises when we try to bolster up a language. If we believe in the international brotherhood of man, as we profess, we ought to aim at an international language which everyone can understand. That would be a sensible objective, and it is an objective to which we are being slowly but surely driven.
In the Highlands of Scotland only old people now speak Gaelic, apart from one or two who think that it is the right thing to do, that it gives them prestige, but very few other people in Scotland understand it. This will be the situation in Wales where only 26 per cent. understand Welsh, many of them elderly. If things go on normally, fewer and fewer people will understand Welsh, so why should we try to bolster up this language? The natural thing to do is to let it die, as it will die unless we bolster it up.
1493 What is the purpose of saving it? Do we want people to talk freely to one another, or do the Welsh want to be able to talk to each other in a language which no one else can understand? That could cruse distrust. During the war in my little section we had a handful of Welsh people whom everyone distrusted because they could talk to each other in a language which the rest of us did not understand, and sometimes it was imagined that they were saying things about others.
The misunderstandings are not a figment of my imagination because the Bill itself makes provision for them. Clause 3(2,a) says:to provide that in case of any discrepancy between an English and a Welsh text the English text shall prevail".Even the Bill admits that there are likely to be misunderstandings among so-called experts.
Surely we should aim at an international language and not allow languages to continue if they serve no useful purpose. The Welsh language is slowly but surely being driven to the point when it looks like dying out, and it ought to be allowed to die out and not given an injection to revive it.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ifor Davies)
Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) has said, it is with great pleasure and with pride that I rise to wind up the debate. I remind my hon. Friend of what The Times said in an editorial on the morning of the publication of the Hughes Parry Report, 26th October, 1965:When a language dies something irretrievably precious is lost not only to the nation, bat to the world.It is because we consider the Welsh language to be precious that my right hon. Friend has introduced a Bill which, I am proud to say, is supported by a Labour Government.
Hon. Members have mentioned the Welsh Courts Act, 1942. When that legislation was introduced by the then Home Secretary, one hon. Member said that he would have liked it to have been introduced by a Secretary of State for Wales. We have now marched forward and this morning a Secretary of State for Wales 1494 has had the privilege of moving the Second Reading of this Bill. While the 1942 Bill had legal limitations, this Bill is clear and precise and goes much further and establishes that Welsh can be regarded as an alternative language.
I should like to express appreciation for the way in which the House has received the Bill and to acknowledge the reception given to it in another place and throughout the Principality. Tributes have rightly been paid to the Committee which produced the Report on the legal status of the language and I am glad to have this opportunity to add my tribute to Sir David Hughes Parry and his two colleagues, Mr. D. W. Jones-Williams and Professor Glanmor Williams. I readily acknowledge, as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) that that Committee was originally set up by the then Minister for Welsh Affairs, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). However, as page 1 of the Report itself says, this was following representations by the Welsh Parliamentary Party, which had recommended the principle of equal validity.
The hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Geraint Morgan), Treasurer of the Welsh Parliamentary Party, was good enough to acknowledge the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) and some of us remember the paper which he submitted in earlier years and the evidence to the Minister for Welsh Affairs on equal validity. The Welsh Parliamentary Party went further and even recommended who the chairman of the Committee should be. I mention these things to show quite clearly that Welsh Members can claim some credit for some of the work which has been done to bring the Bill into existence.
In passing, I should like to acknowledge the excellent earlier Report on the Welsh language which was produced in 1963 by the Panel of the Council for Wales under the chairmanship of Professor Aaron. The opening paragraph of the Hughes Parry Report says:A number of reports and memoranda … have … been published. We would like to think that this is not going to be yet another inconclusive exposition of a complex historical—legal situation.In plain language, the Hughes Parry Report says that at last we should have some action. Action speaks louder than 1495 words and the action of my right hon. Friend this morning, in introducing this Bill, has been much louder than all the discussions which we have had throughout the years, and I should like to commend the manner in which he introduced the Bill in full detail. I do not know of any person, Welsh-speaking Welshman or non Welsh-speaking Welshman, who does not wish to see the Welsh language surviving in Wales. I will exempt the hon. Member for Dundee, West.
There are historical reasons why some Welshmen speak Welsh and some do not, and these factors must be taken into account and accepted. Our task is to foster the growth of our language in ways which will not allow any linguistic differences to disrupt our national unity. We must also avoid any actions which might antagonise the non-Welsh-speaking majority in our country.
I remind the House that the Bill will establish the legal position of the language in the eyes of the law. On the other hand, the status of the language in the eyes of our people, and of the world, depends on each and every one of us. Paragraph 355 of the Report of the Panel of the Council for Wales stated:The survival and strength of a language primarily depend on the exercise of the general will of the community. If the community do not favour the use of the language, government and other institutions can do very little. Language cannot be imposed on a people; it must be embraced voluntarily.The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who has apologised for his absence, said, when we debated this matter in the Welsh Grand Committee, that the way in which this matter is interpreted must depend on commonsense and a civilised approach. That is our stand point.
The hon. Member for Hereford fell below his usual standard when he criticised my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the delay in introducing the Measure. The Bill may be short and small, but I assure him that a great deal of work has been involved in bringing it forward. The Bill propounds principles which have very wide applications, and extensive consultations have had to take place to ensure that it is drafted in such a way as to cover all eventualities. Pressure of other busi- 1496 ness has also precluded its inclusion in the legislative programme before now. Even so, it was introduced in the first place in the House of Lords because of pressure of time.
The hon. Member for Hereford also took issue with Clause I. I assure him that there are difficulties here which would make it impossible for us to accede to his request. The position at present is that the Welsh Courts Act enables a person to speak Welsh in court without having to give notice. To now say that such a person should have to give notice would be to derogate from the right that already exists. Indeed, the evidence given to the Hughes Parry Committee shows that considerable use is made of the Welsh language in Welsh speaking areas, particularly in magistrates' courts, although requests for evidence to be given in Welsh are rare outside these areas.
To hamper ones right to speak Welsh in the courts in these areas would not be justified, and the intention of the Government is clear from the Preamble to the Bill, which states that the Welsh language should be freely used by those who so desire in the hearing of legal proceedings in Wales and Monmouthshire. To restrict this right in magistrates' courts, where arrangements for interpretation can be readily made, would, in the Government's view, be unnecessary.
The Bill gives the right to any man or woman to speak the Welsh language in legal proceedings in Wales and Monmouthshire, in the same terms as he or she has the right to speak English. The intention is clear and precise; namely, to offer the fundamental right to speak Welsh.
The hon. Member for Denbigh questioned me about the phrase in Clause 1:… any party, witness or other person who desires to use it. …He asked if that phrase included advocates. The answer is, "Yes". He also questioned me about Clause 3(2). The Welsh Courts Act, 1942, refers to all proceedings, and the House should note paragraph 208 of the Hughes Parry Report, which states:… great practical difficulties would arise and unnecessary expense be incurred if steps to keep records of trials, whether civil or criminal, in Welsh, were made obligatory.1497 However, this does not affect the translation of oral evidence. As my right hon. Friend said, the object here is to indicate that if Welsh or English is spoken in the presence of those who do not understand the language being spoken, it must be translated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) referred to the claim of my right hon. Friend that Welsh is the language of heaven. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive the pride which we have for the Welsh language; although towards the end of his remarks he agreed the Bill showed a wise approach and appeared to come with us. I assure him that we approach this matter from a common sense point of view and that we have his comments in mind.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen Mr. Gwynfor Evans) referred to bitterness in Wales, but I assure him that that has not been my experience. There may be some bitterness here and there, but there is certainly not a lot of it. The Bill has been well received through-Jut the Principality, and whatever may have happened in the past, the Government are proud of this Measure and I urge the hon. Gentleman to give us credit for what has been done and not of exaggerate any difficulties that may exist.
The object of the Bill is also to enable Ministers to prescribe Welsh or English versions of forms. It is not intended that they should be required to so prescribe them. This follows the rejection of the idea of bilingualism by the Government. If Clause 2 were amended in the way that has been suggested, it would require an unmanageable flood of new forms to be introduced, and the majority of them would be unnecessary.
During the course of its 1,500 years of history, the Welsh language has passed through many crises, each bringing us face to face with new challenges. There is a specific reason for its survival, and that is because it has proved to be the language of the ordinary people—Iaith y werin yw'r iaith Gymraeg—and it is because it has proved to be the language of the ordinary people that it will continue to survive and achieve, I hope, through the Bill, even greater glory and dignity than ever before. Gogoniant myw gaiff eto. A pharch yng Nghymru fydd.
1498 The Measure will not only remove a number of ancient injustices. It will also make for the more effective administration of justice in Wales and enhance the prestige of the courts.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time.
§ Bill committed to Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Gourlay.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.