HC Deb 10 April 1972 vol 834 cc849-51
32. Mr. Gwynoro Jones

asked the Attorney-General how many court cases have been conducted in the Welsh language since the Welsh Language Act, 1967.

The Attorney-General

I regret that I cannot give the information requested as the figures are not readily available and the amount of time and work involved in obtaining them would not be justified.

Mr. Jones

I venture to suggest that the figure is very low indeed anyway. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is right that, in the interests of justice, a defendant who has a preference for the Welsh language should, wherever practicable, be entitled to have the whole case heard in Welsh? In order to facilitate this position, will he initiate a careful study of the professional resources available in various parts of Wales to enable it to be done and, in addition, ensure that all courts are equipped with automatic machinery for it?

The Attorney-General

I do not accept that the numbers of cases to which the hon. Gentleman referred would be few. He is probably aware of the law under the Welsh Language Act and the Welsh Courts Act. The position is that Welsh is available for those who want to use it. However, it has never been the position that one person must impose on another the language which should be used in a particular court.

Mr. Hooson

When the Attorney-General looks into this matter, will he also look into the question of how many cases have been requested to be conducted in Welsh where there is no element of political protest involved and there has been a genuine request for a trial in Welsh? It will be interesting to have the figure.

The Attorney-General

The difficulty is in finding these figures. I agree with what is implicit in the hon. and learned Gentleman's question. However, I understand that there are many cases where part of the evidence may be given in Welsh to suit a particular witness, or an advocate may use Welsh if he wishes.

Mr. Ellis

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is growing evidence that contrived difficulties are being placed by administrators in the courts in the paths of courts and defending lawyers who wish to have cases heard entirely in the Welsh language without the use of interpreters? If it is a fact, is it not deplorable and contrary to the spirit of the Welsh Language Act?

The Attorney-General

I do not accept that it is a fact. Having regard to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), I do not think that it will be found that difficulties are placed in the way of genuine applications or of genuine need to have cases conducted in Welsh.

Mr. John Morris

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that one difficulty is the absence of shorthand writers who are able to take down shorthand in the Welsh language? Will he ensure that there is sufficient recording machinery in all courts so that, where part or, indeed, the whole of the evidence is given in the Welsh language, the need for translation can be avoided because there is a record available?

The Attorney-General

I am not qualified to say whether the shortage of Welsh shorthand writers is due to the shortage of Welsh speakers. However, recording of evidence, either by mechanical or shorthand means, is a problem common to all courts.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that one problem is that, unhappily, not enough barristers are blessed with knowledge of the Welsh language? Will he encourage instruction and learning in this most glorious of languages?

The Attorney-General

I will keep strictly neutral on that proposition.