§ Order for Second Reading read.9.36 am
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time. Tha mi toilichte bhi bruidhinn an seo an diugh anns a Gaidlig agus tha mi an dochas gun teid gu math leis a bhille agam.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will pardon that slight infringement of the rules of the House. It might interest the House to know that one of your predecessors was a fluent Gaelic speaker. Had I been fortunate enough to make my speech in his time, I have no doubt that he would not have allowed an infringement of the rules.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks sounded very musical. I know that Speaker Morrison was fluent in the Gaelic language. Although the right hon. Gentleman will now undoubtedly address us in a language that the House can understand, I must say that his Gaelic sounded almost as musical as Welsh—almost.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am grateful for that testimony, Mr. Speaker.
I wish immediately to clarify a misunderstanding. It has been pointed out to me that no Conservative Members are named as sponsors of my Bill. That arises entirely from my wish not to embarrass them in the event that the Government might be hostile to some part of the Bill. I know that many Conservative Members support my Bill. I asked one of them to support it at an early stage, and he said, sensibly, that he thought that he would do so, but wanted to read it first. That was fair enough. It then occurred to me that I might put Conservative Members in a difficult position if there were any hostility from the Government. That is why I did not include Conservative Members in the sponsorship of the Bill. I could not approach the Minister of State, Department of Energy, because of his Government position, although he is a member of our parliamentary Gaelic group. I know that others would have been equally helpful.
Before coming to the details of the Bill, I want to explain the present position of the Gaelic language in Scotland, the need for the Bill, and what it hopes to achieve. The Gaelic language was common to the populations of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man until the seventeenth century. It was in use at the Scottish court until the death of King Alexander in 1285. King James IV, 200 years later, was also a Gaelic speaker.
Apart from what are now known as the Gaelic speaking areas, the language had a foothold throughout Scotland, even as far south as Galloway, for a long time. There are still native speakers in many unexpected parts of the country, including Perthshire. It is also well known that the considerable population of expatriate Highlanders in Glasgow are Gaelic speakers.
Gaelic possesses one of the oldest literary traditions in Europe. It has a marvellous treasury of song. Although it has been on the retreat until quite recently, it is still the daily language of the people of the Western Isles and. other parts of the North of Scotland. It is also very much alive in the Cape Breton province of Novia Scotia. In fact, the 1089 people there supported a weekly paper in Gaelic from 1892 until 1904. But Gaelic is still very strong in that area, as I know from a visit that I made there two or three years ago.
In the last century Gaelic went through a period of active hostility. School inspectors and others did their best to stamp it out. At that time, even the Established Church was in the ranks of the detractors. As Dr. John Lorne Campbell of Canna pointed out, the anti-Gaelic attitude was due to the opponents of the languagebeing unable to visualise any solution for Highland and Hebridean poverty except emigration and their method of encouraging people to emigrate was to educate all of them as potential emigrants.In our own day there are people who suggest that the language is now of interest only to those in the Highlands. It is also believed, quite wrongly, that people outside that area have no interest in Gaelic.
I want to bring to the notice of the House a public opinion survey that was carried out in Perth at the time of the National Mod last October. The results are extremely interesting. The survey was conducted on scientific principles in homes and in shopping centres throughout the city, amongst all social classes, by two social science research workers from English polytechnics—Dr. Kenneth MacKinnon from Hatfield and Mrs. Margaret Lamplough from Birmingham.
A clear degree of support was evident for the official recognition of Gaelic and an improved place for the language in education and the mass media. Three-quarters of the citizens of Perth believed Gaelic to bea matter of importance to Scotland as a whole.Apparently 77 per cent. felt that it should be recognised officially as a national language in Scotland and 88 per cent. believed that it should be encouraged to continue as a living tongue. Despite the climate of public expenditure cuts, 64 per cent. of all respondents agreed with the need for more public money to be provided in support of Gaelic.
Even greater was the desire for Gaelic to be provided in the schools—in fact, 98 per cent. called for that. For adult education classes there was 88 per cent. support and for educational programmes on radio and television there was 83 per cent. support. Concerning the time allocated to Gaelic on radio and television generally, 56 per cent, of the respondents agreed that there should be more time for Gaelic in the media, and 9 per cent. "much more", although only 1 per cent. of the sample comprised native speakers and only 4 per cent. had any knowledge or ability to follow simple Gaelic.
The report concluded:Gaelic was clearly seen as a national institution in the whole of Scotland. 81 per cent. of the respondents disagreed with the statement that Gaelic should be confined to the Highlands and Islands area. The alleged detrimental effects stemming from Gaelic were clearly rejected by some 91 per cent. of the sample who did not agree with the statement that encouraging Gaelic would result in bad effects.There is unmistakable evidence of a great resurgence in the support for and the use of Gaelic. The old attitude of the Established Church has totally gone. The Free Church has always supported the language. Following the changes introduced by the Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has ordained that the Mass be said in Gaelic where it is the language of the people.
Two of the Scottish banks now issue cheque books with Gaelic wording and put up their names in Gaelic.
1090 The university Celtic departments in Scotland have, over the past 25 years, expanded their staffs.
There is bilingual education in the Western Isles. There is a lively Gaelic drama. More books are being published in Gaelic. The Open University, which has a Gaelic course, says:There is an ever-growing interest in the national language of Scotland so that, in addition to the thousands of Scots who learn Gaelic as their first language, thousands more want to learn it. These Gaelic learners know that a knowledge of Gaelic is an important part of their Scottish heritage.A Gaelic college has been established in Skye. As well as the Stornoway Gazette, the West Highland Free Press publishes articles in Gaelic every week.
But two facts place this revival beyond doubt. The 1971 census, which showed 89,000 Gaelic speakers, showed an increase of almost 9,000 speakers—the first recorded increase in the number.
The other relevant fact is the phenomenal success of the BBC programme "Can Seo". which was a series of lessons in the language. The response took the BBC—not alone—completely by surprise. The cassettes, which were ready-made to accompany the lessons, were sold out in a short time. I understand that the BBC intends to repeat the lessons, starting in April, on a United Kingdom basis.
I think that I have said enough to demonstrate beyond all doubt that we are dealing with a priceless heritage, which is very much alive and which needs only the status that my Bill would provide, at least in part, to make its survival and development certain.
I turn now to the terms of the Bill. Clause 1 defines the Gaelic-speaking areas. Mr. Spencer, of An Comunn Gaidhealach, who has carried out intensive research into this matter, informs me that the first use of the term "Gaelic-speaking areas" occurs as an insertion in section 6 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1918, which lays on education authorities the duty to submit a scheme of all forms of educationincluding adequate provision for teaching Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking areas".In all subsequent Scottish education legislation, the Gaelic clause has been inserted in more or less unchanged form. The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 calls for theteaching of Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking areas".None of the Acts offers an interpretation or definition of these areas. A letter dated 1 July 1980 from the Scottish Education Department to An Comunn Gaidhealach states:You will appreciate that the question which you raise is one of interpretation of the Education Acts and is therefore ultimately a matter for the courts to decide.The SED has taken an attitude of neutrality, referring the definition, first, to the jurisdiction of the courts, secondly, to the jurisdiction of education authorities and, thirdly, to the jurisdiction of individual schools. Clause 1, therefore, would establish the definition of the "Gaelic-speaking areas" and make the legal position clear.
Following the definition, clause 2 would establish the duty of education authorities in the relevant areas to provide education in Gaelic. There has been a report of parents in the island of Mull, which one would assume to be in a Gaelic-speaking area, experiencing great difficulties in having their children taught in Gaelic. A survey showed that most parents wanted their children to learn Gaelic.
§ Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)
Clause 2 causes me some difficulty of definition. The words used by the right hon. Gentleman were "education in Gaelic." Is he talking 1091 about the teaching of the Gaelic language, or is he suggesting that it shall be the duty of all education authorities in those areas to provide Gaelic as the medium of instruction for all subjects, including the scientific subjects that schoolchildren learn? I do not think that what the right hon. Gentleman is after comes out clearly from the wording of the clause.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is a fair point. I am aiming at the teaching of the language in schools where it is required. To go beyond that would be dear to the people who have the interests of Gaelic at heart, but that is for a more distant time. The Bill seeks to provide the opportunity to teach the language to children in areas where it is required.
Clause 3 establishes the right, in any legal proceeding in Scotland, for the language to be spoken by any party, witness or other person who desires to use it. In the courts in the Islands—the only courts of which I have any knowledge—there has never been any difficulty for persons speaking in Gaelic if they wished to do so. I gather that it is purely at the discretion of the sheriff. Although that discretion has been used always in an understanding way, it is only correct, on behalf of the Gaelic language, to have that established as a legal right.
Clause 4 deals with Gaelic versions of statutory forms. It is worded so that there is no across-the-board obligation for all forms to be in Gaelic. The Gaelic version would be ordered by the appropriate Minister and would arise from submissions made on special occasions on which the Minister would have discretion, or there may be occasions on which the Minister would judge it appropriate on his own assessment. Clause 5 clarifies certain conditions which may arise from the activation of clause 4.
Clause 6 deals with Gaelic broadcasting. Representations have been made to me that that might cut across the powers and responsibilities of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland. It submits that the spirit of the Bill would be acheived if the proposed Gaelic broadcasting committee were to be advisory rather than mandatory. I have given consideration to the suggested amendments and have taken advice on them. If the BBC and the IBA were to give me an assurance that they would operate in the spirit of the Bill, I would table their suggested amendments in Committee.
Some parts of the Bill are based on the Welsh example. We know that the number of Welsh speakers is vastly greater than the number of Gaelic speakers, but the discrepancy goes far beyond the numbers game. It is of interest to note that, although 20 per cent. is the figure for the number of Welsh speakers for the whole of Wales, in the Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland the figure is also 20 per cent. We grudge the Welsh none of the advantages that they won for their language. I cannot do better than to quote the words of Mr. Donald MacCuish, of An Comunn Gaidhealach, at the National Mod in Perth. He said:We make no apology for founding so much on Welsh experience. The two languages of common Celtic origin share a history of decline resulting from past regression and neglect. Both are engaged in a struggle for survival and the natures of the measures required from the same central government to help restore them to a healthy state is common to both. We point to the Welsh record in a spirit not of envy but of genuine good-will and congratulation. The close and cordial relations we enjoy with our Welsh friends are sufficient guarantee that our motives will not be misunderstood.1092 That is basically what the Bill hopes to achieve—to get somewhere along the road so that the Gaelic language will have the rights that have properly been accorded to the Welsh language in this place.
The Bill offers a small measure of aid to what is one of the most ancient languages of Europe, in addition to being a language that is part of the heritage of every Scot. I hope that it will command the support of the House.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
I am delighted to be given the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I have written to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on this matter, because Perthshire has been designated as a Gaelic-speaking area. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one major problem in describing Perthshire as a Gaelic-speaking area. Perthshire, the old county, extends from Invergowrie, which is part of Dundee, to the west as far as Moulin Moors and as far south as the bottom end of Glen Farg. It is a massive area covering a wide geographical area with many different communities with different attitudes, different views and different historical roots. It is wrong for the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else to suggest that all of Perthshire is, or could ever have been considered as, a Gaelicspeaking area.
The Black Watch, the senior Highland regiment of the line, was raised in Perthshire. It has very few Gaelicspeaking members, and always has had.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the 1971 census showed that only 1.8 per cent. of people living in Perthshire spoke Gaelic?
§ Mr. Walker
The figure that I have is 1.6 per cent. I shall not haggle over that small matter.
While I am in sympathy with any attempt to improve Scotland's heritage or its image and do what we can voluntarily to encourage individuals, I am extremely reluctant to introduce legislation of any kind on any matter that does not ensure that funds are readily available to make it possible. For too often and for too long wellintentioned legislation has gone through the House and at a later date we have been unable to fund it. In these difficult times—everyone knows exactly what I mean—one thinks of such matters as health and safety, which have added enormous burdens to local authorities and companies. There are aspects of the Bill that cause me concern about funding.
I return to the Black Watch. My family has had long connections with the Black Watch, though I have not, because marching around with a rifle was not my idea of doing my bit for my country. My family has a long record of service with the Black Watch. [HON. MEMBERS: "What did you do?"] My small contribution was made in the air, other than on one occasion when I hit the ground extremely hard. I believe that I made some contribution to the service of my country.
Those members of my family who served with the Black Watch—I have on many occasions discussed this with them—made it clear that Gaelic was not considered to be necessary, valuable or an aid to what they were endeavouring to do. It was not part of the heritage of the Black Watch, because members were recruited from the central belt of Scotland. The central belt has an interesting history but one that is different from that of parts of the 1093 Highlands, Perthshire, of course, is the gateway to the Highlands. In my view, it is the most beautiful part of the Highlands, but I expect other hon. Members to have differing views.
A large part of Perthshire, Carse of Gowrie and other areas is definitely lowland Scotland, and has an honourable, interesting but different heritage. In my own constituency many people are actively involved in encouraging the development of Gaelic. There is a Gaelic choir and a Gaelic society. I shall talk later about schools, where there are other activities.
The city of Perth is the most interesting place in Scotland in which to conduct an opinion poll. It is a superb place to get the best opinions. If one carried out a survey in the city of Perth, one could expect to receive almost any answer that one required, depending on the day and who promoted it.
§ Mr. Walker
Yes. It is very like a weathercock, and I shall explain why in a minute. The reason is clear and logical, and I am sure that the people of Perth will know exactly what I am talking about.
For example, it would be possible to obtain a result in Perth on a Saturday showing a majority in favour of Socialist policies. There could be a massive majority, yet no one in Perth could by any stretch of the imagination describe it as a Socialist city. If the poll were conducted on the day when the Labour Party was having its conference in the city, as happens annually, one would obtain Labour views. If it were held on the day of the Liberal Party conference, one would obtain Liberal views. The Scottish National Party also comes to Perth, and when it did one would obtain SNP views.
Almost every Saturday there is a convention or conference of some kind in Perth. Therefore, I should treat with considerable scepticism any poll carried out in the city if it were carried out over a weekend. Inevitably, there would be in the main streets people there to promote their own views. If one conducted a poll on the day when the Mod was in Perth there would be a massive vote in favour of the views of those attending it, as one would expect.
I turn to some aspects of the Bill that worry me. In clause 1 Perthshire is designated as a Gaelic-speaking area. Very few people in Perthshire speak Gaelic. I live in Blairgowrie, which is in the northern part of my constituency. My general practitioner covers the two glens which are in the most northern part, right up to the ski lift at Glenshee. I asked him "Can you tell me how many of your patients speak the Gaelic?" He replied "That's easy. There aren't any." I know personally one hill farmer who speaks the Gaelic fluently. I am sure that Finlay Cameron would be upset if I did not say that I knew him.
In my constituency we are concerned about this matter. It has been said that 1.6 per cent. of the population of Perthshire speak Gaelic, and my constituency does not cover the whole of Perthshire, so the numbers in Perth and East Perthshire are substantially fewer. Indeed, my investigations have shown that more people in my constituency speak fluent Polish than speak Gaelic. We have a strong and thriving Polish community and a Polish club in the city of Perth. The history of central Scotland 1094 is different from that of the rest of Scotland. At different times we have had influxes from other parts of the world. I shall not bore hon. Members with the long tale—
§ Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)
Is not one of the interesting facts about the Poles in our constituencies that because of their bitter experience of the evils of Socialism they are among the most dedicated Conservatives that we can find?
§ Mr. Walker
Indeed. A substantial number of the Poles in my constituency work for me, because they are totally opposed to Socialist policies.
§ Sir Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
Does my hon. Friend find the Poles in his constituency any different at weekends?
§ Mr. Walker
Like Scots, they enjoy their weekends. They have their splendid club, of which I am an honorary member. When I visit them there we enjoy the kind of weekends that are traditional. They have become part of the Scottish scene.
§ Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most significant aspects of the life of the Polish people has been their desire to maintain their language and culture in the face of repression from other groups, whether they be Socialist or anything else? One of the main features of the Bill is that it is trying to preserve the national culture of a group which over the years has been repressed. To talk lightly and to pray in aid the example of the Poles is inappropriate.
§ Mr. Walker
That intervention was fascinating. I hope that I have made it clear that I am not opposed to the retention of the culture. The people in my constituency are well aware that I support the Gaelic choirs and other matters. What I am concerned about is that we should get the matter into balance. We should not pass legislation that makes it mandatory for Tayside regional council to carry out the provisions of the Bill, if it ever becomes an Act. That is what I object to. I believe that there are better and more efficient ways of achieving what we are attempting to achieve.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
The intervention of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) from the Opposition Front Bench leads to the following conclusion. If we pass the Bill we establish a precedent. It will be extremely difficult to refuse those who speak Polish, Hindu, Urdu or Gujarati when they ask the House for linguistic privileges similar to those accorded by the Bill.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not wish to enter into what could become a racial problem. I believe that every ethnic group, every individual group, should be encouraged to retain its culture. I agree with my hon. Friend that the House should think carefully and deeply before introducing legislation for any particular group. That does not mean that I am in any way opposed to the retention of the Gaelic or to trying—
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Will the hon. Gentleman at least repudiate his hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), whose contention is that Urdu should have as much right as Gaelic, which is one of the native languages of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Walker
In the city of Perth there are people speaking languages other than Scots English. There are a considerable number of students studying at Air Service Training and at the colleges in Perth, hundreds of students, who speak languages that are alien. There are more of them than there are Gaelic speakers.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alexander Fletcher)
I am sure that we do not wish the debate to become acrimonious on the basis of the various languages that are spoken. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) referred earlier to Polish people. It might be helpful to recall the origins of the Polish population here, most of whom came during the war.
On a Sunday morning at a small town in Scotland, I think in my hon. Friend's constituency, some ladies noticed the Poles going on church parade to the local Catholic church. One was heard remarking to the other "My goodness! I didn't realise that all these Poles were Irish."
§ Mr. Walker
I do not wish the debate to become acrimonious. I hope that I am presenting the views of many of my costituents.
I have received six letters about the Bill, five from constituents, and one, which I shall touch on later, from someone who is not a constituent. That gives some idea of the massive interest in Perthshire. There have been a number of letters to the Dundee Courier, some of which have not been from people living in my constituency or in Perthshire generally.
We all know that anything to do with our native Scotland can produce in some people a reaction that is unfavourable to the Scottish image. That is the last thing that I want. We have a great history and a great cultural background, and we should do everything that we can to protect them.
I do not think that we should go overboard. We should not overstate our case. We should not oversell it. More important, in my view, we should not put into legislation that which cannot be delivered. That is one of the matters that bothers me. To do so would produce acrimony and distress which would not be beneficial to Scotland.
If we are to promote the Gaelic and encourage the various arts associated with it, there are aspects of the Bill that, in my view, are liable to do more harm than good. The funds might not be available to meet the aspirations that had been whetted by the publicity. It would possibly lead to the sound of those awful words "It is your right to get this", knowing, as I do, some of the political difficulties that exist on Tayside. I mentioned Invergowrie deliberately. It is situated in Perthshire, but it is also part of the city of Dundee. It contains certain individuals who love to stand up and talk about people's rights. This has dangers if it is passed into legislation. I believe that there are alternative answers.
I turn to the problems raised by the Bill. Clause 1 designates Perthshire as a Gaelic-speaking area. Clause 2 says:It shall be a duty of all education authorities in the areas defined in section 1 of this Act to provide education in Gaelic.That means Perthshire. I mean the old county of Perthshire, not Perth and Kinross district, or Perth and East Perthshire.
1096 I refer to the whole of the old county. According to my calculations, it contains about 110 schools. They stretch from Aberfeldy to Abernethy, Bridge of Earn to Glen Lyon, Strathtay to Blairgowrie, Scone to Stanley, Pitlochry to Glenshee and Invergowrie to Methven. This is a massive area with many small schools and a number of secondary schools. All these schools come into what would be defined as a Gaelic-speaking area. That is the old Perthshire county. The reorganisation of local government—I know that there are some who say that it was not for the best—means that we no longer have any organisation in terms of management or control by elected bodies that look after the old county of Perthshire in total. It is covered by more than one authority. This will mean problems.
There are a number of secondary schools in Perth, which is the largest city in the old county of Perthshire and situated in my constituency. We have St. Stephen's Roman Catholic school, the Academy, Caledonian Road, Cherrybank, Craigie, Crieff Road, Friarton, Goodlyburn, the grammar school, the high school, a large school with about 1,800 pupils. Kinnoull, Letham, Northern district, North Muirton, Oakbank, Our Lady's Roman Catholic, St. Columba's Roman Catholic, St. John's Roman Catholic, St. Ninians, Tulloch and Viewlands.
I have listed the schools in the city of Perth because many are situated in areas of totally different social and economic mixes. In some of those schools there is a flicker of interest. That is the best description I can give—
§ Mr. John MacKay
My hon. Friend is perhaps not an avid reader of The Times Educational Supplement Scotland. Perhaps after Mr. Rupert Murdoch's takeover page 3 of that publication will improve greatly and hon. Members will start to be avid readers. I should, however, like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the back page of the issue of 6 February, which arose out of a letter to the Oban Times by a young lad, Andrew Morrison of Bridgend, in Perth, who wanted Gaelic taught in his school. It transpires that although Perth hosted the 1980 Mod not one secondary school in the city teaches Gaelic. According to the region's education department, there is no demand for the subject among Perth parents.
The article states thatyoung Morrison's headmaster Mr. Ian Agnew is one of the few heads who has actually gone to some trouble to find out what parents feel about Gaelic. He has conducted three surveys in 1976, 1978 and in 1980 after the Mod. The demand for Gaelic from parents was revealed as 3, 2 and 2 respectively.I wonder whether my hon. Friend would care to comment on that demand, which was received by a headmaster who went to the trouble of circulating parents to find out what they wanted. This is more than has been achieved by stopping people in the street and getting their answers. The reality is what parents want their children to do and whether they are prepared for them to take Gaelic. The reality, found by Mr. Agnew, who I am sure is known to my hon. Friend, was three, two and two.
§ Mr. Walker
I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting intervention. I admit that I am not an avid reader of the The Times Educational Supplement. Ian Agnew, who happens to be the rector, to give him his correct description, and a personal friend of mine, is indeed one of the more enlightened and progressive individuals in charge of any school anywhere. I am not surprised that he should take an interest in this matter and try to find out 1097 whether parents wish Gaelic to be taught. That is the kind of school that he runs. We are proud of the school. It has an excellent record. I wish only that the building was as good as the school. The old Perthshire county authority built it on the cheap. It is, however, an excellent school, with excellent staff. It comes as no surprise to me that these were Mr. Agnew's findings. It confirms what I have discovered in my own researches in endeavouring to find out what is happening in my area.
In view of a possible misunderstanding, I should perhaps point out that only two schools in Perthshire teach the Gaelic. Neither is in my constituency. I have, therefore, been careful not to make any comment or observation about them. The schools are situated in Kinross and West Perthshire. There are no schools in Perth and East Perthshire where the Gaelic is taught. That does not mean that at no time in the future will it be taught. I believe that the voluntary approach is best, and that where schools can get something going and there is enough demand the teaching of Gaelic will happen.
The right hon. Gentleman must be prepared, if the Bill gets into Committee, to accept substantial amendments. There are aspects of the Bill which, if they are to meet the aspirations of the right hon. Gentleman and those who wish to follow the Gaelic, can be achieved only by substantial amendment. Clause 2 seeks to impose a duty on all education authorities responsible for areas to be defined as Gaelic-speaking under the terms of clause 1 to provide education in Gaelic. The clause is vague. Its words are not sufficiently exact to enable one to know precisely what is envisaged. We must know what the duty is. The clause is woolly and vague.
Will all schools and colleges in Gaelic-speaking areas come under the terms of the clause? I read out a long list of schools, not because I wished to bore the House, but to show that all of them came under the definition of the clause. I can imagine the reaction of children and parents in the less-well-off areas if there were a statutory requirement to study the Gaelic.
I return to the subject of Scotland's culture and heritage. I remind the House of what that well-known Scot, Adam Smith, said:To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation that is governed by shopkeepers.Hon. Members may wonder why I should quote Adam Smith during a debate on the Bill. My reason is that I wish to refer to the financial implications of the measure. Adam Smith saw that as a nation we had to manage our affairs in a way that would produce the funds to do what we wanted to do. I believe that funds will not be available on a statutory basis to meet the aspirations of the Bill as it is drafted.
We must remember that Scotland is rich in heritage in many other ways. Sir Walter Scott is well known. I do not know whether he spoke the Gaelic, but he said:Love rules the court, the camp, the grove.And men below, and saints above.For love is heaven and heaven is love.I wonder whether those words spoken in the Gaelic would produce the same response.
One of our problems is that people in different parts of Scotland speak what is called English. We know that the 1098 right hon. Member for Western Isles has a delightful way of speaking the English language. He has a beautiful, flowery and wonderful way of expressing it. It is also true to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) has an entirley different way of speaking English. I am not in any way denigrating the way in which individuals speak.
Another Scot had much to say about Scotland and Scotland's future. Robert Burns said:O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie usTo see oursels as others see us!It wad frae mony a blunder free us,And foolish notion".Would that have the same impact in the Gaelic? It would be foolish of the House to implement the Bill in its present form, because without substantial amendments it could do more damage than the good that it intends to achieve.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
I shall make only a brief contribution to the debate. The preface to my speech has been inhibited slightly by the autobiographical travelogue of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). He brought to the debate the same perceptive analysis and deep understanding of the subject that we have come to expect from him. Therefore, no great contribution has been made by him to what should be a serious debate on a serious subject.
I was born on the island of Islay, in the Inner Hebrides. I left the island before I completed the education that would have included a grasp of the Gaelic language. I often reflect on how, if I had continued that education and participated in learning the Gaelic language, it would have helped me in later life, in the occupations that I pursue and in the grasp of the detail of the House of Commons. I must conclude that it would not have been of any great assistance. The number of people who speak Gaelic and the number of uses to which it is put lead me to conclude that it would not have been as useful as a grasp of the French, German or Esperanto languages. However, my richness of life would have been increased through a knowledge of the Gaelic language.
We all need roots in our community and in the background from which we come. Even the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire, who manages to bring to every speech that he makes in the House an autobiographical anecdote in order to identify his own place in the great landsape of human participation, finds it necessary to proclaim his roots whether through an aviation accident or the fact that he once went to school.
§ Mr. Robertson
We have to make that assumption. I do not wish to continue to be unkind to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire.
I wish to take the debate back to the level established by the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). Today we are speaking in London, in the House of Commons, but many people with a deep and serious interest in the future of the Gaelic language will be watching carefully. The richness of Scottish culture and of the areas in which Gaelic is an active ingredient must be regarded seriously. We must assess whether the Bill will be a contribution to that culture.
I do not believe that one should take a fanatical view of the Gaelic language. My sympathy with Gaelic culture, 1099 language and music does not involve imposing that culture on anybody who does not wish to participate. The right hon. Member for Western Isles recognises that in his Bill, and he underlined it significantly and realistically in his speech. There can be no question of imposing the Gaelic language upon people who do not wish it to be forced upon them.
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), with his legal mind, points out that the implication of the Bill is the imposition of obligations, as in any free society. The right is enshrined for the individual in court proceedings, as it would be enshrined for individuals in other matters, such as education. The hon. Member should realise that there are still people in Scotland whose only or whose first language is—
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Member earlier used the census to one decimal point to prove his argument in support of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire. We must take what evidence is available from the census, and take it with the degree of scepticism or faith that one must adopt when making a judgment. I cannot give figures to the hon. Member. I was simply saying that we must recognise and protect individual freedom, whether in the Highlands of Scotland and the Gaelic-speaking areas, or in any other areas that become dear to the hearts of Conservative Members when it is politically convenient.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Would not the hon. Member accept that the provision in the courts is important not only for those who can speak Gaelic and only Gaelic but for those who are more at ease in the Gaelic language, and can express themselves more effectively and therefore put over their case more easily in that language? That should be a right for anyone who is a defendant or participant in any court action.
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Member has made a fair and legitimate point, which supports the argument that I adduced to the hon. Member for Grantham. Those are the rights of the native culture of the Islands. They are as important and basic as the elementary rights presently enshrined in the unwritten constitution of this country. We are doing no great service to the House if we try to denigrate the rights of local and basic native cultures.
About 98 per cent. of the Scottish people do not speak Gaelic, although an increasing number of people are learning the language, are interested in it, and want to know more about it.
I cannot pretend that I represent a Highland constituency. I do not wish to add to the tedium of the House by going through a list of the schools in my constituency that stand on hills of over 150 ft., although that would appeal to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire. I represent a basically urban constituency in the 1100 West of Scotland, yet many of my constituents have come from the Highlands—some of them by choice and others driven by the lack of employment opportunities. They have been taken away from their native culture, with which they probably wanted to stay. Many of my constituents speak Gaelic and are interested in the Gaelic culture. It is because of the representations that they have made forcefully to me that I have felt compelled to add my voice in support of the right hon. Member for Western Isles.
The interest in the Gaelic language is not confined to the Gaelic-speaking areas. The issue concerns not only the 2 per cent. of the population who converse in Gaelic but many thousands of people on Scotland who are interested in the protection and promotion of the language and its future culture.
As I have often said in argument with members of the Scottish National Party, Scotland is a country of diversity. There is little in common, except for an ancient line on a map between the people of the Shetland Islands and the people of Dumfries. There is a diversity in Scotland that betrays the arguments of the separatists and the SNP and at the same time enshrines the need to protect the cultures within it. We must look on that priceless heritage of the Gaelic language in Gaelic areas with the gravest seriousness. Even if we did not have the precedent of the recent decisions on the Welsh language to remind us, we should still be interested in the future of Gaelic and the Gaelic-speaking areas.
The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire said that his opposition was partly based on financial implications. That takes the argument to the lowest possible point. Of course there are financial implications if one has to protect anything. The Government have found it feasible to spend money when it was felt that there was a priority. What greater priority is there than protecting the rights of natives and their culture?
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he does not have a constituency interest in this matter? I have a constituency interest. I hope that I have shown that Perthshire is not, and cannot be described as, a Gaelic-speaking area.
§ Mr. Robertson
My constituency interest is as great as that of the hon. Member. There are Gaelic speakers in my constituency. I am a Member of Parliament for a Scottish constituency and a Member of the House of Commons. The fact that clause 1 includes the word "Perthshire", only part of which is represented by the hon. Member, does not give him more reason for pontificating on the subject than I have. He may have his objections, which may be better suited to Committee than Second Reading. There are Gaelic speakers in Perthshire, but I hope that the Bill will simply recognise that those who want to learn the Gaelic language should have that right, and that it will not be imposed on anyone. The hon. Member has no superior right to talk on a constituency basis.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
I sympathise with the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made, but does clause 2 add anything to clause 1(5) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, except in the designated areas?
§ Mr. Robertson
It does add something to the Act. I shall not go into detail, because some of the technicalities will be better dealt with in Committee.
1101 I intended today to express general support, briefly, for the principle behind the Bill. The irrational responses of the Government to the manifestations of cultural identity can lead people to the wrong conclusions. Over the years, the upsurge of violence and militancy on behalf of the Welsh language appear to have achieved some concession, including the fourth channel. The proper way to protect and promote the Gaelic language is the modest and moderate way of the right hon. Member for Western Isles.
If our response to the Bill is unguarded, the lesson that will be drawn by those who have motives in that direction will be that there are ways in which the Gaelic language can be protected and promoted other than through logical argument in the democratic process. I hope that in its moments of seriousness the House will consider this matter with reserve.
This is a modest measure, presented in a moderate and non-militant manner. It will stimulate and encourage local feelings, and recognise the role of local culture in Gaelicspeaking areas of Scotland. I sincerely hope that the Government and their supporters will have the courage, courtesy and decency to oppose or amend the Bill openly and cleanly. I hope that they will not use procedural devices that may be misunderstood in Scotland and would be unworthy of the Parliament of the British Isles.
§ Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeen, East)
I must declare an interest in the Bill because I am a Scot. The Clan McQuarrie comes from Ulva and I am proud that my forebears have their roots in that area.
The purpose of the Bill is to legislate for the Gaelicspeaking areas of Scotland which are defined in clause 1 as the Highland region, the Western Isles islands council, Argyllshire and the Inner Hebrides, and Perthshire. I cannot understand why the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has chosen to be so divisive in his selection of the defined areas when he represents a party which professes to speak for Scotland, albeit with a parliamentary representation of one right hon. Member and one hon. Member. That selection is something with which those of us who represent other Scottish constituencies would totally disagree.
I am unhappy with the areas which the right hon. Gentleman has defined. I wonder why he decided to exclude the other areas where Gaelic is spoken, to which the hon. member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has rightly referred. In the West of Scotland, there are a large number of Gaels who, over the years, have ensured that their children should be able to speak the language which their parents had brought from the Highlands and islands when they left their native parishes to seek work in the central and western areas. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that these people are equally entitled to have their areas defined as Gaelic speaking?
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
As the hon. Member will know, I have tried, as those of us in this position have to do, to draft the Bill so as to arouse the least possible antagonism, on grounds of expense or anything else. If he cares to table an amendment in Committee to extend the Bill to the whole of Scotland, I will not be among those opposing him.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
I am grateful for that reply and am certainly encouraged by it. However, has not the right hon. Gentleman checked the long history of the Gaels in the west of Scotland?
§ Mr. McQuarrie
I shall refrain from answering interruptions which do not help the Bill's progress this morning.
Has not the right hon. Gentleman checked the long history of the Gaels in the West of Scotland? My home town of Greenock—it is also the home town of the Undersecretary—had such a large Gaelic population that they were able to finance the upkeep of three Gaelic churches with large congregations. The Reformed Church, to which I believe the right hon. Member for the Western Isles is an adherent, had a church in Greenock where the people could worship in the language which they spoke in their daily life. I need not remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Greenock Gaelic choir is famous all over Scotland, and under successive conductors, including Miss Nancy Greenlees, the present conductor, has won most of the major trophies for Gaelic singing at the Mods for many years. This same pattern is repeated over other parts of Scotland and would seem to justify my view that the areas defined by the right hon. Gentleman in this Bill are divisive to Scotland. I am glad that he has said that an amendment would have his approval.
Section 1(1) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 provides that education authorities must provide adequate and efficient schools and further education in their areas. This includes the teaching of Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking areas, although at present that Act does not define Gaelicspeaking areas. This does not, however, mean that the Act precludes the teaching of Gaelic where there is sufficient demand. It is, therefore, up to the education authority to decide whether any particular area should be defined as Gaelic-speaking. Clause 1 of this Bill seeks to put a legal obligation on the areas which are defined and to remove the powers from the local authorities which are contained in section 1(1) of the 1980 Act. Whether this would be acceptable to the local authorities can be judged only by the number of parents who wish to have their children taught Gaelic as a second language.
Clause 2 is vague. It seeks to impose the responsibility upon the local authority but it is not clear whether that responsibility is to apply to normal school education or to further education or to both. It is not clear whether the Bill is to apply to all schools, or to all schools and colleges in the proposed defined areas as set out in clause 1. Clause 2 is also vague as to whether it is intended to ensure that tuition is to be in the Gaelic language and literature or that Gaelic is the medium of instruction in some other subjects. It does not specify whether, should the Bill become law, the teaching of Gaelic would them become obligatory on all pupils resident in the defined areas or only to those who regard Gaelic as their first language. The absence of clarification and the vagueness in clause 2 could have considerable implications for education authorities and could result in severe increases in expenditure on schools and further education. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could make these matters clear to the House and say what exactly lies behind the proposals in clause 2. I will not invite him to do so now, because I know that he wants to make progress with the Bill as much as I do. I respect that.
1103 Clause 3 departs from the education requirements of the Bill and introduces new proposals that the Gaelic language may bespoken by any party, witness or other person who desires to use itin the courts,subject to such prior notice as may be required by rules of the court; and any necessary provision for interpretation shall be made accordingly.That clause has been taken almost exactly from the Welsh Language Act of 1967.
If the House is to accept the clause, it means in effect that the provision of an interpreter would be at public expense. It is presumed that if the evidence is to be taken in Gaelic the written proceedings will continue to be in English. If this clause is examined closely it seems to be unnecessary, as the present legislation is such that a party may use a language other than English provided that he makes himself comprehensible to the court. In these circumstances the onus of responsibility of bearing the expense of an interpreter has to be borne by the party who chooses to use a language other than English. I wonder which option the right hon. Gentleman had in mind when the Bill was being drafted.
Clause 4 seeks to impose upon the Minister the need to prescribe the printing of stationery or official forms in Gaelic. This also is a clause which has been lifted from section 2 of the Welsh Language Act of 1967 and goes much further than the desire to have certain parts of Scotland as defined areas for Gaelic speaking. If this clause is accepted it will place a financial burden on the taxpayers for forms which may be rarely used, as the clause appears to demand a right to have the documents printed rather than give discretionary powers to the Minister concerned.
Clause 5 is a supplementary clause which makes additional provisions to clause 4. Again, the wording in the clause follows closely the wording in section 3 of the Welsh Language Act of 1967. In its present form, some parts of the clause are inappropriately drafted for a present day Bill and would require to be amended if the Bill is given a Second Reading today and goes into Committee.
Finally, clause 6 seeks to set up a Gaelic broadcasting committee consisting of representatives of the IBA and the BBC. Since the radio and television coverage in the areas defined in clause 1 are carried out by Scottish Television, Grampian Television, BBC Television, BBC Scotland, Aberdeen and Highlands, plus Tayside, does the right hon. Gentleman intend that those companies should have an obligation to have specified Gaelic programmes each day? Although I accept that the general intention of the clause is understood, it would be difficult to co-ordinate programmes when each operating company has its own schedules.
The clause seeks to obtain more television and radio time in Gaelic. It is reasonable for the Gaelic-speaking person to expect a balance of programmes based on the percentage of Gaelic-speaking people in the defined areas. However, this should be a matter of agreement between the companies concerned and should not be mandatory upon them. Clause 6(2)(d), which places a duty on the proposed Gaelic broadcasting committee to report to the Secretary of State and offer advice on matters within its remit, appears to seek to make the committee a pressure group for the further increase in television and radio time in Gaelic, bypassing the companies which are operating in 1104 the defined areas. I am sorry to say that that could lead to friction and resistance if further substantial sums of money have to be found by the companies to increase the Gaelic programmes.
This Bill is the first ever Gaelic Bill to be presented to the House. While there are many flaws in its drafting, it is in essence an effort by those who wish to see the Gaelic language obtain a greater degree of prominence. In my constituency, where the Buchan is the accepted dialect of the majority of the people, I well understand the wish of the Gaels. If it were ever suggested that the Buchan could not be spoken in East Aberdeenshire, there would be an outcry to which I would give my total support. I may not have as many people in my constituency who speak Gaelic as those who use Buchan in their everyday conversation, but for those who do this Bill is a modest start. Despite the critical but, I hope, constructive comments that I have made—no doubt the Bill can be corrected in Committee—I am prepared to give my wholehearted support to the Bill presented by the right hon. Member for Western Isles, in the hope that he will take note of what I have said about its shortcomings and the need to extend the defined areas from those set out in clause 1.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I have listened with great care to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie). He spoke rather quickly, and it is difficult for us Sassenachs to follow all that he says. I am looking at the Bill through the spectacles of a lawyer, and I had hoped that he would say something about the definition in clause 1. It seems to me, and the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) will correct me if I am wrong, that the Highland region and the Western Isles islands council are local authority areas and there is obviously no problem in enforcing legislation in areas where the local authority organisation has power. But Argyllshire and Perthshire are no longer local authority areas, and I do not believe that the Inner Hebrides has ever been such an area. Can he say how the areas defined in clause 1 could reasonably enforce the proposals in the Bill? The matter is not clear to me. It is important to deal with the common sense application of the Bill before dealing with the detail.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
There is no problem here, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) for raising the matter. Every child who attends a school in any of the regions defined in clause 1 comes under the ambit of a local authority education department and that department, in turn, comes under a particular regional council, each regional council having its own education department. Therefore, the child would be within the control of an education department in the region. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) pointed out that part of his constituency is in the city of Dundee. The criticsm about the divisiveness of the clause becomes apparent when the region is different. The right hon. Member for Western Isles accepts the criticism that I made about the definition of areas and says that he is quite happy for the Bill to be amended to enlarge the areas. An amendment to clarify the point raised by my hon. Friend would ensure that any child in any local authority area in the defined areas, as amended, would enjoy the facility of Gaelic language.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
I prefer the attitude of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) to that of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker), whose attitude did little good to his constituents or the country in what I can only describe as a nit-picking speech. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the cultural heritage which his part of Scotland enjoys. I had always understood that Perthshire regarded itself as the beginning of the Highlands, although I know that the topography of the county varies considerably and so, presumably, do the individual cultures.
I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)—on this occasion at least—that Scotland is a country of diverse cultures and that that is the richness of our inheritance. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on his initiative in bringing forward the Bill.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that 80 per cent. of the people living in Perthshire do not live in what could be described as the Highlands? The bulk of them live in Perth, Carse of Gowrie and the other lowland areas.
§ Mr. Wilson
Perth is very proud of its heritage and looks on itself as a Highlands city. Indeed, the tourist information about the city says that it is one of the gateways to the Highlands, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, I do not wish to get involved in a long battle on that issue. It is for him to make his views known to the House.
One of the difficulties in presenting a Bill to the House is to know where to draw the line. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East made a good point when he said that perhaps the Bill should apply to the whole of Scotland. I sympathise with that view. There is the difficulty that if one goes too fast the House may not accept the Bill, and that would be no step forward for the Gaelic language, however modest that step. There is nothing to stop any hon. Member, including my right hon. Friend, from making a further attempt if he is lucky in a future ballot. In my view, the hon. Gentleman has taken the appropriate steps. He has consulted An Comunn Gaidhealach, the body that nurtures the language and is responsible for it. The Bill derives largely from the discussions that he has had with that body, and of course from the experience of those in Wales who have fought for their language over a long period.
I received a document from the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties, which said:Wales has benefited further from section 21 of the Education Act 1980, in terms of which the Government is required to give grants to education authorities and others for expenditure incurred in the teaching of Welsh and in the teaching of other subjects in Welsh. A sum of £515,000 has been allocated for these purposes in the current financial year. The 1980 Act provisions were promoted by the present Conservative Government. Similar provisions were contained in the Labour Government's Bill, which fell with the dissolution of Parliament in 1979.While there may be disputes about the sums of money involved or the extent of the provision, because of the different degrees to which the languages are spoken in their areas there is a strong argument that similar help should be given to the Gaelic language in Scotland.
§ Mr. John MacKay
I understand that the forms are bilingual in Wales, but I wonder whether they can be completed in Welsh. If they are completed in Welsh and returned to the particular authority, how does that authority cope if it does not employ a Welsh speaker? Are we moving in the direction that the Irish have moved, so that people who work for both local and central Government in Wales will be forced to be fluent in Welsh?
§ Mr. Wilson
I gather that the Welsh Office has facilities of that kind. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would suggest that within the 10,000 employees of the Scottish Office there will not be some who have some knowledge of Gaelic, or, indeed, within the areas which my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles has designated. I hope to say something about forms later in my remarks.
I want to comment on the sympathy that exists for the language. One of the remarkable things in the last year or two has been the success of the Can Seo programme, which spontaneously took off, much to the surprise of the BBC, which no doubt considered that it was performing a somewhat tiresome duty in terms of its Royal Charter to provide some cultural back-up within Scotland. The programme, as my right hon. Friend has mentioned, proved to be tremendously successful.
In my own constituency, which, as all hon. Members know, is not significantly a Gaelic-speaking one, there was a study by the Dundee Courier of schoolchildren in St. Saviour's high school. It was rather interesting that some of the pupils, who were perhaps wary of making Gaelic compulsory—which is not the intention of the Bill—agreed that pupils in Scottish schools should be given a chance to learn it. They all expressed concern that Gaelic might die out and felt that the language was an important part of Scottish heritage and should be given every encouragement to flourish. Some of them thought that the idea was to introduce Gaelic as a second language to English, to give pupils the opportunity to take it as a subject instead of a foreign language. There were further very interesting statements by these young people, who obviously felt that Gaelic was part of their cultural heritage, whether or not they themselves spoke it.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the article in the Dundee Courier and the reaction to the BBC programme. Will he confirm that he would expect Radio Tay to pursue the same course and offer Gaelic as one of its regular programmes?
§ Mr. Wilson
If there is a market for Gaelic, I am sure that Radio Tay will do so. That is the second thing that I was about to say. Obviously Gaelic has been well-received in the Can Seo programme, beyond the expectations of those who promoted it, and the audience presumably English-speaking.
Secondly, it depends, naturally, on demand. Again—and this is a point that has been made by my right hon. Friend in asides in relation to certain speeches—where there is no demand, presumably there will be no problem about providing teachers, but where there is a demand from parents for their children to be taught the language that demand should be satisfied and there should be a legal duty that the language should be taught in the areas defined in the Bill.
§ Mr. John MacKay
This is a serious point. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Bill would mean that if one 1107 parent demanded that his child be taught Gaelic the authority would be obliged under the law to find a Gaelic teacher—which would probably be impossible—otherwise it would be in default of its legal responsibility?
§ Mr. Wilson
If it did not mean that it would make no sense in the areas concerned where there was a demand. But that demand could be satisfied quite easily, as the hon. Gentleman knows, by the provision of a peripatetic teacher, who would cover a number of schools. It is done already in relation to minority subjects, and I see no reason why it could not be done.
Secondly, there might well be a demand or a requirement that the education authorities should get some finance for that purpose. I have made that point in relation to the help given to the Welsh language. It may be that the Government will find it impossible at this stage to make a paltry few thousand pounds available for this purpose—although I would doubt that very much, considering the state and nature of the Government's budget. We are talking of a tiny amount. But there is nothing to stop Governments in the future, as and when the economy picks up and national finances are less riddled with holes, from providing some money.
I see no practical point or financial difficulty in the hon. Gentleman's argument. I hope that he will feel that should there be pupils in his area who wish to be taught the language in school, and wish to have the right to be taught one of their own languages in their own country, that right should be satisfied. Any suggestion that tiny sums of money should not be found to allow that to happen would be disgraceful. I see no problem in that direction.
In certain areas where Gaelic is spoken more frequently education authorities would be able to do as they do at present in the provision of tuition in Gaelic on subjects other than the Gaelic language itself. That happens in the Western Isles, particularly at primary level. There is nothing to stop that. The Bill neither adds to nor subtracts from that right.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Will the hon. Member confirm that he is satisfied with the provision for education in Gaelic on the island of Skye and the Western Isles?
§ Mr. Wilson
That is a question that I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles to answer when he sums up the debate.
I turn to clause 3. In relation to the use of Gaelic in legal proceedings, I see no difficulty, again from the Welsh experience. As members of the legal profession know, evidence can be received in Chinese and Urdu. I think that on the occasions when Gaelic would be suitable the courts would go out of their way to help, but if the Bill made it a legal right it would put an obligation on the person who wished to use the Gaelic language to give advance notification so that there would be no question of dislocation of court proceedings. That would be a wise provision.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Will the hon. Gentleman be following up with a list of cases, places and dates on which Gaelic has been refused as a form of language in the courts? If he cannot show that the existing system has failed, that it has been harmful or disadvantageous to Gaelic speakers, there is no merit in the point that he is making.
§ Mr. Wilson
The plain fact is that if there is no legal right, people will be afraid to demand it. There is no legal right to it now.
§ Mr. Wilson
No, I disagree. The clause makes clear what the situation should be. I shall resist interventions from English Members on this score. I am sure that they are well acquainted with the law of England. As a Scots lawyer I should hesitate to trespass on their territory, and I trust that they will not try to change the law of Scotland as they go along in, perhaps, a filibustering attempt to prevent the Bill on children's seat belts from coming before the House.
Clause 4 deals with Gaelic versions of statutory forms. I have dealt with one of the questions that has been raised. I draw the attention of hon. Members to the discretion of Ministers in terms of the clause. It says thatthe appropriate Minister may by order prescribe a version of the document or words in Gaelic, or partly in Gaelicand so on. The discretion rests with the common sense of the Minister concerned. If he does not do it in certain circumstances where public opinion feels that he should do so, there would be some criticism. Likewise, if he surged on and produced every document in Gaelic he would no doubt attract criticism from some parts of the community. The problem of discretion is dealt with by the words of the Bill.
The Bill marks a step forward. No doubt it will be examined in Committee, as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East has indicated, but I hope that the spirit in which it will be looked at there will be such that those participating will wish to do what they can, as individual Members of the House, to advance the status of a language that forms part of our cultural heritage and which has in the past—and I speak as an English speaker—been treated quite shamefully. The situation has improved, but not for many years. There have been instances of children being refused tuition in their own language, as my right hon. Friend has mentioned. I hope that some hon. Members will not use this important Bill as an excuse for a filibuster, to prevent other important matters from reaching the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn)
I, too, would like to add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) upon the charm and felicity with which he introduced the Bill. That charm is entirely consistent with what we know of the man. It explains the success with which he has fought elections, which has owed much more to his personality than to the wisdom of his party's policies. I sincerely believe that he has done the House and the country a service by bringing forward the Bill.
It is important for us to remind ourselves that the House of Commons exists not only to debate matters of high international importance or crucial affairs at home. We have a duty to consider the language and culture of the people within these islands and a special duty to look after minority interests. That is an important part of our democratic tradition, and it has been reinforced this morning by the right hon. Gentleman.
It may be helpful if I explain the involvement of my constituency in the provisions of the Bill. In national terms the Gaelic language is a minority language. That is also 1109 the position in North-East Scotland. If the Bill were to come into effect the Moray part of my constituency would not be covered, but the Nairn part would. I shall refer to two statistics from the 1971 census. In Nairn county the Nairn Small Burgh had a total population of 8,035, of which 1.4 per cent. were Gaelic speakers aged 3 years or over. In Nairn Landward, with a total population of 3,015, the proportion of Gaelic speakers was rather higher, namely, 2.4 per cent, but still very much a minority. It is not clear whether that minority is comprised of fluent speakers or readers. We are left in grave doubt. None the less, it is an important minority, and one whose interests we must regard with great care when deciding what to do with the Bill.
Clause 2 contains the duty to provide education. As I understand the present law, there is scope already for local authorities to expand Gaelic provision if they so choose. I return to the issue raised earlier in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser), namely, that there could be many semantic difficulties in the present phraseology. I think that the Bill's sponsor now recognises that.
Even if we assume that the wording is changed so that it is made clear that the emphasis is to teach people to learn about Gaelic life and culture rather than to teach advanced mathematics in the Gaelic language it remains one thing to make it a duty to provide education and another thing to encourage linguistic development. Will the provision be enough without a corresponding obligation for the subject to be studied?
§ Mr. John MacKay
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that an authority can, as the Western Isles council is doing, try to work out an experiment and provide for education where the medium of teaching is Gaelic. That bilingual policy is being pursued by the Western Isles council. The Government are providing money to enable that policy to be pursued. I ask my hon. Friend, who I know is an advocate, to consider the definition of "in". In response to my earlier intervention the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said "No, it is not supposed to be 'in Gaelic.'" However, during an interview on the radio this morning someone from Inverness made it clear that he wanted the right to demand that his child should be taught in Gaelic. Before we go a step further the effect of the Bill must be clarified. There would be serious consequences for our education system in Strathclyde, Argyll and other places if an education authority were forced to teach a child or children in Gaelic. It would be almost impossible to comply with that obligation, and authorities could be taken to law.
§ Mr. Pollock
My hon. Friend highlights the semantic problems of which the sponsor is well aware. As I understand his introductory speech, he was concerned not so much with other subjects being taught in the Gaelic language but in ensuring the teaching of Gaelic life and culture. In Committee we would be bound to take a close interest in how a proper interpretation could be contrived. Having laboured hard and long in the House, I should be appalled if I found that the Scottish courts interpreted this measure in the way suggested by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Earlier in his speech my hon. Friend said that the existing law provided scope for an 1110 expansion of Gaelic-speaking education. Does he accept that the 1980 Act imposes a duty upon education authorities to provide a Gaelic education in Gaelicspeaking areas? It is a much more positive obligation than perhaps my hon. Friend suggested.
§ Mr. Pollock
I accept that gloss on my earlier contribution. We must be careful to get the mix right. Where there is a clear demand we try to encourage provision, but in encouraging that provision we must not, in a pointless way, divert funds that might be better spent in some other direction. For example, if there were to be a compulsory attendance in a primary school of one teacher for one of 500 pupils, I should want to inquire whether that was the best use of public funds in preserving the language.
Clause 3 has been referred to by other hon. Members, and as an advocate of the Scottish Bar I speak with some working knowledge of the language problems that arise in the courts. I am sure that my colleague in the legal sense, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), will agree that in recent years there have not been linguistic difficulties for anyone who has required to give his evidence in a language other than English. The Scottish legal system is extremely adaptable. The Scottish system provides that evidence may be taken on commission. If, for example, someone is too infirm or too old to come to court to give evidence, the court can appoint a commissioner to act in the place of the judge. Then, in effect, a mini-court is held at the home of the person involved.
On one occasion, in a case in which I was concerned, a woman was heavily pregnant and clearly could not attend court to give evidence. A commissioner was therefore appointed, who was seen packing not only his wig and gown but taking with him a handbook on midwifery and gynaecology and a china plate. I questioned him about this and he explained that he was terrified that the witness might go into labour as the court was sitting at her bedside, and he wanted to be fully prepared for that. The china plate was not related to the possible birth but rather to the possibility that the lady might belong to an obscure Chinese sect that required its members to break a plate at the same time as taking the oath. If, within our system, we can cope with those oddities, we can also deal with someone who speaks Gaelic.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said that to speak in Welsh or Gaelic might make things easier for people. I am not at all convinced of that. I remember having a client from the isles whom I was defending. He was quite happy to speak in English until there were some difficult questions, which he found rather harder to answer, and then he lapsed into Gaelic. That did very little for the lawyer-client relationship that is so crucial to a proper understanding of a litigant's interests.
I do not want to belabour the point, but what concerns me is whether the emphasis in the Bill is in the right direction. If we believe in the preservation and maintenance of the Gaelic language and its fullness of beauty and culture, do we want to emphasise its use in public spheres such as litigation, or in dealing with bureaucratic institutions?
Do we really want to be able to say to children "When you are an adult you will be able to come to court and have a Gaelic facility in legal terminology?" Is it really helping the court for someone to come to court and say in Gaelic 1111 "I represent the claim of a belated claimant in a ranking for aught yet seen"—a legal term of art in Scotland? Is it necessary to convert that into Gaelic to allow for the preservation of the language? I think not. The emphasis and assistance should perhaps be in other directions.
That is why I am much more encouraged by the proposal in clause 6 to set up a Gaelic broadcasting committee, because that is where the language needs assistance and help. Fortunately, remote communities can be brought together by television and by sound broadcasting. Education can benefit from the use of such facilities. There is, therefore, a strong case for a greater involvement of public funds in ensuring that kind of facility to help students of the language.
Here I must refer to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie). We have been discussing what is included in the Bill. I am in some doubt whether other aspects of the Scottish language should be included. My hon. Friend mentioned the Buchan dialect. There is also the Lallans of Lowland Scots. Should we have provision for that, for the language of Burns, and for the Doric? I do not know. I find it very hard to reach a decision.
The right hon. Member for Western Isles might care to give his views on those aspects and indicate whether the Bill is too narrow in its scope. If he is to fight for the Gaelic, for that part of the native language and culture, should he perhaps take account also of other aspects?
§ Mr. McQuarrie
When I mentioned the Buchan, I was not suggesting it as an alternative to the Gaelic; I was merely illustrating the kind of language that would be spoken in a particular area. I was in no way endeavouring to detract from the right hon. Gentleman's presentation of the Bill.
§ Mr. Pollock
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification.
The Bill is worthy and well-intentioned, but perhaps the emphasis in it should move away from the desire to have rights when dealing with the law and with bureaucracy—which I cannot believe would enrich the language and its culture—and be placed on other areas, such as those hinted at in clause 6, dealing with the preservation of the language through broadcasting. That is surely where most good could be done to the language and culture of the Gael. But that is a matter to be developed in Committee. Meanwhile, I wish the Bill a very fair wind.
§ Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The Opposition support this modest measure. We see the Bill as a long-overdue attempt to help promote the Gaelic language. In many respects it arises from the experience of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) in his own constituency, where, in recent years, there has been an educational project providing for the teaching of Gaelic as a subject and—equally important—as a mode of instruction in the curriculum at primary level. We are very interested in that experiment, but I do not think that in his introductory remarks the right hon. Member implied that this approach should be imposed throughout Scotland.
I accept much of what the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) said about the Perthshire problem, although it is difficult to generalise about an area 1112 of that size. Nevertheless, perhaps some sort of accommodation could be achieved in Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not seek to frustrate the passage of the Bill today simply on the ground that the definition of Perthshire is not to his liking, for what is beyond contradiction is that within parts of Perthshire there remains an interest—and an increasing interest—in the Gaelic language. There are Gaelic choirs, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which provide evidence of the interest in the language and of the fact that the promotion of the language could be developed in those areas if the local authority, the parents, or the courts were prepared to sanction it.
References have been made to the Education Act 1980 and to the explanatory letter that I understand the right hon. Gentleman received, in which three separate areas were laid down—the courts, the education authorities, and some discretion within individual schools. I hope that we shall not become hung up on the legalities of the question, given that the Scottish Education Department has made it fairly clear that there are different areas in which decisions can be taken.
It is desirable that the area outlined in clause 2 should be left vague. The project that is now taking place in the Western Isles is unfortunately attracting very little attention from Scottish educationists but, surprisingly, it is attracting a great deal of attention from educationists throughout the rest of the world. Information about the work that is being done to monitor the project is not: yet available to any extent within the United Kingdom. We shall probably have to look to academic journals from universities and colleges elsewhere to be able adequately to assess its impact.
There is no simple and straightforward way of promoting Gaelic in different parts of Scotland. In those areas where parents of children at secondary school would like their children to be given opportunities to obtain leaving certificates in Gaelic at "O" grade and in higher examinations, facilities should be made available wherever possible.
I appreciate that in the city of Perth there may not be a great deal of interest in Gaelic in one particular school, but it is worth remembering that last night, in discussing the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill, we spent a considerable time on the merits of parental choice. I have always accepted the view that if a significant number of parents wish a subject to be taught in a school the responsibility rests with the local authority to provide the necessary funds. In that respect, it is important—
§ Sir Ronald Bell rose—
§ Mr. O'Neill
I shall give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman in a moment.
It is important that we should recognise that there are some areas of the country that deserve special designation. To that extent, we see clauses 1 and 2 in tandem. However, we do not wish to impose a uniform approach on Scotland, or even on those areas listed in clause 1 (a) to (d). Perhaps in some parts of Argyllshire and the Highlands region the medium of instruction in primary departments should be the Gaelic language. In other areas there may be an opportunity to improve on the language within the school curriculum. We are not suggesting that there is an ideal blueprint and, therefore, we do not oppose the vagueness of clause 2.
1113 We approach clause 3 with some caution. I am not a lawyer, and we must be grateful to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) for his helpful explanation of some of the advantages that are enjoyed at present by people in the Scottish courts. Our worry in respect of this clause relates to the reference to the rules of court. My lawyer colleagues on the Opposition Benches have raised doubts about what that means. We should like the matter to be probed, expanded on, and made clear in Committee. However, we take the point that while, in Scottish courts, it is open to individuals to speak in the language in which they are most at ease, there are problems.
I hope that I shall not slander the people of Govan, but a drunken Highlander appearing in court on a Monday morning claiming the right to give evidence in Gaelic could create problems. However, I do not think that that problem will flow from the application of clause 3.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
In any event, it would be unusual for an immediate trial to take place. At that stage it would be a pleading diet, and evidence would not be given. If the man pleaded not guilty the case would not be dealt with until a later date.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher
Does that mean that the courts wait until the drunken Highlander is sober? Whether he would be easier to understand in that state of mind is another matter.
§ Mr. O'Neill
That is an eventuality that I hope we shall be able to discover when the Bill becomes law.
We have some doubts about clause 3, but we shall consider them in Committee and seek to find an accommodation that is acceptable to all.
Clause 4 is unexceptional. The discretion rests with the Minister. I imagine that we are talking here in terms of census forms and forms that would be fairly complicated to complete and that are at present available to ethnic groups in some parts of the country. We consider this to be a helpful approach. I would be happy to see returns to the European Community made in Gaelic. Anything to frustrate the activities of that organisation would not be antipathetic. The matter is up to each Department, and it is at the discretion of the Minister. I am sure that there are Gaelic speakers in centre 1 at St. Andrew's House, and there are many areas in which sensitivity and flexibility could be applied. The right hon. Member for Western Isles did not make any outrageous claims in his introductory remarks, and we consider that this clause is unexceptionable.
We accept clause 5. I am surprised at the moderation of the right hon. Member for Western Isles. There was a recent case concerning the trust of one Jake Macdonald, a former lecturer at Jordanhill college. Following his death, a trust was set up to promote the Gaelic language for educational purposes. During the court case that followed it was conceded that it was possible to have the terms of a trust written in Gaelic which would take precedence over English. However, such is the moderation of many of the proposals in the Bill that the right hon. Gentleman has not sought to use that as a precedent. That is another sign of the helpful attitude that could prevail in Committee.
Clause 6 is somewhat cautious. The record of both the IBA and BBC is none too good in terms of broadcasting 1114 in Gaelic. We know that there are 10 hours a week of Gaelic broadcasts on radio and about 10 minutes a week on television over one year. We do not have a great deal of confidence in either the IBA or the BBC using their good offices to promote the language. We would like to think that a Gaelic broadcasting committee would include representatives not only of the IBA and the BBC but of organisations that have an interest in the promotion of the language. Obviously, An Comunn is one. Again, the matter can be expanded in Committee. We give notice that we do not have very much confidence in the IBA and the BBC being the sole nominating bodies for such a committee.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the point that I endeavoured to make was that the decision about the amount of television and radio programmes to be broadcast in Gaelic should be agreed between the people who are interested and the companies, because they are the people who will pay? Once there is agreement on the amount of time that is required or requested, that case could be put to the companies which operate in those areas. They would treat the matter sypathetically. That would be a better way than making a mandatory condition such as that provided in clause 6.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I accept some of the hon. Gentleman's points. He mapped out a plethora of organisations, including BBC Radio, BBC Television, Scottish Television and Grampian Television. Under the umbrella of the IBA and the BBC, those organisations would be represented. I do not necessarily see that as a big problem.
The promotion of the language is important. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn. At present, many of the radio programmes—television is scarcely significant in this respect, apart from the programme that was so well received—are broadcast at inconvenient times. With VHF and other technological opportunities it should be possible for the broadcasting authorities to provide more programmes at times at which they will be heard by the people who want to hear them.
Our main objection to clause 6 is that we do not think that the IBA and the BBC should be the sole nominating organisations for the committee. If they consider that the promotion of Gaelic is a chore they could frustrate it by including unsympathetic representatives from their organisations. I should like a broader base on which a reasonable debate could take place.
It can be seen that the Opposition are not opposed to the legislation. In fact, we would like to think that it could have an easy passage through the House. We recognise that legislation of this nature is long overdue, because as time goes on and the language is ignored it will decline. We should like to reverse that trend. In recent years we have seen hopeful improvements. We should like to think that this House would give support to the language.
§ Mr. Lawrence
The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill is long overdue. Will he explain why his party's election manifesto declared only thatSupport for the Gaelic language has been increased by the Labour Government. We will continue this process"?Where is it specified that a Bill of this kind, obliging local authorities and the courts to make these provisions, is necessary and overdue, and would be supported by a Labour Government?
§ Mr. O'Neill
Our commitment to the language was quite clear in that election manifesto. Obviously we felt that legislation of this nature was better promoted on a private Member's basis. The record of the Labour Government was one in which, with limited resources, some measure of support was given. We should like to think that in more spacious times greater support could be given to it. In our view, assistance to the Gaelic language will have to increase, as interest in it has been increasing over the past few years. There has been a resurgence of interest. The decline has been arrested. The House should take note of that, and this legislation would give us an opportunity to provide positive support, to make sure that one of the rich and diverse elements in our culture was given assistance into the twenty-first century.
The Opposition are happy to give qualified support to the Bill. We shall ensure in every way we can that it has a smooth passage today and through its Committee stage, when the opportunity arises.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland(Mr. Alexander Fletcher)
It might be helpful to the House in considering this matter if I explained the Government's views on some of the aspects of the Bill that have been the subject of speeches today.
First, however, I wish to congratulate, as other hon. Members have done, the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on the use that he has made of his second place in the ballot for Private Member's Bills by providing an opportunity for the House to discuss this subject.
Gaelic is obviously a living force in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, and my hon. Friends and others in the House today want to see the Gaelic language and culture enhanced and developed, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand when I say that I do not necessarily equate support and encouragement for the Gaelic language with support for details of his Bill.
The Government have given financial and other support for the Gaelic language and culture and will seek where possible to enhance and improve their position. An Comunn Gaidhealach and other Gaelic organisations will continue to have our support.
I recall with approval the words of Dr. Johnson during his tour of the Hebrides, when he said:I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations.That was said 208 years ago, and today Gaelic is far from being lost.
The Government take the view that the main instrument for developing Gaelic in every sense must be the strength and initiative of Gaelic speakers themselves, acting with external assistance and support where that is necessary and appropriate. In this respect I welcome the Western Isles Island Council's Gaelic policy as a response to what the council considered to be the wishes and needs of Scotland's largest and most securely established Gaelic community.
If Gaelic is to be strengthened, we think that it must be strenghened in its homelands—that is, the north and west of the country and Inner and Outer Hebrides. If I may take one example, clause 3 would give any party or witness in any legal proceedings anywhere in Scotland the absolute 1116 right to choose to speak Gaelic in the course of those proceedings, and it would be necessary for interpretation to be provided.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I cannot see how the cause of Gaelic will be enhanced by applying that provision throughout Scotland and, for example, to East Lothian, where in the 1971 census only 0·5 per cent. of the population over the age of 3 were returned as speaking Gaelic as well as English. Such a right in those circumstances is quite unrealistic, and I suggest that it will not help the cause of Gaelic in Scotland as a whole, but in fact is more likely to harm it because it could build up resentment in circumstances of that kind.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, whereas some of the clauses are restricted to geographical areas because of the residence of Gaelic speakers, in relation to the courts no one knows where at any given time he might be convoked to a court on a civil, criminal or quasi-criminal matter—a traffic offence, for example. It is desirable surely that where someone has to go to a court outside the areas specified in the Bill and where he would find it easier to speak in his native tongue to explain his position that civil and human right should be granted.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not think that there is any dispute between us in the case of a person who is more fluent in Gaelic than in English, but that is quite a different matter from prescribing a right whereby a person, regardless of his fluency in English, should be heard in Gaelic.
§ Mr. John MacKay
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) was asked whether he knew of any case over quite a long period in which someone who wanted to speak Gaelic in a court had been refused that facility, if that happens, and has happened recently, there is a case for this clause. If it does not happen, and has not happened—the hon. Gentleman was unable to give any evidence about it—it does not seem that there is much of a case, because clearly current practice satisfies people's demands.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I agree entirely. Current practice appears to satisfy people's demands, and there is no case that I know of where the courts have been unsympathetic in a genuine case in which someone has been more fluent in Gaelic than in English and would have had difficulty perhaps in giving evidence in English.
Still on the aspect of legal proceedings, in relation to another matter that hon. Members on both sides of the House no doubt will recall vividly, we had what was described as the West Lothian question. In relation to this Bill we have what I might call the East Lothian question, which is how far we should go in providing a formal position for Gaelic in those areas were there is no indigenous Gaelic linguistic or cultural tradition.
The East Lothian question arises because, in drafting the Bill, the right hon. Member for Western Isles has taken clauses 3, 4 and 5, with appropriate changes, from the Welsh Language Act 1967. In doing so he has overlooked, or chosen to disregard, two significant differences. The first is that there are many more Welsh speakers in Wales than there are Gaelic speakers in Scotland, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the population. The figure for Gaelic is 88,415, or 1.8 per cent. of the population of Scotland. For Wales the figures are 524,000, and 19.6 per 1117 cent. To what extent is it practicable and economic to provide separate or parallel facilities for Gaelic speakers, bearing in mind that the number of adults in 1971 who spoke Gaelic alone was no more than about 250?
§ Mr. John MacKay
While the figure for those who speak Gaelic is relevant to the spoken cause, more relevant is the number of people who can read the forms. For the whole of Scotland during the census the number was 27,270. That is the absolute number of people who could make any use—presumably the degree of reading ability varies—of such forms.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I agree with my hon. Friend. When I discuss the forms I shall quote similar figures. At the moment I am concentrating on hearings in the courts.
§ Mr. Wigley
The Minister referred to the Welsh Language Act 1967 and its application in Wales. He will be aware that it is applied not only in my constituency, where 87 per cent. of people speak Welsh—two-thirds of my correspondence is in the Welsh language—but equally to areas such as Monmouth, where the number of Welsh speakers is small. The same rights apply to that area under that Act.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I have already indicated that both in numbers and as a proportion of the population, 10 times as many people speak the Welsh language in Wales as speak Gaelic in Scotland. Although many ardent supporters of Gaelic suggest that we should discount that comparison, it is improper for us to do so, and unfair of them to ask us to do so, because they want to inflict on Scotland provisions designed for Wales. If we are asked to impose the Welsh position on Scotland, we have every right to make a comparison of the numbers involved. There is nothing devious about that. It is a matter of trying, at least for the sake of the record, to make a reasonable and sober comparison.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
The Minister is making a fair point. We have never argued about that difference. However, the hope is that, some day, the numbers of Gaelic speakers in Scotland will equate with the numbers of Welsh speakers in Wales.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I have no objection to any success for the Gaelic language either equalling or exceeding the position in Wales, but we must discuss today whether the present legislative position inhibits such an advancement of the Gaelic language, and whether legislation needs to be altered along the lines suggested in the Bill. That is the crux of the matter. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no difference between us about our desire to see the Gaelic culture and language expand in popularity and usage in Scotland.
Because the Bill provides that Gaelic may be spoken in court proceedings throughout Scotland as a whole, I raised the East Lothian question: is it right to seek to insist on legal parity of status for Gaelic in areas where both the proportion and absolute number of Gaelic speakers are very small indeed? It must be remembered that large areas of substantial population, especially in the east and south of Scotland, lie outside the area of Gaelic influence. I should not be surprised if there were not more French or Welsh speakers in East Lothian than there are Gaelic speakers. Certainly a week ago in Edinburgh and East 1118 Lothian there were many more Welsh speakers, but despite their proficiency in the language the result at Murrayfield was more to our satisfaction.
The right hon. Gentleman goes much further than his party, which, in its 1979 election manifesto, wanted only to give encouragement to Gaelic in the communities in which a majority of people use it. Taken literally, that applies only to Islay, Tiree, Coll, Skye and Lochcarron in addition to the right hon. Gentleman's constituency. Those are the areas which, in 1971, recorded more than 50 per cent. of their population aged over 3 as Gaelic speaking. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) will explain how their party and its leader now take a different view of these matters.
§ Mr. Fletcher
That is reassuring. I turn to the question of public expenditure, which, despite the distaste that it brings to the minds of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, is not a matter that can be ignored in this, or any other, piece of legislation.
One of the Government's principal responsibilities—many would say by far the most important one—is public expenditure. Crudely, this resolves itself into two main questions: how much, and what for?
It is impossible to put a figure on the cost of the measures proposed in the Bill. To the extent that clause 2 represents an advance on the position embodied in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980—I am not sure that it does—additional expenditure would be called for as a consequence.
Interpretation as of right in legal proceedings, whether in North Uist or East Lothian, would undoubtedly cost money, as would the provision of Gaelic or bilingual forms and documents. Nor should it be overlooked that if Gaelic or bilingual forms are brought into use, the public authorities providing them will have to provide the staff who can deal with replies in Gaelic either themselves or by the use of translation. None of that will come free.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) swept aside the question of bilingual Inland Revenue forms, local authority forms and business forms of all kinds and suggested that any office of any magnitude or significance would be able to provide a translation because it would have fluent speakers, readers and writers of Gaelic amongst its staff. That is clearly not true. I doubt whether many organisations, certainly in the central part of Scotland, could provide these services as a matter of course with an understanding of the purpose and business of the organisation.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
My hon. Friend might be interested to know that 10 years ago the cost of equipping each court in Wales with simultaneous translation facilities was £16,000. If we are to equip a substantial number of courts in Scotland with similar facilities, the cost will be very great indeed.
§ Mr. Fletcher rose—
§ Mr. O'Neill
What I was trying to say, but did not make clear enough for the Minister to understand, was that it remains at the discretion of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State, no one else, will have to take these 1119 considerations into account. I was merely saying that in Scotland it is likely that there will be Gaelic speakers in places such as Centre One, which employs about 2,500 people, or in major Departments such as the Scottish Office in St. Andrew's House. However, it is for the Secretary of State to make the final decision. It is up to him to take account of all the various factors involved.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I understand the explanation given by the hon. Gentleman. However, I felt that he took the matter a little too lightly. It is not that I want to make a big thing of public expenditure in a debate of this kind, but, clearly, it cannot be ignored.
As I have said, we have to decide how much is required, what it is for, what the demand would be and what is the necessity for further expenditure. If the cause is right and agreed and there is a demand for services of this kind, the appropriate expenditure should be provided.
However, I do not see that in present circumstances the Government can be expected to put money into services of this kind, either directly or through the rate support grant, for which there has been no widespread demand. We would rather see any money that was available used to strengthen existing Gaelic cultural organisations than provide a service for which there is no demand.
Last year we were able to provide a modest increase in support of An Comunn Gaidhealach to enable it to stengthen its headquarters staff. I should like funds to be used in that way in future.
Before considering the individual clauses I should like to indicate how much the Government are giving in the current year for the support of Gaelic. I know that the right hon. Member for the Western Isles will say that it is not enough and that it is a poor effort compared with Wales and the Welsh language, but, as I have already said, I do not accept that comparisons with Welsh have any validity.
In any case, the grants for this year are not insignificant. They are: An Comunn Gaidhealach, £43,000; Sabhal Mor Ostaig, £7,690; the Gaelic Books Council, £18,000; Western Isles bilingual curriculum project, £6,821; and the Scottish Arts Council, to various cultural and artistic organisations and enterprises, £102,805—a total of £178,316. That is the total of funds from central Government sources which are easily identifiable.
What we cannot identify are the funds used to provide services by local authorities, in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and elsewhere, through the education authority. The amounts are clearly much larger than the identifiable funding, but we cannot say what the final figure is. In addition to what I have listed, a great deal of money has gone through the local authorities to benefit education and teaching of the Gaelic language.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East asked about specific grants for Gaelic education similar to those in Wales for Welsh education. We already have the legislation to make specific grants to local authorities for education in Gaelic. It will require regulations to be made, but the legislation exists. At present, local authorities receive funding as part of the general education budget. That is working satisfactorily. If a local authority wanted specific funds to be earmarked we could consider that, but there is no legislative hurdle to be overcome, apart from the making of the regulations, to put Scottish financial support to education authorities for the Gaelic language on a par with the legislative position in Wales.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
The fact that there is a block allocation for education suggests that no additional aid may be given to areas where Gaelic is used in teaching. If there were an item of that, the level of funding would be important.
Will the Minister say what is the current position within the block grant for education? Does he give an additional item if the Scottish Office knows that a local authority is involved in additional expense in teaching Gaelic?
§ Mr. Fletcher
The rate support grant, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is a complex calculation. It includes allowances for a great many things. From various pressure groups, if I may use that expression, there is often a demand to have a particular item identified, whether it is in-service training, an amount for Munn and Dunning to local authorities or various matters of that kind. The general needs of the local authority covering various activities are taken into account in deciding the rate support grant settlement for that authority. There is evidence of the Government's wish, in financial terms alone, to offer support and encouragement to Gaelic and to those individuals and organisations that are active in the cause of the language.
I now turn to the Bill. In clause 1 the right hon. Gentleman proposes a definition of the areas of Scotland which he regards as Gaelic-speaking for the purposes of the duty in clause 2to provide education in Gaelic.Although at paragraph (b) he uses the termthe Western Isles Islands Council,and not the area that that council administers, the areas that he has named include all those areas where Gaelic is principally spoken. The Western Isles figure is 82 per cent. over the age of 3 years, as returned at the 1971 census, speaking Gaelic and English. The figure for the Skye and Lochalsh district of the Highland region is 59 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman's definition also includes areas in the Highland region and in what were formerly Argyllshire and Perthshire, where Gaelic is little spoken, according to the 1971 census, and as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). In the Inverness district of the Highland region only 7 per cent. were returned as speaking Gaelic, with smaller proportions in the parishes in the eastern part of the district. In Perthshire, the whole of which the right hon. Gentleman would bring within his definition of a Gaelic-speaking area, the proportion of the population speaking Gaelic was, at 1.6 per cent., lower than that in Scotland as a whole. Even in the Highland district of Perthshire the proportion was only 4.3 per cent. It is clear that although Gaelic was widely spoken there in times gone by, the language is rarely heard now. The position is similar in parts of what was Argyll.
At present, under the provisions of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, it is for individual education authorities to decide whether their area, or parts of it, is to be regarded as Gaelic-speaking for the purposes of the Act. It seems to me that education authorities are best placed to take that decision and to decide whether, and to what extent, they should provide for the teaching of Gaelic, bearing in mind local needs, wishes and aspirations, as expressed through elected local representatives and in other ways. That is fundamental to our position as regards education on the Gaelic language.
In communities such as the Western Isles, with their soundly based Gaelic tradition, that decision will be 1121 implicit in the continued provision made for the teaching of Gaelic. In other communities the decision may well be more difficult, and the education authority will have to decide what it can and should do. It is not an easy decision, but I doubt whether the answer is to do what the right hon. Gentleman proposes and take the decision away from authorities and seek to replace it by a blanket duty whose nature is by no means clear.
The Bill places a duty on all education authorities in the areas defined as Gaelic speaking, including the whole of the former county of Perthshire, with its 1.6 per cent. of Gaelic speakers,to provide education in Gaelic.The present position is that Parliament has made specific provision in the Education (Scotland) Act for the teaching of Gaelic in those areas regarded by education authorities as Gaelic speaking. The "teaching of Gaelic"—I emphasise "of"—is included in the "adequate and efficient" school and further education which it is the duty of the education authority under the existing legislation to provide. I know that the Bill speaks of teaching "in Gaelic", but the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that in Committee he would wish to delete "in" and substitute "of. I note that the right hon. Gentleman indicates agreement.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
In placing the primary responsibility on education authorities, is the Minister aware of the details of the case quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the case in Mull, where the parents have been pressing for some time to have a travelling teacher for Gaelic? Eventually Strathclyde region agreed, but because of the financial cuts and the time factor in meeting the parents' demands—the details are recorded in The Scotsman of 16 January this year—no vacancy existed. The parents apparently ended up without the services of the teacher because of the difficulty that arose through the absence of this Bill.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not know the details. I understand the strong feelings, but I do not think that such an example in itself justifies the steps that the right hon. Gentleman proposes in the Bill, bearing in mind the duty of local authorities and the remedy that the local population has a right to try to exercise if it believes that the authority is failing in a specific duty.
§ Mr. John MacKay
The intervention of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) contained only half the truth. The region advertised and sought a teacher, but it had no response. Then, as its staffing moved on, it used that staffing vacancy, as it is obliged to do, for another function in the area. The fact is that it tried and failed. It may well be that somebody now wishes to take that position, but the council has used it up. It is important to realise that only half the truth has been spoken here.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his close interest in the matter and the explanation that he has given. The House should know, however, that the use of Gaelic as a medium of instruction is not excluded by the terms of the Education Act. I draw that to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman if he is not already aware of it. In this consideration of whether it should be "in" Gaelic 1122 or "of Gaelic, it is important to know that the use of Gaelic as a medium of instruction is not excluded by the terms of the existing legislation.
It is no wish of the Government that Gaelic should be treated as a foreign language, with no place in the work and life of the school except during the time allotted for the teaching of the language. It is for individual head teachers and education authorities to decide whether and in what subjects Gaelic should be used as a medium of instruction in any school or further education institution. It is a question of what is appropriate, what is right and what is wanted.
I can see that Gaelic may be more appropriate for some subjects than for others. The same is true of English, which, to some young children, may be a foreign tongue. There is no pressure from the Government in either direction. It is a matter of local choice. I believe that that is how it should be.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Will my hon. Friend confirm to those of us who do not live in Scotland that local education authorities in the Isle of Skye and the Western Isles are pursuing a bilingual policy, and that in most schools Gaelic is used as a language of instruction?
§ Mr. Fletcher
The Western Isles council is pursuing a bilingual project at the moment, with separate financial funding from the Scottish Office. We are delighted that this project is taking place and we give it our full support in the way that matters more than anything else, by providing money for it to continue. I agree with my hon. Friend's comments.
Gaelic is already used as a medium of instruction in primary schools. It is our aim and intention to do all that we can to develop and sustain Gaelic in all schools. With this aim in mind, as I have already stated, we have joined the Western Isles islands council in setting up and financing a Western Isles bilingual project, towards the cost of which the Government are making a pump-priming grant of £80,000 over six years. That is not insubstantial support from Government funds.
The project aims to develop teaching materials in order to provide a framework for a bilingual approach to education. With the approval of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum has now established a committee on Gaelic. We look forward to seeing the results of the committee's work. In recent years the number of primary school children being taught Gaelic has risen, according to the annual school census, from 4,826 in 1975 to 6,524 in 1979. Most of that increase has occurred in the Highland region. In secondary schools the increase has been smaller, from 2,978 to 3,109. In both cases I am encouraged by the fact that there has been an increase. I hope that it will continue.
I should like to turn now to clause 3 and the right to use Gaelic in legal proceedings throughout Scotland, and not simply in the Gaelic-speaking areas. Here, at least, we are on firmer ground in relation to the intentions and effect of the clause, since this and the two succeeding clauses have been taken from the Welsh Language Act 1967. The present practice in Scotland—
§ Mr. Peter Fraser
My hon. Friend described clause 3 as the clause that provides that the Gaelic language may be used in court in legal proceedings. If he looks at the terminology, he will see that the word is "spoken". There 1123 is an important distinction between the two words—whether it is a matter of "spoken" or "used". In Scotland, in contradistinction to the English practice, we use legal documentation far more extensively. It is important that this matter should be cleared up.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I understand the point. It would involve a great deal more difficulty for the courts if we were talking not just of the spoken word, but of the use of Gaelic in court proceedings.
The present practice in Scotland is that the language of the courts is English and that interpretation and translation are provided where necessary to enable a witness or party to follow the proceedings. In criminal proceedings interpretation is usually provided at public expense, either directly or through legal aid. That is as it should be. In civil proceedings the costs of such facilities follow the costs of the action.
Clause 3 adopts an entirely new approach. It substitutes for the principle of necessity, at the discretion of the court, choice by the individual party or witnesses, whether or not they can follow the proceedings in English. The clause opens up the possibility that the choice of Gaelic or English, with all the extra expense if Gaelic is chosen, would be made on political or presentational grounds. That cannot be avoided, in view of the Bill's contents. The choice of Gaelic would be made to prove or press a point, not because the party could not follow or take part in proceedings in English
According to the 1971 census, only 242 persons over the age of 10 were returned as speaking Gaelic only. Even though the Registrar General warned that that figure was of doubtful validity, it seems unlikely that there were many more. We are being asked to change the basis of our approach to this important matter for about 250 people out of a population of 5¼ million. That is an extravagant request.
Is the Gaelic activist in East Lothian to be permitted to put the general taxpayer to considerable expense in order to press his point? Apart from the few people who speak Gaelic only, there might be others whose first language is Gaelic and whose English might be good enough to express themselves adequately in daily life, but who might not be able to follow all the details of complicated arguments or legal language or who might not feel able to express themselves adequately in court. I believe, with my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock), that the courts will always take a generous view of the need for interpretation and translation in such circumstances. However, we should not agree to its being an absolute right, with the added expenditure and delay to proceedings that it would bring if it were used in a vexatious way, as I fear it would be.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
The sheriff courts in Scotland are no different from other courts, and some judges have definite views. From time to time they impose their own idiosyncratic views about the conduct of cases. I have some experience of that.
Under the Minister's assessment of the position, if a person is better in Gaelic he will have to entrust himself to the view of the judge. If the judge disagrees, he will have no legal right to insist on expressing himself in the language in which he is most fluent.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am not aware of any complaints about that. The courts take a generous view of these matters. It is unfair to suggest that Scottish courts are unreasonable and unwilling to ensure that witnesses or defendants are put at ease and are able to express themselves in the most appropriate and suitable way.
I am reinforced in my view by the fact that, although the Land Court is required to have a Gaelic-speaking member, no evidence has been given in Gaelic in the last 10 years. That is substantial proof that there is no identifiable demand for the provisions in the clause.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East expresses my fears. He wants people to be able to demand, as of right, that they should be allowed to speak Gaelic in court. When considering whether the request is political or has been made for some other reason, I should prefer the court to decide whether the request is a reflection of a precise need, instead of prescribing in statute that anyone, regardless of his fluency in English and his ability to understand it, can delay proceedings.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Does my hon. Friend agree that if a party to litigation were obliged to use a language in which he could not fully express himself, or which he could not comprehend, a decision by a judge would give rise to appeal, and the judgment would almost certainly be rescinded?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am almost certain that that is true. However, as my hon. Friend is a barrister, I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn, who is an advocate, to make sure that that applies in Scotland.
§ Mr. Pollock
I shall not embark on a course of supererogation, following my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), but I shall remind the Minister that the Scottish Criminal Appeal Court constantly gives consideration to appeals brought on the grounds that the behaviour of the sheriff has been harsh and oppressive. There is a machinery to deal with the idiosyncratic behaviour of sheriffs.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. I am sure that he will agree that that question of appeal is not unknown to the hon. Member for Dundee, East. I am sorry to say this, but it confirms my belief that he must know that the machinery of the law in Scotland is adequate to deal with such cases; yet he presses the point. I assume that he is doing so for political reasons rather than from a desire to advance the Gaelic language and culture in Scotland.
Clause 3 refers to the use of Gaelic in legal proceedings. We have discussed it on the basis of the courts, but it might extend to tribunals, industrial tribunals and planning inquiries, which can last for weeks, if not months. It can extend into a wide area. It would be impossible to limit the right that the right hon. Member wishes to establish and confine it to one type of court. All courts would have to be included. That should be an important consideration for him and other hon. Members when deciding on the Bill.
Clauses 4 and 5 deal with bilingual and Gaelic versions of statutory forms and documents. They enable the Minister responsible for any particular activity to prescribe by order Gaelic or bilingual versions of statutory forms and documents.
Those forms and documents would have to be translated and printed. Although that would be a once-and-for-all 1125 expenditure for the most part, providers of forms would have to employ a staff of either Gaelic speakers or translators, ready to deal with replies in Gaelic. There has been no obvious demand for that. The numbers involved must raise doubts about whether the expense would be justified.
At the 1971 census of the 88,415 Gaelic speakers, 50 per cent. said that they could read and write Gaelic as well as speak it. In the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman, the proportion was higher, at 66 per cent. Therefore, in relation to the use of forms and documents, a smaller proportion of the population are concerned than that relating to the previous clause, which provides for the use of Gaelic in legal proceedings. I need not spend time on this point, as the same arguments apply.
However, it is significant that the Western Isles islands council, which has adopted a bilingual policy, has not so far adopted a policy of providing either Gaelic or bilingual forms and documents. From time to time the council has produced individual documents in Gaelic, but there has been no consistent policy to provide, for example, a Gaelic version of the annual rate demand. If the Western Isles, the heartland of Gaelic, with a stated bilingual policy, cannot do this, is it reasonable to expect Government Departments and local authorities to do it?
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
Can my hon. Friend help me? One of the possible difficulties with printing forms in Gaelic is that, in the Welsh language, of which I have some small knowledge, there is a considerable difference—as the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) will know better than I—between the spoken language and the academic, properly written language. Secondly, people with a very basic knowledge of Welsh, such as myself, who do not have the fluency of the hon. Member for Caernarvon, would be in great difficulty if we had to read a form printed in correct academic Welsh. No doubt it is also the case in Gaelic that, although many people may speak the language, if they were confronted with a form translated into correct academic Gaelic they might understand nothing at all.
§ Mr. Fletcher
My hon. Friend is right. His point stresses the experience of the Western Isles islands council. Although it has adopted a bilingual policy, it has not pursued the provision of bilingual forms. I imagine that that stems from the council's recognition of the fact that, despite the popularity of the use of the spoken word, the numbers who would wish to conduct business in written Gaelic are much smaller.
In clause 6 the right hon. Gentleman provides for the setting up of a joint Gaelic broadcasting committee of the IBA and the BBC, but he does not say how it is to be set up, what its membership is to be or how it is to be provided with staff and resources. I can understand that the right hon. Gentleman considers that there is a need for such a body, although I am equally aware that many people, in the House and outside, will groan at the thought of yet another co-ordinating committee.
However, my main doubt is whether the imposition of a statutory requirement on the broadcasting authorities is the best means of achieving the right hon. Gentleman's purpose. In the first place, such a committee could be established under the authorities' existing powers, so there 1126 is no need for us to legislate to bring it into being. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that.
Secondly, a statutory requirement could tend to encourage pressure from other interests for similar provision, which, if pursued, would be both time-consuming and costly. Both broadcasting authorities have their separate arrangements for advice and consultation on various topics, and they have developed those arrangements over the years in response to the needs that they have felt.
Indeed, there is already a BBC Gaelic advisory committee with sub-committees for schools and religious broadcasting. The Government's view is that the broadcasting authorities should decide for themselves whether they want to develop and extend those arrangements. In deciding what to do, I hope that they will bear in mind the fact that there is concern about scheduling of Gaelic radio and television broadcasts, which has found expression in clause 6.
However, anything that needs to be done can easily be achieved under existing powers without recourse to legislative intervention. I should like to take this opportunity to invite the BBC and the IBA to consider whether they can improve their arrangements in this respect, perhaps by setting up a joint committee or in other ways. But it is for them to decide how they should do this. It is not my wish to offer them advice, although I am sure that they will bear in mind the views of the right hon. Gentleman and his constituents.
These are the Government's views on the Bill. We do not think that it is necessary for the future of Gaelic, although the Government intend to continue their support for Gaelic and hope to encourage, where possible, the development and prosperity of the Gaelic language and culture. We cannot number any Gaelic speakers on this side of the House, although there is a useful little publication called "Gaelic without Groans", to which we might devote ourselves—on a purely voluntary and non-statutory basis, of course.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly has a sincere interest in the development of the Gaelic language and culture, but neither he nor anyone else who has spoken has said that there is any legislative impediment to that development. Therefore, there is no practical reason for the Bill. We see no legislative impediment in the way of the expansion and popularity of Gaelic over the next few years. I do not question the right hon. Gentleman's motives, but I do not believe that he can identify any legislative impediment to the progress of the language.
There are encouraging signs on all sides that Gaelic is prospering, and we question the need to have its status protected by the Bill, as though Gaelic were an endangered species of animal. The signs that we see are of an upsurge of interest in Gaelic in schools—the fact that the numbers of university students studying Gaelic and Celtic are rising, not falling, the vigour and popularity of the annual Mod, and the success of the BBC TV Gaelic beginners' series, Can Seo. That does not bear out the fears that Gaelic is dying, dwindling or declining. The Government believe that the language and culture are prospering, and we shall do what we can to keep it that way.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
As a sponsor of the Bill, I congratulate the right hon. Member for 1127 Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on his good fortune in the ballot. Also, I commend his choice of subject. Anyone looking through the list of sponsors might well feel that I am one of the most unlikely or improbable sponsors of a Bill of this nature, especially one put forward by the leader of the Scottish National Party. It is no secret that, politically, no love is lost between his party and myself, or between him and me in the political sense, though personally we get on extremely well.
This must be an important Bill. If it were not, the Under-Secretary would not have spent 50 minutes discussing its provisions. He has gone to great lengths to explain the Government's view—as a former Undersecretary, I recognise some of the passages in his speech—and to answer the many interventions that were made. I am disappointed, therefore, that he ended by saying that the Government do not want the Bill to proceed. That was the essence of his message.
§ Mr. Hughes
That comes to the same thing. The Under-Secretary stressed the need for the media to get together to try to sort out the broadcasting aspect and the amount of money that would be made available for the Gaelic language. I had hoped, therefore, that he would advise his right hon. and hon. Friends not to block the passage of the Bill, and to allow it to go to Committee. If the required changes were not made there, it could be blocked.
I do not pretend that every item in the Bill, as drafted, meets with my total approval. It contains some things which probably need to be changed in Committee if we are to be sure that we are doing the right thing. We must recognise that the Gaelic language, in terms of the number of speakers—not in terms of culture or content—has been in consistent decline over very many years. I am advised that it is only in the last couple of years that that decline has been arrested, and that last year was the first year in which there was a very modest increase in the number of Gaelic speakers.
Those of us who wish to see a rich linguistic culture and to have various things preserved—not in any artificial form—including a living form of language, must be concerned if at some point the number of people speaking the language declines so much that it is impossible to save the language. Happily, we have not reached that stage. I do not think that we shall reach it.
I know nothing of this part of our heritage from personal experience. I am not a Gaelic speaker. I was not born in the Highlands. Indeed, if I traced my ancestry back—I hope that I do not provoke any comments about it—I should probably find, with my name, that my forebears came from Wales. Nevertheless, the Gaelic language and culture is a very important part of our heritage and ought to be preserved. It was for that primary reason that I gladly agreed to be a sponsor of the Bill.
I want to deal briefly with some of the points that have been raised. Clause 2 relates to the provision of education "in Gaelic." The right hon. Member for Western Isles has said that if the Bill reaches Committee stage, he would wish to change the term "in Gaelic" to "of Gaelic". As the Bill is drafted, it would mean bilingual education at both primary and secondary stages. I have discussed this matter 1128 with An Comunn Gaidhealach, although not in tremendous detail. I think that it would be fair to say that the clause as drafted would meet its wishes.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not think that there is any use, in a debate of this kind, in dodging this issue. How many Gaelic speakers really want the whole of the primary and secondary curricula to be available in Gaelic? I do not know the proportion. A significant number of people believe that that is the right road along which we should travel. I certainly believe that we ought to provide as much as we can in terms of education in Gaelic, even to the extent of bilingual education. But one runs into a difficulty on the technical subjects. I am saying nothing now which I have not said directly to An Comunn Gaidhealach.
The Gaelic language is not the only language which faces difficulty in modernising itself and keeping up to date. The French language has been mentioned several times. The French are having difficulty in keeping French up to date in a modern way. I understand that there is a very fierce debate in France because some of the computer language is being used in French. I am not a French speaker, either. Some of the French will utter a sentence in French and it will contain a few English words, or certainly not words which are French. It is impossible to keep that language up to date.
Nevertheless, I think that there is a good case here. I would not object if the right hon. Member for Western Isles succeeded in changing the wording from "in Gaelic" to "of Gaelic". If that change were made, however, I hope that we would not rule out the possibility of at least some, if not all, of the primary subjects being taught in Gaelic, because I think that they are of advantage in later life. We are dealing not simply with esoteric cultural matters but with some practical matters. If people are fluent not only in a cultural way but in some technical expertise as well, this helps them later in their working life.
The part of the Bill which seems to have caused the greatest controversy is clause 3. I am surprised about that. I would have thought that the biggest argument about the Bill would have concerned clause 4, which relates to the publication of forms. I was taken aback by the way in which so many hon. Members have spoken of the question of the courts. There seem to be two different viewpoints.
There was the view expressed by the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay), among others, who asked "Can you point to any case in the Scottish courts over the past few years where there has been difficulty in providing for someone who had a need for Gaelic?" That was one strand of discussion. The other strand was expressed by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who said that it cost about £16,000 to provide simultaneous translation in the Welsh courts and that if such translation were provided to a great extent in Scotland the bill would cost many thousands of pounds.
It struck me that both strands of the argument stress that facilities are already available if the courts think it necessary to employ them. It is surely not the convenience of the courts that matters but the convenience and rights of the individual. I seem to be confessing that I am not a lot of things, but I am not a lawyer either. I always thought that the basis of the law was that the interests of justice laid paramount stress on the rights of the individual. If that is so, it is not the responsibility of the courts to make a 1129 decision for their convenience. Surely it is for the courts to decide in the interests of the individual, so that the individual feels that he gets justice.
It is more and more the case that complaints about justice relate not to the technical aspects of the law. This applies to English speakers as well as Gaelic speakers. There is the feeling that justice is not seen to be done. If it is seen to be done and heard to be done, it will be a good thing.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must have regard to the interests of justice. That means justice to all the parties in any particular piece of litigation. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that interpretation in the courts tends to make the process more difficult, more costly, and more prolonged, and leaves some questions unresolved because of the nature of interpretation? Those who practise in the courts always say that interpretation is a regrettable necessity in a number of cases and should be avoided whenever possible because it does injustice to all the other parties.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not bow to the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the courts to that extent. I think that sometimes the law is more concerned with the law than with the individual. Interpretation may be an inconvenience. No one pretends that interpretation is perfect. However, in my judgment the balance is that people should have the right to use their native tongue because they might have an injustice done to them if they are not fluent enough in another language to enable them to cope with court procedure.
Sometimes we underestimate the stress and strain on an individual who appears in court. If people appear in court and have to deal with a language which is not their own, their comprehension of that second language can very well suffer because of the stress. I hope that that factor will be taken into account.
Even if the hon. Member for Argyll is right and it is not possible to find a case in which the use of Gaelic has been refused, there is no doubt that Gaelic speakers feel, to some extent, under threat. If we put into statute a right that may be available now, and if that gives Gaelic speakers more confidence in the courts and in the impartiality of the courts, that is something that we should welcome.
I am not sure that I go along word for word with clause 4. However, there is sufficient in it to allow us to go forward and to consider the Bill in Committee. The hesitations, doubts or disagreements that those who oppose the Bill have as a result of clause 4, apart from those who support the Bill in general, should not result in the Bill receiving no further consideration. No such difficulties should prevent the Bill from going forward.
The clause which received the most common agreement and support was clause 6. There is no doubt whatever that the number and even the quality of Gaelic radio and television programmes leave a great deal to be desired. They are transmitted at times which are either too late at night for children or during the day when they are at school. That is also the time when many working people are away from their homes. To most people, clause 6 is probably the most welcome part of the Bill.
1130 In dealing with almost every clause of the Bill, the Minister claimed that there was no demand, or no widespread demand. I wonder how one measures demand in matters such as this.
The Highlander has a reputation beyond Scotland of being a very fierce individual. That reputation stems from history, and from the belief that the Scots, when they were fighting in wars—fighting each other, or coming down to England or wherever it might be—were savages. Perhaps they were in those days. I do not know; I do not think that it matters. It may very well be the case that the behaviour of certain so-called Scottish football supporters does very little to enhance the general image of the Scot in the public eye, never mind the image of the Highlander. The people who cause the most trouble at football matches and so on do not come from the Highlands.
My experience of the Highlander from discussion—not just in this building but in general—is that he is a very gentle and very persuasive person. It may be that one of the reasons why there has been insufficient attention paid to the needs of the Gaelic language is that very gentleness of the Highlander and that very willingness to persuade. I do not want to suggest in any way that I am encouraging a different approach by the Highlander. His approach is impeccable and I support it.
I resent the way in which some of the supporters of the Welsh language have behaved in promoting their aims. It is not just for that reason but for many other reasons that I am totally opposed to the imposition of dual language road signs and some of the trivial paraphernalia which have been grafted on to the general aims of the supporters of the Welsh language.
I hope that the fact that the Gaelic speakers in Scotland have not so far been willing to do other than act with their usual good nature will not give people the idea that we should simply ride roughshod over what is a very real and very deep desire for Gaelic speakers to foster their language and culture.
I hope, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. It would be a great service not just to Scotland but to the general British tradition concerning the importance of minorities and the way in which we can help minorities to maintain a culture which still exists. Indeed, in certain parts of Scotland the Gaelic language is a living thing. I commend the Bill to the House. It certainly deserves a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Ian Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I begin by joining in the welcome that hon. Members have given to the Bill and in the congratulations that they have given to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on his good fortune to come near the top of the private Members' ballot, on his good sense in choosing a subject that is so central to his part of Scotland—indeed, central to all Scottish history—and on giving this House a long overdue opportunity to discuss the Gaelic language, its place in present day Scotland and its possible future in Scotland. Hon. Members in all parts of the House are extremely glad that he has made this possible.
I am certain that every hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency has a great deal of sympathy with the Bill and, indeed, approves the general aims that lie behind much of what the right hon. Gentleman said. Everyone who was born and brought up in Scotland is powerfully aware of the contribution that the Gaelic-speaking 1131 population of our country has made to our history. There is no one who does not value the cultural heritage of the Gaelic language, which enshrines so much that is of beauty in poetry, prose and song.
That seemed to me to be a general feeling in the House, and I thought that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was either very unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) or completely misunderstood my hon. Friend's speech. I thought that my hon. Friend was saying that we all sympathised and wished to promote Gaelic within certain boundaries and frontiers. Indeed, I believe that he is a strong promoter of Gaelic choirs, and so on, in his constituency.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I, too, was extremely disturbed by the impression given by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). The fact is that, in my view, as I tried to make clear in my speech, statutory requirements are not the best way. There are other and better avenues. The danger is that if we give groups of individuals rights they will exercise them for reasons that will not promote the language, the culture and all the other aspects in which we are interested. It is that which I oppose, especially as my constituency was referred to as a Gaelic-speaking area, which I know it is not, and I felt that my constituents would be very disturbed if they did not hear me speak out clearly explaining where I stood. I stand for the promotion of the Gaelic culture and language in every aspect, but I am opposed to statutes coming from this or any other assembly that we do not fund properly and that can be used by those who wish to disrupt and damage.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am glad that I raised the matter and enabled my hon. Friend to clarify his position.
It is worth pointing to the use of the name "Perthshire", which is objectionable on two grounds. As my hon. Friend pointed out, much of Perthshire would not wish to be considered part, of the Highlands, any more than Aberdeen would. People in Aberdeen resent it greatly when Englishmen refer to their city as being in the Highlands. Half the history of Aberdeen has been spent fighting off the Highlanders. The main street in Aberdeen was named Union Street precisely because the Aberdonians believed in the Union of the United Kingdom.
The use of the name "Perthshire" is misleading because it gives the impression that all of what was once Perthshire is a Gaelic-speaking area. I approached the Bill—I still approach it and, if I am lucky enough to serve on the Standing Committee, I shall continue to approach it—with a sympathetic attitude, wishing to improve it and to help it. But when I read the very first clause, and noticed that it switched from a post-1975 local government reorganisation description of "Highland region" to a description that had had no legal validity for six years—"Perthshire" and "Argyllshire"—I said to myself "This is not a serious Bill".
It is as though the right hon. Gentleman never expected the Bill to get through the House of Commons. What is the point of putting before us a Bill of which anyone with no special legal knowledge—and I am not a lawyer—will say immediately "This is rubbish, because Perthshire does not exist, and has not existed for many years"? I do not understand how so serious a subject could have been put forward in so frivolous a manner.
I return to my original subject. The hon. Member for Hamilton rightly talked about the great richness of the 1132 language. He said that, having had to leave Islay at an early age, he had found that the fact that he did not have to learn Gaelic had been of no great disadvantage to him. But, of course, learning a language is not designed merely to enable one to speak to people in the modern world. I could speak for a great deal of time on the advantages and disadvantages of Latin and Greek, which at school we were told we were learning in order to promote an analytical rigour of mind. I do not know whether Gaelic promotes an analytical rigour of mind, but the appreciation of beauty is not something so common in this world that we wish wantonly to destroy anything that enshrines beauty. I support the continuation and promotion of Gaelic on those aesthetic grounds alone.
In 1981, everyone is conscious that many landmarks that have stood out in our country and in our social and cultural background for a long time are being destroyed. There is a danger that many of those threads, not altogether powerful in themselves, but which together are wound in a great rope that binds society together, are being destroyed. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) made a moving speech recently, when he introduced his Ten-Minute Bill. He spoke about landmarks of the Anglo-Saxon—the English—world that were being destroyed, and how that was undermining our sense of identity and the cohesiveness of society. I accept that the Gaelic language and the cultural and social traditions that go with it are things that we should prize and should ensure do not perish. To that extent, we all support the right hon. Member for Western Isles and congratulate him on his Bill.
There is another central paradox in the Bill. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman does not speak Gaelic, any more than does any other hon. Member, as far as I am aware. One or two hon. Members have command of the language—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Western Isles certainly spoke a few words in Gaelic at the beginning of the debate. I am prepared to withdraw my remark—it is not central to my argument—but I understand that the right hon. Member is not fluent in Gaelic and could not conduct a conversation in that language.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
I repudiate that entirely. I regularly carry on conversations in Gaelic. I do not expect that I could ever win the bardic crown for poetry, but I am a Gaelic speaker, and I repudiate the hon. Gentleman's comment.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is at least partly fluent in the language. Whether or not he is fluent in the language is not central to my argument. Most hon. Members certainly are not fluent in the language, and we know that the majority of people in Scotland are not.
Although hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies are aware of the importance of Gaelic within the broad ambit of Scottish culture, there is a fear that the Bill is a first step towards the foisting of Gaelic on people in Scotland who do not want it foisted upon them. I am not saying that that is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, but that fear has been expressed to me.
As I took my breakfast this morning I heard the right hon. Gentleman speaking on the wireless. I did not take notes at the time, so I shall gladly give way if I have remembered him wrongly. He said two things that struck 1133 a wee bit of a chill into me. He said that if the Bill did not go through the House and into Committee, certain people in Scotland would have to look to the example of the Welsh Language Society and to what it was influenced to do because it felt that it was not getting what it wanted from Parliament. To my mind, that was hinting at the violence, and the bombing and burning of cottages that have taken place. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is one of the most decent and mild hon. Members. He probably has fewer political enemies than anyone. However, whether wittingly or unwittingly, when he mentioned the Welsh Language Society he encapsulated the fears of many people in Scotland that we would see a sort of Welsh situation developing in Scotland. We do not want that to happen.
I repeat that if I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman I shall gladly give way and allow him to explain the position. He said that he looked to the day when Gaelic would be the language of Scotland. I do not know what the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) would think about that, but I know what the majority of my constituents in Aberdeen would think. It is perfectly valid—indeed, an excellent thing—for the right hon. Gentleman to seek to promote the living Gaelic language among those who wish to use it in those areas where it is in common currency, but other people fear that the Bill may be the method by which Gaelic is foisted upon those who do not want to use it. To talk of Gaelic becoming the language of Scotland is so far from the aspirations of 99.9 per cent. of people in Scotland as to bring into doubt some of the motives of some of the supporters of the Bill.
I said earlier that when I saw the use of the words "Perthshire" and "Argyllshire" in clause 11 had my doubts about how serious the right hon. Gentleman was in bringing the Bill before the House. There is, indeed, an important Bill to be brought before the House relating to the promotion of the Gaelic language, but I regret that I do not believe that this is that Bill.
§ Mr. Sproat
If there was one hon. Member in Scotland who did not act like Lord Home on the matter of devolution, it was myself—rightly or wrongly. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can cause that charge to stick.
I was surprised by the lack of detail supplied by the right hon. Gentleman about the present use of Gaelic in Scotland. The statistics are interesting, and make a good case. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman would have made a better case had he used them. I took the trouble to study some of the statistics. Before I quote them, I must make two provisos: first, they relate to the 1971 census and, therefore, are 10 years out of date; secondly, they were based on self-assessment. The heads of households were asked if they spoke Gaelic, and they said that they did so, as also did their wives and children. I do not know what my father said or whether he counted my few words of Gaelic. My mother was born at Culloden Moor and speaks as much Gaelic as the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that the figures should be relied upon totally. They may exaggerate the use of Gaelic in Scotland.
§ Mr. Stewart
There is another point that may not be relied on. When the census was taken I happened to be in 1134 London at midnight on that day, so neither my wife nor I had the opportunity to say that we were Gaelic speakers. There may have been others in similar positions who were, therefore, not included in the census.
§ Mr. Sproat
If the right hon. Gentleman cares to conduct a census of Gaelic speakers in London, we shall be interested to know the results. However, I do not think that the figures would be substantially altered by the number of people who were away from their domiciles at the time of the census. I am trying to give him statistics to strengthen his case. He has not really indicated not necessarily the support, but the extent of the Gaelic language in Scotland. At the time of the census the figure for Argyll—at the time still in Argyllshire—was 13.7 per cent. Inverness-shire was 22 per cent., with the city of Inverness at only 7 per cent. The figure for Ross-shire was 35.1 per cent. That is a very high percentage of persons speaking Gaelic—and English. These are not just Gaelic speakers but people who have both languages.
§ Sir Ronald Bell
Inverness-shire is a very large county, as my hon. Friend knows. If he looks at the district figures, he will see that the highest proportion of Gaelic speakers in that county is almost entirely accounted for by the islands.
§ Mr. Sproat
Yes. That is a very good point. That is why I drew a distinction between the Inverness-shire figure of 22 per cent. and the Inverness figure of 7 per cent. My hon. and learned Friend made a very good point.
In Sutherland—no doubt the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will want to tell us more about this later if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the figure was 14.5 per cent. In the Western Isles—confirming what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) said, the figure was 82 per cent. So there are undoubtedly parts of Scotland where the percentage of those who at least have some Gaelic in addition to English is comparatively high.
None the less, the total percentage in Scotland as a whole of those who speak any Gaelic is much less than 2 per cent. I believe my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that was 1.6 per cent. It is a valid point that for only 1.6 per cent. of the population we have to strike a very careful balance between preserving the rights of minorities, which is a perfectly valid principle, and at the same time preserving the rights of the majority. It is that difficult tightrope to tread that is causing me such difficulties today.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made another point that needs to be stressed. There are over 500,000 Welsh speakers. No proper comparison can be made between 80,000 persons in Scotland who, on a self-assessment and possibly optimistic basis, claim to speak some Gaelic and over 500,000—about 542,000—in Wales who speak the Welsh language.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
There is a further distinction that my hon. Friend might take into account. The 1971 census showed that in Wales 32,725 persons spoke only Welsh, whereas the number who speak only Gaelic is at most about 250.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that contribution. Perhaps I could return to it in less than 60 seconds' time.
I was going on to say that I understand that there is a problem with Cornishmen. Cornishmen are following the 1135 Bill with particular interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd), to whom I was talking, told me of the great interest that exists. I gather that 24 people speak Cornish. If one believes in principle it is difficult to say that principle is qualified by mathematics. Either it is a true principle or it is not a true principle. If we start by saying that 500,000 people in Wales justify the Welsh language and we then move down the scale and say that 80,000 people in Scotland justify the Gaelic language, are we to say that income tax forms for Cornwall have to be printed in bilingual Cornish? These are very difficult points of principle to decide.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) mentioned Urdu and Hindi, and many other languages. I would distinguish most importantly between Gaelic as a language of these islands that has grown up from underneath and Hindi as a language that has only recently been imposed from above. Although there is an important distinction to be drawn, if the Bill goes through in its present form I would bet a small sum that before the year is out we shall have applications from other groups asking for similar rights to be given to them. Indeed, I saw the other day that British Leyland was taken before an industrial tribunal or race relations tribunal for printing job application forms only in English. We shall really be opening up a Pandora's box if we are not careful.
§ Mr. Hogg
Dealing with the languages that have been brought in from the Indian Sub-continent, surely my hon. Friend accepts that many of those who speak Urdu, Hindi or Gujarati are British citizens. It will be extremely difficult to concede that Gaelic-speaking British citizens may have the privilege and not make the same concession to British citizens who speak Gujarati.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham makes a good point. I am sure that that is one of the subjects that will arise in the British Nationality Bill. Those of us whose ancestors have lived in this country for 1,000 years have no more rights in law than persons who have become British naturalised subjects in the last 10 years. That is right, because everyone should be equal before the law. Having accepted that principle, the other principles follow, as night follows day, that if they are British citizens who speak X language, they have the same rights to see that X language promoted as widely and with as much Government support as the Y language—in this case, Gaelic.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Western Isles will clarify one matter for me. When I was carrying out my researches into the number of those in Scotland—or, for that matter, London—who speak only Gaelic, I discovered the figure of 915 as at 1971. I have noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham quoted the figure of 477, and my hon. Friend the Minister gave a figure of 240. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would tell us whether the figure is around 900, 400 or 200.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Quite frankly, I do not know. It is not one of the figures on which I checked or have done any research.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am sorry to hear that. I should have thought that although it is not essential to the passage of the Bill, if one is promoting a Bill concerning the Gaelic language, one has a primary duty to know how many people speak only Gaelic. Apparently we do not have any agreement.
§ Sir Ronald Bell
In the 1971 census of which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has been speaking the figure was 242 persons of over 10 years of age. I believe that the figure is larger—about 900—if one is considering those between the ages of 3 and 10 years. That is the difference between the two figures.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend. I recall that my hon. Friend the Minister used the words "over 10", although I do not understand why there should need to be this distinction between those over 3 years, those not over the age of 10 years, and those exceeding the age of 10 years. However, I am glad that that point has been cleared up. The figure, for all practical purposes, is about 240.
I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has returned. He raised the important question why we switched from the nomenclature of the post-1975 local government reform Act to the pre-1975 Act. At the beginning of my speech I said that I thought that that was an example of an unfortunately frivolous approach taken by the drafters of the Bill to a serious subject. We have had no satisfactory explanation. It would have been quite possible to define the Gaelic-speaking areas in terms either of the regions or the districts of Scotland. As it is, we hop about from one to the other.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie), to use another quaintly anachronistic nomenclature, is sitting beside me, because I read with interest in the media that he was complaining that the Grampian region was not included in the Bill. He apparently said that it had been deliberately excluded. The curious fact is that it is only in the Grampian region that I hear the Gaelic language spoken. At 10.30 on Friday and Saturday evenings we have a Gaelic language programme on Grampian Television—Seachd Laithean—which gives the news in Gaelic. If that is good enough for Grampian Television, covering Aberdeen and also South Angus, which is similarly discriminated against—no doubt the city of Dundee is also discriminated against—it seems extraordinary that the television companies, without prompting from the right hon. Gentleman, should elect to broadcast voluntarily although the area is excluded from the right hon. Gentleman's Bill.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
When I made the point earlier about the definition of areas, which the right hon. Gentleman sets out in clause 1, I mentioned areas such as Grampian specifically for the reason raised by my hon. Friend, but it will not have gone unnoticed by him that the region makes allowances for the teaching of Gaelic in the schools in its rate apportionment to the education authority for that purpose.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I am glad that he raised the matter because it underlines the point made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that there is little in clause 2—the education clause—that needs to be said, because so much is already being done. Many of us would argue that as much is being done as should be done. My point was one of principle. I cannot understand what the right hon. Gentleman is up to. If one believes that Gaelic should be spoken widely in Scotland, it seems extraordinary deliberately to exclude an area where there certainly are many Gaelic speakers.
I have had, I think, two letters on the subject from my constituents urging me to give a fair wind to the Bill. I 1137 received an extremely interesting and courteous delegation on the subject two weeks ago. I agree with it that there is deep interest in the language in the Grampian region. If sufficient parents in the region want the Gaelic language taught in schools, there is, as my hon. Friend pointed out, provision for it already, and it should be done. I do not see why the right hon. Gentleman wishes to exclude it from the Bill. Here we have a very serious subject, which is not being treated in the proper way.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
It is only fair to remind my hon. Friend that the right hon. Gentleman told me earlier that if I so desired he would be happy, in Committee, to accept an amendment to change the denned areas, and Grampian would be included in such an amendment.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is true that that point was accepted by the right hon. Gentleman.
My point was really concerned with the seriousness with which the Bill was drafted. If, on Second Reading, one can look at a one-sentence clause and make such a point of substance, it argues that the Bill has not been drafted carefully. I agree with my hon. Friend, and if I am lucky enough to be a member of the Committee I shall adduce arguments in his support.
I wish to continue on clause 2, which deals with the duty of all education authorities to provide education in Gaelic. I shall not say that this is a sinister element, because that might be to put it a little too strongly, but it seems to me that a note of ambiguity has crept into the drafting. When I first read the clause I thought, as I understand from his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East thought, "What does it mean?" It says:to provide education in Gaelic.My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) raised this point. When one reads this, one asks oneself "Does this mean that the Gaelic language shall be taught as French or Latin is taught, or does it mean"—as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said, in passing—"that mathematics or science, or even French, should be taught in Gaelic?" It is not clear.
It is true that when he was questioned the right hon. Gentleman said that he would be happy to substitute "of for "in" in line 12 of page 1. Although he may be prepared to do that there is no doubt that many of his supporters hope that the ambiguity in the drafting of the Bill will be used to extend much more widely the use of Gaelic. It would not simply be a matter of the Gaelic language being taught where this was desired; if the words of the Bill remained unchanged through the Committee and Report stages it would allow all subjects to be taught in Gaelic and permit a much wider use of Gaelic in our schools.
I would not support such a proposal. It is one thing to support the use of tuition in Gaelic as a language of poetry and prose, a thing of beauty and part of our cultural heritage, all of which we accept; it is another for the suggestion to be made in the Bill that Gaelic should be given a much wider use.
Although one or two hon. Members criticised my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for mentioning costs, I believe that when a Bill is brought forward with the massive implications contained in this measure it is profoundly ingenuous to pretend that cost has no 1138 relevance. We are entitled to point out that there is no financial memorandum in the Bill. There is no indication of the cost involved. We are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman for his estimate of the cost of the education clause, and also clause 3, dealing with legal proceedings, and clauses 4 and 5, under which Government forms have to be printed in Gaelic if the Minister so decides.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The hon. Gentleman will know that on a Private Members' Bill it is only the Government who can produce a financial memorandum.
§ Mr. Sproat
None the less, it is incumbent on the right hon. Gentleman to give us some idea of what he believes will be the cost of the Bill. Whether we like it or not, we are having to cut our coat according to our cloth. We are having to cut back on public expenditure. Even if we were to accept that the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman were valid and to the advantage of the country as a whole, we are none the less entitled to know what the figures are. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say something about the cost of education and the cost that would necessarily be incumbent were we to provide facilities for Gaelic speaking in legal proceedings not only in law courts but at planning inquiries and industrial tribunals. What money will be taken away from the general education of children, to be ploughed in these somewhat esoteric fields? We are entitled to know the answers.
I have been tempted by these interpolations to speak for longer than I intended. I finish by saying that clauses 4 and 5 represent a Pandora's box. Once income tax forms have to be provided in Gaelic to be filled by people in the Western Isles, which would happen as soon as one embarked down that road, there will be little chance of its ending.
The right hon. Gentleman also wants a co-ordinating committee set up to look after Gaelic broadcasting. That could happen at the moment. There is nothing to stop the BBC and IBA getting together. What worries me, however, is the proposal not "to co-ordinate" but "to develop" the Gaelic language and to promote it in a wider manner than the population wanted. The word "develop" is an active word, and not a passive word. It is a principle that I could not follow.
So long as the process is voluntary and depends on people wishing to use a living language, they have the right to do so, but once a new quango is set up, positively to develop the Gaelic language on BBC and ITV, it seems that we are going down a dangerous road. I hope to serve on the Committee considering this Bill. In terms of cost, which has not been given, and in terms of the slackness and inefficiency with which the Bill has been drafted and, also, because I believe that the Bill, if it were not changed, would lead to the Gaelic language being foisted on people in Scotland who do not wish it, I promise the right hon. Gentleman that he faces a very rough Committee stage.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I share the desire to see the Gaelic language preserved and promoted in Scotland. However, I fear that the two implicit purposes of the Bill—the promotion of the language and the protection of people who speak it—do not always lie nicely together. In some parts of the Bill they operate against each other. The Bill is badly drafted and might be counter-productive.
1139 The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said that at the 1971 census 14 per cent. of my constituents in Sutherland were, allegedly, Gaelic speakers. They were not exclusively Gaelic speakers but spoke the language. I do not know the trend since then but I rarely hear the language spoken. I recognise that that is in part because I do not speak Gaelic and that, with their customary courtesy, most of my constituents speak a language that I can understand within my earshot.
Since 1971 there has been a considerable growth of my constituents' interest in the language and a clear desire that the facility to learn the language should be provided by local authority. Opinion polls taken in Sutherland show a marked change in the public's attitude to the provision of Gaelic education.
The local education authority has not always met the demand for Gaelic teaching. I do not speculate whether that is by design or because of the difficulty of obtaining teachers of the language. That difficulty cannot be underestimated. At times Gaelic teachers have not been available to teach the language in the north and west of Sutherland, where the language is indigenous. It is not possible to provide teachers by legislation. That is a greater difficulty than is often acknowledged by people who wish to promote the language.
The purposes of the Bill are to promote the language and to protect the interests of Gaelic speakers. Those purposes come into collision, particularly in clause 3 which provides a legal right to be heard in Gaelic in any legal proceeding in Scotland. The term "legal proceeding" is extremely wide. The complication of providing for people who wish to speak the Gaelic language in whatever might be described as a "legal proceeding" would create practical problems which should not be underrated by the Bill's promoters.
The difficulty is that in seeking to protect the interests of Gaelic speakers in this way there is a serious risk of bringing the language into the cockpit of controversy and making it too unattractive to extend its use. The measure may create hostility to the language. That would be unfortunate.
If a Gaelic speaker, or someone whose first language is Gaelic, wishes to speak in that language in court, he ought to be entitled to make his wish unmistakably clear to the court. That fact should be recorded to explain why he wishes to use his first language and that he wishes note to be taken of that. Therefore, if he feels that he has suffered any injustice because his first language has not been used, he can take the matter to appeal. The law in Scotland already provides for that. That safeguard must be preserved. Perhaps the courts will take greater account of it because of the debate and the support for that principle which has been enunciated by almost all hon. Members.
It is open to the Scottish courts administration to underline the importance of hearing witnesses or participants during court proceedings in the language in which they feel most comfortable, bearing in mind the rights of other parties in litigation. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) made that point. The practicalities of clause 3 raise not inconsiderable questions. I hope that they will be considered in greater detail in Committee.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
As the hon. Gentleman is a learned gentleman, does he agree that the present legislation in Scotland gives a person who wishes to use Gaelic in the 1140 courts the right to intimate to the court that he will do so, as long as he will bear the cost of an interpreter who has to be brought there so that he can be understood?
§ Mr. Maclennan
I cannot answer the question about costs, but I said that the right of someone whose first language was Gaelic should be safeguarded. He should make it clear that he wishes to use that language so that he can be understood better than he would be in English.
However, if Gaelic is to be used in courts for the prime purpose of demonstrating a political desire to see the use of the language extended, with the consequent opposition that that undoubtedly will create, it will militate against the promotion of the language and will not encourage the purposes which I and other hon. Members share.
I do not understand the principle behind the proposed definitions of Gaelic speaking areas in clause 1. They do not embrace the places where the Gaelic language is now most spoken.
§ Mr. Maclennan
They most certainly do not include the places where the Gaelic language is most spoken. Perthshire has been included. At the last census, slightly more than 1 per cent. of the population in Perthshire spoke Gaelic. The city of Glasgow is not included as a Gaelic-speaking area, yet many more people speak Gaelic in Glasgow than in Perthshire. If it is to be done on a per capita basis, I cannot understand why Perthshire should be included and Glasgow excluded.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has historic reasons in mind but one cannot define these historic areas as Gaelic-speaking when they patently are not. I can see why it might be desirable to promote Gaelic in areas where it was spoken more recently than in others, but many people in those areas would see no more reason for promoting Gaelic there than in other areas where it is not now spoken.
Clause 1 is closely linked to clause 2, which imposes on local education authorities in the so-called Gaelic-speaking areas a duty to provide education in Gaelic. The bad draftsmanship of the clause vitiates its purpose almost completely. It is unclear what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. It has been argued on the one hand that An Comunn Gaidhealach would wish local authorities to provide for education in those areas to be conducted in Gaelic. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman appears not wholly to accept that view but to argue that education should include some teaching of Gaelic in those areas.
But even there, the right hon. Gentleman is far from precise about his intentions. Does he think that the duty of the LEA would be sufficiently discharged if it provided for the teaching of Gaelic in one primary school in its region? It is at least arguable that that would discharge this obligation, but I cannot believe that that is what he has in mind.
If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the teaching of Gaelic be made available in every primary school in the area, he had better be specific and realise the consequences for the training of Gaelic teachers and the difficulties of providing such education throughout what is substantially more than half the land mass of Scotland.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has faced up to these difficulties. To some extent he is taking refuge in the obscurity of his drafting, which I hope will be 1141 clarified in Committee. Until it is, we cannot judge whether his proposals are practical. I doubt whether they are.
Local education authorities, I believe, should seek to provide teaching of Gaelic where it is wanted. No doubt there are areas in the Highland region, and other places—not all of which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, including Glasgow—where that teaching is wanted. LEAs should take account of the public demand for it.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I agree, but I think that they could be more sensitive to the demand than they have been in the past and more responsive to the growing interest in the language, which is reflected in the increased numbers of primary and secondary students who have studied it in recent years.
Clause 4 appears to be purely permissive and not designed to effect a major change in the law. To give the Minister power to provide documents in Gaelic is certainly unexceptionable. I should be happy to support that proposal, although I am bound to say that a Bill of this kind is not necessary so to empower the Secretary of State. I know of no impediment to the Secretary of State's requiring that documents be published in Gaelic, if he so chooses. The provision in the Bill is almost wholly unnecessary. It is couched in permissive language. It is unlikely that the Secretary of State will alter by one jot or tittle his attitude to the publication of documents in Gaelic because the requirement is embodied in an Act, particularly if he already enjoys the power so to do.
Clause 6 relates to broadcasting. I share the general disquiet about the inadequacy of the Gaelic language broadcasting provided by the BBC and by companies under the auspices of the IBA. I doubt very much whether a committee of this kind, with functions of this kind, is likely to produce a dramatic change in attitude on the part of the broadcasting companies. The clause gives powers to oversee, comment, monitor and report, as well as a specific duty.to co-ordinate and develop Gaelic television and radio".I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill), who said that if the intention is to promote the Gaelic language in broadcasting it should not be left wholly to the broadcasting authorities to decide, and that it would be sensible, if such a committee were set up, that it should incorporate other bodies that have a direct interest in the language. Clearly, An Comunn Gaidhealach would be such a body.
As I have taken such a negative attitude to the Bill, it is important that I should emphasise that I do not take a negative attitude to the language. We in these islands are singularly poor linguists, partly because the English language is a rich language in itself and one that is capable of expressing the diversity of human experience to a remarkable extent. But it would be complacent and smug to say that the English language is the only language that we ought to learn or would benefit from learning. Bilingualism is highly desirable. In this country we have many languages, Gaelic being one of the oldest, if not the oldest. Quite apart from the access that knowledge of the Gaelic language gives to the history and culture of certain 1142 parts of our country, I believe that the mere facility to speak a second language is regarded by some educationists as making it easier for children to acquire third and other languages.
There is much to be said for encouraging bilingualism, and bilingualism in the native language is as sensible as bilingualism in another language, particularly when that other language is a dead language, such as Latin or Greek. I have heard it argued by people in Scotland who, like myself, have little direct access to the Gaelic culture that Celtic and Gaelic cultures are not as diverse, as rich or as well recorded as the Latin or Greek cultures, but I am in no position to form a view on that. All I can say is that those who are knowledgeable about these matters would in some cases take leave to dissent.
It has been asserted in an interesting and important book, published last year, I think, on the life of Robert MacKay, popularly known as Rob Donn, the poet of Strath Naver, that he was a poet at least as great in world terms as Robert Burns. I am not in a position to judge whether that is true, but through his poetry we have access to a popular culture and to knowledge of the popular history of the eighteenth century which would be closed if we had to rely on the English printed or written sources, because English was not the language of the people of that part of Scotland at that time.
Every community is enlivened and enriched by knowledge of its roots, traditions and history. Therefore I share the promoters' objectives in seeking to extend the knowledge of the Gaelic language and to protect the rights of those who speak it as their first language, but I dissent from the view that those two objectives are considerably advanced by the Bill, which reflects a mistaken belief that it is by legislation that we shall encourage the promotion of the language.
Perhaps one of the most useful steps that we can take to promote the language is to exhort those who live in a mixed language household, in which one spouse speaks English and the other speaks Gaelic, to encourage the Gaelic-speaking parent to speak the language to the children. All too often in my experience, in a mixed language household the language spoken to the children is English. There is a good deal of evidence that children respond well where two languages are spoken in the home and that they acquire both with great rapidity. I believe that that will bring about a much greater use of the language than will the Bill, which, for all its good intentions, seems to me, sadly, to be somewhat misconceived.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
I agree with almost everything that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has just said.
During the debate I have made somewhat critical interventions about the stand adopted by the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), but I think that the entirety of this House would like to say that we are very grateful to him for giving us the opportunity of discussing a matter which is of very considerable importance to the people of Scotland. Conservative Members recognise the vital contribution that Gaelic has made, not merely to the traditions of Scotland but to the traditions and culture of the entirety of the United Kingdom. We in no way underestimate the signal importance of Gaelic.
1143 During the debate hon. Members, the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) in particular, have drawn attention to the parallels that are said to exist between the speaking of Gaelic in Scotland and the speaking of Welsh in Wales. But one wonders whether those parallels are as marked as the right hon. Member for Western Isles suggested. The Minister's contribution was very helpful on this point, because he reminded the House that in Wales 20.per cent, of the population, or thereabouts, speak Welsh, and yet, as we know from the 1971 census, only just under 2 per cent, of the people in Scotland speak Gaelic. This is a difference not merely in number but in degree and in kind. It would not be surprising if that essential difference meant that a solution which was appropriate to Wales was wholly inappropriate to the peoples of Scotland
I turn to clause 2, the education clause. I entirely agree with all that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said. The drafting of the clause is singularly imperfect. It is so imperfect that the right hon. Member for Western Isles said that the clause would be changed in Committee. It is extremely difficult to understand why a Bill should be presented to us that will need to be changed tomorrow. I have some difficulty in understanding what the right hon. Gentleman seeks to achieve. Are we to provide education in Gaelic in all schools within the designated areas? Is the obligation met by a local authority that provides a Gaelic class? Is the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) correct in saying that if one request is made by one parent the education authority is obliged to provide such education?
We as a House have a right to know. We have that right for at least two reasons. If we do not know what the clause means, we cannot assess to any degree the burden that it places upon the local education authority. More than that, if we are not told what is intended we do not understand the nature of the burden that we are placing on pupils. The fact that we have not been told these things invalidates the Bill to a marked degree.
I believe that these issues are for local authorities. There is a degree of inconsistency between the attitude that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted and the attitude that his party has adopted in the past on almost every other issue. As a general proposition, the Scottish National Party says that it is not the business of Whitehall to legislate for Scotland. It says as a general proposition that it is for the people of Scotland to decide what is or is not appropriate for their area. However, the right hon. Gentleman now says "Parliament is the proper forum to decide which local authorities should impose education in Gaelic". What is appropriate for the Western Isles, where over 80 per cent, of the population speaks Gaelic, is inappropriate for the people of Perthshire, in which less than 2 per cent, of the population speaks Gaelic. Surely the local authority, which is more perceptive of local needs, is readier to respond to local demands and to assess the form of education that is to be provided in its area. It is a matter for the local authority and not for us. The right hon. Gentleman is guilty of a grave inconsistency of approach.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hogg
I turn to clause 3. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) expressed some concern that Conservative Members should concentrate to the extent that they have on the provisions in the clause. I 1144 agree with the proposition that those who cannot properly express themselves in English should be able to express themselves in the Gaelic tongue, in Urdu, Chinese or whatever language in which they may feel most comfortable. That is the existing law.
The clause goes very much further. It says, in effect, that throughout the entirety of Scotland any person who has an interest in litigation can, on the giving of appropriate notice, speak in Gaelic. This detracts from rights rather than enlarging them.
We have concentrated on the person who wishes to speak in Gaelic but it is the business of this House to concentrate on the interests of everybody who is a party to litigation. I have been in many courts where interpretations and translations have been used, and it is profoundly unsatisfactory for other people who need to have the process interpreted because the person concerned does not speak the English language. It is a most frustrating performance. Questions that should be asked are not asked. Answers get misunderstood. The case goes on and on. The expense is enormous.
§ Mr. Hogg
The fees in some cases are far too great. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. But the point is that for all the parties to the litigation it is a frustrating, a time-consuming and a complicated process. We cannot ignore that aspect.
In giving the right to a person to speak Gaelic we are imposing a burden on everybody else—and for what purpose? There will be nobody in those courts—not even the person who wants to speak in Gaelic—who cannot communicate in the English language and cannot comprehend that tongue. If I am wrong about that—and I do not believe that I am—under existing legislation people have the right to require an interpreter. The truth is that courts are there to do justice for all parties. They are not platforms on which people should be enabled to strike political attitudes, which is what I fear will happen.
The matter of precedent is also important here. It is a point that I made to the right hon. Member for Western Isles and of which he disapproved. But we shall be establishing a precedent if we pass the Bill, because we shall be saying to a group within the community "You can have special privileges according to your language." But what shall we say to the Gaelic speakers in Northern Ireland? There are Gaelic speakers in Northern Ireland. For the most part, they reside on Rathlin Island, but there are some also who reside in the counties adjoining the Republic. Are we to say that Gaelic is to have the same privileged status in Northern Ireland as in Scotland? I do not think that such a precedent would do any good for that unhappy Province.
What about the people who have come to live in this country from the Indian Sub-continent—those who speak Urdu, Gujarati or Hindi? Many of them are as much British citizens as are the people of the Western Isles.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
My hon. Friend surely cannot suggest for a minute that people who speak Urdu or any of the other ethnic languages are natives of the United Kingdom? They may be British citizens but they are not born and bred natives of the United Kingdom, as the Scots are.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am not prepared to entertain any difference between people of different racial origins. We are a multi-racial State. If a person is a British citizen, he is a British citizen. I am not prepared to make a distinction between British citizens whose language is indigenous to this country and British citizens whose language has been imported into this country.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I follow the hon. Gentleman's point. He is making a point that is of great concern to all of us, but I wonder whether he carries it to the extreme. Since the Education (Scotland) Act 1918, Catholic education has been enshrined in the statutes in Scotland, but does the hon. Gentleman believe that every minority group is entitled to a separate school in order to cater for its own religious or ethnic needs? A balance could be drawn between the two. I think that the hon. Gentleman is overstressing the point.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Yes, a balance can be struck. It can be struck by giving the local authorities the final say. They know the concentration of people within their locality who speak a language other than English. A balance can be struck by leaving the law as it stands, rather than imposing on local authorities a mandatory obligation that will establish a precedent that will do great harm to the United Kingdom.
About two weeks ago the House was concerned with the concept of nationality and hon. Members heard many speeches which tried to define nationality. I remember hon. Member after hon. Member saying that a people becomes a nation because of its allegiance. We spoke of common allegiance, affinity, the bonds of blood, historic traditions, race and language. The House would do well to emphasise the unity and the oneness of the United Kingdom rather than try to emphasise points that separate and distinguish one citizen from another. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Western Isles and the hon. Member for Dundee, East would do well to heed my words, because ultimately they stand for a sectarian approach to government. We are one people, one community, one society, and the right hon. and hon. Gentlemans' policies will undermine that proposition. I say to them—I cannot say it to the Liberal Party because it is not represented—that this Bill is not in the wider interests of the United Kingdom. It is not even in the narrow interests of Scotland, and I do not believe that it is in the interests of the Gaelic-speaking community. I hope that the Bill is rejected.
§ 2.2 pm
§ Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)
My constituency is encompassed by clause 1. It has already been said that the clause is extremely badly drafted. I trust that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) did not draft the Bill, because the drafting goes from bad to worse. It 1146 probably goes from worse to bad, because clause 1 is the worst. It does not seem to have decided whether we had the reform of local government in 1974.
The clause refers to regional councils, which are the education authorities that would have to implement clause 2. It then refers to other odd places from a legalistic point of view. It refers to Argyllshire. The place is called Argyll. That should be known by a party that boasts that it is upholding the Scottish tradition that Perthshire may be called Perthshire because it has in it the city of Perth, but that Argyllshire should be called Argyll because it does not have in it a town called Argyll.
In any case, part of Argyllshire is part of the Highland region. I cannot think which of the islands of the Inner Hebrides would not be encompassed by the Highland region and Argyllshire. My constituency should have been covered—the clause will obviously have to be amended in Committee—by the inclusion of the Argyll and Bute division of Strathclyde regional council. That would have shown a proper awareness of what really goes on in Scotland.
Perhaps the most important clause for the future of Gaelic is clause 6, which deals with broadcasting. Unfortunately, that clause has been least referred to. We realise the importance of radio and television broadcasting in Gaelic.
There are a great many problems arising from it, however, and I am not sure that the committee proposed in the legislation will answer many of them. Let me instance some of them. The worst one arises from the fact that a piece of good work has been done by the BBC in setting up Radio Highland, which puts out a considerable amount of its material in Gaelic. That would be splendid if all parts of the Highland area received Radio Highland. However, one of the most heavily concentrated Gaelic areas of my constituency on the island of Islay still does not receive Radio Highland.
I am sure that the BBC authorities will read the report of this debate and take note of what I say. I hope that they will consider, as a matter of urgency, beaming Radio Highland on its VHF transmitter to Islay. Only recently a new transmitter has been installed which enabes that island to receive television and radio broadcasts from Scotland. Up till now—and it is still the case on the Rinns of Islay—television has been received from Ulster, and I have to tell the House that watching television from Ulster is a rather sobering experience. I choose my words carefully. They are perhaps appropriate to Islay. It is a sobering experience. Every time that I am on Islay and watch television I am reminded of the real horror of what is going on in that Province. But obviously my constituents have been reminded enough of that, and they would much prefer to watch Scottish Television and listen, if they could, to Radio Highland on VHF.
One of the problems about radio and television—and it is a difficult one to get round—is that when the television or radio authorities decide to do an "opt out" for the highland area and put out a Gaelic programme in place of an English one, they are bound to annoy someone. The beauty of Radio Highland is that, because it is on one VHF wavelength and Radio Scotland is on another, the problem does not arise on radio. But it does on television.
While listening to the radio this morning I heard Mr. William Rees-Mogg, the editor of The Times, say in an interview that the most important issue that he put out was the one in which he reported that man had taken that giant 1147 leap for mankind by taking the first small step on the moon. I was reminded that on that day I had stayed up with my children, as I am sure many other people did, to see this historic event, which ranks with Columbus discovering America and the most important discoveries that have been made. The next evening, when Armstrong and his colleagues were coming back from the moon—and it would have been a tragedy if, having stepped on the moon, they had failed to get back alive to earth—the splash-down was due to occur between six and seven o'clock in the evening. Just as I was encouraging my children and getting them interested in this extremely historic event, the BBC decided that we should watch the McDonald sisters singing in Gaelic. I know that that decision annoyed countless people, many of them Gaelic speakers. We were deprived of seeing this important last step. I was extremely annoyed, and so were my children. I hope that the proposed committee will try to prevent occurrences of that kind on radio, and especially on television.
One of my local Gaelic organisations has suggested to me—and I put it on the record in the hope that the BBC will read it —that one of the good times for television Gaelic programmes might be the early evening period on BBC2, before 7 o'clock, when not very much is done. I pass that on to the BBC as a possibility. However, I notice in my researches that that would clash immediately with a fairly concentrated daily hour of Gaelic on radio. That illustrates the problem, and I hope that the proposed committee will solve it.
I turn now to the courts aspect. I am concerned that one or two people might try to make use of the clause—and I fear that it may have been put in for that reason—for political ends. They will disrupt the court by insisting on something that they do not need to have. Twice during the debate I asked how many cases there had been of a court declining to allow a person to use an interpreter. I am still waiting to hear whether there have been any such cases, and I think that I shall wait in vain. One of my constituents, who comes from Liverpool, has decided to ingratiate himself with the natives of Argyll by joining the Scottish Nationalist Party and speaking only Gaelic—which no one else can understand because he does so with a Liverpuddlian accent. If he has to appear in court he may insist on the hearing being in Gaelic, for political and disruptive reasons.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
I am interested in the use of language for political purposes. I cannot speak for Scotland, but I can give an example from my country of Wales. As a small boy, I lived in a small village where everyone spoke Welsh, and Welsh only. There was a family of Welsh nationalists by the name of Bisley. I see that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) recognises that name. That family sent grocery orders to the Co-op in Welsh. The girls working there—Welsh-speaking girls—needed a dictionary to understand the order. In spoken Welsh—and it may be the case in spoken Gaelic—if one wants to ask for jelly, one asks for jelly, but the correct Welsh word for jelly is ceulfywd—which means coagulated food. That is the sort of way in which the separatist party in Wales has attempted to use the language for political ends. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) is right to raise that point.
§ Mr. MacKay
It is interesting that most people in "Gaeldom" are law-abiding and do not often appear in 1148 court. The only courts in which many of them appear are the Scottish Land Court and the Crofters' Commission. Appeals from the one go to the other. It is interesting that during the past 10 years no evidence in Gaelic has been given to the Scottish Land Court. It has never written its proceedings in Gaelic. The Bill does not cater for the fact that many things in the Scottish legal system are in the written form and that written submissions in Gaelic may not be admissible in court.
I turn to the provisions for education, which contain the most difficult seeds. We have already exposed the problem relating to the use of the word "in". I accept that the right hon. Member for Western Isles said that he did not mean to use the word "in", but I am not sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) did not imply that he did. I am sure that the people who drafted the Bill meant the word "in" to be included. I have listened to many of them on the radio. I listened to one person from Inverness this morning, and he made it clear that he wanted his child to be taught in Gaelic in his primary school. That is different from the teaching of Gaelic. It is only fair to put on record that it would be wrong to suggest that Gaelic is not provided in my constituency for those who want it. In the areas in which there is the heaviest concentration of Gaelic speakers it is provided freely and openly by local education authorities.
The Island of Mull has already been mentioned. A beautiful Gaelic song sings the praises of its waterfalls, which I am sorry to say tend to be seen more often than one wishes. When they are in spate they are a beautiful sight. At the census Mull had 465 Gaelic speakers from a total population of about 1,500. Much has been made about the fact that the authority has been asked to provide a Gaelic teacher but has not succeeded in doing so. I explained in an intervention that it was not fair to level that at the authority's door. What has not been said is that it does provide a Gaelic teacher on the Isle of Mull. There is a Gaelic teacher based on Tobermory secondary school. Indeed, five of the primary schools are catered for in Gaelic, whatever other provision is given by local teachers who speak Gaelic.
The statistics are interesting. At the Tobermory secondary school, where Gaelic is freely available, there is one teacher of Gaelic. Of the 36 children in the first year last year, 13 opted to take Gaelic. In the second year—a statistical bump, which I am happy to mention because it helps the right hon. Gentleman's argument rather than mine—15 out of 19 opted to take Gaelic. In the third year last year it dropped to four out of 21 and in the fourth year it was 3 out of 18. I do not care about public opinion polls or anything else. That is the reality of the take-up in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Indeed, last year in Tobermory there was only one O-grade learner's pass.
On the Isle of Tiree, which has a heavy concentration of Gaelic speakers, we have the same kind of pattern. In the first year all children in Tiree have Gaelic available because the primary and secondary schools are one school. In the first and second years Gaelic is compulsory for all children. Therefore, in both years 15 out of 15 take Gaelic. But in the third year, when choice enters into it, the figure drops to 8 out of 12. In the fourth year, the figure drops to 1 out of 9, and in the fifth and sixth year it is 4 out of 12.
I could go on about what that means. In fact, Cornaigmore school on Tiree is the only school in Argyll 1149 where there were any presentations in native speakers O-grade, and none passed. Of the other children, one pass was obtained in O-grade Gaelic.
I turn now to Islay high school—another area of large concentration of Gaelic speakers. I had meant to explain how large the concentration is, but I do not want to take up too much time at this late stage in the day by making a long speech. Eight of the primary schools in Islay have Gaelic provided by the education authority. The authority is already doing its bit there. Again, Gaelic is compulsory in the first year. Therefore, 89 out of 89 take it. In the second year the figure drops to 27 out of 77, in the third year it drops to 6 out of 73, in the fourth year it drops to 3 out of 68 and in the fifth and sixth years it is down to 1 out of 32. There were six passes in O-grade learner's Gaelic from Islay high school.
Much the same pattern emerges from all the schools. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) is not in his place. I am not intervening in his constituency affairs, but I point out that the most heavily concentrated mainland area of Argyll sends its children to Lochaber high school where much the same pattern emerges. In the first year, 46 out of 310 children take Gaelic which is freely available and provided by the Highlands regional council. Therefore, the Bill is unnecessary for that area. By the third year the figure has dropped to 15 out of 319 and in the fourth year it is 24 out of 292.
In Oban high school, where I taught, exactly the same pattern emerges. It is interesting that some years ago the headmaster decided that all children should take Gaelic in the first year. It made absolutely no difference to the subsequent take-up of Gaelic. The figures for Oban high school are most revealing. Out of 311 children, 57 took Gaelic in the first year. The children have an obligation to take either French or Gaelic. There are two Gaelic teachers there. In fact, the leading Gaelic propagandist in my constituency is the principal teacher and he knows that the Bill is unnecessary in view of the provision at Oban high school. In S2 the figure is 49 out of 256; S3, 24 out of 266; S4, 20 out of 287; and S5/6, 12 out of 277.
That is the uptake in the parts of my constituency which have a Gaelic-speaking population. For the Bill to extend the provision to the parts of my constituency with little or no Gaelic-speaking population would be wrong. Gaelic can survive only if parents who are interested in the language encourage their children to speak it.
Much politically motivated campaigning has been going on about this matter. I am reluctant to say this, but I feel that it will put the point of pressure where it should be put. As I have told the House, anyone can take Gaelic in Oban high school. It is freely available. I discovered, to my great interest, that the daughter of my Liberal opponent, who was always preaching about the great Gaelic cause and how much she supported it, does not take it. She takes Latin and French, but not Gaelic. I found that most interesting, because it is all very well to make speeches and say that everyone else should learn the language, but if one cannot persuade one's own children to learn it there is no future for Gaelic.
§ Mr. George Robertson
The hon. Member was his party's Liberal opponent at two elections. It is clearly 1150 grossly unfair to make a judgment about the political sincerity of anyone on the basis of what his or her children have freely chosen.
§ Mr. MacKay
I cannot agree with that, because a language can survive only if children take it as a subject in the schools. My predecessor was a Scottish National Party member. With great interest I discovered that his children, when given a free choice at Oban high school, did not take up the language. That says it all.
I am satisfied that the Strathclyde regional council does its best to encourage the Gaelic language in Argyll, and in that part of Argyll in the Highland region. I do not think that the Bill would add one jot or tittle to that encouragement. The Bill would not increase the numbers who speak Gaelic. All it would do would be to create hostility between the people and the authority in that part of Argyll which is not basically Gaelic-speaking.
§ Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)
There have been many references to the Welsh language. It is therefore appropriate that a Welsh-speaking Welshman should contribute.
The point has been made that, whereas the 1971 census showed that 20 per cent, of the population of Wales spoke Welsh, the same census showed that slightly under 2 per cent, of the population of Scotland spoke Gaelic. There is no question but that there is a difference in kind when there is that difference between the languages—more than 500,000 Welsh speakers against 90,000 Gaelic speakers.
It is right that there should be a study of our experiences in Wales, because obviously the objectives of the Bill are objectives with which any Conservative must sympathise [Interruption.] I speak of the objectives. The method may be something else. Any Conservative must cherish a language, which is part of the tradition of a nation.
In his tour of the Hebrides in the eighteenth century, Dr. Johnson could already sense the seeds of decay in the Gaelic language. It was in that context that he spoke of the great loss that is always felt when a language disappears, because, as he said,Languages are the pedigree of nations".I should like to concentrate on our experience in Wales and to identify those elements that have proved most constructive. We have a mix of policies in Wales, and I am not sure that we have necessarily achieved the most desirable end by some of the most controversial means.
It is sometimes said that a language is the expression of a nation, but we must also recognise that a language is capable of being a divider of a nation. This is a problem that we face in Wales. Welsh speakers have a privilege, in terms of the opportunity to fill posts in local government and local broadcasting organisations. In the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which is studying broadcasting in Wales, we have heard a great deal of evidence and have found that virtually every key post in broadcasting must be filled by people who are among only 20 per cent, of the nation, simply because of the practical need to cover broadcasting in both Welsh and English. Some methods of promoting a language, an objective with which one must sympathise, can have the effect of setting members of a nation one against the other.
Our greatest need in the encouragement of any minority language is a sense of realism about the various methods that can be used. The Council for the Welsh Language, in 1151 its 1978 annual report, "Dyfodol I'r Iaith Gymraeg", spoke of the immense importance of voluntarism and the parental commitment. The teaching of the language to young people is the most important factor of all in the preservation of a language. There is a limit to what Government action can achieve for a language.
If the will to keep a language going is to be found among the people, the political atmosphere will of course be right. No Government this century have failed to take a constructive attitude towards the preservation of the Welsh language.
Facilities to learn the language should be available, but is a great mistake to introduce any element of compulsion. That is an important lesson that we have learnt in Wales. There are areas in which the local authority policy is compulsory teaching of Welsh for quite a long time in one's school career. In my constituency I find that a fair number of children have hostility towards the language because it has been forced upon them, whereas a freer atmosphere—
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put,That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided:Ayes 37, Noes 19.
|Division No. 70]||[2.27 pm|
|Anderson, Donald||MacKay, John(Argyll)|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cartwright, John||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Cox,T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)||McWilliam, John|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Mikardo, lan|
|Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Dubs, Alfred||Pollock, Alexander|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|English,Michael||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Fraser, Peter (SouthAngus)||Sandelson,Neville|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Mr. George Robertson and|
|Lamond, James||Mr. Gordon Wilson.|
|Bell, SirRonald||Mills, lain(Meriden)|
|Body, Richard||Moate, Roger|
|Dover, Denshore||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Greenway, Harry||Rhys Williams, SirBrandon|
|Grieve, Percy||Sproat, lain|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Thorne, Neil (llfordSouth)|
|Hooson,Tom||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Mr. Bill Walker and|
|Lennox-Boyd, HonMark||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus|
§ Whereupon MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 31 (Majority for Closure).1152
§ It being after half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday 27 February.