HC Deb 17 February 1992 vol 204 cc9-11
7. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what has been the percentage increase in real terms on expenditure on the Welsh language since 1978–79.

Sir Wyn Roberts

Direct Government grant support for the Welsh language has risen from £0.35 million i n 1978 to £7.6 million in 1992–93. That represents an increase in real terms of 669 per cent.

Mr. Butler

Do not those figures show a dramatic increase in support for the Welsh language since the last Labour Government? What level of indirect support is there for the Welsh language?

Sir Wyn Roberts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Those figures cover assistance provided through part of the education system and to voluntary organisations. My hon. Friend is quite right, however—more support is given to the language through the education system than those direct grant amounts would indicate. For example, there is £3 million by way of grant under the GEST—grants for education support and training—programme. There is also the Government's very extensive support through their arrangements for the Welsh television channel S4C.

Mr. Rogers

Will the Minister be a little more gracious than his hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) and acknowledge the tremendous efforts of Labour-controlled authorities in south Wales and the valleys in respect of the Welsh language over many years? Will he remind his hon. Friend that making the Welsh language a political football does a disservice to that language? How can a county like Mid-Glamorgan, which provides enormous support for the Welsh language through primary, secondary and other areas, pay its teachers the new pay award, which will cost the county £1.7 million, when the amount of Government grant will be only £700,000 and a shortfall of £1 million will thus have to be found from the poll tax payers of Mid-Glamorgan, which will mean £3 per head on the poll tax and the county will be capped for introducing that? Can the Minister advise the local authority how to get out of that dilemma created by the Government?

Sir Wyn Roberts

I am, of course, grateful to the local authorities for their assistance and support for the Welsh language, and I do not think for a moment that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) or anyone in this House is seeking to make a political football out of the Welsh language.

With regard to teachers' pay, I am sure that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) is as delighted as I am that the teachers have been given an increase of 7.8 per cent. He will also be delighted that the local authorities' standard spending assessments were increased by 8.1 per cent. by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government have given £3.5 million additional money to local authorities in Wales so that they can meet the necessary increase and give the teachers their well-deserved rise.

8. Mr. Geraint Howells

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will introduce during the next three months a Welsh language Bill to give the same status to Welsh and English in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Wyn Roberts

The wide-ranging legislative proposals presented by the Welsh Language Board have called for very careful consideration. To this end, the Welsh Office has been consulting other Government Departments which would be affected. My right hon. Friend is weighing carefully the views which have been expressed, with the intention of announcing a decision on this matter as soon as possible.

Mr. Howells

First, I should like to put the record straight, as the Secretary of State misled the House in saying that it was our party's policy to do away with the Secretary of State's office if our devolution proposals are accepted. That is not true.

Secondly, I am very disappointed with the Minister of State's reply, as I am sure that the majority of people in Wales will be, too. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the people of Wales today that he will introduce such legislation before the next general election and that the same status will be given to the Welsh language as that given to the English language in Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not treating the question as seriously as he should. It is all very well for any party, such as the Labour party, to pledge that it will legislate for a Welsh Language Act, without actually spelling out what is to be in that Act. I for one, and my right hon. and hon. Friends, will not commit ourselves to saying that there will be such legislation without knowing precisely what will be put into that legislation. I have said that we are considering the matter most carefully and the proposals that were put before us, and we shall announce our decision in due course.

Mr. Michael

The Minister of State is already practising for opposition. The only choice in the election will be a Labour Government, because the Labour party has firm commitments. We have said that in our first year we shall bring legislation before the House, and we have said what we shall put in it. The right hon. Gentleman's continued suggestions that we have not described the contents are untrue.

Why has the Minister of State advised three Secretaries of State not to proceed with a Welsh language Bill when for a year there has been a consensus as a result of the publication of the measure by the Welsh Language Board? Why have the Government wasted a year, when a Welsh language Act could have been on the statute book by now? The Conservative party has revealed itself to be bereft of ideas and has failed to do the service to the Welsh language that could have been done by publishing a Bill a year ago and bringing it through Parliament this year.

Sir Wyn Roberts

The so-called supplementary question that we have just heard, which was really a statement, is typical of the slapdash, inconsiderate attitude of the Labour party toward a very serious issue which concerns not only Welsh speakers but non-Welsh speakers in Wales. The hon. Gentleman does not do justice to the proposals put forward by the Welsh Language Board. We are giving those proposals very serious consideration indeed.

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