HC Deb 15 July 1993 vol 228 cc1206-13

Amendment made: No. 8, in page 19, line 11, at end insert—

'1985 c. 50.
The Representation of the People Act 1985.
In Schedule 4, paragraph 85(a).'.—[Sir Wyn Roberts.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

9.38 pm
Mr. Wigley

It is with considerable regret that I rise to explain why my hon. Friends and I will vote against Third Reading of a Bill for which we have campaigned for so long—the best part of 10 years—and in such depth. The objectives of the Bill, as we have understood them, were to create a new framework of hope for the Welsh language and to provide mechanisms that would ensure that the difficulties that have been experienced in recent years would be overcome. We are unhappy about six parts of the Bill because of the way in which the Government have failed to deal with the issues in the House of Lords, in Committee and again on Report.

The first and overwhelming problem was the subject of an earlier debate—official status. There has been pressure from all directions on the Government on that. There is no doubt about the will of Wales. The chairman of the Welsh Language Board—a Government appointee, on whose work the Bill is based, and whose period of office is coming to an end—said in a letter to us about official status for the Welsh language: We believe that this should be stated in totally specific terms in the Bill. If it is not included, the debate will continue in Wales, quite rightly, about the failure of the Government to act on this matter—and that debate would be totally understandable—and this would devalue everything else which otherwise would be possible under this legislation. This can only mean that the Welsh Language Board will be under a disadvantage from the very start. I pay tribute to the Welsh Language Board—to John Elfed Jones, to Winston Roddick for the work that he has done on the legal side, and to the chief officer, John Walter Jones, for his work. The Bill has let them down and I feel sorry for them. The central question of status, on which the Archbishop of Wales wrote to the Secretary of State only a few days ago, requesting a Government rethink, has not been dealt with.

There is then the issue of rights, and particularly rights to education, another subject on which we touched. The Bill has not provided rights for anyone other than the Secretary of State and the Government. There are no additional rights for Welsh speakers. The Bill has not given statutory rights on which people can base a claim to use the Welsh language. That is a major weakness in the Bill.

We have already had a debate on juries and the need for juries that understand what is transacted and spoken in courts. We have debated race relations and we exposed the way in which the Government have not tackled that problem. After two years of discussion between the Welsh Language Board and the Commission for Racial Equality, the Government have not been able to introduce the change in legislation that both those bodies, and the people of Wales, want.

A matter that we discussed in Committee and that was debated at length in the other place was that part of the private sector which provides public services, including telephone, water and electricity services. We expected that those essential services would be included in the Bill, but they are not. There is no guarantee that information on the forms will be in Welsh. There are schemes and a bureaucratic mechanism that can go on and on, but that lack of a guarantee in the Bill is a missed opportunity.

I would rather that we came back with a Bill in another form in the next parliamentary year than put on the statute book now something that we shall no doubt be told has to last for another 25 years, with all those central weaknesses. The Welsh Language Board will find it immensely difficult to do its work when it is not underpinned by any principle, any right, any guarantees. There is a vacuum at the centre of the Bill where they should be.

I feel sorry for the Minister because he has undertaken a great amount of work on the Bill.

Sir Wyn Roberts

The hon. Gentleman should not feel sorry for me. I am the one who is sorry to hear him say what he proposes to do. Does he not realise that the Bill is an enormous advance for Welsh-speaking people and that he is risking that benefit to them by voting the way in which he intends to?

Mr. Wigley

I note the right hon. Gentleman's anger and I understand it. He has put an enormous amount of emotional commitment into the Bill and has tried to get a consensus. No doubt a consensus could have been reached, but he is a captive member of a Government that have little knowledge of what is going on in Wales and he has been unable to get his own way on matters such as status, on which he had based so much of his own hopes. Had he succeeded there, he could have got the unanimity that I think was available in Wales to support the consensus across party lines.

We made it clear at the start that we were looking for basic things to be added to the Bill as it went through Parliament—the sort of things that the Minister promised to the Welsh Language Board in December when its members were on the point of resigning because the Bill was so weak. These things were not forthcoming, in the House of Lords or in the House of Commons.

Then we had the Bill in Committee—a Committee packed with nine Tory Members from English constituencies to make sure that they got the majority in everything. The 70-odd amendments and the 20 or 30 new clauses that were put forward were just steam-rollered out of existence, with not an inch being given on any of them.

I do not hold this against the right hon. Member for Conwy, no matter how angry he may be with me, but there is sadness about the opportunity that has been lost. I do not know whether, by doing anything else, he could have persuaded the Government to do the things that the people of Wales want. All that we know now is that the Bill is woefully inadequate to do the job that was wanted by both the right hon. Gentleman and the Welsh Language Board. We are not getting it.

It is a sad night and, yes, I do feel angry about it. Not against the Minister of State—we have to know who our enemies are when it comes to the language—but against the system that tells Wales, despite the feelings of the overwhelming majority of Welsh Members on this issue, that we must have what a Conservative Government give us.

If ever there was an argument for us to have our own parliament, to make our own laws on matters relevant to our own country, this is it. If the Government think that this is the end of the story, my goodness it is not; this is the beginning of the story and the beginning of a campaign. On the way that we have been treated over this Bill, we will build the movement until we get our own government and our own parliament to pass our own laws in these matters.

9.47 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile

It is very difficult to follow so powerful and heartfelt a speech as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). I agree with much of what he said on all the issues that he mentioned, apart from the matter of juries, on which I spoke earlier.

The Government will have their majority tonight, as the Minister of State knows; the Government will have their Bill. There is no risk to the Bill caused by those who protest against the Government's views by voting against it tonight, as I shall.

We see that a statutory Welsh Language Board is to be set up as a result of the Bill, and that really is the end product. I join the hon. Member for Caernarfon in praising the non-statutory Welsh Language Board, which has been remarkable, has covered a period of years and has devoted a great deal of thought to the issue and done much to benefit the language.

I offer all good wishes to the statutory Welsh Language Board, but I think, like the hon. Member for Caernarfon, that it will find itself frustrated by the limits within which it operates. It runs the risk, at least, of being not a great deal more than a paper tiger. I hope that it will express its views so strongly that they can rarely be ignored, particularly by many of the public bodies in Wales which in years gone by have shown a good deal of resistance to the march of the Welsh language, which most of us, including the Minister of State, welcome.

In my view, the real deficiency of the Bill is that, after all the years of discussion upon it, all the efforts of the Welsh Language Board, the debates here and in the other place, and the lengthy and detailed debates in Committee, not one citizen of Wales will have a single right that he or she can enforce by judicial review through the court, or by any other means. Not one organisation in Wales, apart from the statutory Welsh Language Board, will have a duty which the citizen can enforce against it.

That is a profound disappointment. It is a sufficient disappointment for me to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to join the Members representing Plaid Cymru in the No Lobby a little later tonight.

9.49 pm
Mr. Flynn

For a brief period in 1988 I was my party's Front-Bench spokesman on Wales and the first subject that I raised was the need for a Welsh language Bill. Never did I foresee that, some years later, I would find myself having to vote against such a Bill. The former arch druid said that half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. Sadly, he overstated it. What we have left tonight is not half a loaf, but a few crumbs that have been given to us by our colonial masters.

In Committee,we had many hopes of what would come from the Bill, but every one of those hopes has been trampled on—not by our elected Members from Wales, where there has been an extraordinary unanimity, from the almost totally English part of Wales—where the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) has adopted a reasonable attitude to the Bill and defended his own position—to the almost totally Welsh language-speaking parts of Wales. The unanimity has been there.

When there was a vote as to whether Welsh-speaking defendants should have the right to elect juries that spoke their own language, that right was denied. That was a remarkable result. It is a basic right that exists in almost every corner of the world. By whom was it denied? By the hon. Members for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) and for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). Those are the people who have trampled on the Bill.

The Minister has a proud record and we all pay tribute to him. He is now in his 15th year of ministerial office and he has made great contributions to the Welsh language. He has been a great servant of Wales and we have all been generous in our contributions. That is why we feel angry tonight: he has turned down reasonable Opposition propositions.

The language raises strong passions in all of us, as it should. It is the most ancient language in Europe—a language that was spoken here in London many years before Anglo-Saxon, the mother language of English, appeared in these islands. It is a language that had rich literature and sophisticated poetry 2,000 years ago. That language has not been helped one jot tonight.

What we have heard all the time is "it may", "perhaps" and "there will be schemes". When the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) rightly argued tonight for the Minister to lose a bit of face and agree one minor amendment—which he could correct later, if he wanted to, in the other place—he trampled on that amendment.

What the Government have done tonight has inspired new nationalism in Wales. They have shown the people of Wales that we are a subject race. We are being abused by people who cannot be elected in Wales; who have been rejected time and again by the electorate of Wales. Tonight we have seen the arrogance of an elective dictatorship.

9.52 pm
Mr. Morgan

The problem with the Bill is that it suffers from the Secretary of State's St. Mellons syndrome: he visits a community and pretends to take a great deal of interest in the subject under discussion, but a week later he drops a large amount of organic mushroom fertiliser on it from a very great height.

The right hon. Gentleman has not fought the battles that he should have fought in the Cabinet. He and the Minister of State have visited the subject of the Welsh language, but when anything important arose he resisted the changes that were proposed and the compromises that were offered by the Opposition. There has been no give and take and he has not done his duty.

As for the St. Mellons syndrome, the Secretary of State should perhaps consider the Welsh language to be a single-parent language, and that duties of paternity have fallen upon him—which, in a way, he asked for by accepting promotion to the Cabinet. He has taken responsibility tonight for the state of the legislation, but he has not carried out his paternal duties and has left Welsh as a single-parent language, without the support that it should have had. The Bill should have done the job properly on the privatised public utilities, on jury trials in Welsh and, above all, on the question of official status.

That is why we feel that the Secretary of State has shown that he intends to use Wales simply as a political platform for his own long-term ambitions on the right wing of the Tory party. He has not repaid to Wales the debt he owes it by the fact that it has provided him with his first promotion to Cabinet status. That is why he has not done his job in the way that he could have done. He has not taken the opportunities that were available to him. So we have not received the equality of treatment that we might have expected had there been give and take on the part of the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there had been some Government amendments. In the main, they have filled obvious omissions in the companies and charities legislation, not matters brought to his attention by the Opposition as concessions to be made. They were simply matters about which he had erred by not listening to the advice of specialist bodies. He has made some minor concessions to the Opposition, but one requires a microscope manufactured in a Welsh Development Agency Japanese factory in the valleys to see them. That is why we feel badly let down.

We on the Labour Front Bench are not recommending a vote against the Bill. We shall be abstaining tonight because we hope to have the opportunity before long to do the job properly. That will be done when we revisit the question of a Welsh language measure, when we are in government.

9.57 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)

What pathetic heroic indecision on the part of the Labour party. Here was an opportunity for them to vote for a measure that will further the interests of Welsh language speakers and will be good news for the Welsh language. Yet there they sit on the Labour Benches—all four or so of them—not knowing what to do, gripped by indecision and quite unable to reach a conclusion.

I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. He has worked tirelessly and well in the interests of the Welsh language and has brought good measures to the House—[Interruption.] I assure the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) that my right hon. Friend and I are entirely at one on this issue. We believe that it is the right Bill for the right circumstances and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman intends to vote against it. How extraordinary for him to be voting against a positive and practical measure for the Welsh language. He will be voting against the interests of the people of Wales.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon said that there were no rights and opportunities in the measure. It contains numerous opportunities. It gives people the opportunity and right to enjoy the benefits of the schemes that will come forward under the legislation. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that he and his party wish to undermine the consensus that was being built patiently by many men and women of good will to further the interests of the Welsh language and the Welsh culture?

The hon. Member for Caernarfon must tonight answer the difficult questions. Why is he rupturing the consensus, turning down the olive branches offered by my right hon. Friend and throwing back into my right hon. Friend's face the hard work he has done and the good wishes he has put forward in the Bill for the Welsh language? That is what the Welsh people will want to know and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise what a mistake he is making tonight.

The hon. and earned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) suggested that the board will be a paper tiger. It will not and the board will resent his comment. It will do its job well and with distinction and it will get every encouragement from us.

I hope that when tempers have cooled a little after tonight's debate, the Opposition parties will think again and realise that there is something to be said for the Bill and that rebuilding the consensus is the way forward for the Welsh language.

It is important for Opposition Members to understand the feelings of the many people in Wales who do not speak Welsh, just as surely as it is important for them to understand the feelings of those who speak Welsh, and it is understandable that they should wish to look after their interests.

The Bill represents good progress. The Government have listened and have made 21 amendments. We have made a number of improvements to the Bill as a result of the work of the Committee and my right hon. Friend spelt those out in great detail. He also answered patiently all the points made, so I have no hesitation in recommending the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 123, Noes 19.

Division No. 337] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Blackburn, Dr John G.
Aitken, Jonathan Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Alexander, Richard Bowis, John
Amess, David Brandreth, Gyles
Arbuthnot, James Brazier, Julian
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Browning, Mrs. Angela
Atkins, Robert Burns, Simon
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Clappison, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baldry, Tony Congdon, David
Bates, Michael Conway, Derek
Bellingham, Henry Coombs, Anthony (Wyro For'st)
Beresford, Sir Paul Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Day, Stephen Merchant, Piers
Dorrell, Stephen Milligan, Stephen
Dover, Den Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Duncan, Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Dykes, Hugh Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Elletson, Harold Oppenheim, Phillip
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Page, Richard
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Paice, James
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Patnick, Irvine
Faber, David Pickles, Eric
Fabricant, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fenner, Dame Peggy Richards, Rod
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
French, Douglas Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Gale, Roger Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Gallie, Phil Shaw, David (Dover)
Gillan, Cheryl Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Spencer, Sir Derek
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Spink, Dr Robert
Hague, William Sproat, Iain
Hampson, Dr Keith Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Harris, David Steen, Anthony
Hawksley, Warren Stephen, Michael
Heald, Oliver Streeter, Gary
Hendry, Charles Sweeney, Walter
Horam, John Sykes, John
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Thomason, Roy
Hunter, Andrew Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Jack, Michael Tredinnick, David
Jessel, Toby Trend, Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Twinn, Dr Ian
Kilfedder, Sir James Viggers, Peter
Kirkhope, Timothy Waller, Gary
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Waterson, Nigel
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Legg, Barry Whittingdale, John
Lidington, David Willetts, David
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lord, Michael Wood, Timothy
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Maitland, Lady Olga Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Barnes, Harry Llwyd, Elfyn
Betts, Clive Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Rendel, David
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Rowlands, Ted
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Skinner, Dennis
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Wallace, James
Cox, Tom Wigley, Dafydd
Dafis, Cynog
Harvey, Nick Tellers for the Noes:
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones and Mr. Paul Flynn.
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Kirkwood, Archy

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.