HC Deb 15 July 1993 vol 228 cc1185-98

'(1) Every local education authority in Wales shall provide for every child or young person of school age in Wales whose parents so desire, the opportunity to receive education in, and through the medium of, Welsh, within a reasonable distance of their home.

(2) The cost of providing education through the medium of Welsh in accordance with subsection (1) above shall be taken into account by the Secretary of State in determining the capital and revenue support requirements of each local education authority in Wales on an annual basis.'.—[Mr. Wigtey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 9, in clause 5, page 2, line 32, after '(1)',insert Except as provided in subsection (2A) below. No. 11, in page 2, line 45, at end insert '(2A) The scheme referred to in subsection (1) above shall not include measures in connection with the provision by a local education authority of education in the medium of Welsh.'. No. 13, in clause 6, page 3, leave out lines 21 to 23.

No. 15, in clause 7, page 4, line 7, at end insert '(2A) A notice under subsection (1) above may not require a local education authority to prepare a scheme in relation to the provision of education in the medium of Welsh.'.

Mr. Wigley

I hope that we do not take as long discussing new clause 10 and the associated amendments as we took to discuss the previous group. The new clause relates to the right to Welsh-medium education. Those who served on the Standing Committee will recall the considerable debate on that matter. As a result, the new clause that we tabled in Committee has been revised to give the right to Welsh-medium education to all children of school age.

The new clause contains a provision to meet the fears expressed by some Opposition Members that an additional financial burden would be imposed on Welsh local education authorities. Subsection (2) states: The cost of providing education through the medium of Welsh in accordance with subsection (1) above shall be taken into account by the Secretary of State in determining the capital and revenue support requirements of each local education authority in Wales on an annual basis. That subsection should allay the misgivings genuinely and properly expressed in Committee, for which I had some sympathy.

I shall not rehearse the arguments deployed in Committee. I say only, in summary, that the provision of Welsh-medium education varies considerably from area to area. In Committee, I quoted examples of people in certain parts of Wales who had considerable difficulty in getting Welsh-medium education within a reasonable distance of their homes. That has aroused considerable passion in some parts of Wales. Of course, in other parts good and improving provision is being made.

8.15 pm
Mr. Alan W. Williams

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are parts of Wales—his constituency may be one—where it is equally difficult to get English-medium education, especially at infant and primary level, within a reasonable distance of home?

Mr. Wigley

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman does not understand Gwynedd's education policy on primary schools. Its objective is to get every child to be thoroughly bilingual by the age of 11. If that is the hon. Gentleman's objective in what he is advocating in Dyfed, I salute that. There is a campaign in Dyfed by a small minority of parents who want to avoid any Welsh-medium education that would go anywhere near to making their children bilingual by the age of 11.

Mr. Williams

Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mr. Wigley

I suspect that this will be a dialogue.

Mr. Wiliams

I had not intended to become involved in the debate. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in infant education, children aged between five and seven should have the right to learn to read and write in their mother tongue—that is, the language of the home? If that applies to Welsh speakers, it must also apply to English speakers if we are to uphold the principle of equality to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Wigley

There should be a facility within Welsh education to make all children thoroughly bilingual as quickly as possible. The most practical way to do that is by considerable immersion at an early age. Children aged five to seven are like blotting paper and they can pick up languages easily.

Mr. Williams

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wigley

No. I am sorry: the hon. Gentleman can make this own speech in due course. I am not being discourteous; I do not want to detain the House.

Children have the ability to pick up languages at an early age. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of children in my constituency speak only Welsh at the ages of three and four, but learn English at five and six and are verbally thoroughly bilingual by seven.

Over the past 20 years, there has been a tremendous growth in something known as the Welsh schools movement. It operates in the non-Welsh speaking, mainly industrial areas in Wales. A great deal of progress has been made in, for example, the old areas of Glamorgan, especially Flintshire. Great progress has been made in Cardiff, where Welsh-medium education is mushrooming at a tremendous rate. Although the parents are non-Welsh speaking, they want their children to be educated in Welsh, not just as a subject but through the medium of Welsh.

The way in which that has succeeded academically as well as socially has overcome some of the worries that I know many hon. Members had 10 or 15 years ago about building ghetto societies. We are not doing that. Society moves on in some of the English speaking industrial valleys in which a large proportion of young people—perhaps even 30 or 40 per cent.—are educated through the medium of Welsh. That is the key to the ability of the Welsh language to gain tremendous new ground in this generation.

Such education should be available within a reasonable distance of every person's home. People should not have to travel 20 or 30 miles for it, and there certainly should not be generations of young people who did not have the opportunity at all, as, regrettably, happened in some parts of West Glamorgan. I hope that things are moving forward there now, but for a long time young people have missed the opportunity. Thousands of young people in Wales who could have been fluently bilingual by now, and whose parents wanted them to be, were denied that chance because of the lack of a statutory right.

I accept that the new clause is based on the statutory rights approach. I know that the Government do not like that approach for the Bill, but I do not see how, with a statutory right, it would be possible to safeguard the position through the Welsh Language Board.

Indeed, as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, the Welsh Language Board and local authorities could be brought into tremendous conflict. I hope that that will not happen, but I can see the seeds of the possibility, and I would rather see a statutory right through local education authorities, with the Welsh Language Board being there to advise, to help and to come in where there are real difficulties. The basic responsibility should be laid on LEAs.

No doubt the Minister will say that it will be possible to develop schemes between the Welsh Language Board and local education authorities, and I accept that. But we heard in an earlier debate what happens when there is an agreement between two such bodies. The agreement can be two or three years down the line and still the Government do not accept it. They may have some reason best known to themselves why an agreement between two bodies in Wales is not accepted in Whitehall and Westminster. Provisions for schemes such as those suggested by the Government do not even begin to meet the requirement. There should be a statutory right in the Bill.

Mr. Rowlands

My amendment No. 11 has been grouped with the new clause, and I do not know whether I would have tabled it had I known that the two would be taken together, because I want to support whole heartedly the idea of a statutory right for parents to have their children educated through the medium of Welsh.

At the same time, for reasons that I have already explained and shall not repeat, I am deeply reluctant to allow the Welsh Language Board to become involved in the detailed development of education policy within communities, especially communities such as mine, which are sensitively balanced, with much genuine effort being made to achieve that balance and to avoid division and friction. I have a feeling that, accidentally—I do not mean this in any offensive way—the Welsh Language Board could bumble into such situations and create problems where there could have been harmony. I oppose the considerable extension of the board's activities into the details of local education authority policies.

As a quid pro quo, I certainly support the new clause, which gives parents a statutory right. I consider it far better to proceed by giving people rights and letting them exercise them. If those rights are denied people must have proper procedures for obtaining redress through the Secretary of State or the courts. The Welsh Language Board should not become involved in the arguments and be dragged in, whether it wants to intervene or not. One repeatedly sees people using the board as a means of appeal when arguments are taking place locally. Such a role would damage the integrity and status of the board, and the support that it should receive.

I thank the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) for withdrawing his original new clause as a result of representations from other members of the Committee, because subsection (2) was not then part of it. Now the new clause is balanced, and ensures that the resources issue will be tackled when we grant the right. I support the new clause, and if a vote is forced I shall vote for it, but I hope that that will be taken in conjunction with my considerable reservations about the prospect of the Welsh Language Board's having a major role and bring able to intervene in the development of individual LEA policies on the Welsh language.

Without opening too many divisions among ourselves, may I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) that in my overwhelmingly English-speaking community my children were brought up and educated through the medium of Welsh. I cannot remember my wife or myself having taught them English, yet I am happy to say that my eldest son has graduated in English, my second son achieved a grade A in English at A-level, and I hope that my daughter will achieve something similar a year hence.

Whatever pressures my hon. Friend may be under, let me tell him that, even in communities such as mine, we have managed to bring up children bilingually without the fear that they would not learn English as a result. Young children have an enormous capacity to learn and enjoy languages, and I believe that teaching them more than one language makes them more fluent, and more interested in sounds and in language itself.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

My hon. Friend's wife, who was born just outside my constituency, is from a Welsh-speaking background. That makes a vital contribution. It is much easier for children if they are educated in their mother tongue, so it was entirely natural for my hon. Friend's children to go to a Welsh-speaking school.

My hon. Friend referred to pressures that I may be under. I am under no pressure at all—or at least, the only pressure is my desire for there to be equality between the Welsh and the English languages in my constituency and throughout Wales.

Mr. Rowlands

I do not think that my hon. Friend's case will hold water. I do not want to point the finger, but my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), the shadow Secretary of State, sends his children to a school where everything is taught through the medium of Welsh, although I believe that neither parent is Welsh speaking. It would not have been possible to have made children bilingual in Merthyr unless such commitments had been made. The process did no damage whatever to the standard achieved in English. We should not set up bogeys, because they do not exist.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Of course I am delighted, and I know very well, that my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has chosen a Welsh medium of education in the Rhymney valley for his daughter. However, the difference between that situation and the problems in my constituency is that my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly was in a position to choose. It was a matter of voluntary choice, whereas in my constituency, and in large areas of Dyfed and Gwynedd, parents have no choice other than Welsh-medium education. Surely that cannot be right.

Mr. Rowlands

It is sad that for a long time parents could not choose to have their children brought up bilingually. If I lived in Dyfed and my children went to a school that taught all subjects in Welsh, I am sure that they would also be taught English, and would emerge effectively bilingual—unless that did not happen for other educational reasons. I did not wish to start too much of an argument with my hon. Friend; I simply wanted to draw to his attention the experience of a household in an overwhelmingly English-speaking community.

I support the new clause, and I hope that the Welsh Language Board heeds the warnings that we gave in Committee, which I repeated through the vehicle of amendment No. 11. The board should tread warily when dealing with the detailed aspects of LEA policy. If it does not tread carefully, it could create tensions within the local communities. So long as the board listens to the messages that we have sent from this Chamber and from the Committee, we will have a sensible and balanced approach to these issues. We should support the idea of a right of the kind suggested in the new clause.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I also support the new clause. The advantage of a right is that it creates a corresponding duty. In my constituency, and throughout Powys, bilingual education has not been available in a Welsh-medium school. That has caused great anger among a large group of parents. The situation is simply unacceptable.

8.30 pm

The issue has been considered time and again by the local education authority of Powys county council. However, because there is no duty to make the provision, it has fudged the issue time and again. That is not acceptable. As a result, the anger of the growing group of parents who wish to have their children educated at a secondary level through the medium of Welsh has grown. A quite unnecessary political issue has arisen.

At the moment, a solution has at least been found for part of Powys. A proposal has been put forward for a building, which has been used as a special school, to be created as a Welsh medium unit for the first three, or possibly four, years of the Caereinion high school at Llanfair Caereinion. The matter is now before the Secretary of State for a decision. I want to take the opportunity of tonight's debate to urge the Secretary of State to reach a decision as soon as possible.

The last schools decision from the same valley—the Banw valley—which went to the Secretary of State took 10 months. That related to an application, which was eventually granted, by a primary school for grant-maintained status. I hope very much that the decision to which I referred a few moments ago can be reached in 10 weeks rather than 10 months. Even 10 weeks would seem more than long enough.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

The hon. and learned Gentleman must recognise that Powys county council's proposal to the Secretary of State may well resolve certain issues in relation to the provision of Welsh-medium education in the hon. and learned Gentleman's part of Powys. However, given the immense geographical size of Powys, it will not be of any real assistance to parents in my part of Powys who are also seeking Welsh-medium education.

Mr. Carlile

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was about to say that, even if that provision is granted and the application by Powys is allowed, that will not meet all the needs of my constituents in the part of Powys which is Montgomeryshire.

I should be much happier to see an entirely new Welsh medium school established somewhere reasonably accessible—perhaps near Newtown—to all those children who wish to be educated through the medium of Welsh or whose parents wish that for them.

The problem which the new clause raises is that if Powys decided to make such a provision, and it might well decide to do that on the merits of the case, it could not afford to do so. The Government should shoulder the responsibility of meeting the cost of that provision throughout Wales, or at least throughout those parts of Wales where it is reasonable so to do. However, in saying "those parts of Wales where it is reasonable so to do", I do not mean for a moment to dilute my belief that every parent in Wales should have the right to choose the medium of Welsh for the education of their children.

I would go so far as to say that this is one of the key issues in the Bill. Many of us will determine how we vote on Third Reading after listening to the Government's considered response on this point. If the Government refuse to give Welsh official status, as they have already refused tonight, and if they refuse to give a right, which sounds pretty reasonable, for children to be educated through the medium of Welsh, what is left in the Bill? All that is left is a Welsh Language Board which will no doubt produce some interesting schemes, many of which I suspect it will not be possible to enforce, and which will not have created a single worthwhile right which a single citizen in Wales can enforce through the courts of law. If that is what we are left with, it will look pretty threadbare.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

I had not intended to intervene in this debate. However, having heard the contributions of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), I felt that I had to point out once again that the socialist principle should apply.

I strongly support the spirit of the new clause and the opportunity for Welsh-medium education. The clause is fine and I have no problem with it. However, it does not carry with it the principle of equality. Throughout Wales, there should be the opportunity for Welsh-medium education and for English-medium education.

The Minister of State is aware of our problems in Dyfed. Those problems also pertain to Gwynedd. If English-speaking parents move to our rural heartlands of Llanelli, Llandovey and Lampeter from Swansea, Neath or Merthyr, they will find that the local primary school is mainly Welsh medium. It teaches children to read and write in the Welsh language.

Parents want to help their children, especially their infant children, when they are at primary school. It is impossible for English-speaking parents to help their children to learn to read and write if the primary school teaches in the Welsh medium. That takes away a vital part of parenting and part of the enjoyment of being a parent.

It is amazing that that has happened. Over the past few years, there has been a rolling programme in Dyfed which has affected the rural areas. One hundred and eighty eight primary schools in Dyfed are mainly Welsh medium. That is fine so long as the children come from Welsh-speaking homes or if the parents choose that for their children.

I admire my hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). Although they are not Welsh speaking, they have decided to send their children to Welsh-medium primary schools. However, that should not be compulsory. In large areas of Gwynedd and Dyfed we effectively have compulsory Welsh-medium infant education. That cannot be right for children.

It was said earlier this evening that children pick up languages like blotting paper. That is simply not true. It is an absolute myth. Coming from a Welsh-speaking home, I was brought up with Welsh and English and I learnt them quite easily. However, I had the advantage of bilingual parents—they spoke both Welsh and English. Children can readily be brought up bilingual in a bilingual home. However, it is otherwise quite difficult and especially for average or below average children.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon referred in Committee to Europe and to trilingualism and quadralingualism and to a tremendous facility with language. That is not the case across Europe. It applies only to very small minority groups. Nearly all children in France are taught through the medium of French. Very few French people speak English or German. The same applies in Germany where there is one dominant language.

Mr. Wigley

There are millions of people in France whose first language is not French—

Mr. Alan W. Williams

No, a small minority.

Mr. Wigley

Yes, there are millions. A standard work refers to a figure of in excess of 10 million people who had a language other than French as their first language. A country like Holland experiences several languages running together because it is at the crossroads of Europe. When the Dutch football team was competing in the World cup finals, six of the 11 players could give interviews in four languages. There are times when some hon. Members cannot give an interview in one language. That is the reality of multilingualism.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Member for Caernarfon has started to believe some of his mythology. It is a case of repetition after repetition and then he believes myths. The vast majority of people in Europe are monolingual. It should be a fundamental right for all children to learn to read and write in the language of their homes—in their mother tongue—so that their parents can help them. That right is not available in large areas of Dyfed and Gwynedd. My difficulty is that the new clause does not relate to problems in my constituency.

Mr. Rowlands

It might sound a banal comparison, but if I were a younger parent, and we moved to Wokingham, I would not have expected my children to be able to learn in a Welsh-medium school. Therefore, if I as a parent lived in Dyfed or Gwynedd where the major provision is Welsh, surely I would have to accept that as a natural constraint because I had chosen to move there and accept the education facilities that are available there. My hon. Friend is making a wrong case.

Mr. Williams

Some schools in my constituency have been categorised as mainly Welsh medium, and 90 per cent. of the children come from English-speaking homes. In most of my constituency, 50 per cent. of people are from Welsh-speaking homes and 50 per cent. are from English-speaking homes. In rural areas, there is the deliberate exclusion of the English language between the ages of five and seven. [Interruption.] That is the case. The hon. Member for Caernarfon might have convulsions at the thought of that, but it is the reality.

Even though I support the spirit of the new clause, when there is no English-speaking education for many of my constituents, it does not address the problem of the Welsh language in education in my constituency. If the clause had been redrafted with the Welsh medium and the English available, it would have included the concept of equality.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon voted with us in the first Division this evening. We in Wales want a status for the Welsh language in Wales that is no less than the status of English, and the principle of equal status and equal validity. That is a two-sided coin, and hon. Members must accept that. Although we want the availability of Welsh-medium education throughout Wales, and I support that, we must also have English-medium education throughout Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney talked about the appropriateness of the Welsh Language Board vis-a-vis local education authorities. He is right. Local education authorities carry the primary responsibility. It is a little odd to see education introduced in one new clause in respect of a 20-clause Bill.

Hon. Members must think more about this matter. We in Wales need to examine our education system in total and not just automatically adopt what is happening in England. We need a separate education Bill for Wales. Such a Bill could cover primary, secondary, further and higher education and find a place for the Welsh language.

I should like equality to prevail throughout our education system. That means the availability of the Welsh medium in infant, primary and secondary education throughout Wales, together with the availability of English medium education.

If the hon. Member for Caernarfon presses the new clause to a Division, I will not be able to support him because the principle of equality is absent. I would not vote against it, but I would abstain.

8.45 pm
Mr. Flynn

I will not repeat what was said in Committee when we discussed this matter at length. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) was an isolated figure in Committee, as he will be in the House, and as he is throughout most of Wales for his point of view on this issue. The reason is that he is fighting against the commonsense approach that has been adopted in every corner of Wales from Monmouth to Caernarfon.

No one has suggested that the same rules for the language—the same conditions—should apply for every part of Wales, just as no one would suggest that everyone in Monmouth could go to a school on the border and demand Welsh education. They would not get anywhere if they did that.

In Carmarthen, a certain line has been pursued by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). A tiny group of people have written to us—they are not the most rational letters that we have received. My hon. Friend has opposed the policy of the county council.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

My hon. Friend refers to that tiny group of people. Let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), because he referred to a similar matter, that when in Carmarthen town, Lampeter, Cardigan, Llanelli and towns in Dyfed there is a free choice between Welsh-medium education and English-medium education, the overwhelming majority of Welsh-speaking people choose Welsh-medium education and the large majority of English-speaking people choose English-medium education. It is not a tiny number. In rural areas, thousands of people are being deprived of the opportunity to educate their children in the language of the home.

Mr. Flynn

The tiny group I am referring to is called Education First. It is a campaigning group. I was about to say that elected representatives of the people of Carmarthen on Dyfed county council have selected a language policy which they regarded as right for that complex county. It was a different policy in different areas—just as it would have to be in every other county of Wales that has strong Welsh-speaking areas and areas in which Welsh is not the first language. My hon. Friend is trying to impose absolute equality on education, which is totally impractical.

We have accepted that we cannot ask Monmouth district council to do things that Dwyfor district council is doing. We have accepted the complex linguistic pattern of Wales. It is not sensible to talk about a socialist principle to do it that way. It is a very crude argument that my hon. Friend is applying which, in practice, cannot work either in education or in any other aspect of the language. We must temper what we are trying to do with much common sence and an understanding of the linguistic map of Wales.

Mr. Morgan

The House will be pleased to know that I intend to be very brief and that I do not intend to enter the hornets' nest that is raised by new clause 10 which relates to the transverse rights of English-speaking people in Welsh-speaking areas; nor do I intend to try to settle the problems of the Bretons and the Basques in France. I wish briefly to refer to a matter that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), which was the function or duty that will be given to the Welsh Language Board and how it relates to the duties of the Curriculum Council for Wales, which we will discuss on Monday.

In case the Minister of State has not seen it, I refer to the advertisement for the chief executive for the new Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, although we are encouraged to refer to it by its Welsh acronym of ACAC. The Minister of State has already claimed not to have seen one document. I do not want to embarass him, but I am sure that he reads The Sunday Times and has checked the advertisement that was. I suppose, partially issued in his name, although it has come out through the PA Consulting Group on behalf of the Government to select the new chief executive, on the presumption that the Education Bill will pass through Parliament. The advertisement states that the ACAC "will be, subject to the passage of the Education Bill through Parliament, the main central agency in Wales for taking forward the National Curriculum"— That is fair enough—there is no problem there. The advertisement then says: "and developing Welsh language education". One assumes that it is not simply confined to the teaching of Welsh as a core curriculum subject in Welsh schools; otherwise that is what it would have said.

Presumably, education through the Welsh medium is included. That is confirmed by the Welsh translation of the version where it refers to the duties of the ACAC as "Datblygu Addysg Gymraeg". That takes it into the area of Welsh language education generally, not merely the subject of Welsh as taught in schools—literature and language, as it were. Presumably it will be Welsh language education generally, including Welsh learner courses and, obviously, the way in which the Welsh language is used to teach physics and biology or any other subject that is taught in a school through the Welsh medium.

That raises the question asked earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney: which quango will do that job? Will we be subjected to turf contests between the Welsh Language Board and the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales over who will have the last word on Welsh language education matters, assuming that Welsh language education is not simply confined to the teaching of Welsh as a core curriculum subject?

Before the Education Bill comes back to the House on Monday, we should be clear about questioning whether it will be the Welsh Language Board, because it was not excluded. Indeed, in Committee, the Minister said that the board will be heavily involved in looking after the interests of education through the Welsh medium, but apparently the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales has been given the job. I hope that the Minister, on receipt of the advice that he is always able to get on such matters, will clarify the position before we proceed any further.

Sir Wyn Roberts

The debate has ranged widely and I shall try to be as much to the point as I possibly can. We all agree on the tremendous value of Welsh-medium education and the progress that has been made. What we tend to forget is that that progress has been made under the Education Act 1944. The strength of that Act is that it treats the English and Welsh-medium sectors evenhandedly. My concern about new clause 10 is that, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) pointed out, it does not deal with the two languages even-handedly.

The Bill is about treating English and Welsh on a basis of equality. I do not believe that we would be treating the English and Welsh-medium sectors of education on the basis of equality if local education authorities were placed under a duty such as that in new clause 10 with regard to Welsh-medium education without there being a comparable duty concerning the provision of English-medium education.

The terms of the 1944 Act are admirably suited to reflect the difficult issues that can surround the most effective delivery of Welsh-medium education alongside the English-medium sector. The 1944 Act does not seek to impose the same pattern of education in all parts of Wales. As I explained in Committee, it requires that, to the extent that it is compatible with efficient instruction and the avoidance of unreasonable expenditure, pupils should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. We propose that that statutory duty will remain unchanged as a result of the Bill. The success of Welsh-medium education in areas such as Mid Glamorgan is an indication that the 1944 Act is admirably suited to governing the conduct of LEAs in this respect.

The change that we propose to introduce is that the Welsh language scheme that LEAs will be required to produce should include their policy on the provision of Welsh-medium education. In preparing their scheme, LEAs and any school funding council that may be established will need to have regard to the guidelines that the board may produce on the subject and consult parents. Our intention is that the changes should ensure that, while recognising that the issue will often involve difficult and sensitive issues, the delivery of Welsh-medium education should be as closely attuned to the reasonable expectation of parents as possible.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) was anxious about the board's role with regard to education. While granting the board a role in education, we are not advocating that it should become responsible for the delivery of Welsh-medium education. That responsibility will remain with LEAs and any school funding council that is established in due course.

Mr. Rowlands


Sir Wyn Roberts

I will spell it out for the hon. Gentleman, but I will give way if he wants me to. The board will have an important role to play alongside the LEA, but will not take the place of the LEA. For example, we do not foresee the board becoming involved in detailed issues concerning the delivery of Welsh-medium education in specific schools. That will be a matter of day-to-day management for LEAs and schools.

The board will simply not be in a position to become involved in such local issues. Its role will be to look at LEA proposals for Welsh-medium education covering the authority as a whole. It is only at that strategic level that sensible decisions can be made about whether the Welsh and English languages are being dealt with on the basis of equality.

Mr. Rowlands

The Minister started by telling us that an LEA or school will have to submit to the Welsh Language Board a scheme for the provision of education in the Welsh medium and the board must then approve that scheme.

That will inevitably mean that the board will get involved in the provision of education in a community. The moment the board gets involved, parents who are dissatisfied with the provision of Welsh-medium education will appeal to the board, and the Minister and the board will get dragged into that issue. Whatever the Minister says, the danger of that is considerable, and his explanation does not give me any comfort.

Sir Wyn Roberts

I reiterate that the scheme will not work out as the hon. Gentleman anticipates because the strength of the board is that it will be able to develop a breadth of perspective concerning the position of the Welsh language across all phases of education. That breadth of perspective can only serve to compliment the roles of the bodies that are charged with the delivery of Welsh-medium education.

Mr. Wigley

I listened to the Minister's description of how the board will have only a strategic responsibility for the provision of Welsh-medium education. How, then, will it in practice sort out the kind of problem that has gone on for years in Swansea, where it has been impossible to get Welsh-medium education?

Sir Wyn Roberts

I said that the board would work out with each local education authority, in the light of the guidelines that will be approved by the House, the precise scheme under which Welsh-medium education will be provided. In so far as such schemes will be matters of negotiation, arrangement and agreement between the board and the LEA, I can certainly foresee benefits emerging.

One must also remember that these schemes will be the result of consultation. We shall accept a Labour-inspired amendment later which provides for extensive consultation. It will affect non-Welsh-speaking as well as Welsh-speaking parents. We are looking to the board to achieve a beneficial influence in the local authority context to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The board has not simply a strategic role, but real strength, power and influence.

Without, therefore, interfering with local decision making in any way, the board will have an important role to play in education. It will be important that the board exercises that role with considerable sensitivity. In recognising the importance of the issue, I am confident that that is what the board will do.

9 pm

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) referred to the advertisement in The Sunday Times for a chief executive for the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales. The role of that authority, which we shall discuss further, is to develop the curriculum and carry out assessment in Wales. The authority will certainly have a role in developing Welsh as a subject in the national curriculum, both as a first and as a second language. It will have a role also in relation to assessment in Welsh and other subjects. It will also be responsible for the provision of teaching materials for use in Welsh schools. We may well have an opportunity of returning to the detailed provisions, powers and responsibilities of the authority.

Mr. Morgan

The exact phrase used in the advertisement is the development of Welsh language education". The Minister may be telling the House that the advertisement is inaccurate and that PA Consulting Group should be given a rap over the knuckles for perhaps misunderstanding its instructions.

Surely "Welsh language education" would be construed by most people as going much further than simply Welsh as a curriculum subject, whether first or second language and whether curriculum or assessment. To most people "Welsh language education" would include education through the medium of Welsh, would it not?

Sir Wyn Roberts

Yes and, arguably, "Welsh language education" would extend right through further education into higher education, as the hon. Gentleman suggested earlier. We must remember that the hon. Gentleman is referring to an advertisement for a particular post. Those who may be suitable to respond to that advertisement will know the proximate role of ACAC.

It will be for ACAC, the Welsh Language Board, the LEAs and all others concerned with education in Wales to work out their relationships. Certainly the authority will be expected to produce a scheme in much the same way as any other non-departmental public body will be expected to produce a scheme in Wales.

Mr. Wigley

I have listened carefully to the Minister, but I am far from convinced that the provisions of the Bill will answer the weakness of the Education Act 1944, on which he based so much of his argument.

In numerous places in Wales—although not a majority—it is impossible to get education through the medium of Welsh within a reasonable distance. There has not been a positive drive to do that. If the board succeeds in getting guidelines that meet that requirement, and thence local strategies, and can persuade people of the need, that is fine, but we know that if the Government resist the new clause—as they seem to do—there will be no statutory rights. Everything depends on good will, which may turn to ill will, as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, and all sorts of in-fighting may result.

I hope to goodness that the provision of educational schemes in the Bill achieves what the Minister wants, but I have reservations, because, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, unless one has rights that create duties, there is no certainty that that will happen and no way of ensuring that it does.

I shall respond briefly to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). Our objective in wanting Welsh-medium education to work thoroughly and to maintain the natural schools that provide Welsh in Gwynedd and Dyfed and parts of other counties is to create an integrated community; a community that is not divided by language, and where young people can speak both languages and, therefore, can apply for any job and take part fully in that community.

I am not persuaded by the hon. Member for Carmarthen that he is campaigning to ensure that the non-Welsh-speaking children in non-Welsh-speaking homes have the access to the language that gives them the opportunity to play a full part in the community in which they are brought up. There is a danger of producing an apartheid approach; of creating two societies growing up side by side, and never the twain shall meet. At one time, there was a fear of that in the south Wales valleys, but it has not turned out to be justified.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wigley

No. I am bringing the debate to an end.

That apartheid approach is a recipe for disaster, which is why I am so encouraged that few members of the Labour party go down that road.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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