§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 5.4 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It gives me great pleasure to open the debate. The Bill is an important step forward for the Welsh language. In Wales, we are proud of our culture and tradition. But underpinning our priceless heritage is the Welsh language. Twenty-six years ago, introducing the previous Welsh Language Bill, Mr. Elystan Morgan, the then Member for Cardigan, said:It is right and proper to regard such a priceless and irreplaceable thing as a language exactly as the greatest treasures of art which have come from the hands of the painter or the sculptor."—[Official Report, 17 July 1967; Vol. 750, c. 1478.]I could not agree more with those words. Since then, the unique position of the Welsh language has been increasingly recognised.
In the past few years, there has been something of a renaissance. The census figures for 1991 show that the decline in the total number of Welsh speakers has, at last, been halted. There are now more than half a million Welsh speakers—18.7 per cent. of the population of Wales. Most importantly, statistics show that, in the all-important younger age groups—people aged between three and 15—the percentage of Welsh speakers has increased from 18 to 24 per cent. of the population over the past 10 years. I welcome those figures.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important group of all is those aged 15 to 25 years? Pupils in Welsh-medium schools will correctly fill in the census form to say that they can speak Welsh, but it is what happens after such pupils have left school that makes the difference. Only when we see an increase in the number of those who can speak Welsh in the 15 to 25 age group shall we be able to say that we have turned the corner.
§ Mr. Hunt
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is vital to ensure that the number of Welsh speakers in the three to 15 age group continues to increase. That increase will feed through. I equally recognise that, particularly as the number of Welsh speakers is increasing—the result, I believe, of policies pioneered by many people, including my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—it is important to ensure that children leaving school have just as great an opportunity to use the Welsh language that they have learnt there.
Policies that encourage the use of the Welsh language have made substantial progress, but only because they are founded and based on consensus, which is critical. If our policies in support of the Welsh language are to succeed, they must have the support of the people in the rest of the United Kingdom, as well as those in Wales. I very much hope that there will be considerable consensus in the debate and in subsequent discussions.
Until recently, the 20th century had seen a decline in the number of Welsh speakers. It has been very much a century of decline for the Welsh language. In many ways, 950 it is a century in which the language has had to come to terms with the enormous social and economic changes that are taking place in Wales. Those changes are still taking place, but, as I said, there are signs that the decline has been halted. The key to the resurgence in the use of the Welsh language can be found in education and, in particular, the growth in Welsh-medium education outside the traditional Welsh-speaking areas.
In 1967, there was but one Welsh-medium secondary school, containing fewer than 500 pupils, serving the whole of south Wales. Today, there are eight such schools, containing more than 5,500 pupils, and a further 63 primary schools. In Wales as a whole, Welsh-medium schools constitute more than a quarter of the total.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to pay tribute to the pioneering work of the old Labour Glamorgan county council which led the way and Mid Glamorgan which continues the tradition? If he is convinced of the value of education as a way of increasing the number of people in Wales who speak Welsh, does he agree that he should provide extra funds in places such as Bridgend which desperately need a Welsh-medium secondary school but do not have sufficient capital to build one at present?
§ Mr. Hunt
I pay tribute to the majority of local authorities in Wales which have pioneered many important policies. It is for a local education authority to determine its own priorities within the overall spending programme which we announce each year. However, I recognise that some local authorities have played an especially important part in the process.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the fact that there is no dedicated Welsh-medium secondary school in Powys? Will he explain why the Bill does not enshrine the right for parents to have their children educated through the medium of Welsh? Surely a Welsh Language Bill, which appears so rarely, should enshrine that right for the people in Wales who wish to take advantage of it.
§ Mr. Hunt
It has traditionally been left to local education authorities to determine their priorities in that respect. Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman should make Powys county council aware of the views that he has expressed so strongly, but, at the end of the day, it is for Powys county council to determine the provision of education under existing policies. The vast majority of education authorities in Wales have shown a positive attitude to expanding Welsh-medium education. The Government have introduced a larger element of parental choice in education.
§ Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)
Gwent has not traditionally taught Welsh as a compulsory subject. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a great need for extra resources to train teachers already employed in Gwent, and to employ more teachers, to teach Welsh? Does he accept that there is a major disagreement between his Department and Gwent about proper resourcing for the teaching of the Welsh language?
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
My right hon. Friend should be aware that there is widespread concern in Powys about the provision of Welsh-medium education, but the observations made in another place, which I understand are part of Government policy, have provided assurances that the schemes that are to be put to the new Welsh Language Board created under the Bill will include the requirement for local authorities to examine the provision of Welsh-medium education.
§ Mr. Hunt
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I shall refer to it when I deal with the powers of the Welsh Language Board. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the Bill establishes a Welsh Language Board as a statutory body. Education and schemes for the provision of education will be included in its overall jurisdiction.
I was talking about Welsh-medium schools. The Welsh nursery schools movement, Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, did not exist in 1967. Today, it sponsors some 1,000 Welsh-medium nursery schools in Wales and is part of a thriving Welsh language voluntary sector. That reflects, in part, the growth in Government support, but the sheer commitment of the people involved has been the main motivation and driving force.
Welsh language television broadcasting was in its infancy in 1967. It was a relatively new adventure in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was one of the heroes. He was heavily involved. Today, S4C broadcasts in Welsh during peak hours and is a model for broadcasting in a minority language. I pay tribute to all those involved.
The Welsh Language Act 1967 was an important step. It confirmed the position of spoken Welsh in the courts and led to a significant expansion in its use in public administration. However, it was legislation for its time. Times have now changed; hence, the need for the Bill.
The most important change that has taken place is the fact that the language is now surrounded by what is best described as an aura of confidence. It is increasingly used in all aspects of people's lives, and that is in no small measure due to the consistent support of Governments in the past two decades. I am especially pleased that the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) is to wind up for the Opposition. I recall the steps that he took to give financial assistance to the National Eisteddfod. He was responsible for introducing the powers to fund bilingual education projects which the in-coming Conservative Government accepted and were happy to enact in the Education Act 1980. I pay tribute to him for what, in historical terms, is seen as an important step.
I remember the major policy speech made at Llanrwst by my noble Friend Lord Crickhowell. No doubt the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) also remembers it well. The language's status has been reinforced in various Acts. An especially historic step was that taken by my immediate predecessor, now Lord Walker. He made Welsh a foundation subject in the national curriculum and a core subject in Welsh-medium schools.
The future of the language will, of course, depend on far more than Government action alone.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has made great play of Government initiatives and the Government's willingness to respond to representations, but will he pay tribute to those who have for decades exerted considerable pressure 952 on Governments, national and local, by way of vigorous campaigning and at no small cost? It is fair to say that we would not have got even as far as we have today but for their enormous commitment to the Welsh language and their willingness to act.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated what I was about to say. As he rose, I was saying that the future of the language will depend on far more than Government action alone. Many people have been prepared, within the law, to demonstrate their strong support for the Welsh language. At times, it has been difficult to maintain that posture against some of the extremists, but I pay great tribute to the dedicated people who, within the law, have helped us to ensure that one of Europe's oldest languages survives as a living language. However, the Government have a role to play. The reports submitted to me by the Welsh Language Board argue cogently about what role legislation could play, and the Bill represents the Government's response to the board's recommendations.
Wales is a bilingual society. The opportunities for people to choose which language they wish to use should therefore be as wide as possible. I want to see a level playing field for English and Welsh, and the Bill recognises that, because Welsh speakers are a minority of the total population of Wales, the language requires some assistance if that choice is to be exercised as widely as possible. Much has already been done to facilitate the use of the language, and the Bill seeks to build on that.
The Welsh language is already widely used for official purposes; it is the language of public administration in many parts of Wales, but the Bill is founded on a recognition that sometimes there can be obstacles to the use of Welsh. Some of the obstacles can be removed by statute, and the Bill tackles those directly. Others are susceptible to removal by administrative means, and the Bill establishes a framework that allows the practical obstacles to be tackled by the preparation of Welsh language schemes.
Before referring to the challenge that faces the new statutory Welsh Language Board, I shall mention the work of the current board under its existing chairman John Elfed Jones. I believe that the consensus about the sort of general principles that should govern policy on the language—principles now reflected in the Bill—is largely a result of the sensitive, reasonable, but always tenacious way in which the board has conducted itself over the past five years. On Second Reading, it is appropriate for me to pay my personal tribute to John Elfed Jones for his leadership and his enthusiasm for our language, and to the members of the board and its officers for the dedication that they have shown to the furtherance of the Welsh language.
It is fitting, therefore, that clause 1 establishes the statutory Welsh Language Board. The work of the current board has shown the advantages to be gained from having a body able to promote and facilitate the language whenever it is used.
Clause 2 concerns the board's membership. It was amended during the Bill's consideration in the House of Lords to underline the breadth of expertise that the membership will need to reflect if the board is effectively to carry out its extremely wide remit.
953 Clause 3 defines that remit as promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language, as well as advising the Secretary of State for Wales on all aspects of its use.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
Will the Secretary of State ensure that appointments to the board will be made only from people on the list kept in the Welsh Office, that the forms will have to be correctly filled in in good time, and that no one will be appointed who has not been on that list for at least a year?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to place an obstacle in the way of promoting and appointing the best people. I am never attracted by the bureaucratic response that says to someone of considerable ability, "Sorry, you cannot be appointed because you have not been on the list for a year." I shall genuinely reflect on the importance on the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but without undertaking to be bound by them.
The board's promotional powers are potentially wide ranging, and they include the power to pay grants in support of the Welsh language. Our intention is that the board should assume responsibility for grant aiding all but the major Welsh language organisations as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
May I return for a moment to the Secretary of State's justified tribute to the board? Many of us agree that the board has done an excellent job, so will the right hon. Gentleman explain during his speech why he is not presenting to the House the Bill drafted by the board?
§ Mr. Hunt
We have discussed with the board at all stages the Bill that should be presented. I believe that it is generally accepted that the board's draft could not be immediately translated into the proposed legislation. No doubt in Committee, as we go through the Bill clause by clause, hon. Members from all parties will propose amendments to reflect the issues that they believe that the Bill does not contain. However, I believe that, subject to some amendments that the Government will introduce, the Bill largely reflects the way forward for the Welsh language.
The Bill does not define—
§ Mr. Hunt
Just a moment. I shall finish what I was saying about clause 3.
The Bill does not define the promotional function in great detail, because it will be for the board to decide how the functions should be exercised. The board should establish itself as an acknowledged centre of excellence and expertise on all matters to do with the language, and I believe that it must do so independent of day-to-day interference of the Government, whichever Government may be in power.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones
The Secretary of State will acknowledge that the Bill should set out a framework within which the language can flourish, and that the board considered that the framework needed a statement of principle. The statement of principle that the board believed should be enhrined in the Bill was that of equal 954 status for the language. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he and his colleagues in government would be prepared to consider any form of amendment that would include such a statement on the face of the Bill?
§ Mr. Hunt
I believe that the phrase put to me at the time was "equal validity" rather than "equal status". Whichever phrase is used, I am advised that the most appropriate way forward is to say that a basis of equality between Welsh and English is needed. No doubt we can examine such matters in Committee.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
The actual wording in the Bill is "official language". I believe that that means status. [Interruption.] That is the board's wording.
§ Mr. Hunt
I realise that those are important issues which will have to be tackled in Committee, as we seek to ensure that the words that become part of an Act of Parliament are correct. As a lawyer, the hon. Gentleman will understand that it was subsequently discovered that the words used in the original Welsh Language Act 1967 had a different effect from that which the Ministers who introduced the Bill expected. One of the reasons why the present Bill is required is to amend the original Act. I do not want to leave to my successors—[Interruption]—in many years' time— [Interruption] —the need to pass amending legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Time to go."] I had felt there was a tendency to somnolence on the Opposition Benches, and I am pleased to have woken up some hon. Members.
I want the Bill to establish as flexible as possible a framework. For example, I believe that most people would accept that the Government's policy of an arm's-length involvement with the creative arts, as embodied in the relationship between the Arts Council and the Government, is now well established. The creation of the Welsh Language Board provides us with an opportunity to establish a similar principle for the Welsh language. As with the arts, there will always be some matters—such as the total public resources made available, and the broad strategic priorities—on which the Government will have to take a view. However, other matters will be best left to the board.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
Before the Secretary of State leaves, will he advise us? The issue of equal status and equal validity was debated at some length on a series of amendments in another place. Are we to take it from what the right hon. Gentleman is saying now that he is sympathetic and open-minded towards the idea of accepting amendments that were rejected in another place?
§ Mr. Hunt
I understand that the hon. Gentleman was talking about my leaving that specific point in my speech. We espouse the principle of equal status and equal validity, but we seek to translate that in the most effective way that we are told is necessary in the Bill that we are presenting to the House. If the hon. Gentleman has a formula which we are told is more effective, we shall listen with some degree of surprise to him, but with some interest as well.
955 It may be helpful to the House if I explain the Government's view of the broad strategic priorities that the board will need to address. I hope that there will be substantial agreement about them. The first is preparing and consulting on the guidelines on the form and content of Welsh language schemes. The introduction of schemes for the major public sector bodies in Wales, including Government Departments, should also be a priority. We will expect the board to continue its work in an advisory capacity in the private sector in which its voluntary guidelines have achieved much already. It will also be important for the board to further the language through innovative and imaginative schemes, as it has with Menter Cwm Gwendraeth and its existing Welsh language software projects. Education will be another area in which the board will need to develop expertise and guidance in the way anticipated by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) earlier.
I will expect the board to respond to the strategic priorities at the earliest possible opportunity after it is established. I expect there to be considerable interest in the early statement that will be published by the board setting out its policies and priorities. I hope that that will be a public document on which there can be widespread consultation.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
In that context, and with regard to the need to develop a comprehensive strategy—much of it impinges on legislation, but some parts of it go beyond language legislation into planning, housing and employment—is the right hon. Gentleman aware that "Strategaeth laith", which has been published by Fforwm Iaith Genedlaethol, laid down guidelines for such a strategy? Can he ensure that those elements are taken on board by the Welsh Office when it drafts new strategic guidelines with the new board?
§ Mr. Hunt
The issues, some of which have been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, will need to be addressed and taken on board as we proceed in the way in which I have outlined.
I hope that it will become immediately apparent to the House that the Welsh Language Board will be right at the heart of the changes that the Bill is intended to bring about. The fact that the Bill does not spell out in every last detail the way in which Parliament expects the board to go about its task only serves to emphasise the responsibiity that the House will place on the chairman of the board and its members. Therefore, the chairman will need to be a person of many talents, not the least of which is the ability to follow in the footsteps of so able a predecessor as John Elfed Jones.
I am pleased to be able to announce to the House that the Prime Minister has agreed that Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas will be the first chairman of the statutory board. [Interruption.] I am pleased at that response, and hope that the Official Report will show that approval for that announcement came from both sides of the House. Lord Elis-Thomas has accepted the offer of appointment and will assume the role formally if Parliament agrees to the passage of the Bill two months after Royal Assent. As chairman-elect, he will be involved closely in the detailed preparatory work that will be required.
Lord Elis-Thomas is known to all the people in Wales as a life-long supporter of the Welsh language. Having heard his outstanding maiden speech in another place, 956 I know that he combines that support with a deep understanding of the issues affecting the future well-being of the language. I hope that the House will agree that we have secured the services of a dynamic and exciting chairman for the board and will join me in wishing Lord Elis-Thomas every possible success in this most important task.
§ Mr. Morgan
We wish every success to the new chairman of the Welsh Language Board—as we would wish success to anyone who had been elected to that difficult appointment with such an enormous task in front of him; one could hardly not wish such success to anyone who is appointed. However, from the maiden speech and other speeches made in another place by Lord Elis-Thomas, we have noticed that he has traversed a great political difference since leaving this House. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the appointment is not part of any written agreement with Plaid Cymru relating to the Maastricht treaty votes of which we have heard, though we have never seen the text?
§ Mr. Hunt
The House should be used to the nonsense that comes, sadly, from the Labour Front Bench in the form of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). I hope that he will welcome my announcement today of the reappointment of Lord Brookes as deputy chairman of the Cardiff Bay development corporation and recognise that as another demonstration that we always appoint the best people to the tasks that lie ahead.
§ Mr. Hunt
I shall give way in a moment.
Recently, there has been a growing awareness of the role of public bodies in ensuring that Welsh speakers are able to use Welsh to obtain the public services that are such a major part of people's everyday lives. That is a crucial development because, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West said in an earlier intervention, over the next few years there will be a growing number of young people leaving school who have had the opportunity to study Welsh throughout their school careers. The impact of Welsh in the national curriculum will be that much more powerful as Welsh is seen more as a prominent feature of the world in which our children grow up.
The Bill aims to secure a general improvement in the level of Welsh language service that is provided across the public sector in Wales by requiring public bodies to prepare Welsh language schemes. Clauses 5 to 21 establish the legal framework governing the duty to prepare schemes and their subsequent operation. The board will be at the heart of that framework because it will influence the rate at which schemes will be introduced. It will have the task of approving schemes as well as any subsequent revisions to them and investigate complaints arising from their operation.
The principle of equality, which is set out in clause 5, lies at the heart of the Bill and will be a powerful and flexible framework for the board to have at its disposal. Welsh has been the language of large areas of public administration over a long period. Its use in public business has expanded significantly over the past two decades. Establishing the principle of equality by means of 957 this legislation will, however, serve to remove any uncertainty that may have surrounded the use of Welsh for official purposes.
The crucial feature of the Bill is that, at the same time as it establishes the principle of equality, it puts that principle into practice by requiring that the purpose of schemes should be to give effect to the principle that the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality. The only qualification to that is that it must be appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable. Let me make it plain that it will not be open to public bodies to take a narrow view of what is appropriate and reasonably practicable. The test will need to be applied objectively in every case, the content of each organisation's scheme will need to be approved by the Welsh Language Board and every scheme must comply with the board's statutory guidelines.
Welsh language schemes will be introduced for every public body serving Wales, including bodies based outside Wales but which provide a service that extends to Wales. However, the terms of clause 6 enable me, by order, to specify further bodies as public bodies for the purposes of the Bill. More generally, the Bill draws an important distinction between public and private sector organisations. The board will have the power to advise private bodies on their use of the language.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell
When Committees of the House that relate to Wales, such as the Welsh Grand Committee and the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, meet in Wales, will they be required to have facilities to allow the Welsh language to be used?
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman is the Chairman of one of the most prestigious Select Committees. He will know that it is a matter for the House, not for me as a member of the Government, to lay down a particular policy. The matter ought to, and will, be decided within the House.
Government Departments have been at the forefront of many of the most innovative and successful Welsh language policies introduced in recent years. Therefore, I am pleased to confirm today that all Government Departments and agencies will introduce such schemes. Although the Bill necessarily will have rather different provisions for Crown bodies, I assure the House that the schemes of such bodies will be subject to the same scrutiny by the Welsh Language Board as all other schemes. Just as with other public bodies, the board will be able to investigate complaints arising from the schemes of Crown bodies—although I hope that there will not be any complaints—and publish its findings.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
An evolution is taking place from the public to the private sector. When a body such as the Post Office moves from one regime to another and becomes a private limited company, will it carry with it the obligations that it had as a public body?
§ Mr. Hunt
It is difficult to deal with sedentary interventions, especially when they may not be reflected in the record. To make it clear, the Bill introduces a distinction between public and private bodies. Those bodies that are at present public are well known, as are the bodies that are private.
§ Mr. Wigley
Does the Secretary of State accept that clause 6(1)(o) says:any person (whether or not a body corporate or unincorporate) who appears to the Secretary of State to be exercising functions of a public nature&by order made by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this Part of the Actcan be brought into those provisions? If the Secretary of State is so minded and the board is so minded, the provisions that apply to the Post Office in the public sector could be made to apply to the Post Office in the private sector.
§ Mr. Hunt
I do not wish to mislead the hon. Gentleman. If he reflects, he will realise that it is not possible for a body in those circumstances to make the transition from the public to the private sector and still be caught by the provisions of clause 6(1)(o) as he has described them. However, those are matters for Committee and we shall no doubt deliberate them.
§ Mr. Hunt
Yes, it is a fundamental point. I have answered it by making it clear to the House that we do not believe that the provisions of the Bill, as they apply to public bodies, should be applied in equal measure to private sector bodies and organisations. I have one qualification. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) was right to refer to the power provided in the Bill to ensure that the private sector training and enterprise councils can be brought within the terms of the legislation.
The aim of the Bill is to bring about a general improvement in the level of Welsh language services. If the Bill is to succeed, it will need to respond to the particular needs of the Welsh speakers who use those services. Therefore, there must be consultation on schemes. Schemes will need to be flexible. As my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) has said to me on several occasions, it would not be sensible to impose the same scheme uniformly on every public body in Wales. I suspect that for the foreseeable future the provision of Welsh language services will be more prominent in Pwllheli than in Pontypridd. The Bill reflects that.
It will also be important that there is a common understanding of the general principles that constitute an effective Welsh language service and of how practical effect can be given to the principle of equality. Therefore, all public bodies will have to have regard to guidelines prepared by the board in drawing up their schemes.
§ Mr. Hunt
I do not think that I should respond to that sort of intervention in a serious debate.
Education will feature prominently among the board's responsibilities. Welsh-medium education will be included in the Welsh language schemes prepared by local authorities. A similar duty will extend to the schools funding council for Wales, which I may establish under the provisions of the Education Bill currently being considered in another place.
One of the issues that the Bill will not affect is the position of Welsh in the national curriculum and the content of the curriculum taught through the medium of Welsh. Those matters are already secured in separate legislation. Welsh is established as a foundation subject within the national curriculum and it is a core subject in Welsh medium schools. Schemes will not be able to alter that in any way.
The advisory role of the Welsh Language Board will also extend to education. The board will assume the responsibility currently exercised by the Welsh Language Education Department Committee to take a broad overview of the Welsh language in all phases of education.
If Welsh is to enjoy the status in the conduct of public business that we intend, the Bill needs to address not just the practical but the legislative obstacles that stand in the way of Welsh and English being dealt with on a basis of equality. Practical obstacles will be addressed by the schemes. Legal obstacles are dealt with in part III of the Bill.
Clauses 22 to 24 re-enact the provisions in the Welsh Language Act 1967 on the use of Welsh in courts. I restate that we are committed to clarifying the position of written evidence in Welsh. That complex area is one on which I hope we shall be able to make progress in Committee.
Clauses 25 to 29 extend the existing powers that enable the holder of the office of Secretary of State to prescribe Welsh versions of forms. I and my colleagues will in future be able to prescribe Welsh versions of forms of words and names of bodies and places currently prescribed in statute in English only.
Perhaps one of the most important provisions is part III, which repeals the spent provisions of the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542. The Laws in Wales Acts, commonly referred to as the Act of Union, have not stood in the way of the continued survival of the Welsh language or of its more recent renaissance. Their presence on the statute book has, however, cast a shadow over the status which the language enjoys and which will be consolidated and enhanced by the Bill.
§ Mr. Dafis
I wish to return briefly to the subject of the board's functions. The Secretary of State has described a board that will have a broad remit, and will be in a position to make decisions of far-reaching import, particularly in relation to Welsh-medium education and the development of a strategy for the revival of the Welsh language. Some of us feel unhappy that that function should be given to an unelected body.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that a board of this nature needs to have considerably more resources at its disposal than the £600,000 per annum mentioned in the preamble to the Bill? It is an enormously ambitious project and the board will need resources commensurate with that.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am sad that the hon. Gentleman did not pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the 960 Minister of State, who has increased the level of grant to assist the Welsh language. That grant is now exceeding £7 million, and that money is additional to the amount spent through the revenue support grant to promote the Welsh language. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are offering record levels of support for the Welsh language. I make no apology for that, because the Welsh language is a unique feature of our cultural heritage.
We are determined to ensure that the Welsh language should continue to be supported by policies that promote its use in all aspects of life in Wales. The Bill represents an important consolidation and significant strengthening of that policy.
Our intention is that the legislation should catch the spirit of the times. The Bill recognises the enormous reservoir of good will towards the Welsh language and seeks to build on it. It recognises the simple but crucial point that the more widespread the use of the Welsh language, the more its future will be safeguarded. The Bill will build on existing policies and successes. It will establish a flexible and lasting legal framework within which the language can prosper and flourish for many generations to come.
I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Did you receive prior notification that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) had been replaced by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) as the shadow spokesman on Welsh affairs?
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
Mae'n anrhydedd fawr i ddilyn o'r ochr hyn ar y mesur hyn.
I should like to continue in Welsh, but that is not allowed under the rules of the House. I thought that it was appropriate to begin my speech in Welsh, however, as it is 26 years since the House debated the Welsh Language Act 1967. For the benefit of those who do not understand Welsh, I began by saying that it is a great honour to be asked to lead for the Opposition on the Bill. I feel that the word "anrhydedd" has a little more flavour than its English equivalent: honour.
The Opposition welcome the opportunity to debate the Bill. We shall not vote against it, despite its imperfections and the inflexibility shown by the Government during its passage from the other place to its Second Reading in this House. We fear, however, that if the Bill is not amended and the Government do not listen more and act on what they are told by the people of Wales, the sore will still fester. People will not be satisfied that the Government or the House have made the most of this unique opportunity.
We shall not legislate on this subject again this side of the millennium. We therefore feel that the Government must be sensitive to the demands from all corners of Wales and all those organisations which have taken an interest in the Bill and those on whom the duties contained in the Bill will fall. It is important to get things right before the Bill is set in concrete and another 26 years pass before the House considers the subject again. Indeed, I should like to think that it will be 56 years before we debate it again.
961 So far, the Government's performance has not been up to scratch and they have not shown sufficient sensitivity to people's requests. We discovered part of the reason for that earlier, when the Secretary of State let the cat out of the bag by displaying his keenness for a place in the sun in the Cabinet, in another job, if the reshuffle occurs. We must tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is the Prime Minister who makes any reshuffle—the right hon. Gentleman cannot reshuffle himself. Perhaps he was sending the same sort of message to the Prime Minister as that sent by Lord Elis-Thomas in another place about a job that would need to be filled and certain candidates who were pretty keen to fill it. There are certain means of sending such messages—people must read between the lines. I am sure that the Chief Whip and the Prime Minister will do the same with the remarks of the Secretary of State.
The debate centres on how to restore the status of the Welsh language and repair the damage that was done to it. Without turning the clock back, we must attempt to repair the damage that was done to the language in the past millennium—perhaps that is a slight exaggeration—or certainly in the past 100 years or so, since universal primary education was introduced in Wales in the 1870s. The spent statutes to which the Secretary of State referred also inflicted earlier damage on the language.
We must achieve a better understanding about what will revitalise the Welsh language. The Secretary of State said that the Welsh language is now surrounded by an aura of confidence. It almost sounded as if he was making a toothpaste advertisement. I fear that what the right hon. Gentleman really meant was that the Welsh language was surrounded by several blankets of Welsh flannel. He was being far to complacent when he said that the 1991 census suggested that the use of the Welsh language had turned the corner. We are not convinced. As I said earlier, we need to provide jobs for young Welsh people who attend Welsh-medium schools so that they can develop the use of that language, rather than lose everything that they were taught.
Young people may be taught Welsh in an English school in a Welsh-speaking part of Wales or in a Welsh-medium school in an English-speaking part of Wales—for example, the south-east, where there has been a tremendous growth in Welsh-medium education. South Glamorgan and Mid Glamorgan have led the way in the provision of Welsh-medium education. The provision in Gwent is slightly poorer, while that in West Glamorgan is worse still. No doubt the Welsh Language Board will want to consider how to encourage some of the laggard counties to develop that provision. It is extremely important to discover why a county such as West Glamorgan, which is still home to a great number of native Welsh speakers, is more laggardly in its provision of Welsh language teaching than South Glamorgan or Mid Glamorgan, where the Welsh language has been almost lost as a means of local, authentic speech. Is it a general principle of human life that we value something only when we have almost lost it? I do not know, but we must try to ensure that those laggardly counties match the best practice of others.
The Secretary of State is far too complacent when he suggests that the use of the Welsh language has turned the corner. I do not believe that he realises just what a difficult job the Welsh language has to do in competing with 962 English. The survival of the Welsh language is remarkable. Even today there are more people speaking Welsh than there were in 1801. In fact, there are more people speaking Welsh now than the entire Welsh population in 1801, which was no more than 500,000. In the 19th century, the Welsh-speaking population doubled to I million, but it has now halved again, which is extremely sad.
The demise of the Welsh language is related to the strains imposed by the de-industrialisation of the 1930s and the 1980s. If there are no jobs, it is difficult to keep people in Wales. Most people speak Welsh provided that they do not migrate. If a person migrates to England, or even to another part of Wales, it is extremely unlikely that he will continue to speak Welsh. The supply of jobs and the economic development of Wales is an extremely important issue, but the Secretary of State did not devote sufficient time to it.
The Opposition are keen to ensure that Welsh speakers should have jobs, because that means that the Welsh language is likely to survive. If the Welsh economy goes downhill, so will the use of the Welsh language.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
Surely jobs are required for people in Wales whether or not they speak Welsh. If the hon. Gentleman is advocating that specific arrangements should be made for Welsh speakers, I should remind him that pupils of Welsh-medium schools achieve far better examination results than those who attend English-speaking schools. If we are to direct our efforts towards a specific goal, we should direct them towards raising the standards in English schools.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman has totally misunderstood my point. The anthracite coal field was the prime source of employment in one of the strongest areas of Welsh-speaking Wales—from Maesteg, through the Neath, Swansea and Gwendraeth valleys down to Kidwelly. There is now virtually no anthracite coal mining. Almost the whole of the anthracite coal field in Wales was Welsh speaking. Now that there are no more pits, how can we ensure that the Welsh-speaking population of the anthracite coal field has a good reason to stay there and to speak Welsh? They have to be found alternative jobs.
Original industrialisation led to the Welsh language surviving and the number of Welsh speakers doubled in the 19th century, but that industrial base largely disappeared in the 1930s and was in crisis in the 1980s. The underlying strength of the economy is vital to the continuation of Welsh speaking.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
I shall use a historical analogy to bring out the strength of my hon. Friend's argument. One reason why Welsh survived as one of the Celtic languages was the huge provision of jobs in Wales, compared with Ireland, as a result of the industrial revolution. That shows why a strong economy is vital to the survival of the Welsh language.
§ Mr. Morgan
The argument advanced by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) illustrates the fears expressed by all Labour Members. There cannot be a future for the Welsh language if it is simply to become the first language in the history of the universe to be spoken exclusively by university graduates. If we do not understand the importance of the disappearance of the coal mines, the tin plate works and the slate quarries of 963 north Wales, and if we do not replace the jobs that originally sustained the Welsh economy, it will be difficult to see a bright future for the Welsh language. That will be true no matter what efforts are made to provide jobs for university graduates or students with O-levels who leave Welsh-language or Welsh-medium schools in English speaking areas of Wales such as the south-east and the north-east corners. That is the problem that the legislation has done little to solve, and the Secretary of State has not touched on it in his speech.
The Secretary of State must understand how strongly the English language continues to penetrate life. The English language is a wonderfully flexible instrument of communication in technology, engineering and science. If we underestimate the strength and flexibility of the English language, we shall not make proper provision for the survival of the Welsh language. The English language is the only language that is half Germanic and hall Latin, which means that there are more than 1 billion people in the world for whom English is either their first language or an easy second language to learn.
Some 300 million people in Europe speak English or another Germanic tongue which is a cousin of the easy, small words of the English language, and a further 300 million people speak a Latin-based language involving the longer words. In North America and South America, 300 million speak a Latin-based language. That makes a total of 1.2 billion people who speak English, compared with the 500,000 people who speak Welsh. That shows the extent of the problem and the measure of our task today.
I am not saying that our task is hopeless, but it is difficult, and we must understand the measure of it or we shall end up believing, as many English people and English-speaking Americans do, that there is only space for one language in the world—English—and the sooner everybody speaks it, the better. I recall the words of a Texas senator when the question first arose as to whether Spanish should be taught in the primary schools of San Antonio, near the Mexican border. He said that if the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ it should be good enough for the Texas school board. English people sometimes have an Anglocentric world view. We have to explain that, while not wanting to live in a ghetto or on a reservation, or to penalise people who do not speak Welsh and are unlikely to learn it, we intend to ensure that the Welsh language continues to fight for its survival, even against a powerful competitor, in the minds of the people in Wales.
The Bill is based on the board; it is based on whether Parliament can successfully delegate its functions to a board which is run under the chairmanship of someone whose identity we now know. The electricity industry now places enormous power in the hands of the regulator, OFFER; the gas industry places power in the hands of Ofgas; and there is also Oftel. In the same way, we are to have a sort of regulator for the Welsh language—it could be called Offiaith—which will be given enormous powers. It will be based on a fundamental theory of British government with which we do not agree: the good chap theory of government.
The theory is that if the right chaps are appointed, the job can be left to them, Parliament need not worry about the issue, which can be put to sleep so that it need not return to the House. One is then faced with the problem of who should appoint the good chaps. Who are they, and are they representative of the people of Wales? Will we be 964 satisfied with setting up another quango and saying, "Goodbye quango—we have set you up, we are paying your wages, now do the job that we have instructed you to do, come back and see the Public Accounts Committee every three years and the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs every year." Will we then be content to think that Parliament has done its job by sub-contracting a quango?
Lord Rothschild said that the good chap theory of government in England was based on picking people who were 53, white, male, residents of the south-east of England and members of the Reform club. As I was 53 myself a few months ago I have started to warm to the theory of how to run British government, although I do not think that I am a candidate. If applied in Wales, the theory would be based on picking people who were white, male, resident in the south-east of Wales, owning a farm in the Vale of Usk, being frequent dinner guests of Lord and Lady Crickhowell and possibly supporters of the Welsh National Opera. Those attributes would probably qualify someone to be on the good chaps quango.
Approval of such an approach depends on whether the board is seen to be representative and sensitive to the needs of Wales and accountable to Parliament, the people of Wales or other democratically elected organisations in Wales such as the local authorities. It depends on whether it is seen to have good contacts with people in non-Welsh-speaking areas as well as Welsh-speaking areas of Wales. If the board is set up as a normal Welsh Office quango, it will be heading for disaster. If the Secretary of State can tell us a bit more about how he intends to ensure that the board will not be a conventional Government quango, we may be able to accept the policy of sub-contracting a board to do the job.
Such a quango would not have to be based on conventional quangos. It is possible to set up quangos that are partly democratically accountable. The Welsh Joint Education Committee was a sort of quango, but it consisted largely of local authority representatives who were accountable to democratically elected councillors whose backsides could be kicked by the people every three or four years, and who could be removed if they were not doing the job that the people wanted them to do.
Appointments could be made to the quango so that at least the chairman, and possibly other members, had to appear before the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs before their appointments were confirmed. That is the process in the United States, where there are confirmatory hearings in the Senate. The Select Committee could ask potential members how they intended to pursue policies, what sort of relationship they intended to have with the Secretary of State and how independent they intended to be.
It is not good enough for the Secretary of State merely to come to the House and say that the best people will always be appointed, and expect us to take his word for it. He must accept that, while a Government of his political colour are in office, it will not automatically be seen by the majority of people in Wales—who do not vote for the Conservative party—that the people he appoints will necessarily be very representative of the people of Wales.
On an issue such as the Welsh language, it is critically important that the Government find some means of moving away from the convention of Welsh Office quangos. One might wonder whether the board will be representative, but another crucial matter is the degree of control that it will have with regard to the resources 965 provided for Welsh-medium education. In another place, there were interminable debates on this issue, but the Government provided no satisfaction. It was said simply that everything would be based on boards and that the education authorities would have to prepare schemes, just as the health authorities do. But the schemes of most public bodies in Wales involve very little by way of resources; they concern themselves with such matters as the provision of Welsh speakers on staffs for the purpose of answering queries in Welsh and translating forms. Education is totally different. Here, the expenditure could run into millions of pounds. In an average county, it would take perhaps £500,000 annually to build one new primary school every year and, perhaps, a new secondary school every 10 years. There is a quantum leap between the two situations.
We shall want to know what powers the board will have to approve schemes with the resource implications of Welsh-medium education bids by county councils or by schools themselves. These resource implications are totally different from those of other schemes; yet the Secretary of State slid over this area in an unsatisfactory way.
§ Mr. Rowlands
My hon. Friend is dealing with a fundamental and very important point. The successful development of Welsh-medium education in areas such as mine has been based on a very sensitive balance of resources between English-language nursery schools and Welsh-language nursery schools. We have avoided conflict and tension. Any Welsh language board must not blunder into the situation without appreciating local democratic decisions and sensitivities.
§ Mr. Morgan
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. There must be local democratic accountability for such education decisions. In a budget year, there could be a conflict between a Welsh-language school and a special-needs school. If democratic accountability is removed, things are made very difficult. But how is democratic accountability to be secured at an all-Wales board level? I do not want to divert the debate into areas relating to a Welsh assembly, but the establishment of such an assembly would be one means of securing democratic accountability. Local authorities could be used to the greatest possible extent by being given the right to nominate board members. In any case, we must not leave everything to people throwing themselves against the walls of a quango that is responsible only to the person who appointed it—the Secretary of State. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that such a system will satisfy people, he is making a big mistake.
We want to ensure that the Bill leaves this House in an improved state. We do not intend to vote against it, but we see many imperfections in it. It is important that it should achieve the maximum measure of good will. We do not want people in strongly Welsh-speaking areas to say that it has not done enough, or people in Newport, Presteigne, Knighton, Connah's Quay or Milford Haven to say that it has done far too much by introducing what they regard as some sort of discriminatory provision in favour of Welsh speakers in relation to employment. It is extremely unlikely that the good will that we want to see would be achieved in those circumstances. We want people in Newport to be able, when the Bill becomes law, to say, 966 "It's a good thing that this law is now on the statute book: we may not speak Welsh ourselves, but people in other parts of the country do, so we want to give the Act a fair wind and wish it godspeed." Thus the attitudes adopted by all the parties in the House are extremely important. The Secretary of State must appreciate how important it is that he should demonstrate give and take such as we have not seen so far.
In connection with the privatised utilities, the Secretary of State used words that I found difficult to understand. I was able to make something of them only by reference to the report of the debates in another place. With the possible exception of the training and enterprise councils—perhaps not a very good example—it appears that privatised utilities will not be touched by the0 Bill.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
We have here a new dimension. The Government's declared policy is substantially to reduce the public sector by a whole series of measures, including full-scale privatisation and market testing across the board. There is a danger that a large number of bodies within the scope of the Bill will be removed as a result of Government policy.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am extremely glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point. Opposition Members have to judge the Bill's effectiveness not only on the basis of what the Secretary of State has said today but also on the basis of what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said recently. The Chief Secretary has made the point that he wants to roll back the frontiers of the state much further. Thus there is no point in the Secretary of State's coming here and saying, somewhat boastfully, that the good news is that the Government are legislating to bring the Welsh language up to a level of equality in the public sector while the bad news is that there will not be any public sector. What will be left if all the Government's proposals go through? It will not be very much if they manage to get their legislation passed in the course of this Parliament.
There is little to indicate that the Welsh people will benefit greatly from the Bill, which is a will-o'-the-wisp. It is a measure that will impose obligations on a shrinking public sector, and its impact will progressively decline over the years. I am not sure that that is what the Secretary of State wants. If it is, he must realise that there will be mutterings all over Wales. It will be said that he is not fighting for Welsh interests, that he is fighting for his place in the reshuffled Cabinet and does not want his English colleagues to be able to say, "We don't want that chap to be Secretary of State for Employment or Secretary of State for the Environment: after all, he went native during his three years in Wales." The right hon. Gentleman will be open to such accusations unless he indicates that, from time to time—not all the time; just now and again—he is willing to take on conventional Tory thinking.
In this case he must recognise the importance of the Welsh language and say to his Cabinet colleagues, "Sorry, but we intend to impose public-sector obligations on utilities that have been privatised. I know that it is against Tory thinking, but we ought to make an exception in this case." If the right hon. Gentleman does not do that, he will not be fighting for Wales—he will be behaving like a conventional Tory and using Wales as a springboard for his next promotion. Well, we in Wales are not willing to be used in that way. We are not the right hon. Gentleman's platform for promotion. What we want is restoration of 967 the Welsh language to as near equality as possible without creation of the complications that would arise from full bilingualism. If we had full bilingualism in this House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would have to say, "Order. Order. Disgyblaeth, Disgyblaeth." at the beginning of each parliamentary Session, and Hansard would have to be printed in Welsh. That is not what we want, though I am sure that, given your surname, you, Sir, have such dreams in the middle of the night. What we want is a measure confined to practical things to assist the restoration of the Welsh language to its rightful place, in so far as such a thing can be achieved by the law. But the impact must be felt in Wales, and not in England. The Minister's replies to interventions about the shrinking public sector were extremely unsatisfactory. This is a matter to which we shall have to return, as is the question of funding Welsh-medium education and the equally important conventional Welsh-language education in the Welsh-speaking areas.
We also want something more. On the composition of the membership of the board, reference was made in the other House to the need to take account of three categories—Welsh speakers, Welsh learners and non-Welsh speakers. That was it; the fourth category was missed. The other House forgot about what we might call the un-learners: people whose Welsh is rusty and will disappear if they do not do something about it. The recent market research study commissioned by S4C, the independent television channel in Wales, showed that that is quite a large category. Possibly there are as many as 500,000 people who speak a bit of Welsh but who would not fill in a census form to that effect because their Welsh is rusty. They may have learnt a little and then stopped going to classes, and they will not be able to speak Welsh in 20 years' time unless they do something about it. That category is numerous in industrial Wales. S4C said that it needed to do more for those people, and the Government need to do more for them. No one in the other House paid attention to that category which is numerous in the former coal-mining and steel-making areas of west Wales and in parts of north-east Wales.
The Government made a beginning in the other House and on Second Reading here. They have announced the identity of the chairman. They did not need to announce it because it became more and more obvious as time went by in the other place. We wish Lord Elis-Thomas well in finding the right colleagues. I hope that they will have a democratic input. Lord Elis-Thomas has been a tireless champion of the Welsh language around countless Hampstead dining tables. I hope that he can find colleagues who will be able to communicate as well as he does with some groups in the industrial areas of Wales, where perhaps the battle will be won or lost. We take that view not only because we represent those areas but because that is where the language has been declining.
We shall not go back into the question of the Committee of the Regions and the deal on the treaty of Maastricht. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I was only going to say that it might be renamed the treaty of Malltraeth after the contribution of the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) to its passage through the House by propping up the Government when they needed it most.
The problem will be overdependence on boards and schemes. Those are the buzz words in the Bill. They are almost like hymns and arias in Max Boyce's songs of 10 or 15 years ago. There will be over-reliance on boards and 968 schemes which we in Parliament will have nothing to do with. The Secretary of State forgets that the key to the success of the Bill is education and jobs, and what happens afterwards to people who learned Welsh in school. We want an assurance that when the Secretary of State deals with the remaining stages of the Bill and makes appointments, he will remember that he represents a minority party and that his four Back Benchers arrived at the House today in enormous comfort in a Reliant Robin. He should realise that he needs to be able to sell the Bill to the whole population of Wales. We are not talking about Tory placemen who will support the Secretary of State, whether it is the right hon. Gentleman or someone else. He should remember that we are dealing with a measure which should satisfy the rightful demands of the whole nation of Wales.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance for those who may wish to catch your eye later in the debate? When my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) used three words of Welsh, it appeared that his microphone died. Can you give us a ruling on the use of the Welsh language in debates? There are precedents—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman asked me a question. May I answer it? He sought the guidance of the Chair. The guidance is printed clearly on page 365 of "Erskine May":Speeches must be made in English, but quotation in another language has been allowed on occasion, though a translation should be provided.That is as much for the protection of hon. Members as for the Chair, so that we may all know what hon. Members are talking about.
§ Mr. Flynn
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are precedents for the use of Norman French in another House, for the use of Middle English, which I have used, and for the use of French in quotation. At one time, there was a long quotation in Latin of several stanzas of Virgil's verse. If some hon. Members wish to quote in Welsh to illustrate the glories of Welsh literature, will that be in order?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman did not listen. He should listen carefully:Speeches must be made in English, but quotation in another language has been allowed on occasion,"—not automaticallythough a translation should be provided.The quotation and translation should be relevant to the Bill.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)
I rise with some trepidation, especially following the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), whose logic and train of thought left me at times bereft of speech, which is unusual for me.
I hope that I meet the criterion of the hon. Gentleman in that I rise not as a conventional Tory. I can claim some right to speak on the Bill. My mother was brought up in Aberavon. She may have known the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) because they are, I think, of similar age. She spoke Welsh fluently. She taught me a little of the culture conveyed by that ancient language. From an early age, I learned that the language 969 was a vital part of the common heritage of England and Wales. Although my Welsh vocabulary is limited, sadly, to only a few choice words, such as "Fenlinfoel", I will support the Bill which is aimed at increasing the prominence of the language. This historic Bill will do just that. Its overriding intention is that the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality.
The word "historic" is indeed fitting to describe a Bill that repeals the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The policy of those laws was to suppress the Welsh language and deny it a role in public life in Wales. The policy continued unabated for centuries. Even during the last century, speaking Welsh in schools was an offence for which a pupil could be beaten. A child caught speaking Welsh would be made to wear a pendant bearing the words "Welsh Not". The "Not", as it was called, was passed from offender to offender, and the unfortunate child wearing it at the end of the day received a thrashing. After 1862, when grants were given to schools if children passed tests in reading and writing in English, the "Not" was considered a vital piece of equipment by many teachers. Not having gone to a public school, fortunately I have never been the recipient of a good thrashing.
In spite of that onslaught, half the population could speak Welsh at the turn of the century. This century, measures to sustain the language have become a dominant cultural and political theme. The Welsh Language Act 1967 at last gave equal validity to the language.
A language directly descended from the Brythonic language, which was once spoken across mainland Britain and whose dialects were here long before the Romans arrived, has survived. We should be thankful that it has, for it harbours a vibrant literary tradition, especially in poetry and song. It enhances the cultural diversity that is so essential to our kingdom.
The nation owes this hardy, resilient language a duty of care. We should nourish and nurture it and ensure that it flourishes. There are already grounds for optimism. I was pleased to learn recently that the Welsh fourth television channel, S4C, which is just 10 years old, is watched by 67 per cent. of the population in the Principality. My broadcasting background has taught me how crucial television can be in sustaining a language. We must also give credit to BBC radio and BBC television in Wales.
The many community newspapers circulating in the Welsh-speaking part of Wales also play an important role, but above all education is now making a vital contribution. Some 15 per cent. of secondary schoolchildren in Wales now receive at least part of their education in Welsh. The national curriculum has ensured that all our children have the opportunity to learn Welsh.
In a recent survey for S4C, 70 per cent. of respondents between the ages of 12 and 15 said that they could speak some Welsh. That is encouraging, but we must not be complacent, because in the same survey the figure plummeted to 31 per cent. for 16 to 24-year-olds. Competence seems to fade when school days are just a memory. That is why the Bill is vital.
The language must not be treated by school leavers as an appendage to their lives, seen only on road signs or in shop windows. It must be common currency, an integral part of the community. The Bill makes great strides 970 towards that goal. It constructs a framework for the promotion of Welsh in everyday life by requiring every public sector body to develop a scheme setting out the services that it will provide through the medium of Welsh. It gives statutory authority to approve those schemes to a Welsh Language Board that will be charged with promoting and facilitating the use of the language. It backs the board with the Secretary of State's powers to make the public body comply.
The Bill also provides that there is no restriction on the use of Welsh in legal proceedings and empowers Ministers to prescribe Welsh statutory forms. That all amounts to a powerful and wide-ranging attempt to foster the language.
The principle behind the Bill is that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally. It is, of course, right that those for whom Welsh is the first language should be able to conduct their business with public bodies in that language. It is also right that those who would like to use the language should be given every encouragement to do so.
When the Bill's provisions are enacted, the school leaver who speaks Welsh will have a choice of which language to use. He cannot be made to speak Welsh, but he will see that the language is alive and well and not part of the curriculum that might as well be forgotten. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, West said, many words and concepts in Welsh cannot easily be translated into English. That in itself is an incentive to speak Welsh.
I congratulate the Government on two omissions from the Bill. It is sensible that the private sector has been excluded, because the people of Wales would not thank the Government if their business had to labour under new duties—
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
Why is it sensible to include the Post Office while it is in the public sector but to exclude it when it enters the private sector?
§ Mr. Fabricant
It will not necessarily be excluded. The hon. and learned Gentleman raised that matter earlier with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and, as he said, the matter will be discussed in detail in Committee.
No one in Wales would thank us if we forced private companies to incur new duties and extra costs that would not be experienced elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It was wise not to discriminate against the English speakers in Wales. The good will of the whole population has been safeguarded and the attractiveness of the Principality as a target for investment has been maintained. Hon. Members will agree that Wales is attractive to overseas investors.
§ Mr. Flynn
We are indebted to the hon. Gentleman for giving us the benefit of his experience of Welsh broadcasting gained during the weeks that he worked for Radio Caroline. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the private and public sectors. His party's declared policy is to reduce the number of civil servants from 500,000 to 10,000 through privatisation, contractorisation and market testing. Does he not see that if the Government have their way there will be no public sector?
§ Mr. Fabricant
Removing the burden from the state gives resources to the private sector. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Governments do not create jobs; they are created by the private sector. What the hon. Gentleman suggests would drive business from the United Kingdom generally and from the Principality in particular. I worked 971 for BBC Wales in Bangor and Cardiff for longer than I worked for Radio Caroline, for which I worked for two and a half weeks. It seemed to my listeners like two and a half years and to me, suffering from seasickness, it seemed like 25 years.
§ The Minister of State., Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
I assure my hon. Friend that some of the most prominent supporters of the Welsh language are the public utilities, which have given superb service. There is no better example than Welsh Water, and there are others, such as British Telecom. There is no reason whatever for a public sector body to abandon its Welsh language policy when it becomes private.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention.
I applaud the Government for spending more than £7.5 million to support the Welsh language and for offering in the Bill a bright future for a language that has enriched the kingdom for centuries. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it quite clear that he will listen in Committee to all views and will seek to fine-tune the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Many years after I was born in Wales and had been taken to be brought up in Lancashire, I returned to Wales, first to work and then to live there. Some still say that those who are not good Welsh speakers or Welsh speakers at all face problems if they go to work in the public service or the professions in Wales. We must lay that bogey to rest early in the debate.
I have a little Welsh, but it is fairly abysmal and I wish that it were much better. From that position, I confirm that there is nothing to fear in the proposed legislation. We are not debating an exclusive matter; we are discussing a language and culture that, far from being exclusive, are strongly seductive. The only cause for fear about the Welsh language and culture is if they are corralled into provocative, defensive aggression. This measure—albeit much strengthened, I hope—could do a great deal to ensure that Welsh has its rightful place, not a suppressed place.
It is, therefore, a matter of satisfaction that the House is given the opportunity of debating the best ways to promote and protect the Welsh language, although I regret that we are debating the Government's Welsh Language Bill, not the Welsh Language Board's Bill. I thought that the board's Bill was a much better, a much more purposeful and determined effort to deal with the issue.
Much has been done for the Welsh language since in his 1962 speech "Tynged yr Iaith"—the fate of the language—Saunders Lewis advocatednothing short of revolutionary methods to protect Welsh.Thankfully, a rapid evolution has taken place without the need for revolution.
The last three decades have seen the Welsh language thrive, at least in some sectors: in the arts, in sport, in the academic world and in parts of the media. However, there is still cause for concern about the development of Welsh in the printed media. In that sector, the Welsh Language Board can do a great deal to promote the universality of Welsh, which appears but rarely and in limited form, in national daily and weekly newspapers.
In the battle for survival, for that is what it has been, the Welsh language has shown that the pen and the mind are 972 far mightier than the sword or the bomb could ever be. The most fluent pens and some of the highest of minds were much in evidence when the Bill was debated recently in another place. I am sure that anyone who listened to or read some of the speeches were heartened to hear so many of, shall we call them, the maturer Welsh dragons still breathing enough fire to frighten their English cousins and tormentors into supporting the Bill.
Some of their Lordships paid tribute in the other place to the Welsh Language Board. Without wanting to labour the point, I, too, applaud the board and support what the Secretary of State said about it. I also applaud very strongly the appointment of Lord Elis-Thomas as chairman of the board. Acceptance of that appointment in some parts of the House today has been very grudging. He is a man of high intellect and great ability, and he is still youthful enough—indeed, he is a mere teenager in terms of the other place—to give the board real energy. He is a worthy successor to his predecessor.
The number of people speaking Welsh today is increasing. In each of the present counties of Wales, more children are learning Welsh than ever before. Those who raise bogeys about the increase in the speaking of Welsh should note that today it is commonplace in a constituency such as mine, Montgomeryshire—I repeat "Montgomeryshire" for the benefit of the Secretary of State in his last days in that office—for a typical family to consist of monolingual English parents and bilingual Welsh and English-speaking children. Parents in my constituency encourage that trend, which I applaud.
The future of living Welsh clearly lies in the hands of schools and colleges where it is taught and of the children who learn it. I say with all the strength that I can muster that the role of the primary school in rural areas is crucial. Village schools are the very womb of the Welsh language. I hope that we shall hear the Minister of State—who, I know, is devoted to the Welsh language—confirm when he winds up the debate that he still believes that the village school has a valuable role to play.
§ Mr. Carlile
I am pleased to see the Minister nod in agreement.
Parliament also has an important part to play in the future of the Welsh language. In dealing with the Bill, we have an historic and rare opportunity. It is not every day that one has the opportunity to repeal statutes of Henry VIII. Now that we have that chance, we must seize it with both hands and not only get rid of historic surplusage but try to put in place legislation that will be an historic glory for the future.
I regret that I feel that the Bill does not quite live up to the occasion. It is perhaps a little bit like the current Welsh rugby union team: it promises a good deal but does not always deliver it. I hope, however, that our Committee proceedings will prove to be a little more auspicious than some of the recent meetings of the Welsh rugby union.
We must ask ourselves what we want from the Bill and what our aims are for the future of the Welsh language. I believe that we want the Bill to emerge from Committee as a friendly dragon, breathing fire into the Welsh language, rather than as a mere paper tiger—for that is how it looks at the moment.
If our aim were to allow the language merely to be Wales's answer to the Loch Ness monster—prehistoric, 973 rarely seen and good only for tourists—the Bill as it stands would do the job. If, however, our aim is the more purposeful one of promoting Welsh among every sphere of social, economic and professional life in Wales, the Bill must be improved. At the moment, it pays homage to Welsh. More than homage is needed if the Bill is to have a real effect.
I draw the attention of the House to the fundamental issue of the very status of the Welsh language. I regret very much that the Bill stops short of stating categorically that the Welsh language shall enjoy equal status with English as the official language of Wales. That omission has rightly upset many people throughout Wales.
For the people of Wales, there is no real question about whether Welsh is equal to English; what is perplexing is why the Government are not prepared to enshrine that recognition in the Bill. The sad fact is that, unless it is enshrined, the Bill will not demonstrate to all comers, including those who have the most genuine concern, that Welsh is equal to English. Welsh must be, legally and officially, equal to the English language, otherwise it is bound to remain the second language in its own country. We have in the Bill the chance to correct that anomaly.
A start to correcting the anomaly would have been a statutory right, enshrined and entrenched, for all families in Wales to have their children educated through the medium of Welsh, if they wish it, wherever they live. That right is not in the Bill. I tell the Minister of State, in the hope that he will address the issue in his reply, that it is not enough for people living in Powys who wish their children to attend a Welsh medium school to be told that it is a matter for the local education authority. A lead on this is needed from the Welsh Office. That is the sort of responsibility that the House should shoulder, through the Bill.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
Without being mischievous, if the hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing for a basis of equality and arguing, further, that there should be this right to have education in Welsh, should there not be a corresponding right to have education in English?
§ Mr. Carlile
What I have said is absolutely clear. The position as it is now is plain; I am arguing for a new right to be enshrined for us to have our children educated through the medium of Welsh if we wish.
§ Mr. Wigley
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the policy is for pupils of bilingual schools in both non-Welsh-speaking and Welsh-speaking parts of Wales—Welsh and English speakers alike—to have total fluency in both languages by the age of 11? Does he further accept that there should be an even-handed policy that gives both groups that opportunity in the community in which they live?
§ Mr. Carlile
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.
The setting up of a statutory Welsh Language Board has been welcomed throughout Wales and can achieve a great deal. I should like the board's functions to be extended so that it can provide practical services, such as translation and intepretation. I should also like the board to have sufficient funds to carry out research into the Welsh language and the best ways of promoting it.
974 I am convinced that membership of the board should be as broad as possible. I hope—again, without labouring a point that has already been raised—that, before appointing members of the board, the Secretary of State will consult as widely as possible local authorities, public bodies, Members of Parliament and others involved in Welsh life. I also ask the Secretary of State to try to ensure that there is a sufficient number of elected local authority representatives on the board.
I turn now, briefly, to the Welsh language schemes. This part of the Bill is like an unhatched egg: it could emerge as a swan or it might turn out to be an ugly duckling. There is very little in the Bill that suggests the form the schemes will take when they come into operation. I should like mother hen at the Dispatch Box to expand on the type of schemes that the Government envisage developing.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The hon. and learned Gentleman has left out the intervening step, which is the production of guidelines by the Welsh Language Board. Those guidelines, on which the schemes will be based, will be approved not only by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State but by this House and the other place.
§ Mr. Carlile
I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning that, but it seems to me that he raises a question as to whether the autonomy and independence of the board will be guaranteed. The point that I was seeking to make was that the board should also be able to take practical steps to ensure that schemes are brought to fruition, rather than merely take the advisory step of devising them. I hope that some good ideas for schemes for promoting the Welsh language will emerge from Members of all parties when the Bill is debated in Committee. Many ideas are available—for instance, the idea of a scheme to give incentives to companies in Wales that are able to provide Welsh language lessons for their employees.
I turn to public bodies and the point raised by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). It is entirely illogical, I suggest, for the Post Office to be required to meet one set of parameters while it is a public body and then be allowed to abandon every one of them when it moves into the private sector. I am not saying that it will; I hope that those who run the Post Office will have more sense.
I have little confidence in the future of British Rail or its successors in this context. We in central Wales seem to face the possibility of our railways—if they continue to exist—being run from Doncaster. I cannot imagine that there will be great enthusiasm for spending money to promote the Welsh language in that situation. In the other place, some wise minds and voices spoke of the importance of ensuring that the privatised utilities were required to maintain the same standards as public services. I hope that the Secretary of State and his Ministers will be persuaded to change their minds by what is said in Committee. Universal utilities such as gas, water, telecommunications and electricity play a self-evidently vital role in the everyday lives of people in Wales, and the Welsh language would benefit from their full co-operation in Welsh language schemes.
The Welsh language and its culture are the heartbeat of Wales. At the very least, Welsh—as Wynford Vaughan Thomas put it—adds an exciting note in a world of insidious and spreading standardisation. I believe, however, that that observation significantly understates 975 the reality. Welsh is more than a great, historic, ancient language; it is an evolving language as well. If we are to keep the heart of Wales beating, we must have an Act of Parliament that is up to the task—the task of preserving and extending a living language into the next millennium and beyond. I do not believe that we have that legislation yet, but I am glad that we have been given the opportunity to debate the issues fully. At least we have a basis on which we can improve during the Bill's later stages. I hope that we shall not fail the people of Wales in what must rightly be regarded as an historic task.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), who gave us an eloquent agenda for what will no doubt take place in Committee. In his cogent exposition, the hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with the issues in rather clearer detail than the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). Although I am bound to confess that I did not agree with all that he said, I believe that our views have much in common.
Let me now deal with the matters on which we disagree. We disagree in particular about the principle of the equal validity of the English and Welsh languages. I do not think that that is a great issue between the two sides of the House. I have read the Hansard report of the debates in the other place, and it is clear from what Ministers said there that legal technicalities led to the advice that was given. We can debate that in Committee, but it would be wrong for Wales to be left with the impression that the Government were reluctant to acknowledge the desire to move towards equal validity.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
The issue of legal technicalities and legal advice is important. When we debated another Bill, we were given different advice at different times about an extremely important issue. Will not the hon. Gentleman at least admit that the legal technicalities discussed in the Lords might just as easily be overturned in the Commons, to enable discussion of the issue of real equal status for the two languages in Wales?
§ Mr. Evans
I do not want to spend too much time discussing the legal technicalities of equal validity on Second Reading; the matter should be debated in Committee. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, it was in Committee that legal advice relating to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill was discussed in detail.
Let me add, however, that the pitfalls have always been well understood. Paragraph 357 of a 1963 report produced by the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire states:We found much informed opinion in Wales strongly in favour of the granting of 'official status' to the Welsh language though it was generally recognised that a precise definition of this concept, in the special circumstances attaching to the language in Wales could not easily be found.I do not think that much divides us on the principle; the arguments about legal technicalities are best reserved for Committee.
§ Mr. Dafis
I am surprised that such a learned legal mind does not make a clear distinction between equal validity and equal status. Equal validity simply means that anything done in the Welsh language is regarded as equally valid. That is a much weaker concept than that of equal 976 status, which implies an impulse actualy to do things in the Welsh language. That is a much stronger and infinitely preferable concept.
§ Mr. Evans
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not wish to be tempted to follow his remarks at this point. This is a Second Reading debate, and I want to make it clear that I support the principle of equal validity. We will discuss the legal technicalities in Committee.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery referred to the right to Welsh medium education. It is a problem common to us both as we share the same county council. That is not an attack on the council. Because it covers a sparsely populated area, it faces difficulties with the provision of Welsh medium education. My constituents can get access to it, but sadly they usually have to go outside Powys. As I understand the Bill, the quality of Welsh medium education available in Powys high schools could come within the remit of the board. That would be a powerful factor in dealing with the problems.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that Welsh was not his first language—he has an understanding of Welsh, but is not a great Welsh speaker. I would not put my proficiency in Welsh as high as he put his, although I understand some Welsh. I make no apology for speaking in this important debate. I am a Welshman, I have lived and worked in Wales all my life, and I represent a Welsh constituency.
Together with at least nine other hon. Members, I am partly responsible for the Bill. A moment ago, I referred to the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire report published in 1963. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has it with him. All hon. Members have been liberally supplied with copies. He will recall that the 1961 census showed an alarming drop in the number of children aged five to 15 in Welsh schools speaking the Welsh language.
I declare an interest, as I must have been one of those children, as were the other nine hon. Members to whom I referred. That acted as a catalyst for a number of events. One was the now infamous speech by Saunders Lewis, although I do not think that in history his contribution to the promotion of the Welsh language will be deemed as great as that of John Elfed Jones and Lord Elis-Thomas.
It has been said that the report reflected the culmination of a century of decline in Welsh speaking. Thereafter, a number of other reports have been produced. They have shown the two general reactions to legislation on this matter—proceeding either on the basis of co-operation, partnership and persuasion or on the basis of coercion.
Those two reactions are at the heart of the debate. The Welsh council argued that an important first step was to ensure that the right climate of opinion was created about the Welsh language. That certainly now exists in Wales. It generally has substantial support not just from Welsh speakers, but from the whole population of Wales. That is an important achievement.
Of course, a language cannot be imposed upon people. Hon. Members have suggested that the Government have a responsibility to introduce Welsh language legislation, and that that will somehow deal with the decline in the number of people speaking Welsh.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Is there not a dichotomy in that, when an institution tries to promote a language, at the same time it stops that language's flexibility, which prevents it from 977 becoming a modern language? I think especially of the Institute Francaise, which has tried to preserve French in aspic as a 19th-century language. In many ways, that has damaged its prospects as a language for the 21st century.
§ Mr. Evans
I certainly do not believe that this Bill will bring about that position. The whole thrust of my approach and argument is that the Government were right to proceed on the basis of carrying the majority of public opinion with them. They created a climate of support for the language, and moved to legislation only when they were sure of support for that.
Some hon. Members have referred to what has happened during the years of debate on the Welsh language. In 1978, a report was produced by the Council for the Welsh Language for a former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). It stated that there wasa widespread desire for Welsh to continue as a living language. This should be achieved by reasoned persuasion and exhortation, not by compulsion.That shows that the Government were right to foster the right climate for a revival of the Welsh language. It also answers the point mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery of assuaging the feelings that might otherwise arise from compulsion, which is sometimes advocated by the strident voices arguing for direct action in defence of the language.
That report made some specific recommendations. One of the most famous related to the urgency of proceeding to the creation of a fourth television channel. I did a little research on that, as I wanted to know how much the council thought it would cost the Treasury. There was a substantial underestimate. The cost was estimated at £9 million a year. I understand that currently S4C receives £55 million a year from the Department of National Heritage.
I make no complaint about that, but it gives the lie to the suggestion that the Government have been cheese-paring in their support for the Welsh language. I am grateful for the remarks of a number of people who do not share my political views, but nevertheless recognise the substantial support given to the language over a lengthy period.
For this debate, I read the Official Report of the Welsh Grand Committee on 16 July 1980, which was within a year of the Government coming to office. I was particularly interested in the observations made by my distinguished predecessor, the late Tom Hooson, who was then in virtually the same situation as I am—he had been the Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnor for a year. I noted his approach to the Welsh language at that time. He felt that it was the role of Government to help the language. However, he said:it is only the people who can will a future for the Welsh language."—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 16 July 1980; column 26.]He felt that the influence within the home was important in that regard. He stressed, as has the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, the need for bilingual education to be developed.
We should pay due credit to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his work in promoting the language by placing Welsh on the national curriculum. Tom Hooson said that the Government could not force an unreal pace.
978 At the time he was talking, Welsh was taught in only one secondary school in what I am proud to call—looking at the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery—the Radnorshire county council area.
Yet, when my right hon. Friend the Minister introduced Welsh in the national curriculum, and schools had the option to argue that, for some reason, they should be allowed not to participate, not one school in Radnorshire made such a request. That is a testament to the policy of the Government in carrying public opinion in what are termed the English-speaking parts of Wales.
Tom Hooson knew Radnorshire well and especially the Painscastle area, where last Saturday night and early Sunday morning I had the privilege and pleasure of being the president of the local eisteddfod, one that has been held for 25 years in that predominantly English-speaking part of Radnorshire. A number of people came from all over Wales to participate in the event.
One of the important subjects talked about that night was the role of the national eisteddfod, which is not only in receipt of local authority and Government support, but will be held in Llanelwedd in Radnorshire in August. In that English-speaking community, I find support and not hostility towards the Welsh language. That is why the policies that we have been advancing to promote Welsh language are right.
I shall now mention some specific points in the Bill. I pay tribute to John Elfed Jones, the chairman of the Welsh Language Board, for the work that he has done not only for that board, but for the Welsh language policies of Welsh Water. The point has already been made that we did not need to have an Act of Parliament, or a statutory big stick, to require Welsh Water to have a proper policy for the promotion of the Welsh language. I pay tribute to that, of course, not least because Welsh Water is based in my constituency.
John Elfed Jones has conducted himself with great dignity in his role as chairman of the Welsh Language Board, and I remember occasions on which he had to endure the very people, some of whom were perhaps mentioned by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis)—higher-profile members of the Welsh Language Society—berating him on the National Eisteddfod field. I have said, and I have no hesitation in repeating, that John Elfed Jones will be recalled as a man who achieved far more for the language than Saunders Lewis ever did.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
The tribute to John Elfed Jones is well merited, but surely the hon. Gentleman misses the point that the policy of Welsh Water could be reversed tomorrow by the board.
§ Mr. Evans
During the debate, we have heard much about the need for an extension of language policy into a wide range of what are termed public bodies. The Government have made clear their position about public utilities, but it is as deception to claim that there are not provisions within the Bill to ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to involve organisations that appear to be public. Reference has already been made to that.
When I first read that, I wondered whether the Secretary of State would propose regulations involving Members of Parliament as well, because that would, according to my reading of the provision, be perfectly 979 legitimate. It speaks of any person, whether a body corporate or incorporate, who appears to the Secretary of Stateto be exercising functions of a public nature.That seems to be an extraordinarily wide definition. If that includes Members of Parliament, there is no reason why it cannot include other organisations of a public nature, although the Government's position in relation to public utilities has been well ventilated.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery mentioned the position of railways. The railways will be unaffected either way. Even if British Rail were to be included in the provisions of the Welsh Language Bill, it would have been included under that provision in paragraph (o), as it would be if any parts of the organisations were to be franchised out. So there is no distinction.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. and learned Gentleman must have misread the Bill, because the copy that I have clearly sets out in clause 6, between paragraphs (a) and (n), specifically defined public bodies, and British Rail is not one. There is a catch-all provision again under the power of the Secretary of State, in paragraph (o). If there was a provision to include British Rail, it would appear under that paragraph (o), and similarly, if we have a franchising of the service, it would be under that provision that anyone who argues that franchise organisation should be required to produce a scheme.
§ Mr. Carlile
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right. The remarks made earlier by the Secretary of State in answer to this point suggest that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The matter was raised by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). Perhaps the Minister can clarify that important point when he comes to answer.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I may be able to assist the House. The test, with regard to the applications of that subsection, is whether the body is funded from Government sources.
§ Mr. Evans
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend.
As a result of my generosity in giving way to so many right hon. and hon. Members, I have taken up more time than I had originally intended. I shall finish by reiterating what I think is the cardinal principle of importance on Second Reading.
In seeking to promote the future of language, we can do so on the basis of co-operation, or we can attempt to do so by coercion. Going down the road of coercion would not serve the interests of the Welsh language. The proposals in the Bill will work on a co-operative basis, so they ought to be commended to the House.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. I hope that all hon. Members who wish to speak will be called, but that will not be possible if each hon. Member speaks for more than 20 minutes.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) made a sensible speech. He, like me, is a card-carrying member of the persuasion tendency, a theme that I hope to develop further during my speech.
We all come to the question of the Welsh language with our own personal baggage and histories. Some have had the good fortune to be brought up in Welsh-speaking households. Others have taken the initiative themselves to learn Welsh. I, alas, am a member of the missing generation who went to a traditional Welsh grammar school, where the Welsh section was corralled into one stream, the Welsh stream, and the rest did other things. I, for example, gave up Welsh for Greek at a tender age.
However, I recall that, when it came to history, we had a good bias for the language. My history master set the question, "1588 was a decisive turning point in history. Discuss." Those who discussed the armada had a reasonable mark, but those who discussed the translation of the Bible by Bishop William Morgan had a good mark. That shows that that single event in 1588 probably had a more decisive influence on the Welsh language than the statutes of 1535 and 1542 and that more informal elements may have a happier effect on the language than legislation.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish me to remind the House that it was Parliament which, in 1563, required by statute that there should be a translation of the Bible into Welsh. It took a little time because, as the hon. Gentleman said, it did not appear until 1588.
§ Mr. Anderson
I stand corrected. Like most English speakers, in Wales I rejoice at the resurgence of the Welsh language. I am particularly delighted by the new self-confidence of our younger people, based principally on the greatly increased expenditure in our schools. That is a major sea change which the great majority of English speakers in Wales now accept as a new consensus. It is based on a recognition that the language is of inestimable value.
Diversity is important, and we are glad that new pressures in favour of Wales are also coming from the European Community. I have a nightmare that at some stage in the future we shall all be speaking in some mid-atlantic sameness of language—something which the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) seemed to welcome.
Welsh ceased to be the official language of Wales not by neglect but by law, by the Act of Union, and legislation is again needed to underpin the language and restore its official status. Therefore, I welcome the Bill. I shall be brief and skate over some of its key elements.
We learn that there will be up to 15 members of the Welsh Language Board. No figures have been given for expenditure on the board, nor do we know how large a proportion that will be of the anticipated total expenditure under the Act. The board is a quango and I hope that the Government will look carefully at relating it in some way to our local authorities. Perhaps the new unitary authorities can in some way act as an advisory body to the board, otherwise it will be rather cut off from democratic opinion in Wales.
I also hope that, in selecting members of the board, the Welsh Office will be careful to ensure that they are 981 committed to the furtherance of the Welsh language and that they have sensitivities and are not zealots who can do immense harm to the language if they press too far.
I have no particular worries about the phraseappropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable",which is well known in law, the interpretation of which should not pose any great problem. I am more worried about the phrase "basis of equality". It is difficult to find any legal precedent for that. It will be interesting in Committee to hear precisely how the Government propose that that should be interpreted.
I asked the Secretary of State about the move from the public to the private sector. That has a particular resonance in Swansea at the moment because the driver and vehicle licensing centre may well, as a result of a Government decision which may be announced tomorrow, be transferred by way of contractorisation to the private sector. There are enormous anxieties in the city on that.
The Post Office is a particularly relevant example. It seems absurd in principle that obligations that are accepted by the Post Office when it is in the public sector should be dropped and that the Post Office should simply be subject to guidelines when it moves to the other side.
I am puzzled by the definition that the Minister has just given of those bodies exercising functions of a public nature in clause 6(1)(o). It is surely a distortion to suggest that bodies exercising functions of a public nature are limited to those that are financially dependent on the public purse. I should have thought that it would be difficult to sustain that in a court of law. I hope that the Minister will look again at that.
I concede that, when the Secretary of State rejected the applicability of the paragraph to the problem of the Post Office, he was speaking without notice, but I hope that the Minister of State will come forward with a revised standard version, a more definitive version, in Committee. But it may well be that he will be hung on the ideological point that there is the public sector and there is the private sector and we cannot sell off the Post Office or the DVLC if we impose qualifications because their purchase will be less attractive to the private sector.
That means that Mammon rules and that the Welsh Office and the Government are clearly giving second place to the language and first place to the ideology of moving back the frontiers of the state. I hope that the Government will consider that before the Committee stage. Substantial sections of the public sector—the Post Office and many other areas—because of market testing, are in danger of moving across the divide, across the frontier, and therefore outside the ambit of the board.
I end as I began. Happily, in Wales, we have avoided the extremes. But there are wings of people in Wales who, one way or another, have extremist views on the language. There are those in my county of west Glamorgan who rail against the betrayals on the part of the county council and there are those who show against the Minister of State at Eisteddfodau, so harming their case. Others simply look at this as a job for the boys and avoid the cultural dimension and the value of the language.
Happily, we have avoided such extremes in Wales. We have dealt with the language sensitively. There is what I call the doctrine of the evolving consensus in Wales. What 982 happened with Hughes Parry which resulted in the 1967 Act was probably the consensus at that time. Happily, as the result of the underpinning of Welsh language education, the caravan has moved. The consensus has evolved now to a point where we can go substantially beyond Hughes Parry and the 1967 Act. Indeed, as an English-speaking Welshman, I believe that the consensus has gone beyond what the Government are now suggesting, and I have already mentioned the aspects that cause me concern. I believe that the language should be encouraged boldly, but with sensitivity and persuasion, underpinned by legislation only when necessary.
§ Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)
I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales on the way in which he introduced the Bill. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on what is unquestionably an historic achievement in pioneering the Bill.
The Bill is the latest in a series of important measures introduced by the Conservative Government that have revitalised the Welsh language and for which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is directly responsible. In education, broadcasting and social and cultural matters, my right hon. Friend's contribution to the language has been immense. It therefore came as no surprise when Lord Elis-Thomas of Nant Conwy, the Plaid Cymru peer, said of him recently that he had done more for the Welsh language than anyone else this century. I was not shocked to find that Lord Elis-Thomas is to become the chairman of the Welsh Language Board. In addition to everything else that my right hon. Friend has done, the Bill will ensure his standing as one of the great Welshmen of his generation.
Having listened to the opening speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), I think that there can rarely have been a clearer distinction between the spokesman of a mature party of government and a party of permanent opposition in terminal decline. The Bill is an excellent example of the art of the possible undertaken by experienced Ministers, in complete contrast to the Labour party which has forgetten what being in government is all about and, of course, to Plaid Cymru which has no experience of government to forget.
Having listened to the opening exchanges, I wonder whether the Bill goes far enough. Should it provide for a Welsh version of literature for Welsh speakers, an English version for English speakers and an illustrated version for the Labour party?
We recognise that the decline of the Welsh language this century can be reversed only gradually. Quantum leaps are not feasible. There is already evidence that Government policies have encouraged the language to make a come-back, especially among the young. The Government's education policy will ensure that the trend continues, but it would be a mistake to quicken the pace of change by forcing the language on a reluctant people. That would be resented, resisted and counter-productive in the long term.
The rehabilitation of the Welsh language needs the good will of the non-Welsh-speaking majority. If that good will were eroded, it would become correspondingly more difficult to persuade the English-speaking 80 per 983 cent. of the population to support measures and developments that they might consider at best pointless and at worst irritating. Therefore, the Bill strikes the right balance in view of the rate of progress made by the Welsh language as it regains the ground that it had been losing. It confers rights on those who wish to live their daily lives as fully as possible through the medium of Welsh, without imposing an irritating hindrance on non-Welsh-speakers. It is a realistic attempt to establish Welsh's equality with English.
Opposition Members must recognise that the Welsh language cannot be saved by legislation alone. NonWelsh-speakers must also want the language to survive and prosper, but it will not do so if it is rammed down their throats. Therefore, my right hon. Friend is right to exclude the private sector from the requirement for public bodies to draw up strategies outlining how they are to use Welsh. The private sector already offers services in Welsh and, with encouragement, others will follow suit.
§ Mr. Richards
I shall not give way because, as Madam Deputy Speaker said, time is short, and many hon. Members of all parties wish to speak.
It would be wrong and wholly counter-productive to force the private sector to use Welsh against its will. Such a policy would not only create a barrier to inward investment but would provoke business to leave Wales. The outlook for the economy would be correspondingly depressed. As the language gains ground, it may be that, in the not-too-distant future, the private sector will be able to accommodate bilingualism more easily. I believe that it will and that it will want to embrace its heritage, but we must take care not to snuff out that possibility with legislation that could be interpreted as vindictive.
When I speak of bilingualism, I mean using the language naturally in day-to-day dealings. I fear that the zealots who do so much harm to the language and the image of Wales think that bilingualism means translating everything into Welsh—every sign, every leaflet and every form. That is humbug. All types of bilingual forms are in use in Wales. which probably no more than a few thousand people in the entire country could read in Welsh and fully understand. If we are honest with ourselves, we must accept that the vast majority of Welsh speakers do not use them, or even read them. They are no more than a totem pole around which the zealots dance.
Indeed, it is the zealots, so prominent in Plaid Cymru, who are the greatest danger to the language. These are the people—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I cannot allow private conversations or interventions of that kind from a seated position.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I make it perfectly clear that I made that intervention on the ground that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) was using inflarnmatory language about an issue that we had hoped would exclude party politics. The hon. Gentleman was inviting such an intervention.
§ Mr. Richards
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As I was saying, these are the people who try to use the language as a weapon with which to carve out an independent Wales. These are the people who refuse to recognise that the language belongs to all parties and to no single party. The zealots are mean minded and mealy mouthed, afraid of everything because of its perceived impact on the language. These are the people who are so obsessed that they believe that the language is more important than everything, even life itself.
These are the people who believe that their culture and way of life can and should be wholly isolated from the outside world so that the language is not endangered. These are the people who would put the nation into quarantine to protect the language. These are the people who, if they had their way, would succeed only in killing the language and destroying the Welsh nation. These are the people who despise the Government for their very success in securing the viable future of the language, while they can do nothing but wring their hands on the sidelines.
Some hon. Members believe that the Government are mistaken in their Welsh language policy because they are doing too much at too great a cost. There are occasions when I wonder whether the Government get the credit that they deserve for their commitment to the language, when competition between Government Departments for scarce resources is fiercer than ever. For example, S4C is subsidised by about £55 million a year. That is roughly equivalent to financing 100 embassies or consulates abroad, and that is at a time when we are doing our utmost to take advantage of the potential markets in the far east and in the new countries that make up the former Soviet Union.
In reply to those who would argue that the Welsh language gets a disproportionate share of Government spending, I would say that in 1982 my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, justified—rightly, in my view—the retaking of the Falkland Islands, which had been invaded by the Argentines, on the ground that the 1,800 inhabitants were English speaking and wished to remain so. Baroness Thatcher said that that consideration was at the heart of the matter. The British task force, at great cost to the taxpayer and, ultimately, at great cost in loss of life, was dispatched 8,000 miles to fulfil our obligations to the English-speaking Falkland Islanders.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the Second Reading of a Bill. Extended remarks along those lines are getting to the point of irrelevance.
§ Mr. Richards
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was just finishing.
I say to doubting hon. Members how much more compelling is the case for 500,000 Welsh speakers next door in Wales.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Mae'n warth o beth nad oes gennyf fi, fel aelod seneddol o gymru, yr hawl isiarad fy iaith fy hun yn yr unig senedd sy'n deddfu ar ran fy ngwlad hyd yn oed mewn dadl sy'n ymwneud a'r iaith gymraeg.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I believe that the hon. Gentleman was here when my predecessor in the Chair made the rules of the House quite clear. I hope that I do not have to repeat them. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to continue his speech in English?
§ Mr. Wigley
I had availed myself of a translation of my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker, in case you requested it. I said:It is a disgraceful situation that I, as an MP from Wales, have no right to speak my own language in this, the only Parliament that legislates for my country, even in a debate concerning the Welsh language.Had I addressed the House in Norman French I would have been in order, and that is a reflection on the status, or lack of status, of the Welsh language. That lack of status is the central issue in the debate on the Bill.
I listened to the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), and I dare say that Ministers will realise what a polarising effect and influence he would have if we ever had the misfortune of seeing him as a Minister at the Welsh Office.
The Bill has been long delayed. It represents the Government's response to a widespread campaign in Wales over the past 10 years and more for a new Welsh Language Act. The 1967 Act has long since been seen to be totally inadequate, as hon. Members on both sides of the House now recognise. As other hon. Members have said, that Act was based on the Hughes Parry report of 1965, which advocated equal validity for Welsh in speech and in written documents, both in the courts and in public administration. However, the 1967 Act provided for Welsh-speaking people only the ability to speak Welsh in the courts, with no rights regarding documents in court. There were no rights in connection with public administration. In other words, the 1967 Act fell well short of the 1965 Hughes Parry report.
Since then, the principle of equal validity itself has been shown to be inadequate. It was a step in the right direction at the time, but equal validity is a licence to allow all public bodies to do nothing whatever for the Welsh language and to do everything through the English language alone. Indeed, in order to give people who speak Welsh and who want to use the Welsh language the opportunity to do so, the institutions with which they deal must have a degree of bilingualism, to make equal validity meaningful for those individuals.
Over the past decade or more, people have called more and more for Welsh speakers to have language rights established in law, in a way that does not deny English speakers their rights. We are a nation with two languages. Both should have full and equal rights. Those who want to use Welsh should have the right to do so, certainly in dealings with the Government and public administration, with the courts and with public services, and with officialdom in general. In other words, Welsh should be as much of an official language in Wales as English. Individuals should thereby have full, free and unfettered choice of the language that they want to use.
On 1 July 1986, I introduced a ten-minute Bill to that end. It was supported by hon. Members from all four parties in Wales, and given an unopposed First Reading. At about the same time, Lord Prys-Davies introduced a similar Bill in another place. The details were slightly different, but the objectives were the same. He and I overwhelmingly agreed on our targets; the Bills were 986 almost interchangeable. I pay tribute to the work that Lord Prys-Davies has done, both at that time and over the intervening period.
In October 1986—this is the prelude to the present Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker, and that is why it is relevant—Lord Prys-Davies and I met Welsh Office Ministers to discuss the way forward for the two proposed Bills. The Secretary of State at that time, Nicholas Edwards, and the everlasting, evergreen Minister of State, who was there in his present capacity, met us and agreed to a public consultation exercise on the contents of the two Bills. That took place in the winter of 1986–87. By April 1987, when the consultation had been completed, about 2,000 responses had been received, of which only 43 objected to the direction in which the two Bills were going. However, it was 1988 by the time that the new Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Walker, said that, of course, there would be legislation. There has been a saga of prevarication and delay over the intervening period.
In the meantime, the Welsh Office set up an advisory panel on the language consisting of, I believe, eight wise people. They were consulted and they consulted people in Wales, and they recommended a new language Act. The Welsh Office then moved on and set up a Welsh Language Board in July 1988. It consulted again, and again recommended a new Act; indeed, it published a draft Bill in February 1991. There was wide consultation again, and that draft Bill was then regarded as a minimalist provision. However, it was not taken up by the Welsh Office, and last autumn in Cardiff 4,000 people from all parties demonstrated in favour of new Welsh language legislation.
Now, seven years after we introduced those Bills in 1986, the Government are moving forward with their own Bill. Their Bill does not even go as far as the minimalist Bill provided by the Welsh Language Board, and it is interesting to note what the board said about it. I pay tribute, as other hon. Members have, to the work of the board. When the Bill was published in December last year the board commented in its press release:The Government's Bill clearly fails to achieve the objectives set out by the Secretary of State in his statement to the House in February 1992 and falls well short of the Board's own proposals published in February 1991 … All Welsh MPs and Members of the Upper House will now have a key role to play. The Board urges them to ensure that the eventual legislation gives the language and the people of Wales a firm foundation of rights".I emphasise the word "rights". Those were the considered comments of the board set up by the Government themselves to advise on the matter, after extensive consultation with the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Unfortunately, one of the references in the Welsh Language Board's press release will not be true. Although it was right for the board to say that it was up to all Welsh Members of Parliament to improve the Government's Bill and to press for the measures suggested by the board, when we return after the recess we shall debate a measure that will take the choice away from Welsh Members. We shall not be responsible for the status and future of the Welsh language in Wales.
§ Mr. Wigley
Undoubtedly, on the Monday that we return, there will be a debate on that matter and strong feelings will be expressed. It goes without saying that I should like to see our own Parliament deciding these matters in Wales, but we must make the best of what we have. The House of Lords tried to amend the Bill. 987 Interestingly enough, the former Secretary of State for Wales suggested that the Government should make progress on the definition of status and a cross-section of peers voted in support of a change in that direction. However, we have not yet had that change.
I hope that the Government will be sensitive to these matters in Committee and will give ground because a number of the members of the Welsh Language Board were on the point of resigning if the Government had not given an undertaking to re-examine some of the details of the Bill. We are still looking for a fulfilment of the commitments given at that time. The Bill went through the House of Lords without any significant strengthening. The Government refused to accept amendments to improve the status and other shortcomings. The lobby in Wales has been overwhelming on a number of these points, but the Government have not yet moved on them.
At last we have the Bill before the House. We have waited 25 years since the last Bill and we need to get it right this time. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) said that there is not likely to be another Bill this side of the millennium. I hope that he is not closing the door to the possibility that, if this Bill is not strengthened enough and if the Labour party gets into government, the next Labour Government will provide their own Bill to do the necessary job. We would, however, rather see the Bill strengthened now and get it right in Committee.
Frankly, the Bill is extremely inadequate in its present form. It is little more than a Welsh Language Board Bill setting up a statutory board and relatively little else. It is worth drawing the attention of the House to the comments made by the Welsh Consumer Council:If Welsh language policies are to be meaningful, and if legislation is to be useful, and if the ordinary consumer is to exercise choice in going about his or her daily life, the test must be that the Welsh language can be used in a normal and unproblematic way on a daily basis in everyday life.The central question that arises—this has been the central objective of the campaign over the years—is to enshrine language rights in law. We need legislation to create and define the rights of those who want to use the Welsh language—some 500,000 people, although there are possibly 1 million people when one takes into account those who understand and speak some Welsh—and enable their children to have a bilingual education. After all, language belongs not simply to the Welsh speakers in Wales but to all the people in Wales. The Bill creates rights for one person alone—the Secretary of State. There are some limited rights for the Welsh Language Board, but they are subject to a veto by the Secretary of State.
We welcome the appointment of Lord Elis-Thornas as the new chairman of the board. We wish him well. If he is to undertake a successful job with the responsibilities that he has, he needs stronger legislation than what we have before us and resources to ensure that such legislation can be turned into meaningful reality.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Is the hon. Gentleman implying that Lord Elis-Thomas is ill advised to accept the post when we have such a weak Bill before the House?
§ Mr. Wigley
It may well be that Lord Elis-Thomas knows that the Government will accept strengthening amendments in Committee. Time will tell whether that is the case. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that Lord Elis-Thomas and members of the board—or 988 whoever is chair of the board—will find it easier to do that job if the Bill reflects what is wanted in Wales and they have the resources to undertake their responsibilities.
As I said, the central inadequacy relates to the status of the language. I draw the attention of the House to the recommendations made by the Welsh Language Board in its draft Bill. The first clause in the Bill before the House should relate to the definition of status:Welsh shall be an official language in Wales where in relation to English it shall be of equal validity for the purposes of the administration of justice and the conduct of administrative business so that, subject to the following provisions of this Act, any oral statement and any act, writing or thing made or done in Wales for those purposes and expressed in Welsh shall have the like effect as if it had been expressed in English.That is a clearly defined legally thought-out statement and I do not understand why the Government have not been willing to take an unequivocal statement of that sort as the opening part of this Bill, rather than hiding it behind a sub-condition lower down in the Bill:The purpose referred to …above is that of giving effect, so far as is both appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable, to the principle that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality.This contains a lot of qualification and uncertainty. We need a clear-cut statement as the starting point on which the Bill should be built.
The Bill must be amended if it is to be accepted by the Committee. There are a number of inadequacies, but I shall not go into them in depth. However, I shall refer to them in passing so that we can follow them up in Committee. For example, in courts of law, when the hearing is requested by the defendant to be through the medium of the Welsh language—that is, the hearing should be in Welsh as the predominant language—the jurors who are listening to the case should be able to understand Welsh. Public bodies should make available forms in a bilingual format. Public sector bodies that are now private utilities should be included in those public bodies. Clause 6(1)(o) defines that and I hope that it will be clarified by the Government in Committee.
There should be a definition of the right to have bilingual education within reasonable reach of people's homes. Most authorities do that and I pay tribute to them. I also pay tribute to people such as Lord Haycock in the old Glamorgan county council who did sterling work in that direction. Some areas are slow and dilatory. West Glamorgan is one of those areas in which there has been an outcry for many years to have a better provision of bilingual education. A right needs to be enshrined in law to overcome the difficulties in such areas.
There have been problems in the introduction of race relations legislation when jobs have been advertised as having a Welsh language requirement. Clearly, that is ridiculous in areas such as Gwynedd where a job was advertised for people to work in an old people's home. Overwhelmingly, the people in that home are Welsh speaking and there was a requirement for the job to be bilingual. That matter was taken to the Race Relations Board. There needs to be a change in the law to overcome that sort of abuse of race relations legislation to frustrate the Welsh language. The right of people to speak Welsh to each other in their place of work should be clarified, because it has caused difficulty in the past.
989 Prisoners should have the right to converse with visitors through the Welsh language and to write and receive letters in Welsh. There should be no difficulty for parents who want to register their children's names through the Welsh language. Such practical difficulties have arisen in the past. If the Bill is to be acceptable, it must deal with those points. We must have a board that is independent of the Welsh Office, not a handservant to the Welsh Office. We must have a board to serve the whole of Wales and the Welsh language, not to serve the administrative convenience of the Government of the day. That will be achieved only if the Bill is substantially improved.
We have been under pressure, as have other hon. Members, to oppose the Bill on Second Reading. We will not do that because we believe that it can be improved in Committee. When we eventually get to Third Reading we will determine our attitude on the basis of what improvements have been made along the lines that I have outlined and those to which many other hon. Members have referred.
§ Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)
I welcome the Bill, and applaud the careful and thoughtful way in which it has been prepared, and the way in which it has met the practical and careful aspects with good will and co-operation.
I must nevertheless raise two points with my right hon. Friends upon which I seek reassurance. The first is the particular position of my constituency. Monmouth is not Gwynedd. Its traditions are different. In the 1991 census from Monmouth borough—that is not quite the same area as my constituency—only 2 per cent. of people returned that they were Welsh speakers. Monmouth borough council receives about six letters a year in Welsh and I understand that, as a matter of courtesy, those letters are always replied to in Welsh. The position in Monmouthshire is different. Clause 5(2) of the Bill describes schemes which areappropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable".Will my right hon. Friend the Minister give an assurance that what is suitable for Gwynedd will not be imposed upon Monmouth, and that matters will be looked at sensibly?
I shall describe to my right hon. Friend and to the House the points that some of my constituents have emphasised to me. First, despite the great concern of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and as he will appreciate, the practice of British Telecom, Welsh Water and South Wales Electricity is to submit bilingual bills. Some of my constituents are not very pleased with that. Secondly, my constituents complain that the national curriculum for Wales introduced compulsory Welsh teaching by the back door, in the sense that the impact of that was not appreciated in my constituency until it had happened. I am asking for special consideration for Monmouthshire.
My next point is slightly more exotic. I ask my right hon. Friend to re-examine schedule 2 to the Bill, which puts a piece of dynamite under what the Government intended. The schedule of repeals refers to the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542, in each case the extent of repeal is the whole Act, so far as unrepealed. I have checked with 990 the Library how much of each Act is still in force. No doubt someone will have to double check this, but let us be absolutely clear what the Government are proposing. If we repeal an Act of that kind of date, the effect is to make it as if the Act had never been passed, except as to matters which are past and dead. It would be startling and shocking if we were told that Wales was dead and past or even that the Welsh language was dead and past.
Let us examine the provisions of the Laws in Wales Acts. Section 1 of the 1535 Act says:That his said countrey or dominion of Wales shal be stonde and contynue for [ever]…incorporated united and annexed to and with this his realme of Englande.[Interruption.] The nationalist Members are right to cheer. My right hon. Friend—I am sure, by mistake—seeks to repeal the Act of Union. That has the most startling legal consequences. The 1535 Act goes on to deal with the rights of persons born after the passing of the Act, a matter which was of considerable importance before the Act of Union with Scotland.
I am sure that if the House sought to repeal the Scottish Act of Union by a schedule of incidental repeals, there would be satisfaction in some quarters and howls of protestation in others. The repeal of the Laws in Wales Act has nothing to do with the Welsh Language Bill. I can go further. The test that those responsible for statutory repeals apply is whether a provision in legislation is past or spent. It is a logical and legal absurdity that the rights of persons born after the Laws in Wales Acts should continue to be what they were before.
If there has never been an act of union with Wales, how can later legislation ever have been intended to apply to Wales? That has several ludicrous political and legal consequences. I shall not deal specifically with section 3 of the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which imposes on my constituents the obligationto be obedient and attendaunt to the lorde chauncellour of Englond, the Kinges justices, and other of the Kinges moste honorable counsaile".That may be dealt with now in specific legislation. Monmouthshire's position may be separate.
However, it is worse than that. In section 47 of the Laws in Wales Act 1542, the law on markets overt is vastly superior in Wales to that in England. The medieval anomaly and scandal that a person could go and buy stolen goods in certain markets in England and get a good title was not part of the laws of Wales. It has not been since 1542. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister did not intend by a backwind to do that.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the repeals. They are repeals of the spent provisions of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542. We have been advised on the matter by Law Commission staff. We are examining carefully the markets overt point and we shall come back to it in Committee.
§ Mr. Evans
I respectfully suggest to my right hon. Friend that the advice given is wrong. The repeals section refers to the whole of each of the Acts, as unrepealed. It does not refer simply to those matters which one might think were relevant—those relating to the Welsh language. Those provisions were repealed 50 years ago. They were the notorious sections of the legislation which were so rightly criticised in Wales.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister has admitted that the section relating to markets overt is 991 relevant and current law and that to change it would be a policy change. I am delighted to hear that it will be investigated.
I have drawn the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) to this matter, and he is worried about it. Under section 56 of the Laws in Wales Act 1542, Bewdley shall be part of Worcestershire. There is a saving for the inhabitants of Bewdley, however, coveringall suche liberties and frauncheses as they lawfullye had and exercysed within the same towne before the making of this Acte".I do not suppose for a moment that the Welsh Office or those responsible for statutory repeals have examined the customs and privileges of the inhabitants of Bewdley. Likewise, those customs and privileges should not be taken away by a backwind.
I shall not continue this analysis. The City of London will be most interested in reviving the concept of the Welsh mortgage, which was also outlawed. It was a much fairer financial arrangement than many conventional mortgages. I suppose that those responsible for statutory repeals would say that the Welsh law of alienation of land or in the Welsh law for the descent of real property is spent. If that is right, it is an interesting matter. I am sure that nationalist Members who are learned in law will be interested to know the consequences of the Bill being passed in this form.
§ Mr. Evans
I am delighted to hear that. That sedentary observation that the matter will be tested in the courts is right. I have no doubt that, by a blunder of those who advise on statutory repeals, my right hon. Friend the Minister has got us into an unnecessary predicament.
We have rightly heard a great deal about the traditions of culture and language of our country. However, I place infinitely greater importance on another part of our tradition than do those responsible for statutory law revision, who seem intent on ripping passages from the record of what Parliament has achieved over the centuries simply to shorten the law books and increase the profits of Messrs Butterworths.
The preface to the 1535 Act is one of the noblest pieces of English Tudor prose. it is rather pro-Welsh if one reads it carefully. I shall not weary the House by doing so, but I finish with a request to my right hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider both points.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
Welsh is spoken with pride across my constituency. In many valley villages such as Rhifawr, Cwmllynfell, Cwmgorse, Gwaun-cae-Gurwen, Lower Brynamman, Ystalyfera, Godrergraig, Trebanos, Alltwen—I am pleased to say that it now has a Labour county councillor—Gellinudd, Blaendulais and many other communities in the Neath area, Welsh is the first language of many families.
It is important to remember, however, that in those former mining communities the Welsh language is part of a distinctive valley culture, which is treasured for its principles of mutual aid and co-operation. That culture is now under siege from economic decline and social disintegration. I support the welcome growth in the use of the Welsh language, but my only concern is that it is ceasing to become a working-class one. The Welsh 992 Language Board and the Welsh Office must address that problem, otherwise the board will not be representative of the entire population of Wales, particularly those valley villages that were once thriving mining communities in which the Welsh language was an integral part of daily life. As testimony to our commitment to the language, we will welcome the National Eisteddfod to the Neath valley next year and I hope that it will be the most successful one ever.
The Bill is an important step forward along the road away from the bad old days when the use of the Welsh language was repressed. It has many defects, however, which the Labour party has already identified and which I hope we shall be able to address in Committee. For example, all powers to enforce the Act will lie with the Secretary of State and not the board, which is specifically designed to be an advisory body. That means that the Welsh Office will retain the discretion to interpret and enforce the Act. Although all that power is given to the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office, an anomaly is created because the Secretary of State cannot be prosecuted under the Act.
It is also important that the new board should be made up of individuals with the relevant expertise and not stuffed with Conservative placemen and women. I wish Lord Elis-Thomas well and congratulate him on his appointment—after all, it is better to have an ennobled deal on the Welsh language than a grubby deal on Maastricht. It is important that the Secretary of State gives full representation to all opinion in Wales and not simply to those with whom he happens to be in coalition at a particular time or those who happen to be drawn from the ranks of Conservative lackeys.
One of the main defects with the Bill, as has been identified by several hon. Members, is that its provisions relate to public bodies only. That leaves a big question mark over what will happen to the privatised utilities—gas, telecommunications, water and, who knows, the Post Office. British Rail is certainly in an anomalous position, because the subsequent Act will apply to it for the few remaining months of its life in the public sector, but will cease to do so once BR transfers to the private sector. That is absolute nonsense.
The Government have committed themselves to examine the possible privatisation and deregulation of the Post Office—in effect, they have given it the green light. The Post Office will, therefore, be covered by the Act only while it remains in the public sector. The same would apply if just a part of the Post Office, such as Royal Mail Parcelforce, were privatised, while its counter services remained in the public sector. What about those parts of the Post Office that were hived off into the private sector?
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
The hon. Gentleman has sought to make some distinction about the railways and the Post Office moving into the private sector. If he reads the Bill, however, he will understand that they are not covered by it other than under clause 6(1)(o), subject to the discretion of the Secretary of State. They are unchanged by the Bill, because, if they move into the private sector, the Secretary of State can then decide whether they should be covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. Hain
I do not believe that that interpretation is incorrect, but the Minister of State was not positive about that issue when the hon. Gentleman raised the matter 993 earlier. There are too many grey areas and too much fudging in the Bill, which we will need to explore in Committee.
It is important to note that almost one third of the citizens in my constituency speak Welsh. Many will welcome the progress towards proper recognition of their language that is offered, to some extent, by the Bill. We have an excellent Welsh secondary school, Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, in my constituency and virtually all the Welsh primary schools are overflowing. There is a tremendous demand for more places in Welsh-medium schools and more resources for Welsh language education. It is a matter not just of more classrooms but of better quality textbooks, better training for teachers and better resourcing of education; in that way, Welsh language teaching will enjoy equal status with English teaching in Wales.
Although it is important that the Welsh language receives the legal recognition and status to which it is entitled, a living language needs more than the backing of the law; it needs the resources which the Government have so far denied it and which the Bill does not provide. We want a language that is indigenous, not elitist, one that is living, not academic, and one that is part of the community, not imposed on it. That requires the firm backing of the law, but, together with that firm foundation, it demands a tolerance that springs from a new confidence that the rights of Welsh speakers are, at last, to be guaranteed.
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
When I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), I thought that he went a little over the top, until I heard the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). I should like to hark back to the consensus that seemed to exist among the other hon. Members who have spoken. It is clear that the temperate speeches of other hon. Members revealed a need for the Bill and that persuasion rather than coercion is likely to be the best way in which to further the interests of the Welsh language.
It is impossible to please everyone with the Bill because of the different nature of different parts of Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) rightly referred to that when he said that just 2 per cent. of his constituents were Welsh speakers. In some parts of Wales more than 60 per cent. of the local people are Welsh speakers, but, according to the latest available statistics, there are only 5.9 per cent. of Welsh speakers in my constituency. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth that we should take into account those parts of the country where Welsh is not widely spoken.
I welcome the resurgence in the use of the Welsh language that has occurred in the Vale of Glamorgan. The grandparents and parents of many of my constituents can speak Welsh, but they do not. They hope that their children, or at least their grandchildren, will do so. The resurgence in the Welsh language is due, in large measure, to the success of the measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has laboured hard in support of the Welsh language throughout his political career.
994 If we are to continue to move forward, however, it is important to avoid unnecessary division. Division would be bound to be created if we foisted on the private sector a requirement that it introduce a policy for the use of the Welsh language. Any business that is trying to make a profit will recognise that if its customers want communications to be in Welsh or if it wants to be able to communicate to them in Welsh, it will be in its commercial interest to ensure that Welsh enjoys equal status with English. Surely that is the way forward rather than coercion and diktat from central Government.
I was interested in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth about the Bill's constitutional implications. I shall certainly be interested to see what the Standing Committee makes of it.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I shall add one point that I did not make in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) and say that I am assured that the Union of England and Wales no longer depends on the laws that we are proposing to repeal. That unity is based on subsequent legislation—which probably includes the Bill.
§ Mr. Sweeney
In the Vale of Glamorgan we are seeing a resurgence in the Welsh language. One reason for that is the widespread recognition that Welsh schools generally provide a high standard of education. I see a parallel between schools providing Welsh in south Glamorgan and schools such as my own grammar school in England which provided Latin in years gone by. Even if the learning of a language is an intellectual discipline rather than a necessity for communication, it stretches the intellect and helps people to learn other subjects. The mere fact that people have grappled from an early age with two languages instead of one seems likely to mean that they will make better students.
It is essential for the Committee to consider the distinction between Welsh being learnt—as Bacon would have it—as an ornament and Welsh being learnt because it is an inherent part of the local culture. If we can bridge that divide in a spirit of fellowship and with a recognition of the differences that exist between different parts of Wales, we shall be more effective in making the Bill a success.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) and was extremely disappointed that he picked up on the constitutional issue. It was something that we noticed some time ago, but did not raise.
On a more serious note, Welsh is one of the oldest living languages in Europe, which is remarkable. It is all the more remarkable because, until this century, it has not been given fair play. Hon. Members have referred to the Welsh "Not". Several attempts have been made to annihilate the language, but now the Welsh language appears in every walk of life in Wales—there has been a welcome resurgence in the language.
I agree with the Secretary of State that there is a vast reservoir of good will in the country towards the language. I congratulate everyone who learns the language. It gladdens my heart when people move to my constituency 995 and learn the language, often in concert with their children. To them, I say, "Thank you for your effort and congratulations."
Last year, 60,000 plus people registered on various courses in Wales to learn Welsh. That is an astonishing figure of which I am proud. I am sure that the credit for it is shared equally throughout the House. The issue is not a political one and I am pleased that hon. Members are not treating it as such. From my upbeat preface, people might be tempted to think that all is well but, regrettably, all is not well. Every citizen of Wales and of the British Isles has a duty to nurture and maintain the language and culture of Wales. Welsh was the intrinsic language of the British Isles well before the Anglo-Saxon influence—a fact that is sometimes forgotten.
I have said that I am glad that the debate has not been about politics, and that Welsh is not a political football. However, the reference of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) to Saunders Lewis was offensive to many people, perhaps not in the Chamber, but all over Wales. I am a great respecter of Mr. John Elfed Jones, the chairman of Dwr Cymru, and I am sure that even he would not wish to have heard what was said earlier.
I mention in passing the remarks—as usual, that is all that they are worth—of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) which were immature, offensive and politically motivated. I have cleared my chest and shall now get on with the business in hand. If the hon. Gentleman had done so, we would have arrived at our business earlier.
Seven years have passed since my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) presented his Bill to the House. I echo his generous, honest and sincere tribute to the work carried out by Lord Prys-Davies at that time. We have had an agonising wait in Wales, and we have now been presented with a woefully inadequate Bill. We have a golden opportunity and we must grab it. If we miss it, the consequences will be dire. If the Bill is not comprehensively amended and strengthened, Wales will have waited for nothing, not just for seven years but for many centuries.
There is little in the Bill to make one cheer. We have an opportunity to take positive steps to ensure that the language is safeguarded and nurtured and that, as the Secretary of State said, the continued renaissance of the language proceeds apace. Therefore, although I am pleased that the Bill has come before Parliament, I have to say that it is inadequate in many ways.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon and other hon. Members have said where they believe the Bill to be inadequate. I shall confine my remarks to a few parts of particular concern to me and to many tens of thousands of people in Wales. I must make it abundantly clear that the list of subjects to which I shall refer is not exhaustive—far from it. I wish that I could say that only a few amendments were necessary, but I cannot.
The Bill's inadequacy has prompted several groups and societies, and thousands of Welsh people, to urge Opposition Members, and no doubt Conservative Members, to reject the Bill ab initio and vote it down. In discussion with the Bill's opponents, I have taken the view that if Parliament is about making laws that are just and equitable, the Bill must surely be amended. I trust that that faith in the parliamentary system will not prove to be misplaced.
I believe that the Bill should carry a clear definition of the status of Welsh in relation to the English language. 996 That point was forcefully made by Lord Crickhowell in another place. As a former occupant of the Welsh Office, he could see nothing detrimental in such a definition, and representatives from all parties in the other place felt that it was right and proper. I do not understand why the Bill does not state that Welsh should be an official language in Wales, having equal status with the English language in the administration of justice and the conduct of administrative business. That issue was mentioned by the Welsh Language Board. The Bill should seek to address the current imbalance—there is no doubt that parity between both languages cannot and will not be achieved unless it is clearly embodied in the Bill that Welsh is an official language in Wales.
The Welsh Language Board's report of February 1991 was discussed and extensively quoted in another place. The report says:Unless it be declared by an Act of Parliament that the Welsh language shall have equality of status with the English language, it will continue in its existing state of inequality.Paragraph 37 says:Without such a declaration, the Welsh language will remain bereft of official status and will continue to be perceived as being inferior, in all legal and administrative respect, to the English language.The import of those words could not be clearer. They are the words of a board that the Government set up to give advice on the subject of the Welsh language and how to nurture it. It is astonishing that the board's view, clear and strong as it is, and based on good sense, appears to have been dismissed out of hand by the Government. We as a party will definitely table amendments to fill this serious lacuna in the Bill. Without such a declaration of principle, the Bill, which seeks parity for the languages, is fatally flawed.
This is our opportunity, and I urge hon. Members on all sides of the House to take it, otherwise we shall be criticised for having taken part in a legislative process that failed the people of Wales. As Lord Prys-Davies said in another place, the fruit of failure could be bitter. In my view, this is a core issue that must be addressed.
On the all-important subject of Welsh-medium education, the Bill contains no provision concerning the rights of individuals. The Welsh Language Education Development Committee recently expressed specific concern about this issue. It did so in a letter to Lord Prys-Davies, which referred to the fact that the board would have insufficient power in respect of bodies responsible for education in Wales. The letter said:There will be insufficient power to establish Welsh-medium provision in accordance with parental wishes where it is not currently available … The board will not have sufficient power to require funding councils for further and higher education to recognise the costs of providing for students who would opt to pursue vocational and professional courses through the medium of Welsh or, indeed, for employees who would be keen to see training in both Welsh and through the medium of the Welsh language in order to respond to the demands of the public.These concerns are vital. Parents throughout Wales have shown that they, too, are greatly concerned about the lack of forward planning and funding to satisfy the—thankfully—rapidly increasing demand for Welsh-medium education.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that Welsh-medium education is provided for in section 8 of the Education Act 1944, which lays duties on local authorities and, possibly, the funding council, if it is 997 established by my right hon. Friend. The duty of the Welsh Language Board will, of course, relate to the performance of the local education authorities and the funding council.
§ Mr. Llwyd
I am sure that the Minister agrees that the woefully inadequate provision in many parts of Wales—west Glamorgan, for example—is hardly what the 1944 Act foresaw. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's historical reference, but it does not give me any confidence whatsoever. The point should be mentioned specifically in this Bill. It is clear that, in terms of the provision of Welsh-medium education, some authorities in Wales are completely devoid of respect for the language. It appears that they have failed with complete impunity in this regard—a point that the Minister may wish to consider.
Recently, parents in Cardiff protested about the lack of provision for Welsh-medium education. Indeed, there are plenty of other examples throughout Wales. In some cases, Welsh-medium education is conducted in corridors and in various other locations that place children at a gross disadvantage. There are two sides to the coin, however: this shows that the provision is inadequate, but it shows also that the demand exists. I submit that the demand must be met, and this is the vehicle for making that point clear.
The situations in which the provision is inadequate create understandable animosity. They are concerns that the European charter for regional or minority languages sought to address. Article 8 of that charter provides that member states should make pre-school education, primary education and university and higher education available in the relevant regional or minority languages and should make a substantial part of that education available in the relevant language. That appears to me to be just and correct. The Government have decided not to sign the charter. I have written to the Secretary of State about that point, but I have been given no assurance that the Government will sign. It is ironic that, apparently, the Welsh language is safer in the hands of the European Community than in the hands of the British Government. We as a party supported Maastricht throughout. How right we were!
Welsh language education is assured, according to the Minister of State. He says, and has said in another debate, that being a constituent part of any Welsh language scheme is a matter that falls within clause 6. My view—and that of many others, I am sure—is that this vital provision must be separately spelled out. It is far too important an issue to be left to an agreement between the board and local education authorities, some of which, as I have said, are less than enthusiastic about the language, and have shown that to be the case.
The basic right of parents to secure the provision of Welsh-medium education for their children within a reasonable distance of their homes should and must be safeguarded and specifically provided for in the legislation. Will the board find it easy, for example, to discuss and approve individual language schemes for all the new unitary authorities if or when they come? Is it good sense to have 20 to 25 different education language schemes and policies in Wales? Would not it be much simpler to give here and now, in a separate clause, a pledge that parents have a right to have Welsh-medium education provided for their children within a reasonable distance if that is what they require?
998 If—God forbid—the schools of Wales were all to opt out, the task would become even more ridiculous; then we should have to deal with approval for, I suppose, 2,000 language schemes and policies. Common sense says that that would be ridiculous. In my view, justice for the language also says no. We should be faced with a bureaucratic nightmare, and in the meantime parents' legitimate rights and aspirations would be denied—that would be intolerable. If, as the Minister of State says, the provision of Welsh-medium education is already safeguarded by the wording of the Bill and if, as he says, that is the Government's intention, why should not we be given a clearer exposition to allay the fears of thousands of people in Wales and to avoid the administrative nightmare that must surely follow? After the inordinate delay in presenting the Bill to the House, we owe it to the people of Wales to provide them with the strong, clear Welsh Language Act which they require and which is no more than they deserve.
Another grave shortcoming of the Bill is the lack of provision for empanelling Welsh-speaking juries. This goes to the core of the question of status. In 1575, no less a judge than Sir William Gerrard said that a judge in Wales should be able to understand what a Welsh-speaking witness said in the language spoken—not, it will be noticed, through an interpreter. That is the basis on which the Juries Act 1974 was passed—every juror should understand what is said in English. If there has to be a choice between the hurt feelings of the potential juror and the need for justice to be done, the scales are overwhelmingly weighted in favour of justice. Instantaneous translation, however expert, will not catch the nuances of the original language. As everyone who has taken part in or conducted a trial knows, frequently nuances are everything. The random selection of arguments by the Government, echoed by Lord Ferrers in the other place, is not valid in this context.
The right to a Welsh jury trial is no more a breach of the principle of random selection than was the Privy Council decision in Ras Behari v. the King-Emperor, which was decided in the 1930s. The ratio decidendi was that all jurors empanelled to hear a case in the English language should understand English.
I referred to the point as being a core point. Indeed, in the debate in the other place, it was said that if the right was not enshrined in the legislation, the words about equal validity and about both languages being official would be exposed as a sham. Those were robust words, bearing in mind the forum in which they were spoken, but I have to agree with that view.
The Second Reading debate is not the time to argue about the minutiae of the Bill, but there are strong arguments to counter the objections of random selection, demography, injustice to non-Welsh speakers and others which may come from the Government Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon, in a powerful speech, mentioned other concerns, as have other hon. Members. Regrettably, there is a myriad of points to consider; they will have to be addressed if the measure is to be meaningful.
I wish to touch on two other concerns: the right of a Welsh speaker to speak Welsh unimpeded wherever he is, including the workplace, and the need for reform of part of the Race Relations Act 1976. Recently, there have been examples of employers telling employees that they must not speak Welsh at their place of work. Two such examples 999 occurred in my constituency. They caused widespread offence throughout Wales as well as anguish to those involved. The Bill should be amended to make such behaviour a criminal offence, because in normal parlance it is an offence, so that we do not witness such potentially divisive and harmful actions again.
There have also been cases where employers have advertised for Welsh-speaking staff. There are key areas where staff are required to be Welsh-speaking. We should remember that Cyngor Dosbarth Dwyfor conducts all its business through the medium of Welsh; it is to be applauded for that. Recently, there have been celebrated cases where unsuccessful applicants, knowing that posts required Welsh speakers, applied for them and subsequently sought recourse in the courts for not being appointed. I believe that the Race Relations Board supported at least one case.
Section 1 of the 1976 Act should be amended to provide for a declaration that, for the purposes of section 1(b) of the Act, a person does not discriminate against another by reason only of the fact that that person applies to another person the requirement or condition that he or she be able to communicate in Wales through the medium of the Welsh language. Such an amendment is necessary to clarify a position which is at best a grey area and which at worst will lead to misunderstanding and antipathy which can only be divisive and harmful.
I reiterate that there is an enormous pool of good will towards the language. Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I seek parity for Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers. We are not asking for more. We are asking to be placed in the position that people were in prior to the Act of Union 1536. I urge all hon. Members to respect the rights of Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers in Wales, to make sure that they are protected and to ensure the continued recovery of the language which is so close to the hearts of the people of Wales. Failure to strengthen the Bill will mean that a golden opportunity is lost, perhaps for ever.
§ Mr. Sebastian Coe (Falmouth and Camborne)
I do not wish to detain the House long. I hope within a short time to be on my way to my Celtic constituency, not across the Severn, but across the Tamar. I do not speak as a Welshman, a Welsh speaker or a constitutional lawyer; nor do I wish to bring into question the Act of Union.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) was right to point out that it is incumbent on hon. Members apart from Welsh Members to enhance the development of the Welsh language. I read with interest the other day a quote from Wittgenstein, not the normal bedtime reading in my constituency, which sums up the debate:The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.Language liberates and furthers understanding. When it is taught well, it can improve national prestige and interest; when it is taught badly, it hinders and can even incarcerate and imprison. The language of any nation is in itself the main proof and touchstone of the country's existence as a separate nation, or at least as a separate identity. To all intents and purposes, it is the very embodiment of nationhood.
I welcome the Bill. It is good that the Government recognise the importance—I have to choose my words carefully—of a minority language. They recognise that 1000 there is a philosophical and practical approach to enhancing language. The Welsh language is a vibrant working language, which makes a vital contribution to the cultural breadth of the Union. Hon. Members from both sides have made articulate and important contributions.
It has been pointed out that over the last century Welsh as a spoken language has been on the decline. The 1991 census shows that the decline has been arrested.
Like the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), we can take some comfort from the fact that the language is being taught in 80 per cent. of primary schools and 90 per cent. of secondary schools. There needs to be consolidation as well. The language should not become irrelevant to youngsters when they leave education. It has to be transplanted into the workplace.
I make one slightly guarded comment. I speak as a past member of two quangos. I am not automatically impressed with the work of quangos. I do not in any way play down the appointment of the chairman today, but, from time to time, quangos make strange decisions. They do not always work in the most cost-effective way in pursuit of their aims.
I speak also with some sadness because I represent a part of the country which lost its language some years ago. A strong Celtic thread runs through Cornwall. There is a distinct culture, whether we talk about Methodism, rugby—most Cornishmen tell me that they taught it to the Welsh, probably not too well, judging by recent results—male voice choirs and brass bands. Two weekends ago we had a twinning in a village in my constituency. The charters were read out and signed in four languages—English, Welsh, Cornish and Breton. It took us slightly by surprise to hear the national anthem of Brittany because it was "Land of our Fathers".
The Celtic tongue is an ancient one: Welsh is an ancient language. If there had been a language Bill many centuries ago, we might be debating a vibrant Cornish language.
I support the Bill because it is important for a language to live, develop and be enhanced. The Minister said that the Welsh Language Act 1563 allowed Wales to have its own translation of the Bible and the Prayer Book. Sadly, Cornwall lost that battle in 1549. Will the Minister and his colleagues look afresh at the signatories to the European charter on minority languages which means a great deal to the Union? Some languages, such as Cornish, are struggling. Cornish does not have thousands of speakers, but people are interested in developing and enhancing it.
The line-by-line debate on the Bill will take place in Committee in a few weeks. Many issues transcend politics and perhaps in that light we can look at the use and enhancement of minority languages.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
It is a pleasure to follow the dignified and positive speech by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) about our language and the Bill. Throughout this four-hour debate there has been wide consensus, certainly among the Opposition parties, and sometimes it embraced some Conservative Members who would support a much stronger Bill. We welcome the Bill and look forward to debate in Committee where I hope that the Government will allow us to strengthen it. The Labour party and other parties will table amendments to try to increase the Bill's powers.
1001 I shall summarise five or six areas in which there is wide consensus. First, the principle of equality between Welsh and English must be enshrined in the Bill's first clause. The Government have argued that that is implicit in the Bill, but it needs to be stated loudly and clearly that Welsh and English are equal in the public life and administration of Wales. I would accept a small amendment to the effect that that will be the case where reasonably practicable, because in Gwent and Clwyd and perhaps in Brecon and Radnor and Powys the language has a different status from that which it enjoys in Dyfed and Gwynedd.
My second point is about the extension of the Bill's powers to private utilities, because, as it stands, the Bill applies only to public bodies. Welsh Water, Wales Gas, British Telecom, South Wales Electricity and Manweb deal with every consumer in Britain. There are several other major organisations and I should like to see a schedule covering those. It could not apply to every corner shop, but it should apply widely and cover the clearing banks in Wales, and Boots, Dixons and supermarkets such as Sainsburys and Tesco. I could list 50 or 100 large private bodies to which the legislation should apply.
Clause 20 gives Crown immunity to Government Departments and there was a move in the other place to delete that clause. I cannot understand why those Departments should be treated any differently from local authorities. When my constituents write to me in Welsh they will expect an answer in Welsh and it is elementary courtesy so to reply. The same applies to the Welsh Office and its various departments. If equality means anything, it must apply to all letters from Government Departments.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke professionally and graphically about Welsh-speaking juries. Given his professional background as a solicitor working in Gwynedd in a strong Welsh-speaking area, he knows about nuances. Many people in Dyfed and Gwynedd are much more fluent in Welsh than in English. They feel much more at home and give better-quality evidence, and the nuances in their evidence are important. Despite the best translation facilities, English-speaking members of juries will not pick up those nuances. It enhances the quality of our justice to allow Welsh speakers to give their evidence in Welsh and to try Welsh speakers before Welsh-speaking juries.
I had a niggling doubt about whether a jury would be biased by such selection, but when I read the speech by Gareth Williams, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in the other place on Welsh-speaking juries, that doubt was removed. If it is good enough for the noble Lord with his distinguished background, it is good enough for me. For reasons of status and equality, the Bill must give a right to have Welsh-speaking juries.
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne said that he had an inherent suspicion about the way that quangos work. The Welsh Language Board will be a quango. We may have some reservations about the announcement of its chairman, but we congratulate him. He is a worthy ex-Member of Parliament, he has great ability and citizenship and he is committed to the language. However, we have deep disaffection with the whole idea of quangos. We look forward to the day when there is a Welsh assembly in Cardiff.
§ Mr. Williams
Why not; let us call it a Parliament. It could have a department to safeguard the language and introduce new laws on it passed by elected members in Wales. The present constitution of the board is arbitrary and gives far too much power of patronage to the Secretary of State. It has a chairman and 15 members, but there is no detailed representation. Those 15 members—if that is to be the number—should be representative of individual organisations in Wales, whether they are dealing with education, local authorities, women's institutes—Merched Y Wawr—or nursery education. The board should reflect the regional diversity of Wales and should include non-Welsh speakers and Welsh learners. That part of the Bill must be considered in more detail.
No hon. Member has referred to the mandamus provision: that the Secretary of State can take action if a defiant local authority or public body refuses to produce a Welsh language scheme for the board. The board cannot institute legal proceedings against a disaffected or dissident public body, and that substantially weakens the powers of the board. I understand that the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Race Relations Board can initiate proceedings. We shall seek in Committee to provide an equal power for the Welsh Language Board.
I have two reservations about the Bill. Several references have been made to Welsh-medium education and to its great success throughout Wales, particularly in the anglicised areas of Wales where previously no Welsh-medium education existed. Hon. Members have been lobbied by several organisations during the past few years. They have suggested that the Bill should include a clause that gives Welsh-medium education as of right to all children between the ages of three and 16. I support that suggestion. There should be a right in Cardiff, Swansea, Clwyd and Gwent, as well as in Dyfed and Gwynedd, to Welsh-medium education, wherever that is reasonably practicable and wherever it can be provided within a reasonable distance of home, transport being free of charge.
We must, however, be even handed. An absolutely equivalent right to English-medium education must be provided for those parents who choose that medium for their children. There cannot be one set of rights for one group of people without exactly equivalent rights being granted to everyone else. That is not, however, the case in some parts of Wales.
A complaints body ought to be set up alongside the Welsh Language Board. It is not enough for the board to have a complaints procedure. A separate complaints body should be set up. It could be the ombudsman. There could even be the establishment of a Welsh language ombudsman. I notice that, in its briefing to Members, the Welsh Consumer Council referred to the need for a separate complaints body. Alternatively, there could be a tribunal. I understand that the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Race Relations Board have a tribunal procedure.
The complaints mechanism would have to work both ways. It would have to apply both to a recalcitrant public body—a body that was not implementing a Welsh language scheme—and, conversely, to a public body that was too enthusiastic about the use of the Welsh language. In that case, there could be employment implications.
The Bill is far too weak. It needs to be greatly strengthened. Those who should strengthen it ought to be those Members of Parliament with Welsh constituencies.
1003 There have been interesting and valuable contributions to the debate from Members of Parliament with constituencies across the border, but legislation that affects Wales should be dealt with by Welsh Members of Parliament. The Secretary of State for Wales referred to the need for consensus. The only way to achieve consensus is to refer the Bill to the full Welsh Grand Committee.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
Like all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I welcome the opportunity to speak about the Welsh Language Bill. It has been a long time in gestation. It is a great pity that, during that gestation period, we did not get something more like the Welsh Language Bill that has been proposed by the Welsh Language Board, some of whose members have sat patiently throughout the debate in the Strangers' Gallery.
That gives me the opportunity to recognise the contribution of one of my constituents, not just for creating a consensus in Wales but for taking forward positively the use of the Welsh language in Wales, not only as the chairman of the Welsh Language Board but as the chairman of Welsh Water. I am pleased to be able to say those words. We have had many differences about the way in which Welsh Water runs a number of its activities—particularly in relation to its supply to customers and the charges it makes—but I cannot fault him for the way in which Welsh Water has supported the Welsh language, and the way in which he, as chairman of the Welsh Language Board, has strengthened the possibility of improving the status of the Welsh language beyond what is now in the Bill. I am, of course, referring to Mr. John Elfed Jones.
The issue of equal validity has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. It seems to me that what is in the Bill at the moment does not really go beyond what the Hughes Parry committee recommended in October 1965. I have to confess that I have not read all of the proceedings in the Lords, but I did, with the help of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), dip into them. On 9 January, Earl Ferrers said that the Bill would beconfirming the official status of the Welsh language across the public sector as a whole."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 January 1993; Vol. 541, c. 834.]It seems to me that it is but a short step to confirm the official status of the Welsh language in Wales.
Mention was made in the Lords debate of some technical legal difficulties., but I hope that either the Opposition can come up with a form of words that the Welsh Office and Government will accept or the Government will put to work the very powerful legal brains in the Welsh Office and other Departments and come up with another form of words to confirm the official status of the Welsh language, not only in the public sector but in all sectors in Wales.
It is good that the Welsh Language Board will be a statutory body, although I have reservations about the creation of yet another quango for the appointment of whose members the Secretary of State will have total responsibility. I hope that in Committee we shall look at ways of enabling a public consultation to take place—perhaps through the Welsh Affairs Select Committee—about people who can represent all walks of life in Wales on this public body.
1004 One thing that worried me in the opening speech of the Secretary of State was his reference to the educational role of the Welsh Language Board. It seems to me that, in a way, it would undermine some aspects of the work of the Welsh Joint Education Committee, which is very closely connected with the democratic processes in Wales. The Welsh Language Board will not be. If the Welsh Language Board is to fulfil a function in education, it will need specialist sub-committees, for which, according to my reading of the Bill—and I have read the whole of it—there is no provision. Perhaps the Minister of State will be able to point out such a provision.
The Welsh Language Board, in this educational role, could cut across the Curriculum Council for Wales and the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales which will be set up. There would need to be some very clear definitions of the Welsh Language Board's responsibilities in its educational role.
As has already been pointed out, whatever else the Bill or the Welsh Language Board may do, the fundamentally important area is the development of bilingual education. The Bill says nothing about that; perhaps we should not expect it to. The Minister should make a statement about the ways in which Welsh bilingual education will be further promoted. In my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) there is great demand for a bilingual secondary school. Mid Glamorgan would dearly love to provide that school, but, with the threat of capping and other problems, it is not able to reserve the capital allocations for that purpose. The Welsh Office has a role to play in providing extra funding to ensure that bilingual education is provided.
Under the headingFinancial effects of the Billthe Government go out of their way to stress that there will beno overall increase in public expenditure … but where there are additional costs these will be accommodated within mainstream budgets.Under the Act that established the Development Board for Rural Wales, there is provision for funding for Welsh publications and work. This year, a number of organisations applied, but almost as many as received money did not receive any, including Cyffeillion Y Ddaear Cymru—Friends of the Earth Wales—which has its headquarters in my constituency. It produces a large number of publications in the Welsh language on important environmental issues.
There is a case for money and I sincerely hope that in Committee it will become apparent that the Government are prepared to provide it.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
We have listened to excellent speeches and I am pleased that all hon. Members who wished to speak have been able to do so.
For longer than most of us can remember, there has been a great deal of striving to reach the consensus to which the Secretary of State referred on the encouragement and improvement of the status of the Welsh language. It has taken more than 400 years to right the wrongs of Henry VIII's legislation which established English as the only official language in Wales. The Welsh language lost its official status not through neglect or misuse, but by Act of Parliament, and only by an Act of Parliament can it be restored.
1005 The main thrust of the concern of many in both this House and another place is whether the Bill gives the Welsh language a proper legal status, of necessity by another Act of Parliament. It does a great deal, but not enough, Dim da, lle gellirgwell—"Not good where you can get better", as I am obliged to translate.
I welcome the Bill and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for introducing it. He may well have delivered his swan song this evening in his present capacity. I pay a special tribute to the Minister of State for his considerable efforts over the years. I also pay tribute to Lord Prys-Davies and the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who both played important roles in providing legislative paving stones. Last but not least—I am not the only one tonight to sing his praises, so his ears must be burning—I pay tribute to John Elfed Jones, the distinguished chairman of the Welsh Language Board.
The first stepping stone towards correcting history was the Welsh Courts Act, introduced when this country was fighting for its very life in 1942. Much later, as a young Member of Parliament, I was asked to prepare a report for the Welsh parliamentary party on the status of the Welsh language. A multi-party delegation of us went to see the then Minister for Welsh Affairs, Sir Keith Joseph, and we suggested the name of David Hughes Parry to chair the committee. The fact that the Minister accepted our recommendation illustrates the bipartisan nature of the approach.
The honour of introducing the Welsh Language Act 1967 fell to my noble Friend Lord Cledwyn. No one should underestimate the difficulties of getting a place in the legislative timetable—an obstacle course that the present Secretary of State has had to surmount. I, for one, fully realise that. I was introducing a Bill a year for Wales, so I know the problems and I congratulate the Secretary of State. Anyone who has been to the Cabinet Committee in July and dealt with such matters knows how difficult it is. It is equally difficult to explain complicated legislative concepts to hard-bitten parliamentary draftsmen. "Da was, da a ffyddlawn"—"Well done, thou good and faithful servant"; that is for the benefit of another Welsh Presbyterian.
We should not over-estimate the importance of the Bill. Its main purpose is to provide a framework for the exercise of choice. Legislation will not cause the Welsh language to flourish. Only more and more Welsh people using it will do that. The Bill will, however, remove inhibitions and will provide and facilitate the opportunity and machinery for its use. It will improve the conditions of normality, so that no one will regard the use of Welsh as odd. When improved, the Bill can restore the language to its proper legal status, as the native official language of the country.
I was a junior Minister of Transport as long ago as 1966 to 1968 and, during that period, the Welsh Office was encouraging greater use of Welsh in formal documents. Even then, every licence application form had to be fought for. Looking back, the counter-arguments now seem bordering on fantasy. A bilingual driving licence application form would be too large physically. That was just one major objection to it. How far have we come in 25 years?
Important as the Bill is, of equal—some might say greater—importance is section 21 of the Education Act 1006 1980, which ensures proper provision for costs of Welsh language education. The Government inherited, and honoured, the agreements that I had reached with the Treasury, announced at the Cardiff Eisteddfod to less than universal acclaim in 1978. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his kind remarks. When I went to Caernarfon at Easter 1974 and asked the local education authority what was the extra cost of bilingual education, it was evident that the question had not been previously addressed in that way. My officials mumbled the phrase that it was covered by the rate support grant. After considerable time, the evidence was forthcoming, the Treasury could then be bearded and we introduced a measure which was subsequently adopted, to my total gratitude, by the Conservative Government.
The most encouraging news, of which the Secretary of State has reminded us, is the increase in the ability of the young to speak Welsh, qualified by the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). It has been all due to the resolve of parents and the work of local education authorities, despite difficulties over resources. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that it is a matter for the local education authorities to decide their priorities, but if they have to operate within a ceiling, it is exceedingly difficult to provide for all the necessary good things. If the ceiling is raised, if resources are made available, local authorities' tasks will be that much easier.
I return to the more immediate problems identified in the course of the helpful discussions on the Bill in another place and tonight. First, there is the status of the language. The Bill does not provide for statutory bilingualism. It provides that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales, the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality.
I am not sure what those words mean. I have never come across them before. I am sure that they are sanctified by the Government's legal advisers. However, as we were reminded, on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill the legal advisers of the Foreign Office and the Attorney-General had differing views. I do not know whether the Attorney-General has been consulted on this matter—I suspect not. Government Departments are loth to consult the Attorney-General. At least, that was my experience, much as I desired his advice from time to time.
I share the disappointment in Wales that a better formula has not so far been found to give to the language its proper status. If we came to the situation anew, with a blank sheet of paper, with no history, what is proposed in the Bill might be enough—but the perception of justice is as important as justice itself. Despite the assurances in another place that Welsh is an official language, that it was not the intention to establish Welsh as an official language in the Bill because the Bill reflects the Government's belief that it already is, I am sorry to say that it is not seen as such because, frankly, it is not. Recent history has shown that an extension of the right to use the Welsh language has had to be proved. The reality is that it is not seen as a right.
The Bill goes a long way, but not far enough. The Government must find a formula once and for all to kill off that perception of inequality. I have studied closely every word that has been said in another place. As I understand it, the Government do not lack the will—the problem is to find the legal means to achieve it.
I listened carefully to the tenor of the Secretary of State's sympathetic remarks tonight. Three sets of 1007 amendments were moved in another place, including the occasionally used purpose clause and the ingenious amendment of the noble Lord Hooson. The objections put up would have done credit to the windmills of Don Quixote. I assure the House that no one wants Hansard translated into Welsh. That was one of the objections put in another place.
I invite the Government to try again because, as has been said, they have the means and the powerful body of parliamentary draftsmen to find a formula. Otherwise, the subject will be returned to time after time in a legislative effort to correct the situation. It would be a running sore and the credit that the Government deserve for introducing the Bill would be substantially dissipated.
I come now to the second issue. I welcome the setting up of a statutory board. The fact that the board is statutory means—obviously, perhaps—that it has legal duties and obligations which are—obviously, again—spelt out in legislation. Having set up the Welsh Development Agency, I was determined, despite the considerable lack of enthusiasm inside and outside the Welsh Office, that Mid Wales Development should also be a statutory board and, in the same way, with even more opposition, the Land Authority for Wales—all three of which, I am pleased to say, have survived the ravages of 13 years of Conservative Government.
The board must attract members of high calibre to reflect Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking Wales, those learning and those who have been described—I had not thought of them in this way—as having had some of the language but have seen it depreciate over the years. That fourth group is clearly important.
The chairman has a key role to play, and I wish Lord Elis-Thomas well in his new appointment. He has a great responsibility to act fairly and properly for the language. Many of the board's problems will be concentrated in non-Welsh-speaking Wales—contrary to those who thought that there might be more in Welsh-speaking Wales. I say that after having thought about it a great deal, as I am sure the Secretary of State has.
The board, and the chairman in particular, will be dealing with public bodies, especially local authorities. As a political animal, the Secretary of State will know the composition of all of them. The chairman, in particular, will have to to tread like Agag—I stress that for the benefit of my Presbyterian friend—to ensure that he acts diplomatically and achieves the best results.
There has been criticism of the lack of an independent element on the board. There is a fear, which to judge from experience is justified, that the Government may pack the board with safe, acceptable placemen. The Secretary of State must guard against that. There is also a fear that it will lack democratic accountability.
As so many elected local and public authorities will be involved, may I suggest and commend a formula, whether it be written into the Bill or not? When I set up the Land Authority for Wales in the face of bitter opposition from local government, it was necessary to carry local government with us. In order to constitute part of the membership, we invited the two major local government organisations in Wales—one representing the counties and one the districts—to put up between them four members, of which the Secretary of State would choose two, one from each. That system may still be operating. It certainly did not diminish the Secretary of State's responsibility or circumscribe it unduly.
1008 Although the two were there as members of the authority, there was some accountability. If there had not been, they might not have been renominated the next time by their constituent organisations. I commend that suggestion to the Secretary of State and hope that he will act on an even wider basis than I felt necessary in the perhaps narrower sphere that I have just described.
There is perhaps an even more respectable precedent than mine. As I understand it, a non-conformist Prime Minister, now Lord Callaghan, declined to take full responsibility for appointing bishops. The practice was for two names to be put forward by the Synod, from which he chose one. That is even more respectable than my system.
The bottom line is that the board must have the public's confidence. It has important tasks to perform and must carry public opinion with it. It must not behave outrageously but, if it does, it can be replaced by the Secretary of State in due course. I am especially pleased that the board will advise the Secretary of State on matters affecting the Welsh language and that it will have a promotional role. That will be a very important part of its function. I felt naked at the Welsh Office, not having such a body to advise me on the spending of public money in that sphere.
My advisers at the Welsh Office might have had great experience in health or education, but in this respect it was very limited. Perhaps I may disclose the fact that, soon after going to the Welsh Office, I discovered that my principal adviser, the assistant secretary, did not claim to speak Welsh. It was a bit of a shock, but the situation was corrected fairly soon.
There is a need for such a body to give advice. The Secretary of State mentioned the Eisteddfod. I took a decision on my own initiative, and I was fortunate in persuading the Prime Minister of the day—Lord Wilson, as he now is—while he was coming round the Devil's Bridge falls with me, that what I recommended was the proper thing to do. There is no better place to secure the agreement of the Prime Minister of the day than when one is taking him round the Devil's Bridge falls at a fast pace. I recommend that method to the Secretary of State.
The same happened with Ysgolion Meithrin Cymraeg—the Welsh nursery schools. I was worried at the time about whether either body would accept the offer, but the role is an important one, and I hope that it will provide a valuable service for the Secretary of State.
The key to the working of the Bill will be the draft guidelines to be issued by the board after approval by the Secretary of State and by Parliament, and the form of the schemes to be approved by the House in due course. I would fault the Secretary of State here, because I wish that either he or those who spoke on his behalf in another place had set out in more detail what they had in mind for the draft guidelines, and especially what kind of schemes they intended to recommend to the House.
Another matter of concern is the extension of the board's remit to the privatised concerns. As publicly-owned industry becomes more limited, or some of its functions diminish, the role of the board will necessarily diminish. The privatised concerns are monopolies. Some may not be, but one cannot buy water elsewhere from another source and, apart from a few specialist consumers, one cannot buy gas and electricity elsewhere either. Privatised concerns are public organisations, yet if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said, some of the functions of other public organisations are 1009 privatised, as with Group 4 or other such companies, even though they will still be part of the public service that runs the prisons, if there is a franchise I doubt whether they will be covered.
I lack the confidence that the hon. Member for Caernarfon had in clause 6(1)(o). The Minister of State made it clear that the test would be whether a body was funded from Government sources, so if a franchise were given it would seem that the body was no longer funded by Her Majesty's Government and would therefore be outwith the provisions of the clause. We shall return to the matter in due course, because we feel strongly that whether publicly-owned industries remain public or become private, they are still a vital part of the economy and the life of Wales.
Not the most important issue, but one to which a great deal of symbolism is attached, is the right to trial by jury in Welsh. The argument has been advanced that that right would breach the principle of the random choosing of juries. However, it is only fairly recently that juries have been chosen from among all adults in the country. Until the beginning of this century juries had to be male, and there was a property qualification until fairly recently. In security cases the Attorney-General can override the choice of juries. So that argument cannot stand a proper test. Furthermore, cases can be, and frequently are, moved to other parts of the country where there will be a bigger pool.
The real mischief with which we have to deal is the perception of unfairness which arises from the fact that one can be tried in Welsh in a magistrates court but not if the case is sent for trial to a Crown court. No answer was given to that problem in another place. Translation, however good, however improved it may be, can never be as satisfactory. Juries judge witnesses by their demeanour, their nuances and their reflexes. It is my professional experience that a translation is never as good as the real thing.
My next concern is the interface with the race relations and equal opportunities legislation. An amendment was proposed in the other place which, with some refinement, met with the approval of the Race Relations Board. It was a shock to many of us that there has been litigation on those issues in the past few years. When the legislation was conceived, whether I was a Minister or a Back Bencher—I think that I was a Minister both times—it was never thought that the issues of race and equality of opportunity would impinge on the Welsh language. It is a novel concept that there was a right of action arising from those matters.
A great deal of concern was expressed in another place that the Bill will not bind other Government Departments. In view of the statements made there, and those of the Secretary of State tonight, I do not share all of the doubts about this matter. Obviously, one Secretary of State cannot be superior to another one—it goes right across the whole concept of a Secretary of State. The Committee may want to return to that matter and perhaps argue why the Race Relations Board can take another Minister to court whereas the Welsh Language Board will not. However, I do not share the apprehension that has been expressed.
Hon. Members have listened patiently all day, especially to my speech, and I am grateful to them. We 1010 have come a long way socially and legally since Tudor times. I have a little recollection of my grandfather, who went to school between 1875 and 1882—he went for only seven years because he left at the age of 12 and went down the pit at 13. He told me about the "Welsh not". Although historians argue about this, about 1861 when teachers were paid by results—history seems to be repeating itself in part—Welsh children were tested on English reading, English writing and arithmetic, but no allowance was made for the fact that they came from Welsh-speaking homes. The "Welsh not" was put around a child's neck if he or she spoke Welsh in the playground or anywhere else and it had to be worn until it was passed on. We have come a long way since then. I welcome the Bill. Once it is improved in Committee, it will be important and I thank the Government for introducing it.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
It is clear that there is no real opposition in the House to the Bill—there has been criticism, but not outright opposition. I am grateful to all parties for their forbearance. I particularly welcome all the supportive speeches that we have heard, including that of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) with all his experience as a former Secretary of State. I also give special thanks to English Members from over the border for their supportive speeches—my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe).
I assure all hon. Members who have spoken that we shall consider their views carefully at all stages of the Bill, as we have considered, and are still considering, the views nobly expressed in another place and those that are still coming from Wales. If we can improve the Bill by amendment or new clauses, we shall endeavour to do so, but first we must be convinced that whatever change is proposed is genuinely for the betterment of the Bill and those who are likely to be affected by it. Hon. Members will expect no softer proviso than the one I have just given.
We are legislating in a highly sensitive area in which I believe—the more I hear—it is easier to make mistakes than be right. Therefore, hon. Members will understand our cautionary approach. I assure the House that that is dictated not by stubbornness but by sensitivity.
At this point, I pay tribute to the considerable thought and work that has been put into the Bill by not only the Welsh Language Board and the Welsh Office but other Departments of State, my colleagues in the Government and their officials, all of whom, without exception, have tried to be as helpful as possible during the months in which the Bill has been prepared.
The House will recognise that the Bill is an important element in the Government's wider policy of support for the Welsh language, which is now accepted as part of Britain's heritage. That policy of support has found expression in many forms in the past 14 years, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reminded the House at the beginning of the debate. That policy has certainly inspired confidence in the future of the language and inspired those who work for it to ever greater endeavour and achievement.
Our policy is aimed at supporting the language wherever it is spoken. It is a policy for the whole of Wales and all the people of Wales. I assure my hon. Friend the 1011 Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) of our continuing sensitivity to different parts of Wales and, indeed, the flexibility that is possible within the Bill so that different parts of Wales can be given different treatment.
I advise those who criticise the Bill for being weak, inadequate or a paper tiger—as the hon. and teamed Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) called it—to consider its scope. It will, after all, extend to every branch of public sector service in Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has reiterated today that that will include Government Departments and their agencies. To all intents and purposes, therefore, it will be as if a formal duty were placed on such organisations.
Welsh-speaking consumers will be consulted during the preparation of schemes. Schemes to be submitted to the board will have to contain proposals for giving effect to the principle of equality as set out in the Bill, as well as a timetable according to which they will be implemented.
The general policy for the introduction of schemes is intended to be flexible but comprehensive. The task of introducing schemes throughout the public sector will, by anyone's definition, be a major undertaking. The board will therefore need to consider the rate at which it believes that it can introduce schemes and those parts of the public sector to which it will accord particular priority. There will therefore need to be a phased introduction of schemes, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made it clear that he would expect priority to be given to schemes introduced by the major public sector employers in Wales. That will, of course, include Government Departments and their agencies.
I believe that we can leave it to the board to ensure that there is no unnecessary delay in introducing schemes. The board will be able to judge the timetable that is appropriate, according to the particular circumstances of each body. It is important that schemes are in place as quickly as possible, but it is just as important that they should be schemes that can last. The machinery that we propose needs to be considered with that thought in mind.
The legislation will achieve nothing if it serves only to promote short-term measures that bring about temporary alleviation for Welsh speakers. If public sector organisations are to make a lasting contribution to the establishment of an environment in which the Welsh language can prosper, schemes must be devised that will stand the test of time. Schemes must therefore be able to change as the expectations of Welsh speakers change. The Bill provides for that. Individual schemes can be amended, where appropriate, so can the board's guidelines. Therefore, not only is the Bill intended to have an impact right across the public sector, but its effects will be lasting. We are setting the board a serious challenge, to which I am sure that it will be anxious to respond.
It is clear that clause 6(1)(o) will attract a great deal of interest. The type of body that will meet the test contained in that subsection is one that, in the first place, appears to the Secretary of State to be exercising functions of a public nature. We have been advised that a body that is funded by the Government—for example, the training and enterprise councils—may satisfy the test, if it falls within the definition contained in the subsection.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
May I leave the matter to the Committee?
1012 References have been made to the official status of the language. The Government believe that Welsh already has such a status. Anyone who doubts that statement has only to look at the way in which public business is conducted in Wales today and, indeed, has been conducted for many years. Welsh plays a prominent role in our public administration and special provision has been made for it in Acts passed by this Parliament. By establishing the principle of equality, the Bill reaffirms that official status.
Crucially, the Bill recognises that status alone is not enough. Declarations of status do not in themselves address the practical obstacles that can stand in the way of services being made available in Welsh. The Bill does not, therefore, establish the principle of equality in isolation; it provides for those obstacles to be overcome. The challenge facing the Welsh Language Board will be to assist public bodies in finding innovative ways in which such obstacles can, wherever possible, be overcome.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
If I may, I do not want to give way. I want to express some views on the tremendous variety of subjects that have been raised in the debate.
Reference has been made to other principles, including the principle of equal validity. The principle behind the Bill is that of equality as expressed in the phraseon a basis of equality".A variety of wide-ranging declarations of principle has been suggested in the debate, and I am concerned that they would introduce uncertainty into the Bill's provisions. That could only be resolved by recourse to the courts. It would not further the cause of the language to turn it into a legal battlefield. I, for one, do not want our language to be murdered with legal niceties by sharp-faced lawyers. [Interruption.] I exclude the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon from that category. That would do nothing to promote an environment where the language has the support of all parts of the community. It would be one way in which the good will that currently exists towards the language could easily be dissipated.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) referred to the need for statutory rights for Welsh speakers. The problem with statutory rights is that they depend on the courts for their enforcement. In my view, what the majority of Welsh speakers want is not the right to go to court to demand a better service but a better service as such. The Bill concentrates on those practical issues to ensure that better service is provided.
The Bill provides for an efficient and effective means of resolving disputes without requiring individuals to employ a lawyer. We do not believe that it is sensible to require individuals to enforce their rights simply in order to receive a service in Welsh. We believe that the needs of Welsh speakers are better served by placing obligations on public authorities. The Welsh Language Board has shown in its work to date that it can use its good offices to find solutions to the practical problems facing Welsh speakers. Backed up by the Secretary of State's power of direction, that will happen even more in future.
A number of hon. Members have referred to education. They include the hon. Members for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that education would remain at the heart of our policy of support for the language. It might be helpful if I say a little 1013 more about how it will be dealt with by the Bill, as suggested by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).
Local education authorities will be required to include their proposals for the provision of Welsh-medium education in their schemes. A similar duty will be placed on any schools funding council for Wales which may be established in future. As is the case for other public services, local education authorities will have to take into account guidelines that the board will produce on the subject. The Bill requires that public organisations consult on the terms of their schemes and we shall expect local education authorities to consult parents. That process will not involve any change to the terms of the Education Acts under which the provision of Welsh-medium education has grown so encouragingly over the past few decades. The strength of those Acts is that they link the provision of education to the wishes of parents and to local circumstances more generally.
In line with the Bill's provisions, it would not be our intention to impose a rigid blueprint to which Welsh-medium education must conform. The linguistic character of Gwynedd is different from that of Gwent and we would expect the provision of Welsh-medium education in those two areas to reflect that. Welsh-medium provision will therefore continue to reflect local circumstances while ensuring that the reasonable wishes of parents are taken into account wherever possible.
In recent years, there has been an encouraging development in Welsh-medium education, particularly in the secondary sector, which we all welcome. I am anxious that we should build on good practice and extend that into further and higher education. The duty to prepare schemes will therefore extend to further and higher education colleges and their respective funding councils. I am sure that that will help to solve the problem of the school leavers who want to learn Welsh and carry on with their studies from school. It may, I hope, impact on the figures for those under 25 in the next census, if not before. Schemes will not impact on the position of Welsh in the national curriculum—that factor is already taken care of under separate legislation.
The board will assume the responsibility for taking a broad overview of the position of the Welsh language in the education system in Wales. In doing so, it will be important for the board to work alongside the other organisations working in that sector. That will certainly include the curriculum and assessment authority—which is to be known by its Welsh acronym, ACAC—but it will be equally important for the board to establish close working relationships with the further and higher education funding councils. The board will not remove from those organisations their own responsibility for the development of Welsh-medium education in their particular sector. I am sure that the education system in Wales will benefit from their close co-operation.
The issue of juries at trials conducted through the medium of Welsh is one which, I assure the House, has received long and careful consideration. However, the Government's view remains unchanged: we do not consider it appropriate to make provision to require juries at such trials to be composed solely of people who understand Welsh. I acknowledge the strength of feeling 1014 about this issue, but we simply cannot allow anything to interfere with the principle of random selection of juries or place further hurdles in the way of the administration of justice. I expect that I shall find it necessary to say more about that matter in Committee.
I am reinforced in my view by perhaps the most authoritative report ever produced on the position of the Welsh language in the courts. The House is no doubt aware that I am referring to the findings of the report by the late Lord Edmund Davies some 20 years ago for the then Lord Chancellor. None the less, I remind the House that the noble Lord concluded that the arguments in favour of the process of the fully random selection of juries exceeded the arguments in favour of stipulating a requirement for Welsh-speaking jurors. Lord Edmund Davies advised the use of simultaneous translation facilities as the best means of overcoming the practical difficulties associated with the former argument. Over the past 20 years, developments in the expertise and professionalism of translators have further reinforced the view that the best means of safeguarding the interests of Welsh speakers in court is by means of simultaneous translation.
I see the Bill as establishing a framework for public bodies to provide services through the medium of Welsh, on the basis of equality of status between the two languages—and equal respect. We are ensuring, through the Bill, that Parliament, whose will it will be that English and Welsh should be treated on the basis of equality in Wales, should have an important and continuing role to play in the implementation of the Bill.
When the board has been established, one of its first tasks will be to draw up guidelines—these have been referred to in the debate—as to the form and content of the schemes to be prepared by public bodies under clauses 9 and 10. Those guidelines will be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament, as, indeed, will any revision of them in the future. The board's annual report will also be laid before Parliament, as provided for in schedule 1. I must tell the hon. Member for Cardiff, West that this House has not finished with the Welsh language. The guidelines will come before us in due course. The Bill therefore assumes Parliament's continuing interest in the Welsh language, and there is scope for that interest to be expressed on the Floor of the House and in another place. I regard that as of the utmost importance and in tune with the best traditions of Parliament. After all, it was Parliament which, by statute in 1563, required that there should be a Welsh translation of the Bible. That was a very significant event.
There are those who believe that the Bill does not go far enough. I believe that it is about right, and I ask hon. Members to give it a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).