§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I beg to move,That, whilst English is and should remain the language of this House, the use of Welsh be permitted in parliamentary proceedings held in Wales, subject to the conditions set out in the Third Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1995–96 (House of Commons Paper No. 387).We have emptied the Chamber of Scotsmen and filled it with Welshmen.
I shall begin by explaining why, to his great regret, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is unable to be present. As my right hon. Friend is not here, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) will reply to the debate. I know that that will be understood by Welsh Members, but I thought that I should put it on the record because the same problem has led to the leading party spokesmen for other parties in Wales being unable to be here.
They have a good reason. The Secretary of State and the hon. Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) are tonight taking part in a long-arranged public debate in Wales, probably in English, on constitutional issues affecting Wales. It is clearly an important occasion and they all felt that they should be present. We all understand that, and I am sorry that we were not able to arrange parliamentary business in a more convenient way for them. I can testify from my conversations with the Secretary of State for Wales that he has asked me to make clear his strong personal support for the proposal.
The House will recall that, on 11 March, we agreed seven new Standing Orders enabling the Welsh Grand Committee to play an enhanced role in the parliamentary consideration of Welsh affairs by dealing with a wider range of business and holding meetings in Wales. During consultation on the draft Standing Orders and in the debate, representations were made that the use of the Welsh language should be allowed in the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee when it met in Wales.
I made it clear to the House in, I hope, a characteristically conciliatory way during the earlier debate that the Government did not think that those representations could be dismissed. After all, we are the Administration who carried through the Welsh Language Act 1993, which established the principle that, in the conduct of public business in Wales, the English and Welsh languages should be treated equally.
As I said in our earlier debate on the matter, it was clear that a decision to allow the use of Welsh in parliamentary proceedings would be a major change in practice on which the House ought to take a view when the issues of principle and practicality had been thoroughly investigated. Accordingly, I invited the Procedure Committee whose distinguished Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is in his place and who was slightly taken by surprise when he read the report of our earlier debate, to consider the matter and to report to the House as soon as possible.
My right hon. Friend and his colleagues kindly accepted that unexpected and unannounced remit and have discharged it with admirable speed although they 669 were engaged in several other inquiries at the same time. It is appropriate to express on behalf of the House, and not only Welsh Members, our gratitude to my right hon. Friend and the members of the Committee for that. I am moving the motion to give the House an opportunity to decide on the Committee's recommendations.
First, English is the language in which the proceedings of this House are conducted, as it is the only language that all hon. Members are assumed to understand. The Procedure Committee rested firmly on that principle for proceedings here, and recommended that the House should affirm that principle in a resolution.
In that connection, I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) for his courtesy in giving me notice of some points that he wanted me to cover on the possible uses of languages other than English. This may be an appropriate time for me to pick them up. He asked about the appropriateness or, indeed, orderliness of using Latin and Greek and Chaucerian English. The advice that I have on that is that it would be for the Speaker—or you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to decide whether to allow an hon. Member to use a quotation in Latin, Greek or Chaucerian English during a speech in the House without providing a translation.
I gather that, unfortunately, no hon. Members of the present House—certainly not me—heard Lord Palmerston get himself out of a tight corner in the "Don Pacifico" debate in 1850, which I remember learning about in my boyhood, with a peroration that included the phrase:Civis Britannicus sum",which I hasten to translate, to be sure that I am in order, as:I am a British citizen".I do not think that anyone would take exception to the use of Latin in that case, but as a general rule we might do well to follow the practice of Sir Winston Churchill, who on one occasion, when he had made a telling point in a speech with a Latin quotation, followed it up instantly with a translation into English. I suspect, however, that his purpose was not to keep in order but rather to make a different point, because in introducing the English version he said that it was "for the benefit of any Etonians who may be present".
I move rapidly from Latin, Greek and Chaucerian English to the second question raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, who noticed, no doubt, that I mentioned during the debate in March that Norman French was still used in the other place when Royal Assent is signified to Acts of Parliament by Commission. The formula used—I have heard it many times—is "La Reyne le veult".
Norman French is also used by the Clerks, I am told—I did not know this before—in the endorsements that are written on Bills as they pass from one House to the other. I see the Clerk nodding—[Interruption.] Is he not nodding? Perhaps he is not allowed to nod, but I am sure that I saw him nodding first. Norman French, although spoken in that one instance in the other place, is never spoken in the House. I hope that that is sufficient guidance for what has been the practice.
The last point that the hon. Gentleman raised with me can best be illustrated by referring to the speech that was made to a joint gathering of both Houses of Parliament 670 by President Chirac recently, which many hon. Members present will have heard, and which was, of course, delivered in French. The point is that it is quite usual for visiting Heads of State and Heads of Government to deliver such addresses in their own language, but these are ceremonial occasions that do not form part of the proceedings of the House, so the normal rules do not apply. I hope that that is sufficient comment on the points that the hon. Gentleman raised.
I return to the main purpose of the motion, which asks us to reaffirm that English is the language used for the proceedings of the House. The Procedure Committee was none the less satisfied that the Welsh language enjoys a special status in Wales, already recognised in law through the Welsh Language Act 1993, which provides a sound basis for agreeing a narrow derogation from the general rule concerning English to allow the use of Welsh in parliamentary proceedings in Wales. The motion gives effect to that recommendation.
Finally, the motion approves the conditions for the use of Welsh, which the Procedure Committee has recommended. The principal condition is that facilities for simultaneous interpretation from Welsh into English should be provided for the benefit of non-Welsh speakers. The Committee's advice is that such facilities can be hired at relatively modest cost; indeed, a number of the venues that might be used for meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee are already appropriately equipped, as one would expect, particularly since the passage of the Welsh Language Act.
The Committee also made a number of practical recommendations, which the motion invites the House to endorse: that hon. Members proposing to speak in Welsh should give notice to the Chairman; that hon. Members should not switch from one language to the other in the course of a speech; and that direct communications between the Chairman and an hon. Member, such as points of order, and communications with members of staff, should be in English. As the report makes clear, all those recommendations are made for practical reasons.
The motion would apply not only to the Welsh Grand Committee, but to any meetings of the Welsh Affairs Committee and, indeed, other Select Committees that may meet in Wales. The Procedure Committee has recommended a set of guidelines—again of a practical character—that should govern the hearing of oral evidence in the Welsh language.
§ Mr. William Ross
The right hon. Gentleman will understand that some of us have been listening to him with great interest. When the proceedings are published, which will be the definitive text—the English or the Welsh?
§ Mr. Newton
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton will comment. The report recommends that, where somebody has given notice that they wish to speak in Welsh, they will be required to provide an English translation, which will then be the official record. I think that that is the suggestion. Does my right hon. Friend wish to intervene at this point?
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
Perhaps I can come to the aid of the House. All parliamentary papers have always 671 been published in English, and the publication of all parliamentary and Committee papers will continue to be in English.
§ Mr. Newton
I hope that my right hon. Friend's intervention is helpful to the hon. Gentleman. It was certainly helpful to me. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend.
If the House approves the motion, the way will be clear for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to introduce proposals for a programme of meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee at suitable locations in Wales. In view of the undoubted success of the reforms of the Scottish Grand Committee that the Government have introduced, I am sure that all Welsh Members will be looking forward eagerly to these developments.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Can we ensure that there is no misconception? My understanding from the Procedure Committee's recommendations is that, if an hon. Member wishes to speak Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee in Wales, he is not obliged to provide a translation, as a translation will automatically be provided and transmitted by the translators and the equipment. That should be clearly understood here and now.
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I can clear up the misinterpretation that I gave by accident just now. When re-reading material on this issue shortly before I came into the Chamber, the last thing that I read was the evidence given by the Editor of Hansard, who I think made the suggestion to which I referred. I apologise to the House for confusing that evidence, which was fairly fresh in my mind, with the report's recommendations, which have been clearly explained by my right hon. Friend and by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I hope that that helps to remove the misunderstanding to which I inadvertently contributed.
In conclusion, I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales in his endorsement of the Procedure Committee's recommendations. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
I add to the apologies that were given by the Leader of the House for the absence of the Secretary of State, the shadow Secretary of State and the other two party leaders from Wales, who are in Cardiff tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who is shadow Leader of the House, has asked me to reply, which would not usually occur, but she is otherwise engaged. She has given notice of her absence to the Leader of the House.
The Opposition welcome the Procedure Committee's recommendations. We also welcome the speed with which it carried out its work, its professionalism and that of the witnesses and those who offered written evidence, the Clerks and others, so that it was able to reach the recommendations that we are debating.
I cavil at two of the Committee's recommendations, but just for the purposes of debate and so that the House may give those matters some thought. It occurs to me that the proposed formal declaration that English is the language of the House of Commons, other than for the Welsh 672 Grand Committee when sitting in Wales, is much against the traditions of the House. Such a declaration is almost a first step along the road to a written constitution.
It reminds anyone with an interest in Welsh history of the 1536 Act of Union, which applied to Wales a rule that never applied in England—that anyone from Wales who wanted to take part in public business, such as the law or Parliament, must do so in the English language. A person would have been at liberty to use another language in England, but not in Wales, because fear of the Welsh language prompted a formal declaration. The House should consider whether it would be better to do without a formal declaration, as such is against the traditions of the House—which permits things to be done by evolution and the rules of pragmatism.
As to the use of Norman French in limited circumstances, the Leader of the House did not address what would happen if the House were to make a formal declaration that no language other than English could be used in our proceedings. Would Norman French be disallowed? We do not necessarily want to lose those odd bits of Norman French that are used here and there in our formal proceedings, so it might be better to avoid a formal declaration—or at least give serious thought to the implications before making one.
§ Mr. Newton
There may be some small misunderstanding. The only use of Norman French in the proceedings of Parliament that is formally recorded is in the other place, so it cannot be affected by a resolution made in this House. However, the Clerks also make use of Norman French in passing Bills between the two Houses.
§ Mr. Morgan
That calls into question whether the Clerks would be permitted, if a formal declaration were made, to use Norman French for their purposes.
My other concern is whether a speech made partly in Welsh and partly in English would be debarred. Hansard has said that that should not be allowed, and although I understand the reasons, I am not certain that it is wise to make such a definite rule. I appreciate that Hansard wants maximum notice, which is absolutely fair, so that it can check that an interpreter is available, but the general principle followed in respect of the proceedings of the House—I speak from personal experience—should take account of the relevance of the language to the topic, not the convenience of the service provided by Hansard.
I am not saying that I am dismissing the practical concerns of Hansard. Nevertheless, if an hon. Member were to be speaking on the subject of agriculture and wanted to move on from the common agricultural policy wheat subsidy to the BSE crisis in the beef herds of Wales, since most beef farmers in Wales happen to be Welsh-speaking, the hon. Member might want to change at that point to the use of Welsh. If a Front Bencher were speaking on a range of education matters, he might say in the last five minutes, "I want to conclude on the position of Welsh medium schools in Wales." Interested outsiders would be happier hearing about that in Welsh.
It is the tradition of the House first to try something and, if it causes a problem, to reach agreement with the services provided to the House. If something proves impracticable, it is banned because it has been proved not to work. I understand that principle is known as solvitur ambulando—an ancient phrase that I had never heard until 673 a couple of hours ago, when I read that it was used by Lord Howe of Aberavon when he gave evidence to the Public Service Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. I would be most grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell us the meaning of that phrase.
§ Mr. Morgan
Having explained who said it and where, I was about to say that it means, "It will solve itself at a walking pace." I am glad to have acted in an educational capacity for the benefit of the Deputy Speaker, as Lord Howe did for me when I read that reference in the Library's helpful briefing for tonight's debate.
I have practical experience of speaking in both English and Welsh at Labour party conferences in Wales.
§ Mr. Morgan
No—consecutively, not concurrently. That did not seem to cause problems for the audience, but there was no question of interpretation. I have also spoken in Welsh in at least one national Labour party conference, and I recall that the present Member of the European Parliament for Mid and West Wales—my former constituent Miss Eluned Morgan, who is no relation—made part of her speech to the Brighton conference in Welsh and the rest in English. She could not have given her speech entirely in Welsh, but it did not seem unreasonable for her to speak in Welsh for three minutes.
The practicalities of using Welsh in a political context do not seem to cause problems, and if doing so makes sense, Hansard should fit the occasion rather than hon. Members having to fit Hansard—although I do not wish to sound as though Hansard writers can perform tricks, stand on their heads and write double Dutch at the same time. I know that there are limits to what they can do, but Hansard should serve our practical needs. If it makes sense for hon. Members to speak Welsh because of the nature of the topic, that preference should be given more attention. The Procedure Committee may simply have decided, "Okay, if that's what Hansard says are the practical modalities of allowing Welsh to be spoken in the Welsh Grand Committee, we must do exactly what Hansard wants in every respect." Which is what the Committee has done.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)
As someone who served on a council that was bilingual until its abolition earlier this year, I appreciate—as a monoglot Yorkshireman—the concerns that Hansard may have. There is no need for concern because speeches made in Welsh will be interpreted. If the Hansard writers cannot understand a speech and do their job, how will monoglot members of the Welsh Grand Committee understand what is being said? There is some criticism implied of the interpretation facilities. I can assure Hansard as a monoglot Yorkshireman—my hon. Friend has the benefit of being 674 bilingual—that interpretation facilities throughout Wales are excellent. Hansard will be able to do its job, as will monoglot members of the Welsh Grand Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind hon. Members that interventions in any language should be short and precise.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. If Dyfed county council could interpret my hon. Friend's "Ee bah gum" into Welsh, I am sure that Hansard can do just as well with Welsh interpreted into English for the purposes of the record.
Incidentally, I was interested to hear the interventions of Northern Ireland Members, and I was glad to see in his place earlier my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), because their presence is relevant.
It was as late as 1906 before a Speaker ruled that English was to be the main language of the House of Commons, and only because of a challenge by an Irish nationalist Member of Parliament from west Kerry who attempted to make a speech in the Chamber in Irish Gaelic. The Speaker at the time made the point—as did the Leader of the House in his intervention—that the proceedings of the House have been conducted entirely in English for the past 600 years. He went one stage further and said that the House's proceedings had always been in English, which is not true. The House started out as a trilingual Parliament, with proceedings in English, French and Latin. In a fluid, pragmatic, I hesitate to say solvitur ambulando way, the English language gradually took over from Latin and French, probably by about 1450.
Naturally—and I notice some Euro-sceptic Members here tonight—after the original Norman conquest, the opening of the hundred years war in about 1350 caused this place to become more aggressively English. I hope that we are not about to start another hundred years war with the continent—you never know. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) probably thinks that we have started such a war.
The use of French started to decrease and the use of English increased. Strangely, however, as the use of English went up, all words with any conceptual significance were borrowed from the French, so by the time English had replaced French, French had been incorporated into English. Words such as procedure, committee, parliament, government and constitution were all borrowed from French. Single-syllable words were of Anglo-Saxon or English origin, and all the two, three or four-syllable words were of French origin because that had been the language of the upper and ruling classes. That is how English became the flexible language that it is today.
The other great irony about the fear of the Welsh language, which causes Speakers to say, as one did in 1906, "We want to say for definite that the English language is the primary language of the House," is that, by the time the House—having started out on a trilingual basis when it was an England-only Parliament and did not cover Wales, Scotland or Ireland, north or south—became a monoglot English Parliament, it covered initially Wales and then Scotland and Ireland. It was a monoglot English Parliament precisely when it was starting to incorporate the Celtic languages, which might have been relevant in the wish to continue on a trilingual or even quadrilingual 675 basis, not with French and Latin, but with Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic possibly permitted in special circumstances, as we are discussing tonight.
I hope that the House will warmly endorse the Procedure Committee's recommendation to continue a pragmatic approach to this matter. Rather than issuing firm rules about what shall and shall not be done, we should think about how we handle the problems. This is a British Parliament, not solely a Parliament for England and, therefore, we must incorporate and be flexible enough to allow the use, where appropriate, of languages other than English when covering Welsh business.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for his kind remarks. I suggest that they are applicable mainly to my Committee members, because they have worked solidly to get this through, assisting me in the recommendations that we have made to the House. I am pleased at the speed with which our report has been taken by the House. I urge all Welsh Members to use their influence on their leaders to ensure that other Procedure Committee reports are debated as quickly as this one. I would have liked a "Hear, hear" from Opposition Members on that matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear. "] Thank you very much.
I must emphasise absolutely that one of the problems that the Procedure Committee had from the start was the concept that this would be a foot, or perhaps even a toe, in the door, which would lead to possible demands for the Welsh language to be used in Parliament in Westminster. To ensure that that was not acceptable to the House generally or to the vast majority of hon. Members, we emphasised thatthe language of the proceedings of the House of Commons and its committees is English: it has been English for many centuries; and it should in our view remain English.I am sorry if the term "British" would be more convenient, but even in America the language is accepted as being English and I hope that that would be acceptable even to the Welsh. We moved in a specific direction because the special status of the Welsh language in Wales, as enshrined in the Welsh Language Act 1993, did not apply to parliamentary proceedings. It was specifically for that purpose that the Procedure Committee investigated and examined the matter.
There are reasons for our being specific about our proposition about English. The Labour party spokesman, the hon. Member—I was going to say that he was my hon. Friend—for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) pointed out the possibilities of Norman French and other languages. To meet perhaps that point, we are concerned that there should not be an approach that Urdu should be used because it covers certain people whose natural language is Urdu, or that Gaelic should be used in relation to other people in this country. Therefore, we have made that absolutely definite. I hope that the House, in the resolution as set out by the Leader of the House, which I hope will be passed, makes it definite that Welsh is to be used specifically for Welsh parliamentary proceedings in Wales.
Another helpful basis for allowing this is the amount of translation equipment that exists in many of the places where Welsh Committees meet in Wales. It appeared to 676 the Procedure Committee to be nonsense not to be able to use translation facilities in a county council or a chamber if Welsh Members demanded to speak in Welsh.
We did, however, make it clear that Members should use one language alone, whether in interventions or in speeches. That is specifically to assist both the Chairman and the Committee Clerks in ensuring that they understand what the proceedings are and realise it from the word go.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
In the spirit of co-operation and in assisting the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask him this question? If there were a debate in Wales, an hon. Member were addressing the Welsh Grand Committee in Welsh, the Committee were adjourned and the remainder of the sitting were in London, would that not contravene the golden rule that hon. Members start off and finish in the same language?
§ Sir Peter Emery
If it was to be considered a golden rule, the hon. Gentleman would be correct, but we have made the position clear. I hope that hon. Members' speeches will not be cut in half and that they will not have to make half of it in Wales and half in England. To get over that golden rule, I urge the Welsh Grand Committee Chairman to ensure that that does not happen.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Procedure Committee might reconsider this matter, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) from the Front Bench. It is common for people in the course of a conversation or a speech to switch from one language to another. It is a natural habit in west Wales, in the Gwynedd valley, where my wife comes from, and in many other regions. The Committee and the House should think about that point.
§ Sir Peter Emery
Although my mother was a Thomas, indeed to goodness, it was not necessary to switch from one language to the other. We should proceed along with this. After all, it is the start of an experiment. If it appears that there is a problem, the matter can be reviewed. That seems to be the sensible way to proceed. This is a new initiative and difficulties will need to be ironed out. Let us get the system working first and then we can—
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
I want to register my support for the principle that it is better to use one language in one speech. I am not sure whether that needs to be laid down in the stipulation, but it is good practice to follow; otherwise, we tend to get tokenism—this is a common phenomenon in Wales—when people start their speeches in Welsh, deliver the meat in English and then return to Welsh. That is thoroughly bad practice. I want hon. Members to use Welsh seriously and thoroughly throughout their contributions to our debates.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He will not expect me to become a judge of the variation of views among Welsh Members on that matter.
There was some criticism of cost, because the procedure will involve additional expenditure that has not been thought about or budgeted for. However, when we examined the probable cost, we found it to be quite 677 small—about £2,500 per sitting in Wales. That is small compared with the cost for the Scottish Grand Committee, which has to travel to Scotland.
Points were made about the Order Paper and the Official Report. In paragraph 10 of our report, I asked the House to note that those documents were produced by and for the House and therefore should be comprehensible to all Members of the House. There is nothing to stop any hon. Member producing his speech in the Welsh language if that is what he wishes, but the Committee did not think that it made sense to have a Welsh language Official Report or Order Paper, as they would not be understood by the vast majority of hon. Members.
We have attempted—I hope—to be practical in our recommendations to the House, which the Government have been willing to accept. I hope that they meet the wishes of the House and of all Welsh Members, who obviously have a particular interest in safeguarding a language that is theirs and that there is great reason to safeguard.
As I have said from the beginning, this procedure must not be considered as a toe or a foot in the door for any other language, at any time, to be accepted in the House—only English can be the language for parliamentary use.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I, too, wish to thank the Procedure Committee for the speed with which it tackled its remit from the Leader of the House. I will not follow the arguments of the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) on whether the English language should be known as the British language, for the central reason that this country is made up of four nations, so there is no such thing as a British language.
I very much welcome the proposal that Welsh should be capable of being used in parliamentary proceedings in Wales. The word "permitted" in the motion—in the context of the oldest living language in these islands, which has a special statutory status—strikes an odd note, although it is technically correct.
As Members, we should not pat ourselves on the back too much over the proposal to allow each Select Committee meeting in Wales to presume in favour of the use of Welsh for those witnesses who wish to use the language.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), in his evidence, made this valid point:Part of the reason for taking evidence away from Westminster is to hear people in their working environment or in a setting that is directly relevant to the inquiry".Therefore, I was a little surprised to read that the only time the Welsh Affairs Select Committee had taken evidence in Welsh was as far back as 1981, although it has taken formal evidence in Wales on 18 occasions since then.
My hon. Friend made the point that some other Committees sitting in Wales, such as the Agriculture Committee, might wish to take evidence in Welsh. I believe that it could. Paragraph 13(d) of the Procedure Committee's report says that Select Committees should give notice of any intention to allow evidence to be heard in Welsh. That is quite wrong. It should be automatically presumed that the Committees will take evidence in 678 Welsh, unless there is good reason to the contrary—for example, a lack of translation facilities. I do not understand why a decision should have to be made on each and every occasion.
I said earlier that we should not pat ourselves on the back too much. For a long time, other bodies set up by the House have done what my hon. Friend the Member for Gower emphasised. It is recorded in the archives of the House that one of my ancestors gave evidence in Welsh to a royal commission on land in Wales and Monmouthshire as far back as 28 April 1894. David Jenkins was called and examined through an interpreter. He had no language other than Welsh in which to express himself if the royal commission wanted to hear how his father had been dispossessed by the Earl of Lisburne from a farm in 1875, which had been tenanted by the family for four or five generations from as far back as 1797 or even earlier. If the royal commission wanted to hear about the hardship involved, it could hear it only in Welsh. It was happening then in the real world, so there is no reason why it should not happen now. I expect that David Jenkins was one of many people who could not express himself in any language other than Welsh.
We have moved on during the past 50 years and we have passed three important Acts, each in turn enhancing the status of our language. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), the shadow Leader of the House, said succinctly in her evidence, it was inconceivable that, having obliged other bodies in Wales to provide a Welsh facility, we should not do the same. That is the crux of the argument.
There was no such thing as the Welsh Grand Committee until it was conceived by the joint efforts of Ness Edwards—who was the Member of Parliament for Caerphilly and the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) —and Goronwy Roberts, the Member of Parliament for Caernarfon. It is right that, while English should remain the language of this House, the Welsh Grand Committee, when sitting in Wales, should be able to hear contributions in Welsh from hon. Members. If confined to that Committee, I see no great difficulty in having speeches in Welsh wherever the Committee sits, but that is my personal view. In practice, we are advocates and we seek to persuade, so I suspect that there will not be many instances of Members wishing to do that. Nevertheless, the principle of being able to do so should be established.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), the Chairman of the Welsh Grand Committee, said in his evidence that, from his experience of the Council of Europe, he did not envisage much of a problem with the proposal. I have just returned from the European Court of Human Rights and the diversity of 14 judges from countries as different as Estonia and Turkey, advocates, members of the public, and so on—yet in the cases that I heard there was no difficulty with simultaneous translation. We have moved on and the facilities exist.
One important practical point is that the translators, especially the simultaneous translators, should be competent. Translating is a difficult art. Most of us who are privileged to be bilingual would not set up as simultaneous translators. It is a difficult art that requires special training. Those I know in that art—they are 679 international translators—either have a very mixed background or have immersed themselves in more than one culture. I believe that we in Wales have the advantage in our translators because we are brought up in a bilingual society.
No one should think that translating is an easy art to do well. Hence, one sees at international gatherings that translators usually do not operate for more than 20 minutes or half an hour at a time, when someone else has to take over, particularly if the subject is technical. I emphasise the importance of good translators.
Hon. Members have already mentioned the practical problems involved if a person switches during his speech from one language to another. Those problems are not insuperable. We are on a learning curve and, as the right hon. Member for Honiton rightly said, we should reconsider the situation as we go along according to how it develops. That was an important point, which I endorse fully. Let us make a start and see how it goes.
It is curious that one of the things that might happen—I disagree entirely with the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on this issue—is that one might want to make a point or more than one point in one language and then switch to English for the remainder of the speech. That would not be tokenism and should not be disapproved of, if we can get over the learning curve; otherwise, the curious effect will be that someone who wants to make a point in Welsh will want to develop his entire speech in Welsh, whereas he might have been prepared to make most of the speech as an advocate, to seek to persuade and to ensure that the language is directly addressed to the majority of those who know both languages. That is an important issue, but it is not insuperable.
Many years ago, I attended the Canadian Parliament, in Ottawa. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Honiton was with me on that occasion—it was a long time ago, but he may well have been. I think that it was a meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly. Pierre Trudeau was there, fielding questions as Prime Minister in two languages. If a question was put to him in French, he would reply in French. If it was asked in English, he would reply in English. Certainly I saw no difficulties. I am not competent to comment on his French, but he was a native-born French speaker.
I am proud that when—on my first occasion as Secretary of State for Wales—I visited Gwynedd county council, in Easter 1974, the same type of system prevailed. I was questioned and addressed in both languages. Many questions went on for the good part of two hours, and I sought as best as I could to answer in whatever language the question was asked in. Certainly, as regards the language, there was no complaint—although there might have been complaints about the contents of the answers. It is not an insuperable difficulty, and I think that the wise words of the right hon. Member for Honiton—that we should consider the position as we go along—should be borne in mind.
I welcome these proposals. On the whole, they are very sensible. I endorse the thanks given to the Select Committee on Procedure for its speed. We are grateful to it for its recommendations. We have come a long way since the time when another ancestor of mine, my grandfather, had to wear the Welsh knot. We have moved a great deal since then. I am grateful to the Committee.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
I, too, warmly welcome the third report of the Select Committee on Procedure on the use of the Welsh language in parliamentary proceedings in Wales. I compliment all those who contributed to the Committee's deliberations and led it to its eminently sensible and very comprehensive set of conclusions. I should particularly like to thank my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons for his leadership and my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) for, I am sure, the wise guidance that he gave to the Committee. It certainly deserves a "diolch yn fawr iawn" from us, which means thank you very much. The origins of the Welsh language lie way back in Romano-Celtic times, or possibly earlier. I do not have to remind the House that the earliest poetry we have, the "Gododdin", was written at least a couple of centuries before "Beowulf". Although most English hon. Members would not understand a word of "Beowulf", we have a reasonable chance of familiarising ourselves with the contents of the "Gododdin".
The Welsh language has, of course, long enjoyed the protection of the House. In the 16th century, Parliament legislated that the Bible should be translated into Welsh. Those of us who cherish the language know how important that decision was in ensuring its survival. In this century, Parliament has, of course, passed a number of Acts that have promoted the use of the language, culminating in the 1993 Act, the full effects of which have yet to be realised.
I accept without question that the language of the proceedings of Parliament is English, but, now that the Welsh Grand Committee is occasionally to become peripatetic in Wales, it would not be understandable, appropriate or right if that Committee—for example, when meeting in a predominantly Welsh-speaking town such as Caernarfon—were not able to allow speeches, questions or interventions in Welsh. That goes for anywhere else in Wales.
During the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, there was mention of the translation that will appear in Hansard. Perhaps it is just as well to remind ourselves that there is no reason why a Welsh speaker in the Welsh Grand Committee should not supply the Official Reporters with his version of his speech, just as we now supply Hansard with copies of any copious notes that we may have.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton mentioned the visit of President Chirac. I certainly received many letters about his address in French to both Houses of Parliament. The letters asked why French was permitted at the Palace of Westminster while Welsh was not. I explained that the President's address was not a part of the proceedings of Parliament but rather a "special ceremonial occasion", as my right hon. Friend described it. Furthermore—as yet—President Chirac is not an honourable Member of this Parliament.
The Welsh Affairs Select Committee laid down its ground rules in 1980, under what I thought must have been the very wise chairmanship of the former Member for Pontypool, Mr. Leo Abse. Those rules dealt with the Select Committee's meetings in Wales and with possible requests for the use of the Welsh language. That Committee's far-sighted proceedings are reproduced in an 681 annexe to this report, and I am glad that the Procedure Committee found those proceedings a useful precedent, which it has now refined.
I cannot find much fault with the Procedure Committee's recommendations, although when we come to practise them we may find some shortcomings that we cannot anticipate. I am sure that those shortcomings can be overcome with a modicum of common sense and good humour. We have already heard the argument whether a speech should be in Welsh in its entirety or whether it could be partly in Welsh and partly in English. Clearly, there are arguments to be made for both points of view.
Personally, I am inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton that we should begin by asking that speeches should be entirely in Welsh. Welsh speakers in the Chamber know that we wish to encourage the speaking of Welsh, but there is a danger in the tokenism to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred. However, I am sure that there are also advantages in the part Welsh, part English speech, if only because it allows double exposure in the media.
I regard the use of Welsh by parliamentary Committees in Wales as an important and necessary step, not only in demonstrating official recognition of the language but in establishing the willingness of Parliament to get as close to the electors as it reasonably can.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys MÔn)
The right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) knows as well as any hon. Member the problems that are experienced by people who want to use the Welsh language at an official level in Wales. Of course, he steered the Welsh Language Act 1993 through the House. He also referred to "Y Gododdin"—I am sure that those taking the official note of our proceedings breathed a sigh of relief that he was not tempted to quote it. However, I am sure that when he speaks in the Welsh Grand Committee in Wales, he will take the opportunity to do so.
Like other hon. Members, I have read the record of the House's dealings with languages other than English. I read the record of the proceedings of 21 July 1966, almost 30 years ago to the month. At that time, the first Plaid Cymru Member—Mr. Gwynfor Evans who represented Carmarthen—entered the House. He raised a point of order with the then Speaker about the possibility of taking the oath in Welsh. The Speaker ruled firmly that the oath had to be taken in English, although a number of hon. Members of all parties supported Mr. Evans.
I am surprised that no other hon. Member has referred to that occasion today because in 1974 the Speaker allowed hon. Members to take the oath in either Welsh or English. Indeed, the oath can today be taken in Gaelic, too. There are, therefore, precedents for people applying to speak in Welsh in the House. Although the House did not feel able to accept the request in 1966, it subsequently felt that it was appropriate to do so.
My point is that although, historically, the House has not been able to accept such requests, it has eventually reconsidered the position. Although it took 400 years for 682 the oath to be taken in Welsh, it was at least a step in the right direction. Mr. Gwynfor Evans made his point in 1966, and by 1974 the oath could be taken in Welsh.
We ought to be examining the demand in the House for the use of the Welsh language in the Welsh Grand Committee. In the previous Parliament—in 1988—an all-party early-day motion was tabled and eventually signed by a good many hon. Members representing all the countries of Britain. A grand total of 28 hon. Members felt that it was right and proper for Welsh to be used in the Welsh Grand Committee.
In 1988, it had not been suggested that the Welsh Grand Committee should become a peripatetic body. It was, however, suggested that Welsh should be used in proceedings in the House—in other words, where we usually meet, in Committee Room 10. There has been considerable debate about the restructuring of the Welsh Grand Committee and everyone eventually agreed that it should be meeting in Wales. Although we think that it is a body almost beyond reform, given that it is to continue to meet, it has been agreed that it should be meeting in Wales periodically. The demand for the right to speak Welsh in that body thus became overwhelming, as the right hon. Member for Conwy said.
Having passed the Welsh Language Act 1993 so that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally, and now that the Welsh Grand Committee is to meet in Wales, it would be ludicrous if an hon. Member could not speak in Welsh. It was not a party political issue, and when the Welsh parliamentary party met the Secretary of State for Wales, there was a broad consensus that it was right and proper to allow hon. Members to speak Welsh when the Welsh Grand Committee meets in Wales.
It seems that all the obstacles that the House thought could be placed in the way of using a language other than English have been overcome in relation to proceedings in Wales. As has been said, week after week in council and other chambers in Wales, people are allowed to use Welsh and English—they can use either language and the content of their speeches is translated simultaneously. That is an enormous advantage. No one present at such meetings is at a disadvantage because both languages can be followed equally or people can follow one language in translation. There is no problem with that.
The Select Committee on Procedure is to be congratulated on recognising that the language problems could be overcome in relation to the Welsh Grand Committee meeting in Wales. However, I found one aspect of the Committee's recommendations a little curious. The Committee adopted the proposition of the Clerk of the House, as the Leader of the House mentioned. The report states:any proceedings of the House must be comprehensible to all Members, and must therefore be in the only language all Members are assumed to understand.I can fully appreciate the first part of that sentence—we all agree that any proceedings must be comprehensible to all Members—but it goes on to say that any proceedingsmust therefore be in the only language all Members are assumed to understand",which means that all speeches have to be in English.
Simultaneous translation facilities mean that any speech can be heard in a language that everyone can understand. If a Member is speaking in Welsh but his speech is 683 simultaneously translated into English, an hon. Member who cannot speak Welsh can still fully comprehend what the other is saying. I am not sure that the Committee's comment still holds true as a general rule.
If the rule can now be extended to the use of Welsh for the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee in Wales, there is no obvious problem in extending it to the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee in the Palace of Westminster. The practical problem has been overcome in relation to proceedings in Wales and can be overcome in Westminster.
In case hon. Members think that my idea is revolutionary, I am not suggesting that proceedings in the Chamber or in any Standing or Select Committee of the House should be in Welsh. What I am suggesting is that hon. Members should be allowed to address the Welsh Grand Committee in Welsh, whether it is meeting in Wales or Westminster. Clearly, that would mean Committee Room 10 would have to be fitted with translation equipment, but I cannot see any practical problem with that.
While we recognise that the Select Committee on Procedure's recommendations are a practical and acceptable step forward, the Committee, once it has considered how things develop in Wales, might want to examine the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster.
I should like to put one point of detail to the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) about the production of a Welsh language Official Report, which was also mentioned by the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). I understand that there will not be a Welsh Official Report, but if an hon. Member who has spoken in Welsh finds another way in which to make his speech available in Welsh, he will be allowed to do so.
This also seems rather curious. Why do we publish reports of our proceedings? It is so that people outside can read and follow them; it is not for our purposes. It is curious that a person speaking in Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee in Wales has to have his speech translated so that people can read it in a language in which it was not delivered. We must remember that people who will follow our proceedings in Wales will be members of the media—spoken and written. If they want to follow our proceedings in the language in which they were delivered and the Official Report needs to be in English, why could not a Welsh-delivered version be annexed to it? If people want to refer to the speech in its language of origin, what is the problem with making it an annex to the Official Report, even if the Official Report is in English? Perhaps that can be considered again after the Committee has met in Wales a few times.
Progress on the use of Welsh in parliamentary proceedings in this place has been painfully slow. As I have said, it took more than 400 years for hon. Members to be able to take the oath in Welsh and, recently, to be able to speak in Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee in Wales. Those are very small steps. If we had our own Parliament in Wales none such problems would occur because there would be a bilingual system. But, Westminster is currently our only Parliament and I see no reason why the Welsh language—a 2,000-year-old living 684 language—should not be allowed its rightful and proper place in proceedings relating to Wales, whether in Westminster or Wales.
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly against some of the Procedure Committee's recommendations. I should like to alter slightly the Latin quotation cited by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House by saying omnes cives Britannici sumus, which loosely translates as, "We are all Brits here." Whether hon. Members are English, Welsh, Irish or Scottish, we are all British—or Irish—citizens and we all speak English in the House and its Committees.
Such use of English may originally have been part of a campaign to discriminate against Welsh, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) suggested, but no reasonable hon. Member could doubt that the rule serves the convenience of monoglot Members, who should not be discriminated against. Most hon. Members can speak English fluently—[Interruption.] Even in Wales, 80 per cent. of the population cannot speak Welsh.
I warmly welcome the first recommendation of the Procedure Committee that English is and should remain the language of the House. I would have been happier if the Committee had left it at that, subject to one exception to which I shall return. I do not accept the recommendation that members of the Welsh Grand Committee should be entitled to address the Committee in Welsh when it meets in Wales. I consider that a totally unnecessary, inappropriate and unacceptable sop to Welsh nationalism.
Such an entitlement is unnecessary, because every member who serves on the Welsh Grand Committee is almost bound to be capable of speaking and understanding English. It is inappropriate, because most Committee members are likely to be unable to understand Welsh. It is unacceptable, because the possibility of Committee members speaking Welsh represents a breach of the centuries-old principle that the language of Parliament should be English.
The Procedure Committee has considered the matter against the background of the Welsh Language Act 1993. This is not the time to rehearse the general arguments about how best to preserve and enhance the richness that the Welsh language bestows on the culture of Wales, but the detailed application of Government policy on the Welsh language can be intensely irritating and wasteful of paper.
Every publication that I receive from a Welsh Government agency is printed in both languages, even though virtually every recipient has a good understanding of English. As a non-Welsh speaker, I rip such publications in half and discard the Welsh part—not because I have anything against the Welsh language, but to save storage space and make a small gesture against the waste of paper and print. Some documents frustrate my intentions because the two languages are printed on opposite sides of the page. Whenever practicable, recipients of bilingual documents should elect which language they prefer and then be given a single-language document.
Documents produced in Welsh cost many times more than those produced in English, because Welsh documents have so few readers. The policy of wasting paper and 685 money will be built on if the House accepts the Procedure Committee's recommendation to introduce interpreters and additional electronic equipment that, according to the Committee's report, will cost about £2,500 a sitting. What a waste of money!
I would have more sympathy with the Procedure Committee's proposals if I thought that there was any significant risk of a member of the Welsh Grand Committee who speaks Welsh being unable to speak English. From talking in English to hon. Members who speak Welsh, such as the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) and for Gower (Mr. Wardell), I have formed the impression that their English is up to the higher standards found in the House. Such hon. Members are the Welsh equivalent of English people who are good at Latin, Greek, French or German, who tend also to be first-class English speakers. There is no practical benefit for hon. Members who speak Welsh being allowed to speak Welsh.
§ Mr. Sweeney
I regret that time does not permit me to do so.
I accept that those whose first language is Welsh may be even more at home with Welsh than they are with English, but any special Welsh idioms or nuances of meaning are likely to be lost in translation. So, for monoglot English colleagues, and in Hansard later, the added value of the original Welsh would be lost.
I said at the outset that, although I favour the retention of English as the only language authorised and spoken in the House and its Committees, I also favour one exception. If the Welsh Grand Committee or the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs ever take evidence from Welsh speakers who are not hon. Members, and if such witnesses are not competent in speaking English, they should be allowed, at the discretion of the Chairman, to address the Committee in Welsh—whether they give evidence in Wales or Westminster.
I make that exception not to give witnesses who are equally at home in English or Welsh the opportunity to elect to speak Welsh, but to ensure that Committees are not deprived of the opportunity of hearing evidence from a Welsh speaker in the very unusual circumstances of such a person being unable to speak English.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
It is refreshing that we have heard the authentic, arrogant voice of linguistic chauvinism towards the end of the debate. I shall not dwell on it. Perhaps Freud could explain why the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) tears in half bilingual forms. There are probably deep-seated reasons for it.
The House has taken a more enlightened position. I add my gratitude to that of others for the thoroughness and speed with which the Procedure Committee reported. I should like to strike a slightly cynical note in saying, to vulgarise Virgil, "Timeo Conservatores et dona ferentes"—I fear the Conservatives though they bear gifts.
686 Progress since I tabled an amendment on 11 March—it has caused the Government to act so quickly—has been remarkably speedy. They have suddenly realised that the Welsh language is a great treasure. As has been said, the first early-day motion that I tabled on the first St. David's day after I was elected called for the use of the Welsh language to be permitted in the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee using simultaneous translation facilities. That early-day motion was tabled not on 11 March this year but on 1 March 1988.
We should all acknowledge that the reason for the extraordinary speed with which the Government have acted has little to do with their love of the Welsh language and much to do with their desire for the Welsh Grand Committee to sit in Wales and to do a certain amount of mischief as they see it in putting their case before the people of Wales. They will be sadly disappointed in that aim, which has a clear political slant.
Let me say what a pleasure it has been listening to the speeches tonight. In my constituency, a fortnight ago I attended a centre where the Romans were in Wales—the second legion were in Caerleon 2,000 years ago. A group of schoolchildren were visiting the Capricorn centre, which is a wonderful centre for teaching children about life in Roman times. That school party was from ysgol Trimsaran. The children were learning about the Roman barracks and the living conditions there. It was all fascinating stuff.
However, the most vivid reminiscence of Rome was on the tongues of the children who were all Welsh-speaking from Trimsaran. When they see the bridge that crosses the river at Caerleon, they do not call it a bridge, they call it a "pont". When they see the windows that decorate the town, they do not say "window", but "ffenest". Those are two examples of a whole range of words that came to Wales with the Romans 2,000 years ago when the children of Caerleon were bilingual. It is a remarkable miracle that those words have echoed down the centuries and are a great living treasure.
The right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) mentioned the Gododdin. He did not quote from it. I shall attempt to do so from memory. Its first words are of great significance:Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth Godigog oedd eu ffriedd".That means "The men went to Catterick". It was the first book in the Welsh language and was written two centuries before Beowulf. If I quoted Beowulf, not a soul in this place would understand me.
The Leader of the House talked about Chaucerian English which is one of our great joys and a treasure to us all. It is a beautiful language:Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breth Inspired hath in every holt and heth The Tender croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne, And smale foweles maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open ye".It is music; it is poetry; it is beautiful and it is part of the inheritance of every hon. Member. Why do we not delight in it? When I used a different quotation—
§ Mr. Newton
I suppose that the hon. Gentleman realises that he will have to write that out for Hansard.
§ Mr. Flynn
I shall be quite happy to do that, although I am afraid that the spelling is a matter of dispute. I would be happy to write it out for hon. Members as well.
687 If only hon. Members who are unfortunately monoglot could understand what it means to speak more than one language. They are not better Welshmen or Englishman than anyone else. We have many reasons for welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), to his place tonight. He said with some passion, "I do not speak the two languages of Wales," but he is no lesser Welshman for that. If only hon. Members knew what they were missing—the great treasure that has been handed down to the children from Trimsaran.
Earlier today I was listening to a gentleman from the place where I was educated. Mr. John Humphreys is from Splott. I had the great fortune to be born in Grangetown in Cardiff and educated in Splott. It is known as the dream ticket in Cardiff circles. Unfortunately, neither of those areas was rich in the Welsh language. Mr. John Humphreys referred to the great change that has taken place since 1979 when the Welsh language, the Irish language and many other languages were seen as a divisive grit in politics. They did divide, separate and create suspicions and hatred. That is gone now. It is remarkable that in Grangetown, Splott, Lliswerry and Ringland in Newport there is a great flowering of Welsh schools. Children without any Welsh language in their background are becoming first generation Welsh speakers—for which they will be grateful for the rest of their days. That is a wonderful improvement that has taken place in our time.
I share many of the misgivings that have been expressed about the decision of the Procedure Committee. There are many points to quibble about, particularly by those who are used to living in two languages. Nobody is completely bilingual. Nobody is equally comfortable in both languages. Some are more comfortable in English and some are more comfortable in Welsh. It depends on their mother tongue. People should be allowed to use both languages.
I see little difference between what has been suggested for Wales and what happens in the House of Commons. People who come here from Estonia and Lithuania sit in a special corner where equipment is available to enable our proceedings to be translated for them. That equipment is most sophisticated and could be adapted to other languages.
We are all in the mood to welcome the concession that we have here tonight. We claim it as a right and we look forward to the great joy of using in the only Parliament that Wales has both the beautiful languages of Wales.
§ Mr. Morgan
I was about to ask for what you had already allowed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It took me unawares and I apologise.
The only false note in the debate was struck by the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) who failed to join in the spirit of the proceedings. In Wales as 688 a whole—perhaps omitting the particular corner with which the hon. Gentleman is most familiar—the use of Welsh is appropriate when the Welsh Grand Committee sits in Wales and for those for whom it is more appropriate to speak Welsh.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman attended the meeting in Committee Room 14 a couple of months ago when 300 Welsh farmers spoke to the House about BSE. Although they all spoke English, one could tell by the way in which they spoke it that 95 per cent. of them would have been happier to address the informal procedings in Welsh. There was no question but that at least 280 of them would have been happier had the proceedings been mostly in Welsh. That was their better language. It was clear that they were used to discussing agricultural issues in Welsh. That would probably be the case in respect of other issues such as education.
It is not a matter of trying to compel those without a command of Welsh to speak it, but of giving permission to those who have a command of the language not to be debarred from speaking Welsh at appropriate times. The hon. Member for the Vale of Glamorgan failed to understand that.
The Britishness of our British Parliament is based on mutual respect between the four different nations that make up the United Kingdom. That in turn is based on the fact that English is our lingua franca. The issue does not arise for the 82 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom who live in England. However, that 82 per cent. should have the of respect for other 18 per cent. of the population who live in Scotland, Wales and Ireland and who have sometimes have a linguistic skill, preference or culture.
Today, when the second Severn crossing was opened, we are more closely integrated with England than Scotland or Ireland—north or south—in all aspects of economics except one. Only in respect of our language are we less integrated with England than even the Irish Republic, let alone Scotland or Northern Ireland, simply because we have never suffered the potato famine or the highland clearances. As a result, the Welsh language is seven or eight times as strong as the original languages are in Scotland or Ireland.
The necessity of preserving the Welsh language gives Wales a great deal of distinctiveness; that is why we ask the British Parliament to respect that distinctiveness and particularly welcome the recommendations of the Procedure Committee. I hope that we shall carry with us some of those who are more reluctant, such as the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones)
We have had a constructive and positive debate, ably introduced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. He reminded us that certain of our leading colleagues could not be with us tonight for good reason, but far be it from me to suggest that it was as a result of any such absences that we had such a constructive and positive debate. I heard nothing divisive in any of the differences that were aired, and nothing that might prevent further progress.
A former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), spoke of the experiences of one of his ancestors in this House with 689 the Earl of Lisburne. Only a few weeks ago, I was with the present Earl as we launched a new Welsh milk for St. David's day. In that direction, things have moved on.
I was glad to hear the speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts). For the attention that he has lavished upon the language of Wales over the years and for seeking to take forward its interests in legislation, my right hon. Friend can be regarded as the father of the Welsh language. We heard a brief intervention from the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who I seem to remember is the only remaining Member who was a Minister the previous time there was no Welsh-speaking Minister at the Welsh Office.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) observed that the Conservative party is second only to Plaid Cymru in bilingual terms, with one third of Conservative Members of Parliament in Wales able to speak the Welsh language. That puts the Conservatives above the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. My only quarrel in the debate was with the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) who objected to tokenism and insisted that only one language be used here. I would say to him, were he still here, that those of us whose Welsh is inadequate or absent deserve encouragement and should not be frustrated from taking the opportunity to try to use the Welsh language.
Much of the debate this evening has centred on what the Procedure Committee has cautiously suggested. The caution of the Committee was set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Committee. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Committee for considering the matter. He referred to the practical problems and the need to have more experience of dealing with them. Various Members have referred to the problems, which were introduced by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan).
The suggestion was made that the recommendation of the Committee that Members restrict themselves to one language during any one speech might be unduly restrictive. Of course a Member might wish to deal with several distinct issues during a single speech, and it might seem appropriate to deal with some in English and some in Welsh. I agree with the Committee's suggestion that we ought to proceed with caution, as we do not want to cause difficulties for Hansard and make it more difficult for it to make the accurate report of the Committee's proceedings that the House is entitled to expect.
690 When we have gained some experience of running the Welsh Grand Committee in both languages, we may find that the Chairman, the Committee and the reporters can cope with a situation in which a Member switches from one language to another once or perhaps twice in a speech, provided—ideally—that everyone knows his intention. When we reach that point, we may leave it to the discretion of the Chairman of the Welsh Grand Committee to permit a slight relaxation of the rules set out in the Procedure Committee's report.
The hon. Member for Ynys MÔn (Mr. Jones) asked about the record of proceedings of speeches in Welsh. I could be negative and suggest that he has not proved it necessary to have an alternative record and that, inevitably, it would result in extra expense. Those are not insubstantial objections to his proposals, but I prefer to follow the Procedure Committee and say that we should try to leave the matter open. When this House has had more experience of the Welsh Grand Committee using the language, we might find it appropriate to look again at the matter.
In conclusion, I wish to make the same point as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West—this is a great day for Wales. We are making great steps in our cultural and material fields, and this evening the House has been dealing with our language. Also, just before 11 o'clock this morning, the second Severn crossing was opened. I had the opportunity to be present, along with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Transport, when the bridge was opened by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. It is a major development that will improve the economic affairs of south Wales, and it links to the very matter we are considering this evening.
Also present—perhaps he is still there—was the Chairman of the Welsh Grand Committee, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), in whose constituency one side of the bridge is located. I am glad that we can move forward—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the question, pursuant to Order [17 May].
§ Question agreed to.
That, whilst English is and should remain the language of this House, the use of Welsh be permitted in parliamentary proceedings held in Wales, subject to the conditions set out in the Third Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1995–96 (House of Commons Paper No. 387).