HC Deb 02 February 1998 vol 305 cc734-6
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I beg to move amendment No. 392, in page 25, line 31, leave out from 'effect' to 'to' in line 32.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 394, in page 25, line 32, leave out 'reasonably'.

New clause 15—Translation of Assembly proceedings'(1) The Assembly shall make provision for proceedings and documents to be translated from Welsh to English and English to Welsh. (2) Translation of oral proceedings shall be simultaneous and available to all members, staff and visitors. (3) Translation of written documents of the Assembly shall be available at the earliest practical opportunity.'.

Dr. Marek

I welcome the new timetable, which enables us to debate many more of the clauses than hitherto would have been possible. I hope to be able to contain my remarks to within two minutes so as to allow other Members to speak, followed perhaps by a reply from my hon. Friend the Minister.

The purpose behind my amendment is to cut out weasel words. It turns, of course, on the English and Welsh languages. Subsection (1) reads, so far as is both appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable. That really means that Welsh is not on the same level as the English language. Yet we have the Welsh Language Act 1993, which is an equality measure. That means that we put both languages on the same level.

When Members of the Assembly utter words in one language, they have slavishly to be translated into the other language, whether that is required to be done or not. It may be that some assembly committees consisting only of Members representing the south-east of the Principality would work in the English language. The minutes may be bilingual, but the Members could work in the English language. If a meeting were held in private, it could be held in the English language. Equally, meetings not open to the public could be held in the Welsh language in north-west Wales. They would not necessarily have to be conducted in the English language.

Equality does not mean that what is written or said in one language must necessarily be translated into the other language. There is inequality of esteem, parity and status. The Welsh Language Act 1993 gives equality to the Welsh language. The words that I have mentioned in the Bill detract from that equality. Ministers should go away and think about it. There is nothing wrong with leaving out the clause. It would allow the national assembly to give proper status to the Welsh language as and when necessary.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

I shall speak about the importance of the equal use of the two languages. We should ensure that the essential issues are considered and make it clear that the right and the ability of Members to use the Welsh language in all debates and committees will be unconditional. There should be no question about whether it is convenient or acceptable that a Member uses the Welsh language. Instantaneous translation equipment and facilities must be available even when small groups meet in sub-committees and so on. That is the only way to ensure that we normalise the use of the Welsh language. That is what it is all about. Instantaneous translation equipment is sometimes regarded as a facility for the person who wishes to use the Welsh language. It should not be seen in those terms; it is there for the person who is among that unfortunate section who are not bilingual.

There will, of course, be constant media coverage of the activities of the assembly, including television and radio coverage. It is important that, when Welsh is being used in a debate or Committee meeting, the feed from the translation is made available to the English media, so that there is no problem with their not being able to make use of clips, in news coverage and so on, of speeches made by those who are using the Welsh language. That is essential. It is terribly important that the assembly establishes the Welsh language not just as a high-status language but as a normal language.

Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire)

Sit down.

Mr. Dafis

Because the hon. Gentleman is telling me to sit down, I shall do so.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Briefly, I draw the Committee's attention to new clause 15, which says: Translation of oral proceedings shall be simultaneous and available to all members, staff and visitors.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The Government are totally committed to the principle of equality. We believe that, in clause 46, we have provided for English and Welsh to be treated equally. We believe that that can be achieved by having regard to the Welsh Language Board guidelines issued under the Welsh language Act 1993. The advisory group is looking at all those issues in relation to the use of the language. We should expect the National Assembly for Wales to provide for equal treatment in all its proceedings in the appropriate way.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Surely the word "practicable" covers that eventuality. Doubling it up with the word "reasonably" seems biased against the equal use of the Welsh language. That concern was embodied in Plaid Cymru's amendment. I ask the Minister to consider whether we need the second word.

Mr. Griffiths

Hon. Members are being a little pedantic about the use of the English language. Given that the advisory group will look at all those issues, and what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), I hope that we can accept the spirit behind our debate. We should expect the assembly to operate on proper principles of equal treatment for the Welsh and English languages. On those grounds, I hope that the amendments will be withdrawn.

Dr. Marek

That is only just about acceptable. It is all very well to complain of pedantry about the English language; we have been quite pedantic about the Welsh language, and about what is "reasonably practicable". However, the Minister is my hon. Friend, and I shall take his words in the spirit in which they were meant. I hope that he will think about the amendment carefully and, if necessary, table an amendment of his own in the other place. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being half-past Four o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order [15 January] and the Resolution [this day], put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 47 to 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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