HC Deb 01 July 1999 vol 334 cc428-9
27. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

What percentage of Crown Prosecution lawyers in Wales are able to conduct trials through the medium of the Welsh language; and if he will make a statement. [R] [87905]

The Attorney-General

In Wales, 14.08 per cent. of Crown prosecutors are able to conduct trials through the medium of the Welsh language, which compares with the 13.6 per cent. of the population who can speak, read and write Welsh. In fact, it is estimated that the ability is needed in fewer than 1 per cent. of trials.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply. In some areas of north Wales, provision is considered very good; but in some areas of Wales, it is considered very poor. Moreover, where provision has developed, it has done so solely on an ad hoc basis. For example, in Dyfed—which, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, is a Welsh-speaking area—three out of 15 prosecutors speak Welsh. There is under-provision in some areas, but proper provision in others.

When the CPS next comes up for appraisal of service delivery, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that such provision is a definite subject heading, so that each and every area will report on this important issue?

The Attorney-General

I know that the hon. Gentleman regards it as an important issue, and I share that belief. A long time ago, I had the privilege of prosecuting a case—a substantial part of it in Welsh—in his own constituency. Two of the four newly appointed chief Crown prosecutors speak Welsh, and one of them is learning it. All four were born in Wales. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we attach importance to the fact that, if required, 20 of the prosecutors in Wales are able to conduct cases in Welsh. If any case goes to the Crown court, a substantial number of barristers—including the hon. Gentleman—are capable of conducting it in Welsh.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree that the legal system has progressed quite a long way from the days when it was the instrument of official suppression of the Welsh language in Wales. None the less, does he accept that there is still a long way to go before the principles enunciated in the Welsh Language Act 1993 are realised?

The Attorney-General

I am not sure whether I follow every material part of my hon. Friend's suggestions; I know, having practised on the circuit a very long time ago, of problems arising. However, the figures show that the number of such cases are very small indeed. The case that I prosecuted concerned sheep stealing, which, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) will know, is a very important matter in that part of the world. On language itself, the CPS has produced for the Welsh Language Board a draft report in which it sets out its policy in detail. I am sure that my hon. Friend will find it acceptable.

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