HC Deb 27 July 1999 vol 336 cc118-20
35. Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

If he will make a statement on the use of the Welsh language in the courts of England and Wales. [91633]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Keith Vaz)

We are making every effort to ensure that a bilingual service is available in Wales, including providing for court hearings to be conducted in Welsh.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful for that answer. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that there is concern in Wales that his Department has been slow in producing Welsh language schemes as required under the Welsh Language Act 1993? Will the Department recognise the equal validity of the Welsh and English languages in the courts of Wales and, for that matter, England, through practice directions by the courts themselves and in face-to-face contact with the public through the court service?

Mr. Vaz

I hope that my Department is not slow. I have no evidence to suggest that it is not working swiftly on the matter. A draft copy of the scheme is with the Welsh Language Board. We intend to consult on it widely. We are pleased to note that there are several bilingual judges and that there is a practice direction about the use of the Welsh language. If my hon. Friend has any evidence to suggest that we are not acting as swiftly as we should, will he please let me know? We regard the matter as serious and believe that the practice direction has rightly highlighted the concerns. We want to ensure that the Welsh language is used in court proceedings when people want it to be used.