§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, I desire to ask whether His Majesty's Government realise that, students having received the right of priority of choice of language in education under the new Constitution of Malta, it would be an intolerable injustice to force such students as elect to take English to pass examinations in Italian as the only means of continuing their education.
The language question of Malta has always given rise to difficulties. The fact is that three languages are rather too many for two small islands with a total area of considerably less than the County of Rutland, and a population less than that of Leicester. The language of the people is Maltese, but English is essential to very many of them. Italian is at present, and has been for some time, the language of the Law Courts. The Maltese themselves, the working classes especially, have shown a very strong preference for English, and probably for that reason the new Constitution very wisely lays it down that English and Italian shall be recognised as equal languages of culture. That Constitution also lays it down that the parent of a boy attending an elementary school may decide whether he will give priority to English or to Italian. In the case of the University the student has the right to determine the priority. But it is not quite clear what all that means. If students who choose English as their language of culture are also obliged to learn Italian in order to pass 63 examinations for promotion or for transfer to some other educational system, there will be very great hardship placed upon them.
Clause 57 (2) of the Constitution does not impose an obligation, but leaves the whole matter in complete doubt. Any one who has studied education in India knows how very heavily the Indian student is handicapped by being taught in a language which he is trying to acquire at the same time, and it seems most unjust that a Maltese-speaking boy who has selected English as his language, should be forced to learn Italian, which can be of very little use to him unless he is going into the legal profession. His case is really harder than that of a Gujerati-speaking boy who has only to acquire a single language—English. The effect of such a policy, if carried out, would certainly be to impede education and to waste public money, and I hope that the noble Duke will be able to clear the matter up, because it is one of very great importance to the Maltese. I beg to ask my Question.
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
My Lords, the provisions relating to the study of the English and Italian languages in Malta are to be found in Section 57 of the Letters Patent. Subsection (2) of that clause runs as follows—The English and Italian languages shall be recognised as equal languages of culture in Malta at the University, in secondary schools, and in the higher classes of elementary schools as subjects of study. Where both languages cannot conveniently be taken simultaneously, regard shall be had in settling the order of priority in which the languages shall be taught to the wishes of the parents in the case of schools, and of the students in the case of the University, and to the utility of the teaching for the purposes of the pupil's future occupation. The foregoing provisions shall not extend to prohibit the Maltese language from being used in the lower classes of the elementary schools in so far as it may be necessary as a medium of instruction.From the words quoted the noble Lord will observe that where both languages cannot be taken simultaneously the student has a full right of choice, and the only risk is that a Maltese Minister of Education might prescribe simultaneous teaching where it would be difficult for the student to take both together.
I do not expect that any such circumstances would arise, and as the Maltese 64 have been granted the right of self-government, it must be assumed that they will exercise their rights wisely. At the same time, it will, of course, be open to the Governor to make further provision under Section 67 of the Letters Patent by way of definition of the sections dealing with the language question, if necessity arose, or if such further provision were in accordance with the general wishes of the Maltese population. On page 31 of the Letters Patent it says:—Nothing shall be done by way either of legislation or administration which shall diminish or detract from the position of the English language as an official language, or done to restrict its use in education or in the public service.The Letters Patent, I may point out, have been the subject of very long and careful consideration on the part of all parties concerned.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
I beg to thank the noble Duke for his reply, but I do not think he made it quite clear whether the two languages, which are not the natural language of the Maltese population, would have to be taken together. That is really the point I wished to make. I gather from the noble Duke that that point has not yet been quite settled, and that therefore we must trust to the good sense of the Maltese electors to settle it. Is that what the noble Duke wishes to say?
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. As there is now self-government in Malta, it is naturally assumed that the Maltese will deal with the matter in a sensible manner, but, as I mentioned in the last part of my reply, it can be dealt with by the Governor, who may make further provision under Section 67 of the Letters Patent by way of definition of the sections dealing with the language question, if necessity arises.