§ Clause 1, page 2, line 11, at end, insert ("and, in the case of any county in Wales or the County of Monmouth, a person able to speak the Welsh language")
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment.
§ Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
My Lords, as I propose to leave out from this Amendment the words "or the County of Monmouth" perhaps the noble and learned Lord would consider it convenient if I did so now. The County of Monmouth is an English county. I do not think that will be disputed, because in the Amendment itself it is mentioned apart from Wales. Monmouthshire is not merely an English County, it is an English-speaking County. Once, long ago, it was a Welsh-speaking County, but it is now impossible to find in the rural parts any person who can speak Welsh. In the industrial area the case is somewhat different. It is quite erroneous to suppose that the inhabitants of the Welsh coalfield are all, or nearly all, of Welsh origin. What is now the industrial area of Carmarthen-shire, Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire was in the eighteenth century sparsely inhabited by a few farmers. Then came the opening up of the coalfields, and people flocked in. These immigrants were derived chiefly from two sources, one from central Wales, and the other from Western England, and particularly Somersetshire, where the coal 1105 mines were being closed down. In the western part of the area the Welsh immigrants predominated, and in the eastern part the English immigrants predominated.
The result was that in Carmarthenshire and parts of Western Glamorganshire the Welsh language was able to hold its own, but in Eastern Glamorganshire the English language became predominant, and in Monmouthshire it has become in effect the sole language of the country. These statements are substantiated by the Census of 1931. In Carmarthenshire the percentage of people who then returned themselves as able to speak Welsh was 82. In West Glamorganshire the figure fell to 40 per cent., and in East Glamorganshire to 25 per cent.; while in Monmouthshire the number of persons who claimed that they were able to speak Welsh was only 6 per cent. I would ask your Lordships to note that figure of 6 per cent., because a couple of years ago a Committee was set up under the very able Chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, to consider the revision of the circuit system. Monmouthshire has for very many years been part of the Oxford Circuit. Before that Committee a number of Welsh Nationalists appeared, persons unconnected with Monmouthshire, who tried to persuade the Committee that Monmouthshire ought to be transferred to the South Wales Circuit, and with this end in view they did not scruple to tell the Committee that most of the inhabitants of Monmouthshire spoke nothing but Welsh, or anyhow they spoke Welsh as their ordinary language. But I am glad to say the Committee did not believe them, and Monmouthshire remains part of the Oxford Circuit. Had the Committee any reason to suppose that Monmouthshire would profit in any way by closer connection with Wales, they would undoubtedly have come to a different conclusion from that which they reached.
I was talking only the other day to a man who had been on the Bench for sixty years and had been Chairman of Quarter Sessions for thirty of them. Never in the whole of his experience has it been necessary to employ a Welsh interpreter in Monmouthshire. Our present Chairman, whose father and grandfather were Chairmen before him, is an Official Referee of the High Court of 1106 Justice, and therefore may not, under Clause 2 of this Bill, be precluded from his office because he cannot speak Welsh. I am not sure whether it applies to the Vice-Chairman as well. But it may be—I do not say it will be—necessary for the Lord Chancellor to consider whether he should not be passed over because he cannot speak Welsh. I cannot imagine that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, or any noble Lord who may succeed him, would dream of turning out an eminent King's Counsel from the Chairmanship of the Monmouthshire Quarter Sessions, but under this provision he would have to contemplate it. It is most undesirable that the noble and learned Lord should have to contemplate the commission of such an extremely foolish act. Although these words are simple, they create a very dangerous precedent. This is the first time that an attempt has been made to impose a statutory disqualification because an Englishman cannot speak a language other than his own.
It may go a great deal further. In the other place the Amendment, as originally moved, was designed to make it compulsory that the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions of Monmouthshire should speak Welsh. There is no doubt that is what the Welsh National Party would like to see. They would like to see the Welsh language made compulsory, not only throughout Wales but throughout Monmouthshire as well. Why not Liverpool? There are certainly more Welsh people in Liverpool than in Monmouthshire. This Amendment has nothing to do with the administration of justice, and is merely an attempt to claim Monmouthshire for Wales and force the Welsh language upon it. The Amendment is very improper in a Bill which is intended to further the good administration of justice, and I hope your Lordships will reject it. I beg to move.
Leave out ("o. the County of Monmouth").—(Lord Raglan.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has, I am sure, said everything that can possibly be said in favour of this small Amendment. He has, however, not attributed quite enough weight to the place where the words occur because, after all, the Amendment is only this. In a case in which the Lord Chancellor for the 1107 time being has to appoint a person of the legal experience mentioned in Clause I to act as Chairman or Deputy Chairman of Quarter Sessions, the proviso requires the Lord Chancellor to consider in the first place the advisability of appointing somebody who resides in the district. That is not always possible, but he would like to get such a person if he could. Then follows, "in the case of any county in Wales or the County of Monmouth a person able to speak the Welsh language." It is perfectly plain that there is no rigid necessity that a man should be able to speak the Welsh language. It is only a thing the Lord Chancellor ought to consider, and in some counties in Wales it would be very desirable that he should consider it. With that we all agree. In the County of Monmouth, it is true, there are only a comparatively small number of people who speak only Welsh.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
And quite a number who do not speak Welsh at all. That is true about a number of other counties in Wales, but for many administrative purposes the County of Monmouth for a long time past has been grouped with Wales, and a number of provisions regarding Wales are provisions which contain the words "and County of Monmouth."
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I quite agree that it is not so in the case of circuit. In another place it has been thought desirable that on the whole there should be this consideration which the Lord Chancellor must bear in mind. The noble Lord says Monmouth should be left out. If Monmouth were left out, a few of the other counties should be left out too, and I do not quite know where we should be when the matter goes to another place and we begin to consider the counties in which Welsh is spoken. I would draw the attention of the House to the County of Radnor. In the County of Radnor the total population under the 1931 census was 20,362, excluding those who were not three years old. Of these, 967 spoke Welsh and English, and seven only out of the total spoke Welsh alone. Yet Radnor must be included in the definition of 1108 "Wales." But when we come to Monmouth, including Newport, we have these figures. The total population over three years old was 413,191. Of these, 24,449 speak Welsh and English, and I quite agree that a small number—514—speak Welsh only. That is 514 in Monmouth who speak Welsh only and only seven in Radnor. The effort to divide up the country into those places where there is a considerable number of Welsh-speaking inhabitants would lead to all sorts of difficulties. The net result is that there are over 24,00o people who speak Welsh and English in the County of Monmouth.
Those who are engaged, or have been engaged, in the Courts of Justice know that somebody who speaks both Welsh and English can be very useful, and for my part, if there were two people applying for the post of Chairman of Quarter Sessions, exactly similar in all respects except that one of them had a certain knowledge of Welsh and the other had none, I should think that to some extent it would weigh the scales in favour of the Welsh-speaking person. I do not think this Commons Amendment has any sinister import. I think that it will do no harm to anyone. It will not be a precedent, and no Lord Chancellor who has any sense—and I hope that will apply to all occupants of this office—will bother about this provision in any material sense. Therefore I really cannot regard the matter as of importance. I think the whole of the other Amendments made in the other House to this clause are Amendments which your Lordships will accept without discussion. I desire that the Bill should not go back to the other place because, if that were so, delay might be occasioned by such an Amendment as that proposed by the noble Lord, which, as I have said, I cannot regard as of any real importance. In those circumstances, I would suggest to the noble Lord that he should withdraw his Amendment.
My Lords, I regard this as a matter of very great importance. Welshmen are always trying to bring in the use of their language in these matters. We in Monmouthshire are English and wish to remain English, and very much regret that the Lord Chancellor is bent upon compelling us to speak the Welsh language, a language which we do not know and do not wish to know.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene and I should feel extremely sorry to do anything that would mean delay in the passing of this Bill into law, but I was not able to follow the Lord Chancellor's explanation of this matter, which I conceive to be of some importance in Wales. I cannot understand quite what is going to happen in Wales if this Amendment is passed, but, as I read Clause 1, it appears to me that a Welsh Court of Quarter Sessions would only have power to apply to the Lord Chancellor for the appointment of a legally qualified Chairman providing that that legally qualified Chairman NN as also a Welsh-speaking Chairman.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I answer the noble Lord? That really is not so. This proviso is only what you may describe as a hint to the Lord Chancellor that he has to consider something in addition to the place where the Chairman ordinarily resides. He need not be occupied by it at all, but it is a thing that he has to bear in mind. I may add, for my part, that I believe he always would bear in mind the question of the residence of the proposed person, and also, if the district in question was a Welsh-speaking district, and whether the person to be appointed could speak Welsh. It is merely a reminder to the Lord Chancellor that in appointing people in Wales and Monmouthshire, he should bear in mind the question whether the person appointed could speak Welsh or not. It is nothing more than that, and is of no real importance.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
Of course, if the Lord Chancellor assures me the effect of the words used in this Amendment is as lie has stated it to be, I must accept his assurance, but I have the greatest difficulty in reading the clause as proposed to be amended in the sense in which he has just stated.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.