HL Deb 09 April 1959 vol 215 cc563-72

3.17 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. As your Lordships are no doubt aware, the Eisteddfod is the great national festival of poetry, literature and music which is held annually in Wales. It is attended not only by many thousands of people from every part of the Principality, but by many outside Wales, and particularly by large numbers from countries overseas. This festival is held in alternate years in North Wales and South Wales. It is sometimes held in very large towns, and on other occasions in comparatively small ones. Occasionally it has been held outside Wales. Indeed, I well remember that the first occasion on which I attended an Eisteddfod was in the Albert Hall, in this city. As your Lordships will appreciate, the expenses attached to a festival of this character are very heavy, and the purpose of this Bill is to make it possible for all county borough, borough, urban and rural district councils to contribute out of the rates towards these expenses.

Section 132 of the Local Government Act, 1948, gives wide powers to local authorities not only to provide entertainment but to contribute towards the cost of entertainment provided by others, and the Eisteddfod undoubtedly is covered by this section in the 1948 Act. These powers are available to any local authority in respect of entertainment within its area, but it can also contribute under that section to the cost of entertainment outside its own boundaries. It can do that only if two conditions are fulfilled. The first is that the place of entertainment must be convenient for the inhabitants of the area of the council making the contribution. Secondly, the authority within whose area the entertainment is to be held must agree to the provision of that contribution by the council.

As I have already explained to your Lordships, this festival is held in alternate years in North and in South Wales. If, for example, it was held, as it will be, in a town in Caernarvonshire in North Wales, the first proviso would prohibit a contribution from a local authority, shall we say, in Monmouthshire; for no one who knows Wales would claim that Caernarvon was convenient to Monmouth. Clause I of the Bill, which is the really important clause, removes this limitation. That means that a local authority may make a contribution—and may I say that this is a permissive Bill—to the expenses of a festival in another authority's area whether it is convenient or not. The other limitation removed by this Bill is that it does not matter whether or not the host local authority agrees to the contribution being made though a refusal, I should have thought, would be very unlikely.

My Lords, I have explained as briefly as I can this very short Bill. I hope that I have made perfectly clear what it aims to do. I would say, in conclusion, that it does not affect English local authorities in any way at all. I should also like to add that it had the support, on its introduction, of Welsh Members of Parliament of all Parties, and I am perfectly satisfied it will receive a warm welcome in the Principality as a real contribution to the preservation of our great national festival. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Viscount Tenby.)


My Lords, on behalf of the Government I welcome the Eisteddfod Bill which the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, has just moved. This Bill will be welcomed throughout Wales and will give pleasure to all Welshmen. It will prevent an annual problem for local authorities whenever they are considering giving financial assitance to the Royal National Eisteddfod and will make their power to contribute quite clear. I welcome this Bill, and I commend it to your Lordships.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, the object of this Bill has been clearly explained by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby But he did not explain the object of Clause 2, so far as I was able to understand him. I think perhaps the House might be told a little bit about Clause 2, which on the face of it would appear to involve an obligation on the taxpayer as well as on the ratepayer. That comment is only by the way; it is not the main burden of what I am going to say.

I do not oppose this Bill, but there are one or two comments which I feel I should like to make upon it for the benefit of your Lordships, and also possibly for the benefit of local authorities who will have to administer it. The organisation of the Eisteddfod, as the noble Viscount has said, confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, is unique. This institution has no counterpart anywhere in the world, and it is also, so far as Wales is concerned, its premier cultural association. I feel that it would be discourteous to let the Bill go through virtually "on the nod" without saying anything more about it, especially as in another place, I believe, after permission was given to introduce the Bill, nothing in fact was said about it.

The powers, as the noble Viscount has told us, are discretionary and it will be within the purview of every local authority in Wales to decide whether they are going to contribute or not. What I am going to say is a purely personal view and must not be taken to be otherwise; I do not wish any Party, association, organisation, group or anything else to incur the odium of any views I may express to your Lordships; they are purely my own.

The Eisteddfod originally, of course, was a purely professional organisation. It was a coming together of bards who were attached in those days—and I am talking about mediœval days—to the houses of the princes and the great noblemen of Wales. In these households the bard had a very honourable place, sitting next to the chaplain to the household, and next but one to the heir to the prince or noblemen to whose establishment the bard was attached. No doubt part of the duties of the bard was to commend in fitting terms the prowess of the nobleman to whom he was attached; and likewise, perhaps, to play down, as it were, any defects in the nobleman's character or achievements. At all events, from time to time they came together as a purely professional body and engaged in competitions and the like. With the decline of the princely and the noble houses, so the status of the bards declined, too, and in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I she actually instituted a Commission in 1568 to certain North Wales gentlemen to hold an Eisteddfod and to issue licences to the bards so that they might be distinguished from the vagabonds and beggars who at that time infested the Northern part of the Principality—nothing was said about the South; no doubt the vagabonds and beggars were confined to the North.

In its modern form the Eisteddfod still has a fairly good and long history. It was revived by a gentleman of the somewhat unusual name of Jones of Corwen, in 1789; and a little later on a man called Edward Williams, who lived in a village quite near my home in South Wales—I may remark, in Glamorgan, which is now supposed to be Anglicised—revived the Gorsedd, the Druids; the Gorsedd was attached to the Eisteddfod in 1819, although there is no legend or history that there was any such attachment before that date. The result was a great stimulus to the study of the ancient history and the legends of Wales, to the literary and poetic expression of the Welsh people, and to music and the arts generally, and, equally, an enormous enhancement of Welsh national sentiment.

I have recounted this brief history because I think it is necessary to realise how much of a change there has been throughout the years in the Eisteddfod. Lately, of course, it has become a purely amateur festival, and almost entirely a musical and poetic one. It so happens that in my view—and again I do not wish anyone, as I have said, to be inflicted with the obligation of these views —the Eisteddfod and much of the Welsh educational, cultural and public life are controlled by a comparatively small group to whom the Welsh language has become a fetish. They have ordained that no English is to be spoken at this festival: everything must be in Welsh—or at least not in English. They will allow a German to sing a song in German but not in English. Although these people are very sincere and ardent in their views, in my opinion they are mistaken.

It gives me no pleasure to make this speech, because I am running counter to many of my own friends, who are sincere people; but I feel very strongly that what they are doing is not in the best interests of the country, or of the national spirit of Wales. It is not in the best interests of the language, and it is not in the best interests of the Eisteddfod. Your Lordships will remember from a debate we had recently that only a quarter of the Welsh people speak Welsh, and I believe that in these days our main objective should be that outlined by the Prime Minister in another place on December 12, 1957, when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 579, col. 1422]: The Government's cardinal purpose is to put beyond all doubt that Wales as a nation has a place of its own in the counsels of Britain … I commend that statement by the Prime Minister and, for myself, in whatever little way I am able, I try to follow that same principle. To me, anything which tends to achieve this purpose is very good and anything which detracts from it is very bad. In my view, the all-Welsh rule and the modern administration of the Eisteddfod tends against this principle and therefore it is bad, however enthusiastic and idealistic its protagonists may be, and indeed are.

What is the effect of the rule and the modern administration of the Eisteddfod? First of all, there is an alienation of the non-fluent Welsh speakers. Naturally, if you have a festival which is carried on completely in a language which most of the people of Wales do not understand, or at least are not conversant with in a literary way, they are going to feel excluded, and there is an alienation from this most important festival of these people. Secondly, it does nothing to spread a knowledge of the Welsh language. One has to have a high degree of knowledge of the Welsh language to understand what is going, on. This was confirmed at the recent Eisteddfod at Ebbw Vale in Monmouthshire, which my noble friend Lord Hall will remember very well, after which the chairman of the Ebbw Vale National Eisteddfod Publicity Committee, Councillor Brinley Evans, confirmed that no results whatsoever were gained by that Eisteddfod so far as the creation or deepening of interest in the Welsh traditions in Monmouthshire were concerned—in other words, as one has long suspected, so far from increasing a knowledge and understanding of Welsh in Monmouthshire at this last Eisteddfod, nothing happened. In fact there was no increase at all in either the knowledge or the appreciation of the Welsh language or in the Welsh way of life.

Thirdly, from a cultural point of view (this is a most important aspect) there has undoubtedly been a debasement of standards, particularly in music, in the choral and the vocal competitions. The standards are nothing like as high as they were in the past. Indeed, to-day it is very difficult to get first-class choirs in Wales to compete in the Eisteddfod, and it is practically impossible to get English choirs to compete. That is not owing to the fact that they have to sing in Welsh only; if they were a German choir they could sing in German. It is not only that, or even mainly that; it is that the adjudication has to be given straight "off the cuff" in Welsh, and many of the best adjudicators, even though they are Welsh, are not sufficiently gifted or knowledgeable in the Welsh language to be able to give an adjudication straight away on a subject of this kind. The result is that the best choirs and vocalists tend not to come to the Eisteddfod because they are afraid of the sort of adjudication they may get from people not always in the first rank.

This Bill has been introduced to-day because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the money to run the Eisteddfod which for six days costs £40.000 to run, of which £20,000 is needed to put up and maintain the pavilion. It is also needed because those who hold views in sympathy with the all-Welsh rule are not sufficient in number to keep the Eisteddfod going as a voluntary organisation without coming down on the ratepayers. As I have said, three-quarters of the number of ratepayers are not able to benefit from the Eisteddfod. Therefore, may I respectfully suggest to the local authorities that they can help the Eisteddfod, the language and the national life by making certain conditions in their grants. I think there should be a modification of the all-Welsh rule, first of all, to enable vocalists and choirs to sing in the language in which the pieces were written, because to try to translate into Welsh many pieces written, we will say, in English or in any other language often completely destroys the musical worth of the piece, at any rate so far as the language is concerned, and makes it most difficult to sing.

Secondly, there should be a modification to enable the adjudicators to give their adjudications in the language with which they are at home, whether that language is English or Welsh. Thirdly, a running commentary should be made in English, either visual, on some tape, or spoken before and after every item. I believe that the Eisteddfod has still an opportunity of playing a great part in Welsh national life and making an enormous contribution to it if it were in fact developed into a Royal Folk Festival of the Arts, and not only as a musical festival or a poetry festival but a visual festival as well —that is to say, there should be drama, ballet, mime, painting and sculpture. It will be remembered that in former days everything was in Welsh because in those days, 150 or more years ago, everybody spoke Welsh; and it is really a distortion of the Eisteddfod, which is basically a cultural organisation and festival, to turn it into a linguistic festival.

Then, fourthly, I would suggest that there should be encouragement of the professional artist as well as the amateur. The Eisteddfod is almost entirely amateur at the moment. Without neglecting the amateur, I feel that we could assist the professional. Our actors, dramatists and painters in Wales are doing exciting work, as the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, knows. Recently, we both attended an exhibition of art in the same town, and we know that some exciting work is being done in the arts in Wales. But it is professional work. It is work to which the Eisteddfod could make a contribution.

To sum up, I feel that the Eisteddfod is paddling itself out of Welsh life, out of the national consciousness, into a sort of backwater. So far from being an enemy of the Eisteddfod or of the Welsh language, I want to see the Eisteddfod paddling its way back into the main stream and helping the swimmers who are struggling there. I hope that the local authorities will use their influence to remedy these defects and will insist that the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales is developed to serve all the people of Wales and not just an ever-declining minority of the population.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, winds up the debate, I should like to correct the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, on one point. He said that the Welsh Eisteddfod was a unique event, but I should like to refer him to the Highland Mod, in Scotland, and respectfully to suggest that there are two Highland bards for every Welshman.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, for I know the Highland Mod very well and I would join that with the Eisteddfod; but I cannot accept the noble Lord's arithmetic about the bards.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think there is any cause for me to say a great deal in reply to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. With regard to Clause 2, about which he asked a question, I can only say that there are many precedents for this particular clause in many Acts on the Statute Book. There is no departure there at all, and it is already applicable to all other parts of England and Wales. I do not propose to follow the noble Lord in what he said about the Eisteddfod because that really has not a great deal to do with this Bill. After all, it is a permissive Bill and it is for the local authority to decide whether in fact they will contribute at all. The only thing this Bill does, because of the national character of the festival, covering the whole of Wales, is to enable the local authority, if they so wish, to get over the phrase "convenient to" in order to be able to help a national festival. That is really the main purpose of the Bill and it is a matter for the local authority to decide what they will do, according to whether or not they share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, about the present status of the Eisteddfod.

I entirely disagree with the noble Lord when he says that the Eisteddfod has nothing to do with the arts and that it has only to do with music and poetry; for besides music and poetry there are the arts and crafts. In any case, as I say, it is a matter for the local authority to decide. Last year the Eisteddfod was held in an almost entirely English-speaking section of Wales. Though I do not know for certain, I do not suppose that more than one-quarter of the people were not English-speaking. That was in Ebbw Vale and, so far as I understand, the local authority had no hesitation in making a contribution, as they were entitled to do, because it was within their area. They made a contribution but were not called upon to fulfil the complete guarantee that they had underwritten. There are some bad years, due to the weather and other things, but on the whole the Eisteddfod is doing very well.

I would commend the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, to this point: that his speech to-day was better directed to local authorities than to this House. I have no doubt at all that they will take careful note of what he has said, because, in a previous debate, last November, when we were discussing matters connected with Wales and the Welsh language, he said, referring to the local authorities, that it was entirely in their own hands as to whether or not they taught Welsh in the schools; and he added that if the ratepayers were not satisfied they had their remedy at the next election. I commend the noble Lord to his own argument. If the local authority do something which is not popular with the electors the electors have the remedy to which he is there referring. I feel, therefore, that this House can give a Second Reading to this Bill—I hope without any opposition at all—because it can be of tremendous assistance to a great national festival. It is permissive and a local authority can do whatever they like, one way or the other, under it.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House rose at a quarter before four o'clock.

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