HL Deb 15 June 1967 vol 283 cc1116-41

7.41 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which was introduced into your Lordships' House on June 6, 1967; and it may help your Lordships if I outline briefly the background to it. In July, 1963, a Committee was set up, under the chairmanship of Sir David Hughes Parry, following the representations of the Welsh Parliamentary Group. It was given these terms of reference: To clarify the legal status of the Welsh language, and to consider whether any changes in the law ought to be made. Shortly afterwards, in November, the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire presented a Report, The Welsh Language Today, and one of the recommendations they made was that those legal obstacles to the use of the Welsh language which still remained should be removed. This, therefore, was one of the points which the members of the Hughes Parry Committee had in front of their minds during their deliberations.

The Report of the Committee was presented in October, 1965, and its recommendations were debated in another place in December, 1965. The Government found that it could accept the main recommendations of the Committee, and the Bill your Lordships are now considering will give effect to those of the accepted recommendations which require changes in the law. Four main changes are proposed. The first is the removal of the present limitation on the use of Welsh in courts. The second will enable Ministers to prescribe Welsh versions of statutory forms and words whenever they are satisfied that this is justified. The third change will ensure that such Welsh versions shall in general have the like effect as the English versions. These three measures are intended to give effect to the Government's declared policy to enhance the status of the Welsh language, not only in legal proceedings in Wales and Monmouthshire but also in the conduct of public business generally. The final provision in the Bill will amend the Wales and Berwick Act 1746, so that the expression "England" in any future legislation shall not cover Wales.

Looking at the Bill in more detail, we see that Clause 1 relates to the status of Welsh in legal proceedings and is intended to enable any person to speak Welsh in legal proceedings in Wales or Monmouthshire. This gives effect to recommendation No. 14 of the Hughes Parry Report, that all witnesses who desire to do so shall be able to give their evidence in Welsh. The wording of subsection (1) of the clause allows for the possibility that, in the case of proceedings in a court other than a magistrates' court, prior notice may be required by rules of court. Subsection (1) also refers to the provision for interpretation. Experience in magistrates' courts suggests that there is usually no difficulty with regard to interpretation in these courts. In the case of higher courts, however, it would appear to be to the convenience of the courts and to the parties to the proceedings that advance arrangements should be made for interpretation if required. The possibility of expensive adjournments and waste of time which might result while the services of an interpreter were obtained would then be avoided—a fact recognised by the Hughes Parry Committee in their recommendation No. 16. The wording of the clause allows for this.

Clause 1(2) repeals Section 1 of the Welsh Courts Act 1942, and the provisions of paragraph 7 of the Schedule to the Pensions Appeals Tribunals Act 1943. Under these enactments the Welsh language may be used by any party or witness, but only if he considers that he would otherwise be at a disadvantage by reason of the fact that his natural language of communication is Welsh. It is this restriction which has caused difficulty and embarrassment in the courts of Wales in recent months; and it is this restriction which the Bill will remove.

Clause 2 authorises the provision of Welsh versions of certain forms and words which are specified by or under Acts of Parliament; and it provides for determining the circumstances and conditions subject to which these versions may be used. There has up to now been doubt as to whether it has been legally possible to prescribe Welsh versions of such forms, and to ensure that this doubt is removed in all cases the clause has been drafted in the widest terms. It will give Ministers in the future the power to prescribe Welsh versions of any such documents or words whenever they feel that this is justified. They are therefore given complete discretion to decide in what circumstances to exercise the power. This clause also gives the appropriate Minister the power to prescribe conditions subject to which a Welsh version may be used. The intention is that the power to prescribe Welsh versions shall in general be exercised only in regard to Wales and Monmouthshire.

My Lords, Clause 3 contains supplementary provisions in respect of the Welsh versions of any documents or words which are authorised by Clause 2. Subsection (1) provides that things done in Welsh in such a version shall have like effect as if done in English. Subsection (2)(a) contains a power to provide that in the case of any discrepancy between an English and a Welsh text the English text shall prevail. For example, it may well be necessary to stipulate, when prescribing a Welsh form of notice which has to be published, that the requirements for publication will be satisfied only by the publication of two forms, one in each language, or of a form containing the notice in both languages; and in case there may be a discrepancy between the text in English and that in Welsh, it may be necessary to prescribe that one version—the English version—shall prevail. Subsection (2)(b) prescribes the conditions subject to which a document shall be treated as a true copy of another document.

I come now to Clause 3(3). Some statutory provisions allow the use of a document or words to the like effect as a prescribed form of document or words. This subsection authorises a similar departure from the prescribed form of document or words in the case of a Welsh version as is allowed in the case of an English version. Subsection (4) provides that the powers conferred by subsection (1) of Clause 2 shall be exercisable only by Statutory Instrument to be laid before Parliament. It includes the power to vary or revoke an Order made under that subsection.

Under Clause 4, the Wales and Berwick Act 1746, which provides that references in Acts of Parliament to England include reference to Wales and Berwick, is amended so that "Wales" shall not in future legislation be covered by the expression "England". This brings the law into line with current drafting practice. But so that there shall not be any misunderstanding, I want to emphasise that the legal position of Monmouthshire is not affected by this provision. Apart from the matters dealt with in this Bill there are no legal obstacles to the use of Welsh in public administration in Wales. To avoid any doubt on this point the position is safeguarded by Clause 5(3).

These then, my Lords, are the provisions of the Welsh Language Bill. It is a sincere attempt to strengthen and dignify the status of the Welsh language, while at the same time respecting the rights of those who do not speak it. It removes the remaining restrictions on the use of Welsh in legal proceedings and in the conduct of official and public business. The removal of these restrictions is evidence of the desire of the Government to do all they can to foster the Welsh language. The Bill will do away with those irritating anachronisms which have up till now given the Welsh language a lower status than the English langauge in the eyes of the law and in public administration in Wales and Monmouthshire. As such, it deserves full backing, and I am confident that it will receive your Lordships' wholehearted support.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Phillips.)

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for introducing this Bill with her usual charm and efficiency. It follows very naturally the speech which she made only last week on the subject of racial discrimination. Let me say straight away that I find it a sensible Bill. As the noble Baroness explained, it arises out of the Report of the Committee presided over by Sir David Hughes Parry on the legal status of the Welsh language. It puts into effect some of the more uncontroversial recommendations in that Report, and, sensibly to my mind, avoids some of the recommendations which are much more controversial and with which some of us do not agree.

I say that the Bill is sensible, because I think that it is really common sense that is most required when we discuss or take any action about the difficult subject of the Welsh language, because there are extremists at both ends, and they differ sharply, and often very loquaciously. There are on one side those who say that there is no point in encouraging a language which they consider to be dying, when in any case a large number of those who speak it are also fluent in English. On the other side there are those who consider that Welsh is the living language of Wales and, consequently, that it should enjoy exactly the same status as English—in fact, that Wales should be bilingual.

In my opinion, the first category ignore the fact that Welsh is a living language, with a long history and a fine literature, and that to destroy it would be to eliminate one of the essential characteristics of the Welsh people. I would venture the guess that a great many of us who may not be able to speak Welsh, other than sing Land of our Fathers, at the same time take a pride in the existence of the Welsh language. The second category ignore the facts of life in modern Wales and the existence of a majority of English-speaking Welshmen, the administrative complications and the financial cost of providing complete bilingualism. I take the view that common sense requires a middle road between these two extremes, a road which the Hughes Parry Report recommended and in favour of which they found an overwhelming majority—what they called the principle of equal validity. The noble Baroness mentioned the Report of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, which put it very well. Perhaps I may quote a short paragraph. They said: The task of statesmanship in Wales, as the Council see it, is to foster the growth of the Welsh language and to do this in ways acceptable to all Welshmen, who themselves for the most part are proud of the language and desire to see it survive. At the same time, measures must not be such as to inflict any hardship upon any group within the community. That is put as well as I could put it. It seems to me the right principle, and it is the principle that lies behind this Bill.

So far as the Bill itself goes, I have only one question to put to the noble Baroness. It concerns the question of proceedings in magistrates' courts where, under Clause 1 of the Bill, no prior notice will have to be given by a person who wishes to speak Welsh. The noble Baroness said that experience had shown that hitherto there has been no difficulty. But, of course, under the present law a person may speak Welsh only if he would be suffering a hardship if he were not allowed to do so. Under the Bill, he will be able to speak Welsh if he wishes to. Therefore, there will be many more cases of people wishing to give evidence or defend themselves in Welsh, and I foresee that there may well be difficulties in magistrates' courts, particularly in areas of Wales which are largely English-speaking and in Monmouthshire. I should have thought that it would be much more sensible if prior notice were given in every case, including proceedings in magistrates' courts, before a person appeared and spoke Welsh in them. The other clauses seem sensible to me, and I support the Second Reading of this Bill.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Ogmore and Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, for allowing me to speak before them, for certain reasons. I should like to begin by congratulating the Government most warmly on this Bill. I do so as one who holds a unique position in your Lordships' House because, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-v-Gest, I am the only Peer who habitually speaks Welsh. I speak more English in one hour here in London than I do in a whole month at home.

The fact that this Bill gives equal validity to the Welsh language in Wales—a dignity and a status it has not enjoyed for centuries—is a source of pride and satisfaction to me and to all Welsh people, both Welsh and non-Welsh speaking. I should like especially to congratulate the Secretary of State for Wales for presenting this Bill. It is an historical event. I hold no brief for Mr. Cledwyn Hughes, but knowing as I do his great love of Wales and of everything appertaining to Wales, I am personally distressed and hurt when I find him subjected to abuse from time to time by a small clique in the Principality. It is unworthy of my people, and if my voice carries any weight at all in the Principality, I would appeal to these people to cease from this very unkind practice and to co-operate with my right honourable friend in his divers efforts on behalf of the Wales he loves.

This Bill endeavours to remedy an injustice which we in Wales have suffered for over 400 years. Ironically enough, it was a Welsh-speaking Welshman who caused this injustice. He was Henry VIII, the greatest King who ever sat on the British throne. Oh yes, my Lords! I am aware of his matrimonial frolics, but he learned those from his English courtiers. Henry Viii loved Wales and the Welsh. In the Preamble to his 1536 Act I find the following words: His Highness therefore of a singular zeal, love and favour that he beareth towards his subjects of his said Dominion of Wales … That is as near an approach to a love letter as I have read. His motives were to give to the Welsh people the same dignity and the same standing as those enjoyed at the time by his English subjects. It is a classic example of a man doing the right thing in the wrong way.

Welsh is an ancient and beautiful language, with a literature going back to the 7th century, and it would be a loss not only to these Islands but to civilisation if it were to be neglected and allowed to die. It may be of interest to the House to know that I was brought up in a home where Welsh was the normal form of conversation. We did not speak it in school; indeed, shortly before my time Welsh was severely prohibited. Those were the days of the Welsh Not, when any child would be punished if one of the teachers heard him say a word of Welsh either in the school or in the playground. This was the official attitude, and it is remarkable that the language has survived in the face of such repression.

During this century the official attitude has changed completely, and both central and local government have adopted a civilised and liberal attitude towards the preservation of the language. There are people who say that it is not worth while conserving it, because it is not a commercial language, it has no commercial value. In other words, the language of business, science, law and technology is English. Why bother, therefore, with Welsh? But surely this is a very pedestrian and illiberal argument. The more languages people can speak, the better. While English, with two or three other major languages, will continue to be preponderant, there is no reason why Welsh and other languages should not survive. In Switzerland children speak four languages, and there is no reason why they should not do so in this country. I have friends who are extremely liberal and compassionate in their attitude towards countries thousands of miles away. They would not dream of prohibiting and stultifying the use of Swahili in East Africa, but they take a peculiarly illiberal view towards the Welsh language.

Having said this, I would remark that the majority of us who are Welsh speaking recognise, at the same time, that two-thirds of the people of Wales speak English, and English only. They are none the less good Welshmen, for all that. Had I been born a few miles from my home village of Rhosllanerchrugoc it is unlikely that I should have been Welsh speaking: it is just the right side of the border. We must, therefore, seek to keep the balance in Wales between the two elements, because otherwise we shall divide Wales and perhaps create there another Ulster. That would be disastrous. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who is also a Welsh speaker, is very much aware of this danger. And to those who use the language for political ends I would issue this warning: if you make the language a party political instrument, you will in the end be guilty of its destruction.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has, in my view, produced an historic Bill. It creates the framework which enables those who desire to speak Welsh to do so. At present, my Lords, no Welshman can speak his own language in a court of law in Wales unless he can show that he would otherwise be at a disadvantage because his natural language of communication was Welsh. This is really intolerable. Someone may say: "But is it not the case that prac- tically all the people of Wales can speak English?" This is probably true. There are some in the rural areas who are still monoglot; but there are many thousands who speak English who have to think in Welsh, and when they speak English they are translating from Welsh thoughts—and they do it magnificently. Indeed, I am doing it now. If your Lordships could read my thoughts now, you would find that they were distinctly Welsh. But these people would be most reluctant, I am sure, to declare in any court of law that they could not understand or speak English, although they suffer as a result.

Let me give your Lordships an illustration. Your Lordships will remember that after the last war ex-Servicemen had to do a fortnight's training in the summer. A constituent of mine—I was an M.P. in those days—wrote to tell me that he had been called up for this fortnight's training, although he was the only blacksmith in the area. He worked on his own, and was serving farmers for miles around. I knew that anyone who worked on his own was allowed to be excused from this training, and I went to the War Office to ask about this man. They said to me: "Here is his file, and he tells us that he has a partner". I went all the way to Wales to see the man. I said to him: "Apparently you have not told me the whole story. You have a partner, have you not?" He said:" Well, yes; but not working with me." You see, my Lords, in Wales "partner" means "a friend"—a man with whom you go to the local or to church, or you spend the evenings with. That is what this man meant. When he was asked by the interviewer: "Have you a partner?", he said, "Yes". When I explained to the? War Office they granted him release, and he was not compelled to go to this camp. Your Lordships were laughing at what I said, and I can understand it as laughter of affection. But I sometimes hear people laugh because they hear the Welsh people speaking in this way, and they misunderstand, as in the case I exampled just now. But I want to remind those people that the people of Wales can speak two languages: they can speak their own language. and a foreign language from across the Border.

This Bill also enables official forms to be translated into the Welsh language, and this is on the criterion that there is a fair demand for them. Of course, a large number of forms are already available in Welsh, and if there is a demand, then I feel it right that people should be given the opportunity to have forms in the Welsh language. But, equally, there are many forms used only in limited fields where it would be hard to argue that the translation would be justified. We must keep a sense of proportion about this matter and I am sure that with a little common sense we can achieve a satisfactory solution.

I have already congratulated the Government and the Secretary of State for Wales. I should like to congratulate also Sir David Hughes Parry and the two members of his Committee, Mr. D. Jones Williams and Professor Clanmore Williams, who were responsible for the Report on the Welsh language which preceded this Bill. They are three distinguished Welshmen, and we are in their debt. It is a tribute to them that the Government have seen fit to accept almost all of their recommendations. They rejected the principle of bilingualism in their Report and came out for equal validity. I remember the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right honourable James Griffiths, declaring that this should be the policy; and we agreed with him in the Welsh Grand Committee. I am sure that these men were right when they recommended this. I want this to be quite clear, for there is a small element in Wales which is still agitating for bilingualism. To seek to force bilingualism on Wales would, in my view, not only be impracticable and derisive but would also do lasting harm. You cannot force any language down people's throats. This has been the experience in the Republic of Ireland, and we should learn from that experience.

I should like to repeat and endorse what the Secretary of State for Wales said in a speech on Whit Monday: that you cannot preserve a language by an Act of Parliament or by translating official forms. As he said, the language will survive only if the people who speak it have the will and determination to keep it alive. It is in the home, the chapel and the church; it is in the coalmine, the quarry and on the factory floor, in the school and in the playground that the language will survive. The Government have done their part, and we know there is a reservoir of goodwill in the Welsh Office and in local government. Let us make use of the facilities that are now available to us. Let us not lay the blame at the door of others. We have opportunities that we have never had before. It is the responsibility of every Welshman and Welshwoman to ensure that we make the best use of them.

In conclusion, I feel prompted to say that there is one observation in Sir David Hughes Parry's Report which is rather disturbing, and it refers to Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. I have a high regard for Cardiff and I am proud of the city. I am about to make a criticism in the best spirit and hope it will hurt no-one. Referring to the magistrates' court at Cardiff, the Report states that neither the clerk nor any member of his staff speaks Welsh. I am sure this is by accident, of course, and not by design. It is obvious, therefore, that if the clerk receives a letter written in Welsh, he has to submit it to someone outside his staff to clarify it.

It is my opinion, and I am sure I could have carried the Lord Chancellor with me in this view, had he been present, that no correspondence sent to a clerk of a court of Justice should be seen by anyone outside the clerk's staff. The very nature of the court correspondence should enjoy the strictest confidence. I am aware that official interpreters, sworn to secrecy, are often attached to a court, and I have no doubt such a person or persons would be employed by this particular staff at Cardiff. But I should like to think that there was at least one individual on that staff who could readily understand a letter written in the language spoken by so many people in the Principality.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of the Liberal Peers of this House who, like the other Peers from other Parties, are not in great profusion here to-night, I should like to welcome this Bill. It is long overdue. Why it was not brought in many years ago I cannot understand. Undoubtedly, in my view, in the past there have been great injustices perpetrated against the people of Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, has just given us one example of the sort of thing that happens over translation and the difference in the meaning of a word from Welsh to English. I am quite certain from my own experience of younger days in Wales that there have been great injustices.

Of course, there are the practical effects. They will not be as great as they would have been fifty years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, gave us some statistics, and I should like to give the House one or two further figures which I think will put the position in a clear light. My own county, Glamorgan, has a population of over 46 per cent. of that of Wales as a whole. Almost one in every two Welshmen lives in Glamorgan. No less than three-quarters of the population of Wales lives within a radius of 50 miles of Cardiff, which of course is in Glamorgan. According to the Hughes Parry Report, the Welsh speaking portion of Wales, monoglot or bilingual, is at most 26 per cent. I should have thought that that was rather a high figure, in view of the fact that on the Census form a person had to describe his own linguistic attainments, and I imagine a good many people put themselves down as bilingual when they were not truly bilingual and were not able to speak Welsh in the fashion of Lord Maelor or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest.

I rather looked at the point myself, and it is a question which many people would have to decide one way or the other. Some would give themselves the benefit of the doubt, and put themselves down as bilingual. I rather think more put themselves down as bilingual who were not really bilingual than put themselves down as not bilingual but who were. However, let us accept the figures of the Hughes Parry Report, which were taken from the Census. In Glamorgan Welsh speakers number only 17 per cent. to 18 per cent., and in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, only 4.7 per cent., which is possibly why they are not highly staffed with Welsh speakers in the magistrates' courts in Cardiff.

As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has said—and I think both he and the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, gave very wise advice to those who are trying to force the pace a bit with regard to the use of the Welsh language—Welsh is a very old language. In fact, it is the oldest living language in Europe, and it should be remembered that when one hears Lord Maelor or Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest speaking in accomplished Welsh one is listening to a language which has come down from before Roman times. It has been altered; it has been streamlined; to some extent some of the flourishes have gone off it: the ultimate syllables have gone from Welsh words, but basically it is the same language—the old British language of these Islands before Roman times, during Roman times and since. We have excellent poems of Aneurin and Taliesin of the 6th century—written poems—and I know of no other European language which can produce poems of that ancient character to-day.

It always annoys me when people in this House and in another place and elsewhere talk about the use of woad as if it was something which constituted us, the ancient Britons, as barbarians. It is nothing of the kind. We used woad for the same purpose as the Commandos used black paint and mud on their faces in the last war, to terrorise the enemy. The old Celts were the most artistic people of their time, possibly one of the most artistic races that has ever lived. We are now seeing, through developments of archaeology, many of their products, of jewellery and silverware, of goldware and carving. There is also the history of the Celtic Church, After all, I imagine there could not have been a population of more than a few hundred thousand all told: after the Romans there were probably no more than 100,000, if that. What race of that size could produce two saints, both of them patron saints to this day, and a large number of minor saints? I am sorry the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is not here to give us an exposition on the Celtic saints. There are two patron saints, St. Patrick and St. David, and the ancient Celtic Church carried the beacon of Christianity in Western Europe after the Romans had departed.

So when we are talking about Welsh we are talking about this beautiful, ancient language which is a tremendous keepsake. It is a most important asset, not only to Wales but to Britain. So far from our being barbaric, the reason the Emperor Claudius attacked these Islands was because the Welsh, the Celts in these Islands, were running a resistance movement for the benefit of the Gauls in what is now France.

As I am talking about things not strictly in the terms of the Bill, may I say a word about Henry VIII? The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, referred to him as one of the greatest Kings there has ever been, and that raised a laugh. He was a great King. I will not say that he was one of the greatest of the British Kings, but he was a great King, and his religious and matrimonial troubles have rather disguised his greatness from historians and the people of this country. He had free trade, and the economy of this country was in a higher state in his day, with free trade than it was until the 19th century, when there was also free trade under Mr. Gladstone and other distinguished politicians.

In addition—and this is rather interesting—Henry VIII was a most cultured man, and used to draft his own Bills. I do not know how many other Kings have been able to do that. So when Lord Maelor talked about the love letter between himself and the people of Wales, he was speaking quite truly, because Henry VIII undoubtedly, drafted the Preamble, which was quoted, to the Bill himself. One of the reasons, as he said in the Preamble to the Bill, that he was bringing in this Bill was because a lot of crooks (he did not use that language, but that was what was meant) were victimising the Welsh people because they could not speak English.

But, my Lords, may I say that in my view, as important as, if not more important than, preservation of the Welsh language, important as that is, is the constant need to maintain our national identity; and this national identity of Wales is being constantly eroded by Governments, of whatever political flavour they may be, in London. I would refer, for example, to the various statutory Boards the directorships of which have no representation from Wales as such. I have complained about this in your Lordships' House recently. There is the Board of B.E.A., which no longer has a representative from Wales; also B.O.A.C. And the C.D.C. no longer has a representative from Wales; nor has the Meat and Livestock Commission. The C.W.S.—although this is not the fault of the Government—I see, are closing down their headquarters in Cardiff and are to run from Bristol. Why? Wales has a population of two and a half mil- lion—which is the same as the population of New Zealand. Surely the Co-operative Wholesale Society could so organise their affairs that they have their headquarters for Wales in Wales, rather than go to Bristol.

But things are moving in Wales, and Mr. Emlyn Hooson has a Bill down for a domestic Parliament for Wales, and I hope that in due course, if it passes another place, we shall have the opportunity of considering it here. I believe that during the lifetime of the youngest Member of this House now present we shall see a domestic Parliament for Wales, and possibly one for Scotland, as well as one for England.

There are just three questions that I would ask the noble Baroness, though before I do so may I say how pleased I am that she moved the Second Reading of this Bill and will be replying to the debate. I knew her late husband very well. He was a Welshman who loved Wales, and it is appropriate that the noble Baroness, who always carries out her duties with such charm, will be doing so this evening. I have not given the noble Baroness notice of my three questions, so if she cannot answer them to-night no doubt they can be dealt with at a later stage.

First of all, what is the position of cheques under this Bill? I see that the Caernarvonshire County Council want the right—and why should they not have it? —to write cheques in Welsh; and they have been told by the Gnomes of whatever banking place it is in the City that they cannot do so. Is this proper under this Bill? Has the Minister any authority over the Bank of England and the other members of the Clearing Houses Association? If not, will the Minister, who is, I understand, considering this question, be prepared to have a clearing house for Wales? New Zealand manages to clear its own cheques perfectly well; so does the Republic of Ireland—both with the same population as we have. Why cannot we have our own clearing house, and not depend upon these gentlemen in the City of London who do not want to read Welsh?


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware of it, but even to-day the Midland Bank issue cheques in the Welsh language—not exclusively Welsh: the wording is in English and Welsh. I often get cheques from the Midland Bank saying, "Taler"—Pay. I am unable to, but it does not make any difference.


My Lords, I am glad to hear that. I am delighted to hear that all his cheques are paid. That is not the experience of all of us, but it is what I should have expected of him. But the point I was making—whatever the Midland Bank does—was that the Caernarvonshire County Council wish to make cheques in Welsh only. They do not want "bilingual" cheques. And I should think that a cheque would be pretty crowded if it was bilingual; most cheques have enough writing on them as it is. However, this is a point which the noble Baroness can take up in due course.

Secondly, the noble Baroness made a somewhat Delphic utterance about Monmouthshire. I do not quite see the point. Does she mean that Monmouthshire, because it is now to be regarded as, Welsh, is not necessarily Welsh; or what are we to understand from that? I personally regard Monmouthshire as Welsh, and always have done; and the claim that Monmouthshire is not comes from the Act Lord Maelor mentioned, which has nothing to do with nationalism, but relates to the assize courts. In earlier days the roads were very bad, and it was often easier to get assize judges from Oxford than to get them to Monmouthshire from Swansea or other parts of Wales. It was purely a matter of administrative convenience for the assizes and had nothing whatever to do with nationalism or national boundaries.

Lastly, I understand that it is proposed under this Bill to have separate forms in English and in Welsh. The Liberals feel that this would be highly inconvenient, and indeed might cause a good deal of difficulty, because it might be found that in some places (Monmouthshire is an example, but perhaps the same might apply in Brecon or Radnorshire) a man would go along and want a Welsh form, and. because Welsh forms were rarely used, might find difficulty in getting it. The office would not stock the Welsh form. Again, if every office were expected to stock both Welsh and English forms there might be a great waste of forms and money. Would it not be better, therefore—we would put this proposal very strongly—to do as is done in Canada and Switzerland and have bilingual forms—that is, to have every form in two languages, rather than to have them separate? My Lords, with those few questions and the very minor criticism—although it is a criticism-I welcome this Bill and wish it well in its future stages.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, I have the honour to be a Member of your Lordships' House in a capacity which makes it appropriate that my place should be on the Cross-Benches, but I am happy to think that this is a Bill which is entitled to the support of your Lordships from all parts of the House. I very much hope therefore that your Lordships will give a warm welcome to this Bill. If thereby your Lordships confirm or enhance the status of the Welsh language, your Lordships will be doing so in respect of a living language—as has been stated—one of the oldest of our spoken languages. In places where Welsh to-day is freely used there is nothing forced or artificial or simulated about that use. In those places it is the language of the hearth, the home, the farm, the market place, the street. the playground, the church and the chapel.

It would, I suggest, be a very great tragedy if the Welsh language were gradually to decline. That there has been a decline in the last 100 years is, of course, undoubted—more's the pity! As recently as the 1931 Census I think it was shown that the number of persons of three years of age and over who spoke only Welsh was nearly 198,000. To-day, it is of course essential that all who speak Welsh should also speak English; and so they do. But surely there is a gain in the case of those who are able to speak both languages.

Members of small nations must speak more than one language. If one speaks to a Norwegian and one is tempted to congratulate him respectfully on the quality of his English, he makes reply, "But in my country, my small country, I must learn English". My Lords, so it must be in the case of small nations. We know the figures to-day, and out of a population of roughly 2½ million the number who to-day sneak Welsh is only 26 per cent., though in three counties the percentage who speak Welsh is over 75 per cent.

There have been times in past history when the use of Welsh was not only discouraged, but even positively suppressed. I hope I can say that the Welsh have never been a people who nurse grievances. I hope I can say that the Welsh have got rather too much sense of humour, I hope sense of dignity, I hope sense of historical perspective, to spend their time talking about or nursing grievances. It is perhaps almost a marvel that the decline in the number of Welsh speakers has not been more pronounced than it has been. It may be that its survival and its present vigour to the extent that it is spoken has owed much to the Welsh Bible. This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the translation of the New Testament into Welsh by William Salisbury. Before that date, in 1563, there had been an Act of Parliament giving statutory permission, and indeed a specific mandate, for the translation of the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible into Welsh. That was followed in 1588 by the great work of Bishop Morgan, who translated the whole Bible into Welsh. I feel sure that much has been owed to the existence of the Bible in the Welsh language.

So also, my Lords, much has been owed to the existence of a great volume of literature. Your Lordships may be familiar with the Oxford Book of English Verse. I think the earliest poem in that volume is dated 1226. Your Lordships may not be so familiar with the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse. The earliest poems in that volume are from the 6th century, many from the 7th century. and a great many from the period before Chaucer, during which period in England there are not, in the Oxford Book of English Verse, nearly so many reproductions.

In this volume, the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse, it is said in the introduction: That a 6th century Welsh poem can, with a little annotation, be made intelligible to an educated modern speaker of the language may he just an intriguing fact or a mere indication of the static nature of the medium. Pondered upon, however, the fact gives a partial explanation of the traditional nature of Welsh poetry, for at no time throughout the long history of that poetry was any generation of writers precluded by linguistic difficulties from knowing what all past generations had been saying. My Lords, surely that is a language that merits efforts to preserve it. Surely the preservation of the Welsh language is therefore something to be encouraged. It is not something just to be tolerated in any spirit of amused or cynical condescension. It should, I submit to your Lordships, be warmly and actively supported. I therefore warmly welcome this Bill. I like the language of the Preamble, bold and clear: Whereas it is proper that the Welsh language should be freely used by those who so desire in the hearing of legal proceedings in Wales and Monmouthshire…". I do not know whether it may become necessary to define at all what "legal proceeding" means in Clause 1. It may be that no difficulties will arise. I do not anticipate any practical difficulties in the working in courts of law of the provisions of this Bill. If your Lordships will forgive a personal reference, I have had the privilege of presiding now for nearly a quarter of a century in a court of quarter sessions in one part of Wales where Welsh is very widely spoken. I cannot think that there will be any difficulties once the principle of this Act is adopted, provided that it is operated (as I am sure it will be) with common sense and with goodwill. In an area such as that of which I speak it is unlikely that all those summoned to serve on a jury would be Welsh speaking. In practice the proceedings are, of course, in the English language. New magistrates, when they are sworn in, I find these days more often than not take the two oaths in the Welsh language.

I would confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, has said, that very often it can happen—and does happen—that though somebody speaks English, and speaks it well, he speaks Welsh even better. But apart from that his thoughts are in the Welsh language, and such a person may be more at ease if he is allowed to speak in his own language. He should surely be allowed to do so if he so desires. It cannot be a very revolutionary principle that somebody should be allowed to speak his own language in his own country. The provisions of the Act of 1942 will ensure that no difficulties arise for the purposes of an appeal. It will he necessary to see that on the shorthand note everything is made available lest there should be an appeal to the Court of Appeal, and the judge or chairman will have to ensure that everything important that is said in Welsh is translated into English so that it may be on the record. The process of interpretation works very smoothly in my experience. In the court of which I have been speaking there is an interpreter who is available, and he is highly skilled. There is hardly any time taken; hardly any waste of time by the process of translation. The whole thing works quite smoothly.

It follows from what I have said that I favour all proper activities which are calculated to promote and encourage the increase of the Welsh language. I would add, however, that those positive activities are for places other than courts of law. In a court of law the sole business must be that of administering justice impartially and conscientiously, but with fairness to all.

If I may, I will add only this. As we have been speaking so much about Wales, perhaps I may be allowed to say, as a Welshman, that I have never found, and never will find, that my loyalty and devotion to Wales forms any bar or impediment to my genuine admiration for the sterling qualities of the Englishman. My loyalty and devotion to Wales are complementary to and form just a part of my loyalty and devotion to that greater area that I always like to call Great Britain.

8.44 p.m.


My Lords, as one of the few Englishmen in this House who live in Wales, I should like very briefly to add my support for this Bill. As one who lives in an area predominantly Welsh speaking, I am certain that everything in the Bill will be welcomed by those who live around me. There are just two queries that I have in mind. One is that I have always been told that the people of North Wales cannot understand the people of South Wales, and one wonders whether there will sometimes be difficulty over a translation which will be understood by both. I have been told that the matter may have to be referred to the Welsh Board of Celtic Studies. This indicates to the House that there are difficulties, or may be difficulties, if my information is correct.

The other question I should like to ask is whether this Bill can be put in reverse in the case of an Englishman duly elected to a rural district council whose members speak nothing but Welsh and who keep all their records in Welsh. In one case I know of an Englishman who went there and they refused to translate anything to him at all. He finally gave up. I am glad to know that there is now an Englishman on another local council where they have appointed two interpreters to help him, and I believe he is quite satisfied. It seems to me that this is a position which needs to be clarified, because the same position could no doubt come about on any parish council or anywhere else, and I have never heard any ruling on the point as to whether the council concerned must translate for this duly elected representative of the district.

8.46 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to congratulate My noble friend Lady Phillips on introducing such an historic measure. It appears to me that my noble friend is destined to make history in this House, first of all as being the first lady to sit on the Government Front Bench, and now in being instrumental in introducing this historic Bill which is destined to remove a stigma from the Welsh language that has endured for well nigh seven centuries.

We have been the victims of an injustice that has been imposed by some of the Plantagenets, and indeed by the Tudors, with the noble exception of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Some of the worst imposters were the Border barons. When I look at the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, across the gangway, I find his presence here to-night in support some atonement for the misdeeds of the Border barons of other days. It is a strange thing that when you read about the history of the Welsh language it is the Welsh people themselves—I mean the Welsh landowners, the Welsh noblemen, the few that we have had—who really were guilty of the greatest treachery towards the Welsh language. As a matter of fact, the Welsh landowners thought that to speak Welsh was the badge of ignorance, and that to speak English was the mark of erudition, and therefore they sought to Anglicize their children.

I speak from experience on this point. You teach an Englishman the Welsh language, he masters it, and what happens? He becomes a Welsh citizen more royal than a Queen. But if you anglicize a Welshman what happens? You produce a mischievous Englishman. It needs to be said that in the 19th century it was the treachery of the leaders of the Welsh nation, in the field of the nobility and landowning section of the community, which inflicted some of the worse treacheries in so far as the Welsh language was concerned. It is no longer the case, of course.

Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, to the famous Statute of 1663 which was of great assistance in the propagation of Welsh, the right by law to have the Prayer Book and Bible translated into the Welsh language. Other noble Lords have referred to the great change in Wales which that indicated. But let me say that the movement to which we owe so much in maintaining the Welsh language is, I think, the Welsh Nonconformist Movement of the 19th century. That movement did more to maintain and to keep the Welsh language alive than any other movement in the history of the land.

I should like to refer to the need for textbooks in Welsh. The difficulty here is that the Welsh market is so small that it is difficult for any Welsh textbook to be produced at a profit. I should like the Government to take a look at this question, to see whether, if Welsh textbooks become necessary in relation to the development which will follow on this Bill when it becomes law, there may not be a case for Government help to authors of approved textbooks in Welsh.

I want to add my support to the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who referred to forms being issued separately in Welsh and in English. It seems to me that that is hardly necessary. Why clutter up the Bill with so much paper? Why not have a bilingual form printed? Experience will tell the Departments exactly what the need will be, and then, instead of issuing separate forms, bilingual forms with the Welsh translated from the English could be approved as a standard translation. This is done in Canada and elsewhere. Therefore I think the Government should have a look at this matter again, to see whether this is not practical as well as economic, and by Amendment to provide for the issuing of bilingual forms.

I have no hesitation in supporting this Bill and in commending the excellent work done by the right honourable gentleman, James Griffiths, the First Secretary of State for Wales, followed of course by the present holder of that office. Between them they have been responsible for the introduction of this long overdue reform, destined to remove one of the most historic grievances that the Welsh people have had to sustain over the years.

8.53 p.m.


My Lords, whatever doubts any English or Scottish Member of this House may have, he certainly cannot doubt that Welsh is a beautiful language. This evening we have had speeches delivered in English by Welsh Members of your Lordships' House and speaking with a beautiful lilt which only a Welshman can bring to the language. One of the nicest compliments I have had paid me recently was when I was visiting Devon on my tour of the post offices on behalf of the Government. One dear old Englishman described me as "a lovely woman, speaking with a lovely Welsh accent." As an Englishwoman who had an Irish mother, I had the privilege of being married to a Welshman. I considered that a great compliment.

There is little doubt that the welcome given to this Bill has been a warm one; and there is little doubt, too, that this is an historic occasion. I regard it as a great privilege to be part of it. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will take to himself the words that have been uttered here this evening, both of welcome and of commendation for his own work and that of the previous Secretary of State for Wales, in bringing about such an occasion.

As so many of your Lordships have said this evening, as well as being an ancient language, Welsh is indeed a living language. In this Bill we are concerned with the fact that it is a living language, and therefore there must be ample opportunity for those for whom it is a living language to use it on every occasion.

I must say that we have been given a wonderfully historic picture this evening. We have been taken back to the earliest times and we have been brought to the period of Henry VIII. My noble friend Lord Longford apologises to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for not being present in the Chamber during his speech, but he wishes me to assure him that he is also one of the Clan of Rees, and therefore feels that they have a great deal in common. At a later date he will be happy to discuss with the noble Lord the many Celtic Saints.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, put to Her Majesty's Government the most interesting suggestion that perhaps magistrates' courts could be included in the places where prior notice of the use of Welsh should be given. My reply to the noble Lord is that hitherto in Welsh-speaking areas interpretation in magistrates' courts has not posed any problem, and in any event the adjournment of a magistrates' court is not quite so inconvenient or expensive as would be the case with a higher court.

My noble friend Lord Maelor quoted the fact that the child was punished for speaking Welsh. I would remind him that even an Englishwoman like myself has wept over the story of How Green Was My Valley! I remember well the little boy who was punished for speaking his own language. I would also tell my noble friend that even if only one-third of the population speak Welsh, Her Majesty's Government believe that that one-third should have the consideration that this Bill will give them.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, asked three questions. He dealt first with the question of cheques—we seem to be extremely interested in giving little boosts to the banks nowadays. Last week, in a debate on Race Relations, one noble Lord mentioned a particular bank that offered no discrimination. This evening we have heard again of a particular bank which already issues bilingual cheques. I am informed (I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, will be glad to know this) that bilingual cheques are already available. This Bill, of course, deals with the status of language in courts and in public administration, but Her Majesty's Government hope that commercial enterprises and other fields will take note of this, and that there will be a much greater extension of the use of bilingual forms.

Then the noble Lord raised the question of Monmouthshire. I was warned about this earlier, and I should not like at this point to plunge into something which appears to be fraught with all sorts of complications. My note tells me that, from a legal point of view, Monmouthshire is in England, but that for administrative purposes it is usually joined with Wales. Under the Bill this situation is unchanged. If the noble Lord is not happy with this reply perhaps he would like to pursue it either with me privately or at the next stage of the Bill.


My Lords, may I take up that most handsome offer on the part of the noble Baroness? I personally do not accept that Monmouthshire is legally England. I think it is, and always has been, Welsh. But we can deal with that at a later stage.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. On the question of separate Welsh forms, I am happy to tell the noble Lord that the Bill provides in such a way that the appropriate Minister can, if he wishes, in each case prescribe forms in both English and Welsh. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, also will be glad to have that assurance.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Borth-y-Gest, delighted us with some further references to the reasons why the Welsh language is the living language it is to-day. I would certainly join with him in saying that the Bible has been a very important factor in this. I was delighted to hear from him that interpretation works smoothly and to know that this was being passed on to other noble Lords who thought that there might be some difficulty involved. Unfortunately I am not able to give a reply to the noble Lord, Lord Boston—I am sorry about this, since he is the only Englishman who has intervened in the debate—but I will see that he gets a reply during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House. I will also see that the noble Lord, Lord Moyle, gets the information about textbooks, and I will convey to Her Majesty's Government his admirable suggestion.

It is a great honour and privilege to take part in a debate of this kind. It has been an historic occasion—a sentimental occasion, but one which, nevertheless, is the culmination of the hopes of many Welshmen throughout the years. I have much pleasure in asking your Lordships to give your assent to the Second Reading of this Bill.

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