HL Deb 18 July 1973 vol 344 cc1246-9

7.45 p.m.

LORD STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL moved, That the Elections (Welsh Forms) Regulations 1973, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations touch on an important form but they involve no new principle, and I am happy to say, perhaps for the first time to-day, that they are not a matter for controversy. The form they prescribe is the basic canvass form which is issued to all householders each autumn as the basis for the preparation of the electoral register. The form was first prescribed in Welsh in 1965 under the Elections (Welsh Forms) Act 1964. The Welsh Language Act 1967 provided for the use of bilingual forms (or, as the Act expresses it, forms partly in Welsh and partly in English) and in consequence a bilingual Form A was prescribed in 1970 (in the Elections (Welsh Forms) (No. 5) Regulations 1970). This was the bilingual version of the revised English form prescribed in 1969.

The present regulations follow a minor revision in the English form which was approved by your Lordships' House on March 5 last. The change was consequential on the change in jury service effected by the Criminal Justice Act 1972. A column was added to Form A to enable those over 65 to be marked as ineligible for jury service, and this bilingual form prescribed by these regulations reflects this change. The changes are minor, and in essence the prescribed bilingual form is the same as that prescribed in 1970 which has been in use in Wales for the last three years. This has not been the subject of any complaint to the Home Office or to the Welsh Office. However, when these regulations were being considered in another place, mention was made of numerous grammatical and other errors in the Welsh translation. We have looked into this and I am advised that in the printing of the Statutory Instrument there are nine printers' errors in the Welsh text. I naturally apologise for this on behalf of the Department concerned, but I am assured that these errors will not occur in the forms actually distributed at the canvass this coming autumn.

As regards the correctness of the Welsh used, the translation is basically that made some years ago by a distinguished Welsh scholar. Of course translation can never be an exact science, and a true assessment of its success in a particular case can only be a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has been concerned about the criticisms which have been raised and he has arranged for the translation to be considered by the advisory panel which he consults on these matters, and this panel will be meeting next week. In the meantime, I express the hope that your Lordships' House will approve these regulations, in order to allow the appropriate form to be used in Wales this year in connection with the electoral register and the new arrangements for jurors. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Elections (Welsh Forms) Regulations 1973, be approved. —(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)


My Lords, we have to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, on his first appearance at the Box. We are delighted to welcome him here to that Box and also to congratulate him on his elevation to the post of a Lord in Waiting. His is not exactly a Welsh name—but neither is mine, so I cannot complain of his actually moving this Motion that we now have before us. This Motion is for a Statutory Instrument to be made under the 1967 Welsh Language Act, which in my opinion made an outstanding advance in bringing about the use of the Welsh language for legal and official purposes.

I support what an honourable friend of mine said in the other place when he paid tribute to the way in which both Governments, since the passing of the 1967 Act, have maintained the flow of translation. This has been going on to the satisfaction of Welsh-speaking people in Wales. I was going to complain a little of the translation, not because I know a great deal about it but rather because I consulted my honourable friends in another place who happen to be scholars in the Welsh language and they pointed out to me some of the errors. But I accept the point from the noble Lord that alterations are to be made and that when finally the election form is issued, it will be issued in a style which will be reasonably accurate and the translation will be such as to be acceptable to Welsh scholars. I could not very well have criticised the translation because I must admit I have to rely on my wife to translate the Welsh news for me. She unfortunately is quite often in the position of not understanding what the North Walians seem to be saying on television; but that is a matter of slight differences of language as between the North and the South.

My Lords, there is little else I need say, except to welcome the regulations as another earnest of the Government's intention to carry out both the letter and the spirit of the Welsh Language Act 1967. May I end by again congratulating the noble Lord upon his elevation. He has moved the Statutory Instrument which is before us, and I hope the House will accept it.


My Lords, I also extend a welcome to the noble Lord into the realm of Welsh affairs. With his usual courtesy, my noble friend Lord Champion has been too kind, because the criticisms in another place about this particular set of forms were really rather startling. I apologise for the fact that I did not realise that we were on this business so I was not able to hear the explanations of the noble Lord, but it is puzzling to me because under the last Administration we had in the Welsh Office a regular and highly learned body of persons, under the chairmanship of Professor Glanville Williams, in charge of the translations. Something seems to have gone awry.


My Lords, the problem is nine printer's errors in the Welsh text, for which I felt it was essential to apologise, and I do so again now. I do not think there is any reflection on the scholarship of the translation.


My Lords, I am delighted to have that reassurance. I hope, now everyone has gone to so much trouble, that the forms will be used, because our experience has been that after the greatest care and labours from the panel of translators either these forms are often not made obviously available (one has to ask for them and go to extra trouble in order to get them) or those who shout the loudest in public take the least trouble actually to collect the Welsh forms and use them. This I find extremely discouraging, and I hope it will not be the fate of the particular form we are discussing to-night.