§ 3.10 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead) rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 26th November be approved.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe that this is an uncontroversial matter but it may assist your Lordships if I offer a very brief explanation. It has been the practice of successive Administrations to ensure that the electorate of Wales have either bilingual or Welsh language versions of some of the most frequently used forms in connection with elections and electoral registration. The forms prescribed in these regulations are in Welsh only and may be used in Wales in place of the English forms. They are consequential upon the approval last year of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Regulations 1980. Those regulations prescribed inter alia the English forms used for the procedure for the amendment of the register of electors so as to include those who had been omitted when the register was first published. Your Lordships may remember that this change in our electoral procedures, which takes effect with the coming into operation next month, on the 16th February, of the 1981 electoral register, was widely welcomed.
§ As to the forms themselves in this statutory instrument, Form P is the form of objection for inclusion of an elector. This is not, in fact, a new form but an adaptation of an earlier one which was used solely in connection with the draft register. It will now be used for the final register as well as for the draft register. Form Z is a new form, which is the form of claim to be included in the published register of electors. Both forms follow the English versions as closely as any good translation will permit, taking account of the special requirements of grammar, style and idiom. As is customary, the forms have been prepared by translators in the Welsh Office in Cardiff who specialise in this work.
§ There is one other thing which I should just mention. The Government are grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for its scrutiny of this instrument and we will certainly consider the point which has been made by the Joint Committee concerning the explanatory note, which is a matter affecting not only this statutory instrument but. I suggest, is a matter of general application. However, that is a point which does not affect the translation into Welsh of the two forms to which these regulations refer and which I hope your Lordships will think it right to approve. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the regulations laid before the House on 26th November be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, may I say that we on this side of the House greatly welcome this provision and the provision of forms in Welsh for election purposes. Can the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, indicate what is the significance, if any, of any changes between the new proposed forms and the old ones, and may I ask whether he is happy about the first provision in Form P: 349Os anfonir y ffurflen hon i'r Swyddog Cofrestru drwy'r post, rhaid talu'r cludiad ymlaen llaw"?
If that fair? Is it really right? I am sure that the House will have followed every word of that, but for the benefit of those who do not know the language of Heaven I will translate it. It reads:
If this form is sent to the electoral registration officer"—
that is a form of objection to an entry in the electors' list—
by post, postage must be prepaid
That is not a very generous way of encouraging a full observance of proper, democratic and appropriate electoral procedure. Is the noble Lord aware that, subject to any views of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, it is my opinion that the Welsh is admirable and very clear, and I wish there was time to read more of it to the House in Welsh?
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, while from these Benches welcoming the form and the reason for the introduction of it, may I also draw attention to the third report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I see that the explanatory note attached to the form is entirely in English. It consists only of 10 lines, and surely it is not beyond the wit and the energy of the translators in the Welsh Office to translate the explanatory note into Welsh. If it is necessary for the form to be in Welsh (as it is in certain parts of Wales) equally it is desirable that the explanatory note should be in Welsh. From what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has said, I gather that the Government are going to consider sympathetically what was said by the Joint Committee in their third report, and as I understand that that committee is currently considering another Welsh form concerning housing, where it may be even more important that the explanatory note should be given in Welsh, can the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, tell us whether the Government intend to introduce into that form an explanatory note in Welsh?
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I should like to support my noble and learned friend in the welcome that he has extended to these regulations. They will be greatly appreciated in Wales, and particularly in those areas of Wales where Welsh is generally spoken and in some cases where Welsh is by far and away the primary language.
I think the point which my noble and learned friend made, and which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Hooson, about the explanatory note is the most important. If I may say so, the Welsh is admirable and the translators deserve all praise for that; but although, on the whole, Welsh people need explanatory notes less than English people, I think it would be a courtesy if that was provided.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and to the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for the welcome which they have been good enough to give to this statutory instrument. The noble and learned Lord asked me what is the significance of the two new forms which are the meat of this statutory instrument—Forms Z and P—and indeed the noble and learned Lord quoted from Form P, elegantly and incomprehensibly.
350 The significance, of course, is that the regulations which were made last year and which in my opening remarks I suggested were widely welcomed, and indeed have been welcomed again today, have a fundamental effect on the right of someone (be it man or woman) who is left off the register and instead of finding, once the register is published, which is to be this year on 16th February, that, either through mistake or inadvertence, one may have lost one's right to vote in the ensuing year, the effect of last year's regulations, which are now repeated in the Welsh language in Form Z, is to ensure that anyone can make a claim for inclusion on the register at any time, so long as it is not a time after which an election has been announced. Form P flows from that in the sense that the electoral registration officer, as your Lordships may remember, is then bound to advertise that a claim has been made and it is open to somebody using Form P to object to that particular claim. Form P has had to be changed very slightly because of the changes which have been made in Form Z.
So far as the prepayment of postage is concerned, I will certainly ask for this matter to be looked at, but I rather think that it is a practice hallowed by time and applying across the periods of different Administrations to both England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, both drew to the attention of the Government the inappropriateness (as they felt) of the explanatory memorandum being only in English, which of course is a matter to which the Joint Committee has also drawn attention.
I think it is right to make the point that these regulations—not, I admit, the explanatory memorandum—are made under the powers provided by Sections 4, 42 and 171(5) of the Representation of the People Act 1949, as extended by Section 2(2) of the Welsh Language Act 1967, and neither of those two Acts provides a power for regulations to be expressed in Welsh. The powers provided in those two pieces of legislation enable the Secretary of State to prescribe in Welsh, or partly in Welsh and partly in English, any document the form of which is specified by virtue of any power conferred by any enactment if the document is or may be used for any official or public purpose. That is why the regulation is in English.
So far as the explanatory note is concerned, I must admit that it has never been the practice to provide a Welsh translation of statutory instruments made under the Welsh Language Act, a piece of legislation which, of course, is itself expressed in English. But I think that in practice this will work out all right, for the forms in respect of which translations are prescribed will of course in practice be provided to electoral registration officers. Members of the public in Wales who speak Welsh need to have the forms translated, and it is for that that the regulations provide. Nevertheless, I take the point which has been made by both noble Lords, and finally by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that it would perhaps be more courteous if an explanatory note was expressed in both English and Welsh. We believe that this is a matter which should be looked at as being a matter of general application to all statutory instruments. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to take this away to be 351 looked at, and that they may feel that it is right now to approve the instrument.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.