§ 6.28 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (LORD STRABOLGI) in the Chair.]
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos moved Amendment No. 1:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Status of the Welsh language
§ Welsh and English are the official languages of Wales and have equal validity in the conduct of public business and in the administration of justice.").
§ The noble Lord said: In his opening speech in the debate at Second Reading the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was sympathetic to our aspirations for the preservation of the Welsh language. All of us appreciated that. A century ago that would have been unthinkable. Even 50 years ago it is unlikely that the Deputy Leader of this House would have spoken of our language in such friendly and understanding terms. But the noble Earl has studied the background and the history. As he said, the Welsh language was emerging from the old British tongue early in the sixth century and, although literary Latin was the medium of the new religious forces, Welsh was the language of daily intercourse. Perhaps I may be allowed to remind the Committee that the earliest known piece of written Welsh, dating from the eighth century, can be found in a Latin copy of the gospels in Lichfield Cathedral. It deals with the settlement of a dispute about land. Welsh solicitors were busy even then!
§ Since then the Welsh language has suffered and survived against the heaviest odds. I would go so far as to say that its survival is the single greatest achievement of the Welsh people. But Wales was denied stability. For example, from 1282 until the Tudor Act of Union Wales was left with no defined frontier; no central authority except what the English Crown could wield through its officials or its feudal barons; no single administrative capital; no uniform system of law; and, please note this well, no unifying principle except the Welsh language and the culture and traditions it enshrined. Anyone who seeks to compare Wales with her Celtic neighbours, Ireland and Scotland, must bear that one great truth in mind. They had the administrative and legal structure to sustain them; we had only the language. That is why we love and value it so much.
§ Since the Act of Union, English has been the official language of Wales. Section 20 of the Act of the Union makes that plain. It follows that we cannot achieve equality between the two languages unless it is laid down by law that Welsh is also an official language in Wales. Let me emphasise one thing. I have an immense respect and admiration for the English language and its superb literature. There is no 137 intention on the part of any of us to diminish or minimise the English language. Our sole objective is to give our own language equality in our own country. There is not a country in the world which enjoys less or which would tolerate less.
§ That is the purpose of the new clause. As we stand on the threshold of a new century I hope the Committee will agree that it is a reasonable ambition. It also coincides with the attitude of the European Community towards the smaller nations and their languages. The Committee will note that we are deeply concerned to include the term "equal validity" in the Bill although we understand that there could be some objection to it. Perhaps I may be allowed to give the background to this. In 1963, as many noble Lords will recall, I led a small deputation on behalf of the Welsh parliamentary party to see Sir Keith Joseph, as he then was, to ask for an official inquiry into the state of the Welsh language. He then had responsibility for Welsh affairs. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, was also a member of that deputation, as was Mr. Raymond Gower. As a result, a working party of three, with Sir David Hughes Parry, Professor of Law at London University, Professor Glanmor Williams and Mr. Dafydd Jones Williams, set out to work on the subject. A report was produced in October 1965 which formed the basis of the Welsh Language Act 1967.
§ The report contained a number of practical proposals—I think there were 30 in all. In all the circumstances and under the pressures which existed at the time, I decided that a long detailed Bill was not a practical proposition and that something in the nature of an enabling Bill, which for the first time since the Act of Union gave the Welsh language the status which it surely deserved, was more likely to reach the statute book in a reasonable time. But the 1967 Act was based on the Hughes Parry report and on the principle of equal validity. We would therefore like to be told why equal validity is not acceptable in the Bill and indeed is excluded from it and we would like to see whether we can persuade the Government at this stage to reinstate it. The working party wanted it to be a basic principle governing the use of Welsh in the administration of justice and in the conduct of public administration. We would like the Minister to confirm that that is in fact the objective of the Bill before us.
The arguments for a clear statement in the Bill about the position and status of the language are overwhelming. They have been stated and restated over the past 15 years by the Council for the Welsh Language through to the present board, whose draft Bill in Clause 1 declares it,
to be an official language in Wales where in relation to English it shall be of equal validity for judicial and administrative purposes".
That is the recommendation of the distinguished board set up by this Government. Furthermore, we have all received representations from organisations, local authorities and individuals throughout Wales. There is no doubting their sincerity and indeed their determination.
§ I know that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is concerned that the Bill should meet the aspirations of the Welsh people. I invite him to accept this amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
It is always a joy to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. Those of us who have known him for a long time know of his great concern for the Welsh language. We were very pleased to hear him express it so effectively today.
The phrase "equal validity" has been used consistently and has been supported by all of us over many years. The noble Lord referred to a meeting that he conducted in 1963. I was unable to be part of it myself—I was Minister of State at the Foreign Office at the time. The noble Lord will remember a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee in December 1965 at which I initiated a debate on the status of the Welsh language. During the debate I urged the then Labour Government to accept the principle of equal validity which was set out by the Hughes Parry Committee. The Secretary of State for Wales, James Griffiths, on behalf of the Government, accepted the principle of equal validity. He said:The Government are prepared to do what they reasonably and practically can to implement the principle of equal validity. The Government accept the principle of equal validity and think that it would be just to raise the official status of the Welsh language in this way. They are satisfied and I am satisfied that this will not in any way impair the rights of the English speaking people in Wales".I have referred to the fact that all of us from then onwards referred to the importance of equal validity being given to the Welsh and English languages in Wales. But what equal validity meant varied according to how we interpreted it. I believe that it is important for the Committee to remember how equal validity has been interpreted. The language board had a draft Bill and its interpretation of equal validity was this:Any oral statement and any act, writing or thing made or done in Wales and expressed in Welsh shall have the like effect as if it had been expressed in English".That is almost word for word what was put in the Hughes Parry Report and the suggestions made there that it should be given statutory force and enacted in a statute. That is proposed by the board and by the noble Lord. I am sorry that I cannot support it for this reason. If the noble Lord himself were to try to recollect what his discovery was when he went into the matter as Secretary of State, he would find it difficult to support his amendment. James Griffiths, the then Secretary of State, accepted the Hughes Parry recommendation that there should be legislative force for that concept of equal validity.
The 1967 Act which the noble Lord produced when he was Secretary of State and which was referred to in the Second Reading debate by the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Cledwyn, was described as being an Act which supported equal validity. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said how pleased he was to be responsible for the Bill. He then referred to his noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and said:My noble friend referred to the use of the term 'equal validity' in the 1967 Act. I, too, should be grateful to the Minister if he would explain why that is not referred to in this Bill. Is there any significance in this omission?" —[Official Report, 19/1/93; col. 854.]139 The 1967 Act did not contain the words "equal validity". That Act refers only to any form of equality. Section 3 of the Act states:Subject to subsection (2) of this section, anything done in Welsh in a version authorised by section 2 of this Act shall have the like effect as if done in English".Therefore, one has a distinction in the definition of what is equal validity which the noble Lord, when he was producing the 1967 Bill, thought was adequate and possibly represented the nearest approach to equal validity. There is nothing in that Act which gives statutory effect to the words "equal validity".
The problem I face is this. I believe that we all support the Bill, the basic principles of which are somewhat historic and can be of enormous help to the 'Welsh language, but if we include something which is uncertain and not capable of clear definition we shall find that it is going to be very badly affected. I hope the Committee will understand that enacting these words will stimulate great activity of definition. In terms of this Bill we are thinking of guidelines and schemes by public companies. We are also thinking in terms of an independent board putting out guidelines and trying to stimulate schemes in order to advance the Welsh language. Each one of those schemes would be scrutinised to see whether it came under a statutory definition proposed by the noble Lord.
It would be a bonanza for the lawyers. I am now retired, but if I were still a member of the Wales and Chester Circuit I would probably support the noble Lord. As it is, looking at the matter as objectively and as properly as possible and knowing how important it is that this great Bill should be given full support over a wide area in Wales, I cannot support the amendment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
I am very happy to follow two former distinguished Secretaries of State. I am bound to say that on this occasion I prefer the views put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, has not dealt with the first part of the proposed amendment which states:Welsh and English are the official languages of Walesand then qualifies that definition.
Perhaps I may take the first part. The report of the Welsh Language Board, at paragraph 143 under the heading "Epilogue"—why it is called that I am not sure—states:The Welsh language ceased to be an official language in Wales not through neglect or misuse but by an Act of Parliament. Only an Act of Parliament can restore it to its former status".I believe that that is a correct statement. In my Second Reading speech I referred to that objectionable part of the 1536 Act which stated that,all administration and judicial proceedings were to be conducted in English".Therefore, from that time on in effect English became established as the official language for Wales. I believe that there is enormous psychological benefit from reversing that decision. The remnants of the 1536 and 1543 Acts have been repealed by this Bill; but there is a case here for a counter general declaration and that is that Welsh should be declared officially and by statute as now being an official language.
140 The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, qualified, as did the Welsh Language Board, the words:Welsh and English are the official languages of Wales and have equal validity in the conduct of public business and in the administration of justice".They did so to define that more acceptably. I regret that I have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, even on the effect that the amendment might have on the livelihood of the members of the Wales and Chester Circuit.
I believe that the concept of equal validity was put forward by three of the wisest men I have ever known in Wales. They were Sir David Hughes Parry, Mr. Dafydd Jones Williams and Professor Glanmor Williams. I could not think of three more careful chaps to have put forward such a definition. They were very shrewd because it is a concept that is capable of simple legal interpretation.
I should like to quote from paragraph 38 on page 12 of the report by the Welsh Language Board which states:The principle of equal validity means no more and no less than that any act, writing or thing done in Welsh in Wales shall have the like legal force and effect as if it had been done in English".I do not think that any court would have difficulty in interpreting the term "equal validity". It is interesting to note that, as far as I am aware, there has been no litigation since 1967 on what is meant by "equal validity".
Let us turn to the term "equality" which is used in the Bill. I am as anxious as the noble Lord that the Bill should be acceptable to all sides of this Chamber and another place and that it should be totally acceptable in Wales. However, if he gives it a little more thought, he will see that the "doctrine of equality" (I may so describe it) which is referred to in the Bill is a much more elastic concept. I can see endless scope for litigation on its definition. I do not know whether there is such a thing as the "Caldecott District Council", but let us assume that a district council in Gwent might be faced, on the basis of the equality of the two languages, with a demand for translating every document. The Welsh-speaking Dwyvor District Council, where all the proceedings are in Welsh, might be faced with a demand for interpreting everything that is done in Welsh into English because the doctrine of equality is a much more elastic concept. I think that it could be a source of fruitful litigation for lawyers but of no great help to those of us who want to see a happy environment for the future progress of the Welsh language.
The Welsh Language Board quoted the principal recommendation of the Hughes Parry Committee. I make no apology for quoting again—this time from paragraph 40 on page 13 of the report, which states:For a number of reasons we have decided to recommend the adoption of this principle of equal validity as the basic principle of the policy governing the future use of Welsh in the administration of justice and the conduct of administrative business throughout Wales and Monmouthshire".The last sentence of the paragraph, quoting from the Hughes Parry Committee, states:We recommend that the principle of equal validity as outlined above should form the basis for the new legal status of the Welsh language and that a declaration giving this status should be embodied in a statute".141 However, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, rightly pointed out, it was not embodied in a statute. I think that that was a serious omission. I do not know why it was not embodied in the legislation at the time and I cannot remember whether I raised the matter on the Floor of another place at the time. I may well have done so. I have not checked, but that does not matter. However, such a provision should be embodied in a new statute because it qualifies the phrase "official language". It does not mean that everything has to be done bilingually because, let us face it, if everything had to be done in Wales bilingually at the moment, although I would be emotionally in favour of it, my common sense tells me that we do not want great emotional reactions either in the highly anglicised parts of Wales, such as Gwent, if there was any attempt to introduce bilingualism there, and nor do we want a reaction the other way in Dwyvor.
Therefore, I think that the Government would be wise to stick to the doctrine that we have come to accept, which is that of equal validity. That gives the language legal status, which is what we are concerned about. We are concerned with a circumscribed provision because the Bill deals largely with Welsh in public life. The amendment proposes that,Welsh and English are the official languages of Wales and have equal validity in the conduct of public business and in the administration of justice".Those matters are already spelt out in other places as well as in this Bill. The Government would be wise to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Even in the midst of prehistory there was a Conservative Government. I refer to the year 1972. In the nature of things, therefore, the Lord Chancellor in 1972 was a Conservative Lord Chancellor. He commissioned the late Lord Edmund Davies to carry out a report into the workings of Welsh language trials in Wales. Lord Justice Edmund Davies stated:In order to preserve the principle of equal validity between the two languages and the equally important principle of the random selection of jurors, the only practicable way is".Those words were part of that careful report and those specific words were accepted by the then Lord Chancellor.
There is no problem at all in defining "equal validity". All litigation is, by definition, fruitful—and I speak as a lawyer. No vast panorama of litigation will spread before us if this simple amendment is accepted. I respectfully endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said. It is not simply a question of equal validity. It is a question of principle, namely, that one begins with the proposition, which is only one of elementary fairness and decent justice, that Welsh and English are the "official languages" of Wales. Those words were taken from the introductory remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on Second Reading. He repeated later that Welsh is an official language in Wales. If that is so, what conceivable proper objection based on any form of reason or logic can there be to the amendment which has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos?
142 These are not cosmetics. We have been patient for a very long time. The world has changed since 1967. Expectations and demands have changed. It is no coincidence that the mover of this amendment is the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. There is no one present in your Lordships' House who has a greater experience of Welsh life in its fullest sense, a greater devotion to the language or has carried more burdens in terms of statesmanship. Can it seriously be thought that the noble Lord would put his hand to this amendment (and the whole of that vast moral authority to it) if any danger might sensibly ensue?
People who cherish the Welsh language—and they are not simply bilingual people who live in Wales because let us not forget that many monoglot English do the same—do not want a donation or a charitable, rather patronising gift. They look to your Lordships for decent dignity and justice for that language. The new clause which is proposed by way of amendment seeks no more than that. It wants the drum sounded for equal validity and a proper place in the sun for a language that has been bereft of that place for too long.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I was much moved by what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said about the moral authority of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. I would be the last to challenge that. I am much drawn by the arguments that we have heard about the need to declare that the Welsh language, along with English, has official status within Wales. I suspect that the Government's response will be that that is self-evident, because whenever I read official documents or handbooks describing the United Kingdom it is now officially described as a multi-lingual state. The Welsh and Gallic languages are referred to regularly in such publications as official languages.
I suspect that the fact that the Welsh language is endorsed within the national curriculum in the Education Reform Act as a national language for Wales means that in education legislation it already has that official status. So what we are seeking to legislate in the amendment is in one sense a self-evident principle; but that is not an argument for not doing it. As we have been reminded in the historical statements already made in Committee, and also in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, on Second Reading in which he made the point that it might be beneficial and positive, if it is that Welsh is already an official language, that it should be so designated. I have no difficulty with that part of the first amendment.
However, I have substantial difficulty with the proposal in Amendment No. 5 that we should delete:should be treated on a basis of equality",and substitute:shall be of equal validity".I say that because I believe we have, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has just said, moved on from the 1960s. The principle of equal validity, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, reminded us, is a principle based essentially upon oral statements or published documents. It is a statement which refers to 143 specific publications or speech acts (if I may use that linguistic term) whereas for me the phraseology of the Bill as it stands—that is,treated on a basis of equality"—is a much more wide-ranging statement. That was my initial interpretation of the Bill. I know that it was the interpretation placed upon it by some other noble Lords. We have since discussed it with people outside the House. I have yet to hear anyone put forward an argument that convinces me that,treated on a basis of equality",is not a much more wide-ranging concept than the idea of equal validity.
Reference has been made to the late Sir David Hughes Parry. I remember him well. In his own inscrutable Presbyterian way in a television interview, when asked to compare the Bill introduced in 1967 with his own report, he stated in Welsh,Mae hyn yn fyr o'r llall",which I can translate as,this falls short of the other".He was referring to a point already made in this debate—that the principle of equal validity contained in his report did not feature in the Bill. I suspect that the reasons for that omission were tied to the difficulties of legislating that principle. In the Bill's phraseology, the Government's draftspeople have come up with a "Scheme"—I emphasise the capital "S"—which treats both the principle of equality and the practice of implementation by providing that "schemes"—with the lower case "s" on this occasion—of that kind can be introduced by the Welsh Language Board. Those schemes can be developed on a basis of practicality within specific areas of policy and sectors without undermining the principle that the basis for the treatment of both languages is one of equality. So for me the wording of the Bill is stronger than that aspect of the proposed amendments.
The Bill as it stands and the idea of treating both languages on a basis of equality show me that we are moving substantially beyond the principle of equal validity. We are moving from dilysrwydd cyfartal to cyfartaledd, perhaps even to cydraddoldeb.
§ Lord Crickhowell
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has spoken about the strength of the Bill and the effectiveness of clauses upon which the Government base their case which create a practical solution to a principle. I have no difficulty with what the noble Lord said because I share the view that that approach is sound and sensible. The question we must address is whether the proposed amendment is in conflict with or is complementary to what the Government propose. Does it perhaps support and reinforce it?
I have to say at the outset that I approach the whole matter at this stage with a good deal of caution. We are in the early stages of the passage of a Bill which, as we have already heard, raises complex and difficult issues. My noble friend Lord Ferrers told us on Second Reading that he and the Government intend to listen most carefully to the points made. Similar undertakings were given by the Minister, Sir Wyn 144 Roberts, who made it clear that he will be influenced greatly by the points made. That is my position. I have still not made up my mind on a number of issues.
It is with a great deal of hesitation that I even attempt to advance an argument which may appear to be in conflict with what was said by an old friend and colleague, Wyn Roberts, who worked closely with me in the late 1970s and early 1980s on Welsh language policy and provided indispensable advice or to find myself in conflict with my successor as Secretary of State whose work I admire greatly. So it is not with any sense of conflict that I put forward the arguments that still worry me. It is because I am seeking desperately for a workable and sensible solution.
At the moment I find myself in a good deal of sympathy with a great deal of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. He addressed the first point that arises in the amendment: whether we should have a statement that Welsh and English are the official languages of Wales. The Government's response to that is, "It is unnecessary and, after all, if we start putting in statements in this piece of legislation, are we going to have to put into every other bit of legislation that English is an official language in England?" That is stretching the argument rather far. We start from the historic fact that has been so often referred to, that a definition was effectively put into earlier legislation; a statement was made about an official language in earlier legislation; it was made in the Act of 1536.
It is worth recalling one section of that Act. Section 17 provided:Sessions courts, hundred-leets, sheriffs' courts and all other courts shall be proclaimed and kept in the English tongue, and all oaths of officers, juries and inquests and all other affidavits, verdicts and wagers of law shall be given and done in the English tongue, and that henceforth no person or persons that use the Welsh speech or language shall have or enjoy any manner of office or fee within the realm of England, Wales or other the King's Dominions, upon pain of forfeiting the same offices or fees unless he or they use and exercise the speech or language of English".The effects of that Act have of course been repealed. Further repeals are contained in the Bill. But having said that, we have long had legislation on the statute book that states effectively that English is an official language. That has had an enormous psychological and practical impact in Wales. Therefore I confess that I am sorely tempted by the argument that it would reinforce and strengthen the Bill if we could put such a statement into the Bill without causing the perils described by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir.
If I have another reason for hesitating in putting forward these arguments, it is that I know of my noble friend's immense knowledge and practical experience of these matters. After all, he was brought up as a Welsh-speaking Welsh man; he has held the office of Secretary of State; and has practised in the Welsh courts. He knows exactly what may be the legal effects. Therefore, I hesitate again.
However, we must recognise what this amendment attempts to achieve. Ministers have helpfully discussed issues with Members of the Committee and have circulated papers which indicate the kind of arguments which are influencing them. They tell us 145 that they are worried about the meaning of a great principle, how it is to be defined and, if it is defined in the more general and extensive way—perhaps in a way implied in the speech of the noble Lord who has just spoken who wants it to go wider—they would not be able to agree to it.
From my point of view the clause is extremely narrow and precise. It does not seek to impose the use of Welsh, even in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice. Moreover, it is confined to the conduct of public business and the administration of justice. It does not attempt to say that you must use the Welsh language. It merely says that if you use the Welsh language, if you produce a document in the Welsh language, it will have equal validity. I do not find that phrase difficult to understand and I cannot believe that even lawyers would find any difficulty in defining it.
I am sorely tempted by this clause or something like it. Interestingly, the phrase used in the 1967 Act, already quoted by my noble friend, and a phrase which is used in some of the papers presented to us by the Government in support of their argument, is:with the like effect as English".I do not much mind which phrase is used. I am open to argument about the exact phraseology. However, it seems to me to be a simple statement that if you use a document or make a statement in the language, it has "equal validity" or has the like effect. That will strengthen and not weaken what the Government seek to do. It does not in any way derogate from the Government's very sound principle, which I wholly support, that one must use practical schemes and solutions to be administered in different ways in different parts of Wales.
When we held discussions with Ministers it was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady White, that the Bill had been published by the Welsh Office in Welsh but that it was not the official publication of Parliament. That makes my point. Parliament is not compelled to produce the Bill in Welsh. There are good and practical reasons why that has not been done. However, if another organisation or authority thought that it was sensible and practical to do so, that publication would have equal validity.
The Government produced an argument over which I have puzzled. They say that if you make a statement to someone, issue an important order or give a warning in Welsh and the person is an English speaker and does not understand Welsh, he may not understand you. Therefore, it cannot be an equally valid statement. I find that difficult to accept because there must be an obligation on anyone who presents a legal document, argues a case or presents an important warning to make certain that that is done in a language which is understood. Therefore, that problem is capable of solution.
I have not heard the Minister's arguments but I have a great deal of sympathy for what the amendment seeks to achieve. It may be that arguments will persuade me not to support the amendment. Certainly I cannot vote against it. I shall listen carefully to the arguments put forward. I hope that the 146 Government will listen with equal care because we are trying to strengthen and reinforce an admirable Bill. We are trying to help it gain the confidence of the people of Wales without which it will not have the success that it deserves.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Parry
I very much appreciate some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and I do not dissent from any of them. I greatly welcome the noble Lord's contribution.
When the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, quoted from the 1967 Act, I fetched a copy of it. It states that:further provision should be made for the use of that language, with the like effect as English, in the conduct of other official or public business there; and that Wales should be distinguished from England in the interpretation of future Acts of Parliament.I quote that because I believe that it is a benchmark in the salvation of the Welsh language. It is a milestone which marks the long road which we are still travelling. It has established the cause of saving the Welsh language even outside Wales.
It is significant that everyone has tried to reach agreement on this Bill so that it may become an Act. I believe that we have moved a considerable way towards that. It is not only the English-speaking Welshman and the Welsh-speaking Welshman who now appreciates the place of the Welsh language in our heritage. It is appreciated by a great many English people who see the need to resolve the difficulties, to perpetuate and strengthen the language and to increase its education in its own right.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, commands great respect in this Chamber and elsewhere, and has made a significant contribution to his own country. Therefore, I was saddened to find that he has something of a problem with this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, may have exaggerated the difficulties.
We have all travelled through the various areas of Wales while in local government or in business. We know that from point to point the emphasis changes. Thank God, these days it changes without too much difficulty and conflict. It is possible for an Englishman to sit in a Welsh council where the language spoken is Welsh so long as the translation services are available. There is now very little difficulty about it. In fact, we find an increasing education in the language. There is an increasing knowledge of its importance within the heritage of the British Isles. That has been achieved because we had the legislation right for the time.
I believe, as does the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that this is an important statement and an important second mile on which the Government should embark. They should say that "equal validity" means just that. We are saying that we appreciate that the Welsh language is of great importance and that it has equal validity in law with the English language, which for many years was imposed upon the Welsh people.
There has been a great spirit of unanimity in this Committee, with Ministers going out of their way to 147 answer our questions. Therefore, it would be a great pity if we were to be divided by semantics in English about what is desirable in Welsh. The Welsh love semantics in English or in Welsh. It is interesting to note that people have come into the Chamber to listen to this debate. I hope that we can go forward without division. I hope that the Government welcome the amendment. I certainly support it.
§ Lord Geraint
It has been a pleasure to listen to the Members of the Committee who have spoken, especially the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and Lord Williams of Mostyn, and to my noble friend Lord Hooson. They all have legal minds. At times I wish I had one. I wish that I was a scholar, but I am not. I was delighted to hear those Members of the Committee stick by their principles, which is to give equal validity to Welsh and English in Wales, and I shall say a few words in support of what has already been said on this amendment.
I added my name to the amendment because I truly believe that that is where the heart of the matter lies. If we cannot have equal validity for the Welsh language in all things that concern public business and the administration of justice, I do not see that the resulting Welsh Language Act can meet our aspirations; that is, the aspirations of the Welsh people. Without it, the document just expresses pious hopes with provisions dependent on the good will of various bodies whose first interest may not be the Welsh language. As in other matters, commercial considerations will win the day.
As a Welshman I will never give in to the powers-that-be until the day when Welsh and English are the official languages of Wales. What we need in Wales is justice for our language, not sympathy and promises. Here we are in 1993, so let us hope that the Minister in his wisdom will realise that now is the time to give equal validity to Welsh and English in our proud nation of Wales.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I wish to say a few words in support of Amendment No. 1 which has been so admirably presented to the Committee. I shall then discuss Amendment No. 5. This Bill when it is eventually enacted will be the nearest we have to a written constitution for the Welsh language in the public domain in Wales. We therefore believe, and many people in Wales believe, that it should enshrine a formal declaration that Welsh is to be an official language in Wales. If Parliament were to see its way clear to do that, the Bill would embody one of the fundamental aspirations of the Welsh people.
It has been said—although it has not been said this evening—that nowhere is there a comparable statement that English is an official language in these islands. However, I should point out with respect that the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, have made the point that the statement that English was an official language was almost set out in the Act of Union. Moreover, English is de facto the official language and de facto Welsh has no status.
My noble friend Lord Cledwyn developed the historical arguments in support of the amendment. Others have developed the argument based on the 148 civic pride of the Welsh people. However, in support of this amendment we can also call in aid—the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, touched on this —the positive attitude taken by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe in support of the historic languages of the people of Europe. There is one key area of Community law to be considered. It is a key area because it involves the interpretation of Article 48 of the Treaty of Rome and Regulation 1612/68. In that instance the Court of Justice demonstrated in the Groener case, which involved the Irish language, that the status of a language is important. If a language requirement in relation to a post in Wales fell to be interpreted in the Court of Justice we say that the Welsh language should not be in a less favourable position than the Irish or the Basque languages because it had been denied the status of an official language by Parliament. However, unless this amendment is accepted by the Government, the Welsh language will be in that inferior position.
We see this as an opportunity and a privilege to secure for the Welsh language in Wales the definitive status whereby the Welsh nation can ensure that its ancient and national language is enabled to provide for the needs of modern Wales in the domain of public administration and in law. I am particularly grateful for the support we have received from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I shall now discuss—
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he tell the Committee why his draft Bill does not have a declaration of equal validity which he is now suggesting should be adopted for this Bill?
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I shall be frank with the Committee. It is because I have learnt a great deal in the school of experience. It is as simple as that.
I now turn to Amendment No. 5. I see that we have been given an argument by the Government for language schemes. I very much accept that. However, we have not been given an argument which demonstrates that the basis of equality principle is better than equal validity. Indeed, the evidence that we have indicates that the principle of equality is narrower than the principle of equal validity.
Where does that evidence come from? It comes from the Welsh Office itself. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, referred earlier to the memorandum from the Minister of State at the Welsh Office, which we have received, which explains the distinction between equal validity and the basis of equality. I trust that a copy of that important memorandum has been placed in the Library. I am grateful for a sight of that document. I find it to be an amazing but in fact disturbing document. I believe that would be the view of some members of the Welsh Language Board.
I have consulted on this matter and taken advice on it. Sadly I have come to the conclusion that the new principle represents a narrowing of the principle of equal validity. Moreover, on the evidence of the Welsh Office memorandum the new principle is unworkable without a language scheme. I believe that is acknowledged on page 3 of the Welsh Office memorandum. The document states: 149This Bill sets out to change the law and it is essential therefore that the duty to prepare schemes should have a legal meaning. The purpose of schemes, as defined in the Bill, must include these qualifying phrases … if it is to pass this test (i.e. 'have a legal meaning') and be such that the courts will, if necessary, be able to make sense of it".There we have it. Impliedly the principle of equality can only operate where there is a language scheme. If there is no language scheme it cannot operate. If there is no language scheme and if this Bill is passed the principle of equal validity will have been rejected because this Bill repeals the 1967 Act. We shall see when we come to discuss Clause 5 that schemes—
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Far be it for me to speak from the Cross Benches on behalf of the Welsh Office but it does appear to me from my reading of the memorandum that there is another interpretation. The noble Lord argued that if we accept this present Bill the principle of equal validity is not workable. I would argue that the statement of principle in the Bill as it stands in the early clauses is the framework within which the schemes which we come to later in the Bill become articulated. What we have here is an articulation of a general principle and then a practical scheme for implementation which goes beyond the idea of equal validity.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
We know very little about the meaning of the phrase "a basis of equality"; but we know a great deal about the meaning of the phrase "equal validity". I see no reason why a language scheme could not have been attached to "equal validity". If it was so attached, I think it would be workable.
When we come to Clause 5, in my view it will take some years before language schemes will be operating throughout the Principality. When the Bill is enacted in its present form, there will be huge areas outside a language scheme where the individual will have no linguistic rights. I believe we have said enough to suggest to the department that it must rethink Clause 1 and the basis of equality principle. In my view, the department has had good advice from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and all Members of the House. I hope the noble Lord can give an indication that the Welsh Office is prepared to have a rethink.
§ 7.30 p.m.
The Committee will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for having introduced the amendment. As he always does, he has put his case with great care and clarity. His love of Wales and the Welsh language is as well known as it is transparent in the noble Lord.
This amendment is a very important one and an intellectual argument. The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said that what was wanted was justice, not promises and sympathy. The whole Bill is about the encouragement of the Welsh language and the elevation of it. Those two issues which form the subject of the amendment have been at the heart of the debate surrounding the official status of the Welsh language for a very long while. I have listened to the 150 arguments on the amendment with a considerable amount of interest. I said at the beginning of Second Reading—I say again now —that the Government are prepared to listen. What we all want to do is to get the right answer.
The concept of equal validity is one that has underlined much of what the Government have done in relation to the language over the past two decades. It was only after the closest legal scrutiny that the decision was taken that it should not be the principle that should be at the heart of the Bill. The intention of the legislation is that it should confirm the official status of the Welsh language. I hope to be able to set out why in the Government's view it is not appropriate or indeed possible to do so in the way that the amendment suggests. It is worth underlining that the Government are not rejecting the policy objectives to which these amendments refer. Equal validity will continue to have an important—one may almost say treasured—position in the Government's overall policy of support for the language. We will also continue to take measures to strengthen its official status.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that some drum-beating was required for the Welsh language. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said that the Bill needed to have a general declaratory observation. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell said that he was verging on being persuaded by the argument. I hesitate to take issue with the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Williams of Mostyn, who are eminent lawyers; but I suggest that Bills are not vehicles for the general declaration of intent or the beating of drums. Bills are for changing the law and implementing the change with clarity. I suggest that what we cannot do is enact in law the principles of equal validity and an official language. I believe that this point is crucial to the whole debate.
Were we to attempt to do that, the concepts of both an official language and equal validity would be so uncertain and therefore undefinable that, rather than simplify the issue, they would result in endless recourse to the courts for clarification. It is precisely that kind of uncertainty that we do not want to stimulate. Indeed, it will not help what the Bill is trying to achieve.
There are many who see equal validity as a narrow legal concept. If that is so, it will not do much to improve the levels of service available to Welsh speakers. It is no good a Welsh-speaking consumer being aware of the validity of a form if the form itself is not available. My other anxiety is that the rather narrow definition of equal validity tells only part of the story. There are wider implications for a declaration of this kind that will give rise not only to unacceptable uncertainty, but to practical implications which will not conform with what the Bill is trying to do. I use an example that I have used before. A request given in Welsh to a non Welsh-speaking public employee would not, and indeed could not, be to the like effect as would the same request given in English. The person simply would not understand it. 151 The policy is not to require people who cannot understand to understand, but to encourage the use of the Welsh language as much as possible.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I wonder whether the example the Minister has just given is a little misleading. We are not seeking to place a duty on the employee of a public body. The duty is addressed to the public body. It will be for the public body to ensure that the resources are there so that it can respond to the Welsh speaker.
I see that. However, if one is saying that in law there is equal validity in languages and a Welsh-speaking person approaches a public body and speaks to that body in Welsh, and the person to whom he speaks does not understand it, the original speaker will say, "I am speaking in a language that has equal validity as any other. You ought to understand it and be able to give me a response". It is that kind of thing that is tested in the courts. A person may say, "I spoke in this way and expected to be responded to because the language I used had equal validity". That issue would go to the courts and one would begin to run into trouble. What we have tried to do in the Bill is to put the onus on the Welsh Language Board to produce schemes to make perfectly clear what is going to happen.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
We are now fairly familiar with the phrase "equal validity". I believe the Government have a very strong argument in support of the language schemes and I do not oppose them; but why do they not attach the language schemes to the principle of equal validity?
What I have been trying to explain all the way along is that the expression "equal validity" has no basis in law. If one attaches that to a Bill, inevitably people will have recourse to the law to decide exactly what it means. That weakens the whole emphasis of what the Bill is intended to do. We want to make as clear as possible what is expected of people and what their requirements are. To insert something into the Bill that has no legal basis will open up the position to perpetual questioning.
§ Lord Elton
Could my noble friend be more explicit, and perhaps extract from noble Lords opposite the answer to this question? If there is a requirement in general law in health and safety legislation that a local authority should give a warning to a worker that something he is doing or handling is hazardous and the circumstances are such that that warning has to be given by word of mouth, would the local authority official giving that warning to the employee, who spoke only English or Welsh, have discharged his function under the Act of Parliament? I believe that the answer is that nobody can tell us that until the matter is proved in court. Therefore, my noble friend must by right in urging that the amendment introduces an element of uncertainty and weakens the Bill.
I am grateful to my noble friend for asking me a question, which he wished me to ask the Opposition and then requested me to answer. Perhaps I may answer it as simply as possible. The obligation 152 upon the employee will depend upon the scheme which is presented to the organisation by which he is employed. Upon that will depend the way in which the employee responds.
My noble friend asked a very good question, because if the words "equal validity" were included in the Bill, the employee could go along to court and be represented. He could say, "I have done this and I have done the best that I can; what is equal validity?". One would then become involved in a morass of uncertainty.
Were the Government to contemplate even for a moment proceeding to legislate for such an untested principle as "equal validity", it is worth considering what the practical implications might be. The first and immediate consequence would be, as I suggested, a field-day for the legal profession. I agree with my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir that, without an adequate definition of "equal validity", it would fall to the courts to determine what it meant in each individual case. I suggest that that is no basis for a successful policy of support and encouragement for the Welsh language. We cannot leave the far-reaching changes which we want this Bill to secure to be dependent upon the uncertainty of perpetual recourse to the courts.
The concept of Welsh being an official language raises similar concepts of definition and uncertainty. It is the Government's view that, whatever uncertainty there may have been in the past concerning the official status of Welsh, it should be removed by the Bill. I am afraid that that certainty would be reintroduced should the language once again become dependent on a general declaration which could only be defined in individual cases by recourse to the courts.
It is also incumbent upon us to consider, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell pointed out, the implication of a declaration of this nature on the two languages most commonly used in Wales if at the same time there is no provision in British law concerning the official status of English in England. That would introduce an imbalance which would be difficult to defend. One must remember that the Bill repeals the remaining provisions of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542—the Acts of union. No longer, therefore, is there a blot on the language.
That morass of uncertainty would be only the tip of the iceberg. It must be contrasted with what is contained in the Bill. The principle of equality is, in my view, a far more powerful formulation than equal validity in a number of important respects. It gives us a single principle which confirms the status of the Welsh language in the public sector in Wales. It also provides a framework which will enable the practical obstacles which govern the delivery of Welsh language services to be addressed and, wherever possible, to be overcome. Those practical issues will be addressed by the Welsh language schemes to which the Bill will give rise. Those schemes will reflect what "on a basis of equality" means in practice. Welsh speakers will not, therefore, be required to go to court to discover what equality means in individual cases. Instead what equality means will be set out in the schemes which 153 public bodies will provide and, crucially, all schemes will be drawn up having regard to the Welsh Language Board's guidelines.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, was concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the Government's principle of equality. I invite him to consider the vital role of the board's guidelines in illustrating clearly the meaning of equality. The amendment would leave it to the courts to decide.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
I am most grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I hope that before the Report stage he will ask his legal advisers whether the term "on a basis of equality" has ever been legally interpreted. The point was made by his noble friend Lord Elton in an intervention that the term "equal validity" has no legal basis. I believe that the term "on a basis of equality" is potentially a much more fruitful source of litigation than the other.
I see the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, wetting his lips at the prospect of litigation. The noble Lord must not expect to predecease the legislation: I am sure that he has many more years of fruitful litigation work to conduct. I would not dream of answering such a technical question off the cuff. I shall, of course, look into the matter.
I keep returning to my concern that if one inserts the words "equal validity" in statute, one is introducing something which is untested. I consider that "on a basis of equality" is a far more general expression and would be easier to understand. However, of course I shall see that that point is considered.
§ Baroness White
Could the noble Earl not at least agree that a declaratory statement that Welsh and English are the official languages of Wales should be made? Without some such declaratory statement there will be great difficulty in achieving full acceptance for the Bill. Then one leaves the question of equality and equal validity to the lawyers.
That is what I am worried about. Of course I shall consider the noble Baroness's point, but I come back to what I said at the beginning. I believe that there is a danger in using a Bill as a vehicle for making declaratory statements. We are trying to change the law and, in changing it, make it perfectly clear what the change is. Statements are made on public rostrums; the Bill is not the correct place. However, I shall certainly consider what the noble Baroness said.
I would not wish for a moment to dismiss the aspirations which lie behind the amendments because they are important. I am as anxious as anyone else to find the right route. However, I believe that those issues are addressed more comprehensively and practically in the words which are presently contained in the Bill. They also address the problem in a way which does not give rise to unacceptable legal uncertainty. That is why I should prefer to retain the words in the Bill rather than accept the additional 154 words which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has suggested because I believe that they will produce uncertainty.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
Before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I may say that he has indicated that he will consider the points that have been made in the debate. There is at present a sharp difference of opinion on the use of the words "equal validity". I do not share the noble Earl's view. I believe that "equal validity" is an acceptable term. It is acceptable in many cases and by many organisations. Nevertheless, in view of the debate the noble Earl has indicated that he is prepared to give the matter further consideration and perhaps return to it at Report stage with some suggestions as to how it could be resolved. That would be helpful at that point.
I was trying to suggest that of course I shall consider the matter. I cannot give any guarantee that as a result of consideration I would come to the view which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, suggests because, frankly, I do not believe that I shall. But it would be cavalier of me when so much concern has been expressed on the subject to say that I shall not consider it; of course I shall. But I am bound to put the reservation that I cannot guarantee the outcome.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
I am much obliged to the noble Earl. I wish to be quite clear that he is giving an undertaking to the Committee that he will come back at Report stage with a further statement on this subject. Knowing him as I do, I believe that he will give very careful consideration to the arguments from both sides on this issue. In order to know how to proceed, it will be helpful to me if he will give such an undertaking at this time.
The noble Lord must not push me too hard. He asked me if I would come back with a statement at Report stage. I do not believe that I can do that unless I find that the arguments which I propounded at Committee need to be adjusted or that we could find a way round. I said that I would consider all the arguments that have been put forward. If, after considering the matter, I found that there needed to be an amendment, I should be happy to bring one forward. I have explained that I do not believe that that is likely. But I shall certainly consider what has been said.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say this. If I have understood him correctly, his objection in principle to the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, is that a Bill is an inappropriate vehicle in which to have declarations of principle.
If one considers Clause 4(2) of the Bill one finds precisely that: a declaration of principle.
I am not certain how the noble Lord understands that. I do not propose to delay the Committee by reading through the Bill at present. However, that is not the same kind of principle as making the declaration which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, wishes.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I am simply reading the English language. Clause 4(2) states:The purpose referred to in subsection (1) above is that of giving effect … to the principle that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice … the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality".That is a declaration of principle no different in kind to the declaration of principle which underlies the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn.
I believe that there is a difference. That clause explains how something should be interpreted. It is not giving a general declaration of principle; for example, that Welsh is an official language or anything of that nature. The clause quite clearly explains how the measures are to be interpreted.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
Before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may intervene. By having at the outset of the Bill an enactment of the phrase in the noble Lord's amendment, the declaration of principle to which he referred would be all embracing. It would not refer just to the contents of the Bill.
The provision to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, referred is not such a declaration of principle. It refers to the duty of the public bodies to prepare schemes. In preparing the schemes, the clause sets out that,so far as is both appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable, to the principle that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality".That provision refers to the preparation of the schemes. It is not all embracing as is the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mostyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I disagree, but if that is so in a curious sense it is a Magna Charta for Wales and even from my schoolboy recollection I believe that the Magna Charta contains important statements of principle.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
I have given careful consideration to what the noble Earl said. I have the sense that he is anxious to resolve the problem if that is possible. He has indicated that he is prepared to consider the different views that have been expressed. He said that a declaratory statement was not desirable in a Bill. However, all the great Bills have declaratory statements. The great statutes of this country all have declaratory statements. I see no reason why there should not be a clear declaratory statement. It is asked for by many of the county councils and local authorities of Wales.
No doubt the noble Earl has read the correspondence that he has received on the contents of the Bill. To a large number of people in Wales, this issue is central. Therefore, the Government should consider again to see whether they can produce a form of words about equal validity which would be acceptable but would not cross the line as defined by the noble Earl.
If it is clear that the noble Earl is prepared to consider again what might be done to assist us, then I would be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
I do not wish to take the sting out of any excitement that the noble Lord might have if he wishes to press the amendment. That is a decision that he must make. I merely wished to explain on a matter of no party issue—it is almost a question of philosophy about how best to approach the matter—that it would be cavalier of me to say that I would not take any note of what the Committee has said. Of course I shall consider the matter. I cannot see at present that I am likely to be able to find a different way round simply because I have put forward my views on the noble Lord's amendment. But I shall certainly take note of what the Committee said.
I do not want the noble Lord to expect me to come forward with a different amendment. If it transpires that that is possible, then of course it will be done. But I do not anticipate that. However, I shall certainly consider what has been said.
Lord Cledywn of Penrhos
The noble Earl stated that he would take note of what was said. That is something that we can all do. However, Ministers are expected to be a little more co-operative than that. Will he not only take note but consider the possibility of producing a form of words which might meet the views expressed by so many noble Lords?
We are getting into an area of semantics. Of course I take note of what has been said and of course I shall consider it. But it would be wrong for me to imply that I can come forward with an amendment. I may not be able to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has expressed anxieties. I am trying to be as helpful as I can by stating that I have given the Government's view on the matter but that I shall consider what has been said to see whether there is any way of getting round the problem. I can say no more than that.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
The noble Earl has gone that one inch further. That is extremely helpful. In those circumstances, given that we shall have the opportunity to return to the issue at Report stage, and in the hope that using that imagination for which the noble Earl is famous he will indeed produce something, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed to.
§ 8 p.m.
Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 2:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Membership of the Board
§ .—(1) At least five members of the Board shall be appointed from amongst persons nominated by organisations which the Secretary of State considers have a special interests in safeguarding and promoting the use of the Welsh language.
§ (2) Before appointing members of the Board the Secretary of State shall consult such local authorities, such other public bodies and such organisations concerned with the preservation, development and promotion of the Welsh language as he considers appropriate.
§ (3) In appointing members of the Board, the Secretary of State shall bear in mind the desirability of members—
- (a) being resident in Wales;
- (b) being representatives of the different regions of Wales;
- (c) being representatives of a wide range of linguistic competence, including Welsh speakers, learners of Welsh and non-Welsh speakers.").
§ The noble Lord said: I trust that the Committee will forgive me if I speak at some length about the amendment. I wish also to make one correction to Clause 3(3) (b) of the amendment. The reference should be to "representative" rather than "representatives".
§ This is another amendment which commands wide support from many organisations and bodies in Wales. I am also glad to say that it has received the support of the Law Society. It is our hope that the new body, the statutory board, will develop to be a forward-looking Welsh institution of the greatest significance and commanding the respect and confidence of the people of Wales. I very much hope that it will one day rank among the most important institutions in Wales.
§ That is why we do not accept for one minute the proposal that the Secretary of State shall be free to make whatever appointments he likes to the body without consultation with any organisation, particularly the organisations which are actively engaged in supporting the Welsh language.
§ I am wholly unconvinced that the proposals should be acceptable merely because it is a standard clause which one finds governing membership of quangos. If this body is to be a success, then, unlike the existing quangos, it should not become a mere proxy for the department's wishes. It should become a national body enjoying the confidence of the Welsh people.
§ The amendment is in three parts. The first seeks to ensure that there will be an independent element among the membership. There is no suggestion that it must dominate the board—indeed, it will amount to about one-third of the membership. There is no suggestion that those members are to be delegates of the nominating organisations. But bearing in mind that there will be a close relationship between the Secretary of State and the board, we can be sure that from time to time the board will come under pressure from Ministers or officials. Therefore, it is important that there should be an independent element within its membership. I anticipate that the independent element would be in a better and stronger position to question certain Welsh Office assumptions if it believes they should be questioned. Indeed, it may provide a different perspective from that of the other members.
§ The second part of the amendment requires the Secretary of State to be under a statutory duty to have wide consultations with the appropriate bodies and organisations before he makes the appointments. They will be the bodies who will know what needs to be done and will know something of the difficulties.
The third part of the amendment sets out the criteria for membership of the board. I am clearly not wedded to the criteria, but I believe they are a basis upon which one could build. The Bill is silent about the board's composition; but in winding up the Second Reading debate, the noble Earl told the House that the Secretary of State
will certainly be concerned to see that membership of the board is representative of a spread of opinion in Wales about the language".—[Official Report, 19/1/93; col. 880.]
That is acceptable, but we wish to have this criterion in the Bill. The noble Earl's statement is acceptable, provided —and I am sure we can assume this—all the members will be in basic sympathy with the objectives of the Act.
§ Thus I am not necessarily wedded to the criteria. I believe that the wording can be defended; but I also accept that it could be defective. However, it has been suggested to me that I ought not to press for the insertion of the criteria. Again, we should rely upon the standard appointment clause which says nothing about the nature of membership.
I wonder whether there is a standard clause which is applied across the board without exception. In preparing for the Committee stage of the Bill, I have been able to track down at least four statutory bodies set up since 1980 where the legislation has something to say about the composition of the governing body. I believe that one of them is relevant in the context of the Bill. It is the constitution of the Scottish Natural Heritage Board, set up under the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991. In appointing its members, the Secretary of State for Scotland is under a duty under paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to:
have regard to the desirability of ensuring that the membership … contains at any time, so far as is practicable, persons of knowledge or experience relevant to the principal areas of activity of SNH".
As Parliament considered it wise to place the Scottish Secretary of State under such a duty when making appointments to a body to protect the Scottish natural heritage from loss, we urge that Parliament should also insert into this Bill appropriate criteria which sets up the statutory Welsh Language Board to promote the use of the Welsh language, which is a priceless part of our heritage. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I am happy to rise in support of my noble friend, in commending the amendment to the Government. I believe that it is a constructive and positive proposal which will strengthen the Bill. The purpose of the amendment is to assist the Secretary of State in his crucial task—as my noble friend said—of selecting the very best available people for membership of the statutory board. We would do so by setting up a simple procedure which would do nothing more than focus the Secretary of State's mind on the breadth of abilities, experience, enthusiasm, skill and judgment which are available to him and permit him the widest possible range of choice.
The present Clause 1, together with Schedule 1, follows the usual conventions in setting up such bodies, imposing certain duties on the Secretary of State, though it is welcome to see that in this case they are kept to a minimum to allow the board the greatest possible autonomy and freedom of operation.
Our Amendment No. 2 is constructed with precisely the same principles in mind. The Committee will notice that only subsection (1) places any constraint whatever on the free and unfettered choice of the Secretary of State. The constraint in subsection (1) is so minimal as to be exiguous. Not only is the 159 number of appointees of this kind limited to five—33 per cent. of the total—but the Secretary of State would retain the power to decide which organisations,have a special interest in safeguarding and promoting the use of the Welsh language".He would be required to nominate the nominators. I do not think that we could go much further in preserving his total power than that. The great advantage would be that organisations like the eisteddfod or Forwm yr Iaith could be rewarded for the dedication that they have displayed to the cause of the Welsh language over many years by being given some responsibility and allowed and encouraged to make a contribution to the establishment of the board—little more than that. There is reason to believe that they would not only value the invitation but that this would allow them to associate themselves actively, positively and publicly with the work of the board. They would be committed to it. That could be helpful to the board and to the Government.
When I was thinking about this I recalled a piece of proverbial peasant wisdom which is expressed in the English language. I do not know whether there is any Welsh version of this, but I am sure some of my colleagues will tell me if there is. I recalled the words:It is better to have some people on the inside spitting out, than to have them on the outside spitting in.Subsection (2) places a duty of consultation on the Secretary of State; but again it does not lay down, except in the most general terms, whom he shall consult. Nor does it oblige him to do anything as a result of such consultation. The Government and the noble Earl may argue, then what is the point? It does it anyway, and that is true. But subsection (2) would ensure that consultation was seen and known to take place. This would be a great reassurance to the people of Wales, even those most critical of the Government's appointments in Wales. There have been many of them, and they have been vocal, and they would find it the more difficult in this case to argue that the board was—I use the phrase carefully—simply a bunch of Tory placemen, half of them fifth cousins to the Secretary of State, who will be wholly unrepresentative of the people of Wales. I hesitate to use such language in your Lordships' Committee, but I can assure you it is polite in comparison to what I have heard expressed about the idea of 15 people being appointed by the Secretary of State for Wales without consultation.
Subsection (3) is similarly permissive and enabling. It is designed to reassure the people of Wales that their national, regional and linguistic susceptibilities have been formally and properly taken into account. You will notice that we make provision for the learners of Welsh. I can assure the Committee from bitter personal, hard and long experience that learners of Welsh have enough problems mastering the manifold mysteries of front mutation, and would greatly welcome the presence of someone on the board who has trodden that painful path himself or herself. Further we would allow opportunity for a monoglot English-speaking majority to be properly represented, and we would hope that this would not be a piece of tokenisation but a real participatory function.
160 Clause 1, as it stands, and as we would wish to amend it, would have a certain simple beauty and clarity, which we welcome. The amendment would in no way cloud that clarity, and it would have the positive advantage of demonstrating to the people of Wales that the board would not be creating jobs for the boys but carefully selecting the best possible people for this important task.
§ Baroness White
Would my noble friend agree with me that subsection (3) of this amendment would be improved by having "the representative of" in paragraphs (b) and (c) instead of "representatives"? If they were representatives they would have to be elected, appointed or nominated by someone or other, and I do not think that is what is intended. It is purely grammatical.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I am grateful to my noble friend. I understood that had been corrected. If it has, all is well; if it has not, it certainly should be.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
The Government should look carefully at the proposals in this new clause, and pay careful attention to the arguments produced by my two noble friends. I am sure that the noble Earl would agree that we must get the board right, and make sure that it is acceptable to the Welsh people. Lack of confidence in the board at the start would be damaging. There is at present a good deal of anxiety in Wales about appointments to membership of boards and committees.
I appeal to the noble Earl to make inquiries about this and to obtain an appreciation of the current views in Wales on this subject. It is important to get the balance right. The new clause would ensure consultation before appointment. That is right and sensible, and this would be welcomed in Wales.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I suppose that I have to declare an interest. I am not yet familiar with the rules of this House but I am myself a nominated body in that the Secretary of State for Wales recently had the good grace to nominate me on to the Welsh Arts Council, for which I am eternally grateful. Here is an opportunity for the Government to indicate how they intend to look at the structure of the board. Although I do not necessarily agree with the detail of the wording of the amendment, there is an important principle here that has been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies; namely, the amount of effort that has already been undertaken on a voluntary basis in support of the development of the language.
We are now legislating late in the day to enhance the official status of Welsh. We would not be legislating at all if it were not for the activities of the voluntary sector. In that I am going to include the campaigners who have campaigned, not always within the law, in Cymdeithas yr iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society, but also the activities of all those involved in the pre-school movement in Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin; in Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg the movement for the development of Welsh medium education at the primary and secondary sector; and similarly the movement representing those who are learning Welsh, Cymdeithas y Dysgwyr, and of course 161 the civil rights language organisation, CEFN. I could go on listing organisations which, through their efforts, have enhanced the status of the language and have demanded a response from the Welsh Office. It is important that as the board gets going as a statutory body it develops the voluntary partnerships that the existing non-statutory board has already established. I am certain that this is the Government's intention.
It is also important as a matter of principle that there should be a number of English speakers as active members of the board. That has two immediate effects. It means that the board will have to practise what it preaches. It will have to have a language scheme for itself. Its formal and public meetings will have to be simultaneously translated. Its papers will have to be produced bilingually so that the board itself will be setting an example to the other public bodies in Wales that it is seeking to influence. That is important.
It is equally important that there should be an international dimension to the work of the board. I am not so happy about subsection (3) (a). I would not argue that somebody from Catalonia should be a member of the board; but I can see that there are benefits from having the expertise of other national regions within the European Community that have developed language policies associated with the work of the board.
In choosing membership of the board it has to be done on a wide regional area. It may not be essential that the board should be located in Cardiff. We have located public bodies successfully outside Cardiff. I think of the Countryside Council for Wales where the Minister of State took the decision to locate that body in Bangor, not far from the ancestral seat of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. I hope that it will be possible for us to look for ways of decentralising public bodies in this way within Wales, and to ensure regional representation in that sense.
I support the spirit of the amendment, but perhaps not the letter of it. I hope that the noble Earl can indicate ways in which, by the selection of people to the board through this wonderful process of nomination to non-departmental public bodies by which Wales is governed, we can ensure some kind of representation until that great day dawns when we have something called democracy, but I am not sure that I should mention that in this Committee.
§ Lord Hooson
I echo the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas about the opportunity this amendment gives to the Government to show what criteria they will have in mind when making appointments to this board. I am sure that the noble Earl would agree that the success of this Act will depend to a large extent on the calibre of the board and the quality of the chairman. I am slightly horrified at the idea of having 15 members on this board. I do not share entirely the idea that there should be regional representation. I would much prefer to have a board of half that size of people of real quality and calibre, especially some of the younger people in Wales.
In common with other Members of the Committee I was impressed by some of the young people who 162 came to see us to express their views in regard to the Bill from such diverse streams of life as the Consumer Council to teaching organisations and so forth. But it is important that we know what is in the Government's mind on the matter. It is not that the formula in the amendment is necessarily the right formula; but it would be an opportunity for the noble Earl to tell us what the Government have in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said that he thought that a board of 15 members was horrifyingly large and that he wanted a smaller one. I could not help thinking of the words expressed by Mr. Nubar Gulbenkian regarding the best number of people to have at a dinner party. He said that the best number was two, of which one should be the head waiter.
I listened with interest because I found myself in sympathy with a great deal of what your Lordships said about the composition of the board. I stated earlier that it is our intention that the board should be representative of a wide range of views in regard to the Welsh language. I certainly hope that there will be no dispute about that.
The language is an inheritance for all of Wales—the Welsh and the English speaking. The board should therefore bring together those people who are best suited for the work which we expect the board to undertake. That means that in practice the Secretary of State will seek to ensure that the board represents, for instance, a spread of ability in the language. I would expect Welsh speakers to make up a large part of the board and there is undoubtedly a role for those who have learnt Welsh. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, felt that non Welsh speakers also had a contribution to make. I too would expect them to be represented on the board.
Members of the board would need to be familiar with the operations of public bodies and the nature of the challenges that they will face in trying to implement the legislation. They will therefore need knowledge of that. We are anxious also that the board should forge a good working relationship with those organisations which embody the distinct Welsh speaking culture of Wales. They should be fully aware of their aspirations. Therefore, I find myself at one with a great deal of what has been said.
It is because it is important to obtain the best individuals to serve on the board that the Government wish to give the Secretary of State the widest possible discretion. I shall be concerned not to limit his choice, particularly by requiring the board to be made up of nominees from other bodies. We believe that there could be a danger that the membership of the board may have to be drawn from a reduced pool. There are no doubt suitable candidates for appointment from all walks of life who may be part of any organisation, or indeed of none.
I am therefore anxious that the amendment before us—probing amendment though it may be—is drawn too tightly and would circumscribe the freedom of the Secretary of State in choosing individuals to become members of the board. I would find it difficult to advise the Committee to accept the amendment as it is tabled, but I should like to consider the many points 163 made to see whether there is some way of reflecting the importance of the criteria upon which we all agree without placing undue restrictions on the Secretary of State's selection of members.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
First, I am grateful for the support that I received from all Members of the Committee who have spoken to the amendment. As I said, we are not necessarily wedded to the wording. However, I constantly have it in mind that the new statutory board is being designed to assist in the task of developing the use of the Welsh language and it must have popular support within Wales.
I am grateful to the Minister for his sympathetic approach to the amendment. It may be that we need to think afresh on Part I. I felt that Part I was important because we should have an independent element on the board. However, I listened with great care to the Minister and understood him to say that in principle he agrees that there should be a provision in the Bill reflecting the criteria which we all consider to be appropriate.
On that understanding I am happy to withdraw the amendment, but obviously reserve the right to return to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 [Functions of the Board]:
Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 11, leave out ("function") and insert ("duty").
§ The noble Lord said: The intention of Amendment No. 3 is apparent. The board has been given this worthwhile function under Clause 2. The function is to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language. However, the Government have not placed a duty on the board to promote the language. The key word in Clause 2(1) is "function". "Function" does not embrace a "duty". That is why it is unsatisfactory from our point of view. On the other hand, "duty" would embrace "function". We believe it is important that the word "duty" should appear in the Bill.
§ I hope that the Government will find the amendment acceptable. Those of us who met representatives of Welsh organisations last week were pressed hard to bring in amendments to Clause 2 which would ensure that the board has a proactive role in that sphere. My hope is that the Government can accept the amendment. If the amendment is agreed to, it will mean that the board is proactive. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
It is a sheer pleasure for an old professor of English like myself to support my noble friend on the matter of an argument about the meanings, functions and usages of words.
Someone once said of classical Greek that it is a language so subtle in its semantics and syntax that it is possible, in Greek, to create a distinction where there is no difference. I hope that we shall not be accused of such delicacy in proposing the amendment because there is a real and significant distinction to be drawn between a "function" and a "duty". In our view 164 the word "duty" is greatly to he preferred in this context because of its greater strength and greater clarity.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives as its first definition of "function":activity proper to person or institution".The word "proper" is itself important in that definition. It is used in the same sense as we find it in the Book of Common Prayer where we read,thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy",or when we speak of chemical substances having "properties" and we mean those characteristics which make them what they are and not something other. So it is reasonable to think that a function is an activity proper to, or characteristic of, a given thing.
For instance, it is a function of the sun to shine. It requires no desire or volition on the part of the sun; the sun cannot refuse to shine; it cannot fail to shine by any negligence on its own part. Now in that central sense the Welsh Language Board cannot have a function. Of its own nature it can do nothing, or to put it another way, there is nothing that the Welsh Language Board does because it cannot help it—as the sun shines because it has no alternative. So "function", although we could work with it, is not the best word in this context.
"Duty", on the other hand, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as, among other things,moral or legal obligation, what one is bound or ought to do".That is very much better. That sense is clearly applicable to Clause 2. To promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language is what the board ought to do, is obliged to do, is required by the Secretary of State to do, not what it will inevitably do as a consequence of its own nature. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a convincing example when it quotes from the 1560 Geneva Bible, Ecclesiastes, XII:13:Feare God and kepe his commandments: for this is the whole dutie of man".Try substituting "for this is the whole function of man" and you see at once the vast difference in use between the two words.
Duty is the stronger word, the clearer concept and the more appropriate in this context because the board needs to be seen to be having a moral obligation to the language and to the people of Wales. Like Lord Nelson, Wales expects that the Welsh Language Board this day will not exercise its function, but do its duty.
§ 8.30 p.m.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said that he was a professor of English literature and referred to the problems of syntax and semantics. This is very nearly one of them. I knew that we would come into quite an interesting debate about the virtues or otherwise of "duty" or "function".
I must say that I rather side with the draftsman in preferring the use of the word "function" in this context. To begin with, it conveys the impression that it is the board's raison d'être and is therefore more general in scope than a mere duty which would be imposed upon it by the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said that the function 165 of the sun is to shine and that it is not a duty. We are talking about the function of the Welsh Language Board. It is there for a particular purpose. That is the whole point of it being there. That is its whole function. It is slightly different from being given a task. The use of the word "duty" seems to imply a task which the board has had almost thrust upon it, whereas in reality this is a task which the present board—and I am sure the future board—has shown itself more than pleased to undertake. All those people on the board are there in order to make the board function properly. I think that the word "function" is probably more successful and more appropriate in this case than "duty".
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I am just a little bothered that the Minister has been unable to offer us a grain of comfort on this amendment. I am not entirely surprised because this modest amendment identifies a basic weakness generally in the structure of the Bill —the failure to construct rights and duties. On Thursday we shall come to the question of judicial review. It is my view that unless the board is under a duty to promote and facilitate the use of the language it will be extremely difficult for any individual to take judicial review proceedings against it if it is in default.
I appreciate that the Committee wants to make progress. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 1, line 19, after ("business") insert (", the provision of public services").
§ The noble Lord said: My function and duty in moving this amendment is to add the phrase "the provision of public services" to the reference to the conduct of public business as it stands in the Bill. The purpose of the amendment is to try to draw out from the Minister exactly how he intends to see the board functioning. It seems to me that there is a danger that the phrase "the conduct of public business" could be seen to be referring to the way in which the board deals with members of the public who are requiring services in the Welsh language or English language rather than to the content in the provision of services themselves.
§ The phrase "the conduct of public business" might also not clearly imply which public services are supposed to be under the aegis of the board. Because the Bill does not mention the health service or the education service, although in later clauses it mentions individual deliverers of those services, it could be argued that it will enable different aspects of public business to be conducted bilingually or through the medium of Welsh or English rather than ensure that schemes prepared by the board will relate to the content of services. I am referring specifically to the education service. I do not want to go into too much detail because, as the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, is indicating, we shall be coming to that in greater detail on other amendments.
§ I want clarification that the area of operation of the board extends to the content of public service 166 provision where clearly that has a linguistic content —that includes the whole area of public service and the administration of public service—and that schemes specified in the Bill refer to the content and delivery of services and not just to the administration of detail when individuals go to a public service and request to be treated bilingually. I beg to move.
§ Lord Hooson
I support the amendment. I should like to draw attention to one matter. The subsection deals with the advisory function of the hoard. It is in that context that the amendment is moved.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
I wonder whether the amendment is necessary. Surely the conduct of public business must embrace the provision of public service.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. One difficulty is that "public business" itself is not defined in the Bill. One wonders whether it ought to have been defined. The concept is complex. It seems very uncertain whether it is wide enough to cover some of the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has referred. If there is uncertainty about the meaning of the phrase we have a potential problem. One related problem is who is to decide the meaning of the term. It would be safer if we had incorporated a definition of the term or widened it to include the wording of the amendment.
Viscount St. Davids
It is difficult to pick out any one of the functions referred to in Clause 2 and claim that it is any more important than the others. However, it is perhaps fair to say that the board's role of providing advice to other public sector organisations holds out the potential of securing the most widespread changes.
The reference to the board's role in relation to the public sector in subsection (2) (b) has been drafted with this in mind. The principle to which it refers is intended to apply throughout the public sector and to encompass the wide range of services which this includes. I am pleased to be able to reassure the Committee that there is therefore no need for the principle referred to in the subsection to be expanded to make reference to "the provision of public services" since the principle already extends to them.
Even if there were any doubt on this matter I would remind the Committee that it is a mistake to see the list of powers referred to in subsection (2) as exhaustive. They are, as the Bill states, without prejudice to the general function of promoting and facilitating the language, which is of course of even wider scope.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
Before the noble Viscount sits down, can he follow that through with a further assurance; for example, that advice on the content of the delivery of education policy is clearly within the scope of the activity of the board?
Viscount St Davids
I believe that this is a matter which needs further consideration. We shall have to come back to it at a later stage.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am grateful to the Minister for that. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 5:
Page 1, line 20, leave out ("should be treated on a basis of equality") and insert ("shall be of equal validity").
§ The noble Lord said: In view of the constructive exchanges at the end of debate on the first amendment, I shall not move this amendment.
§ [Amendment No. 5 not moved.]
Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 2, line 3, at end insert (", including the publication of regularly updated guidelines for the private sector on the use of Welsh in Wales.").
§ The noble Lord said: As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, reminded us, this section of the Bill refers to the advice which the board gives to persons, which implies organisations as well as persons in the individual sense. The purpose of this amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lords Hooson and Lord Prys-Davies, is to indicate the advisory role of the board in relation to the private sector, the role of private companies in the grouped Amendment No. 15 and the role of voluntary organisations.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am speaking to them together for the convenience of the Committee.
I wish to indicate quite clearly that those of us who support the principle of this Bill very strongly recognise that it is deliberately limited and constrained to its specific statutory role in the public sector and that its role in relation to the private sector and voluntary sector is an advisory one. It is important to state that principle because the present non-statutory board has undertaken substantial work here in providing guidelines for the private sector which have proved extremely useful for small and medium-sized enterprises in Wales voluntarily to develop the use of the Welsh language in their commercial and business activities.
I stress that principle because neither in this clause nor in any other part of the Bill are we dealing with any aspect of compulsion on the private or voluntary sectors. We are providing an opportunity through drawing attention in this amendment to the role of the board in providing regular advice and guidelines. We are drawing attention to the importance of the board as an advisory agency for the activities of the private sector and the voluntary organisations.
In my experience and from working with voluntary organisations—again I declare an interest as a consultant to the NSPCC in Wales—in developing their work, I believe that they are keen to benefit from the advice of the Welsh Language Board as they seek to implement policies in the social services, health service, housing and consumer fields, where they can by taking advantage of the advice of the board ensure 168 that Welsh-speaking consumers of their services in the voluntary sector can benefit from equality of treatment as set out in the Bill.
In particular I draw attention to Amendment No. 15 because it emphasises the additional cost to the voluntary sector of developing bilingual services. I know that many voluntary bodies have already undertaken a substantial effort in that area to meet voluntarily the needs of a bilingual population. That imposes additional burdens on them. By means of this amendment they are keen to draw attention to the additional cost of bilingualism and for that to be recognised, particularly where there is grant aid for the voluntary sector from the Welsh Office. I am certain that the voluntary sector in Wales generally, both in the social services and in the health sector in particular, looks forward to collaborating closely with the Welsh Language Board on a voluntary basis in ensuring that there are matching services to the services which will be provided within the public sector as a result of the board's schemes.
So the voluntary sector wants to participate in the schemes and wishes to be enabled to do so by recognising the on-cost of bilingual administration. It is for those reasons, and stressing the advisory nature of the clauses, that I move these amendments. I beg to move.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Aberdare
I wish to say a few words in support of Amendment No. 15. It attracted me immediately because, first, it seems to be a very modest amendment; it asks only for encouragement and assistance. Secondly, it attracted me because it refers to voluntary organisations with which I have been concerned in Wales for very many years. It also draws attention to the worries of those voluntary organisations which, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has rightly said, are over the difficulties if they are required to fulfil the obligations under this Bill of the extra expense that they would have to cover. Quite clearly, this is not a very good time for voluntary bodies to try to raise extra money.
I am indebted to the Wales Council for Voluntary Action for helping me and for pointing out that the difficulty arises where the voluntary body is under contract to a statutory body. Most often that is a local authority and usually in the field of health or social services. We have so often heard in this House criticism of the way in which the social services are dealing with the transition from long-stay hospitals and homes into the community, very often leading to homelessness. Certainly in Wales, as well as in England, the local authorities are increasingly looking to the voluntary bodies to fill that need. For example, there are hospitals for the mentally ill, rehabilitation centres for alcoholics and drug addicts and sheltered housing for the old. All those various services are being provided by voluntary bodies under agreements with the local authorities or the local health authorities.
They fear that when this Bill becomes an Act the Welsh Language Board might insist that those voluntary bodies that are providing services to public 169 sector bodies might be asked to meet the requirements that the Bill lays on them. The result would be very heavy extra expenditure. All I ask is that my noble friends on the Front Bench give some assurance to the voluntary bodies, which, as the noble Lord has already said, are all very supportive of the Bill, want to see it come into force and support the improvement and widening of the Welsh language. But they are worried about finding the extra money required. If it is possible to get some help on that point, I shall be very grateful.
§ Lord Hooson
I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who has great experience of voluntary organisations and charities in Wales. He knows the problems involved. I very much supported the idea first put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on these two amendments. I believe that they are very sensible ones. The main function of the hoard will be to deal with the public duties placed upon it, but as we are to have a Welsh Language Board it can give great encouragement and assistance.
I have always been against any compulsion on the private sector in Wales. I was once involved at short notice in bringing a Welsh language scheme of signs and so on into a public company in Wales and I know that that company would have been very grateful for assistance and guidance on what exactly was appropriate. The Welsh Language Board should be entrusted with such functions.
The Government should consider the amendments carefully to see whether they can incorporate them in the Bill. Let us think, for example, about the position of a company coming from Japan to Wales. The Japanese have been particularly sensitive about coming to countries such as Wales, but they have been very successful there. They are extremely anxious to fulfil what they regard as social as well as legal obligations. It would be extremely helpful if they could have encouragement and assistance from the Welsh Language Board.
We are concerned with the preparation and updating of schemes. Good guidance already exists. I was hoping to have with me—but I have not—a copy of a book on the use of Welsh in business which I was shown last week by a young typist. It was published jointly by S4C and the Development Board for Rural Wales. It was a very composite volume. I was tremendously impressed by it and only wish that it had been in being when I had a problem in this regard a few years ago.
This is an important matter. As I have said, like myself, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has been totally opposed to any imposition of duties on the private sector, but that is a very different thing from saying that the private sector should not be encouraged and assisted. In the present climate, which is so much more helpful in Wales these days, it would be a useful development.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My points are very similar to those which have just been made by my noble friend Lord Aberdare and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. As the Minister said on Second Reading: 170The voluntary guidelines that have been produced by the existing Welsh Language Board for the private sector have played an important part in promoting the use of the language".I very much welcome that, but I was a little concerned by and seek clarification on one other comment that was made by my noble friend on Second Reading when he said—and I now turn to schemes and away from advice—Schemes will also extend to the new forms of service in the public sector, including those which are contracted out, and"—and this is the important point—to private organisations such as the training and enterprise councils which are funded by government".—[Official Report, 19/1/93; cols. 835 and 836.]I am not making a point about the training and enterprise councils or other bodies which are directly funded in that sense by the Government, but I want to question what is meant by "bodies funded by government". In a sense, that is the same point as that made by my noble friend Lord Aberdare.
It would be very unfortunate if we suddenly found ourselves drawing into the net not only charitable bodies but, for example, bodies that are financed through the Arts Councils. It happens that my wife runs an extremely good—a wonderful—charity "Live Music Now!" in Wales which takes live music of the highest standard to people who would never normally be able to receive it. It also so happens that that charity is punctilious in its use of the Welsh language. Its administrator is a Welsh-speaking Welshwoman who feels very strongly on the subject. However, it would be a harsh imposition on many organisations of that kind if they were suddenly to find themselves enmeshed in the system of schemes simply because they receive a grant from the Arts Council.
I notice that the chairman of the Welsh National Opera is in his place in the Chamber. When it embarks on its national tour, the Welsh National Opera properly prints its programme in Welsh. It has just done this. However, if it was faced with the wider need of carrying out a great deal of its activities in both languages, it would encounter serious financial difficulties. Having just left the board, I can speak at one remove. Furthermore, one wants to avoid the sort of entanglements that have arisen in Canada where, if an Italian opera has to have surtitles, they have to be given in both French and English. The thought of suddenly imposing the requirement to have surtitles in both Welsh and English is horrifying.
I do not believe that that is what my noble friend intended. I believe that he was thinking of much more directly funded government bodies. Therefore, I take the opportunity of this amendment to say that I wholly support the idea that advice and encouragement should be given to private organisations, charities and arts bodies, but I want to make quite sure that we are not being dragged down the road of imposing schemes on bodies that should be left in the voluntary field.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I very much support Amendments Nos. 6 and 15. Amendment No. 6 merely authorises the board to establish updated practical guidelines. It is important that that power should be inserted in the Bill in case of a challenge as 171 to whether the board was acting ultra vires in publishing such guidelines. That is an extremely important point.
Turning now to Amendment No. 15 and the voluntary sector, this amendment meets the concerns that were expressed in the letter received from the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, the Women's Institute and Dyfed Council Council and which have also been voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Voluntary organisations in Wales may not be as strong as in Britain. Their income in Wales does not amount to 3 per cent. of GNP, but the need for voluntary action is just as great—of that I am sure.
I am very impressed with the way in which the local authorities have been giving invaluable service in the disadvantaged areas of Wales. There are huge demands on their resources. In those circumstances, I take the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Elis-Thomas, that local authorities may find it very difficult to put part of their resources into the production and adoption of language schemes. Therefore, one very much favours the recommendation of the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action and the Women's Institute, which is reflected in Amendment No. 15.
I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify one point. As I understand it, under Clause 2(3) the board is empowered to make grants to charitable organisations subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and the consent of the Treasury. If I have got that right, can the Minister tell us exactly how that will operate in practice? Will the consent of the Secretary of State and the Treasury be forthcoming on a case-by-case basis or can we assume that the board will be free to make specific grants within the limits of an administrative regulation to be issued jointly by the Welsh Office and the Treasury? It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that point.
§ 9 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
In considering these amendments, I think it is important to consider the distinction which the Bill draws between public sector organisations, which will be expected to produce Welsh language schemes, and all other organisations which will be placed under no such requirement. The hoard will be able to encourage and advise outside the public sector, but the Government believe that it is important that this boundary should not be blurred. The effect of this amendment would be to do just that.
In addition, the Bill as currently drafted would already allow the board to provide advice to private sector organisations where it deems that to be appropriate. The Government would not, however, accept the extension of the scheme concept to be the main thrust of such advice, and would certainly not consider it a matter sufficiently central to the success of those policies to be referred to on the face of the Bill.
Subsection (2) (c), reflecting the importance of that advice, escaped our self-denying ordinance concerning the addition of further powers to this clause. The board has shown in its work to date that much can be achieved by the provision of sensible advice and 172 encouragement to private sector organisations. The Government are anxious that the board should be able to continue with that role. The power in subsection (2) (c) has been designed specifically with that in mind.
I do, however, invite the Committee to agree that as currently drafted the subsection leaves the decision as to how the board carries out that duty with the board itself. That may well include the publication of guidelines of the sort which have been successful to date. It may, however, include many other things as well. Rather than draw attention to any particular initiative which the board may wish to pursue, I invite the Committee to agree that since that specific activity is already encompassed within the clause as drafted, and since the board has already shown itself well aware of the possibilities which guidelines can provide, there is no need for a further amendment.
The voluntary sector is also an area where the board has already been active and where the Government expect the board to be an important source of new initiatives in future. That process can only be assisted by the transfer of responsibility to the board of the Government's programme of Welsh language grants.
The voluntary sector is nevertheless another area where we must proceed with caution. Although there are many voluntary organisations which receive significant funds from government there are many which do not. It is intrinsic in their nature that voluntary groups should be able to decide their own policies on the nature of the Welsh language services that they provide. Government departments will, I am sure, give close consideration to requests for funding submitted as a result of such policies. That must, however, be a matter for the voluntary sector to decide.
In answer to the fears expressed by my noble friend Lord Aberdare, I can say that the Bill will not place burdens on the voluntary sector. If voluntary organisations are delivering services which are the subject of schemes, it will be for the local authority to ensure that it funds extras to cover that cost. The Bill will place no direct financial burdens on the voluntary sector. I do not believe that the Bill will have any of the unfortunate implications mentioned by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell in relation to the Welsh National Opera.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My noble friend spoke about voluntary organisations. I am not talking about voluntary organisations; I am talking about companies and artists, and I am asking about grants through the Arts Council. Can I take it that that will not lead to them being dragged into the network of schemes, but that they will remain in the private sector, so to speak, and so can proceed on a voluntary basis of choice?
§ Lord Crickhowell
I am afraid that my noble friend is increasing my anxieties. I begin to wonder whether we have moved beyond the arts into education, because a great deal of Government funding now goes 173 indirectly through other bodies. It is not good enough for my noble friend to leave the matter like that. I want an assurance—and if I cannot have it now I shall seek another opportunity to have it when the point has been further considered—that organisations will not be dragged indirectly into the system merely because they receive grants from Government.
§ Baroness Seear
I had not intended to intervene in this nationalistic debate in which I have no part to play. I was alarmed—and I share the alarm of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—because a great many voluntary organisations are 75 per cent., 80 per cent., or 90 per cent. financed by government money coming direct from government departments. It will have to be made clear that the provision does not apply to them. It would cause the most frightful upheaval if it did.
Viscount St. Davids
It would be against the ethos of the Bill if it were to result in some of the apprehensions that the Committee has raised. I shall put the Committee's mind at rest and write to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am grateful to the Minister for the response that he has given. It has been a useful short debate. We have been able to draw out the distinction between advice and the statutory scheme. We are, I hope, drawing the distinction between public sector provision funded by Government and indirect secondary provision. If as one of its members I may dare to speak on behalf of the Welsh Arts Council, I should expect that it would have to have a scheme. I should be surprised if it were not a practical one, which would not mean introducing and applying the policy to all the theatre and education activities in Gwent, for example, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, referred on Second Reading.
We can debate later the practical and reasonable nature of schemes, but on this set of amendments I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his support, which he showed so clearly. He has great experience of the voluntary sector and he explained how anxious it is. The Minister has gone a long way towards responding to those anxieties. The noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Prys-Davies, emphasised the importance of the board continuing its advisory role in relation to private companies and the voluntary sector. In his response, the Minister took up that point. I am glad that he emphasised that the Government see that as a subsidiary or secondary role but still a very important part of the board's work. On the one hand, we have the statutory schemes to which we shall come later; but in the area of advice to the private and voluntary sectors, there is the progressive role of the board. That is not compulsory but it is an area in which the board has power to provide advice to:other persons providing services to the public … and the Board may do anything which is incidental or conducive to the performance of its functions".That meets the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. It covers the ultra tires argument that the board is able to provide those additional services.
174 I should like to make one further point on the amendment in response to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. This is not Canada; it is the United Kingdom. We have a very different basis for our linguistic legislation. I should not like to see us going down the road of Montreal. That is also a response to one of our absent friends, the noble Lord, Lord Walker, whom I have also heard on this issue.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
Before the noble Lord with-draws the amendment, I wonder whether the Minister has obtained instructions as to how the grants under Clause 2(3) will be applied. Will they be applied on an individual case basis or will a regulation enable the department to grant aid?
Viscount St. Davids
I understand that the board will not need to seek the Secretary of State's approval on a case-by-case basis when making grants. Rather, detailed criteria and arrangements will be established in advance.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
On the basis of the Minster's response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 2, line 3, at end insert:
("() keep under review the working of this Act and, where the Board is so required by the Secretary of State, or otherwise thinks it necessary, draw up and submit to the Secretary of State proposals for amending the Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: A duty to keep under review the working of an Act of Parliament is not an uncommon duty to be placed on a statutory board. Therefore, this amendment does not introduce a novel principle. In fact, this amendment follows the precedent to be found in Section 43(1)(c) of the Race Relations Act.
§ However, after tabling the amendment I struck upon a more appropriate amendment for our purposes. The wording is to be found in Section 55 (1) (c) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. As I read it, that places on the commission the duty to keep under review the relevant statutory provisions. Therefore, the words in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 go wider than those contained in the Race Relations Act 1976.
§ The point is important because we do not have comprehensive legislation which embraces all the legislation relevant to the Welsh language or, indeed, to the linguistic rights of an individual. I can think of important pieces of legislation which have a relevance to the Welsh language; for example, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, the Factories Act 1961, the Mental Health Act 1983, the Education Act 1948, the Education Reform Act 1988 and the Children Act 1989. That is quite apart from 65 statutory instruments.
§ Therefore, it is important that the board should be alert to developments in all relevant fields of legislation which directly affect users of the Welsh language. The board can then advise the Secretary of State on the need to update or amend legislation. I should have thought that it would be of enormous 175 help to the Welsh Office if this kind of amendment, amended in the light of Clause 55 of the Sex Discrimination Act, were included in the Bill.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I should have thought that this amendment is almost wholly unnecessary. Already, Clause 2(2) (a) provides that the board shall advise the Secretary of State on all matters concerning the Welsh language. I am not sure that there is such a provision in the legislation covering the National Rivers Authority, but that has not prevented the authority from frequently suggesting to Ministers that there should be revisions of the legislation. At present there is a whole pack of suggestions before Ministers as they prepare the new environment legislation.
I cannot see that we need to insert a specific clause into the Bill. In a sense it is unnecessarily rather trying to tell the board how it should conduct its affairs. If it is alert and doing its job, it will note if there is any need to change the legislation. I believe that it can be relied upon to get on with its job.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I support my noble friend on this amendment. I take a slightly different view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. It is common practice now for everyone to have performance indicators, aims, objectives, targets and mission statements. They must on every occasion be assessed. Review is vital to monitor any kind of performance.
I concede that it could be argued that all of this is covered in the arrangements for an annual report which appear in paragraph 13 to Schedule 1 of this Bill. However, that annual report lays down some requirements. The board is required to report, "on the discharge of its functions during that year".
It is required to do that but it is not required to say anything about whether it believes its functions are correct, adequate, imperfect or insufficient. Nothing in Clause 2, as we have it on the face of the Bill, encourages it to do so.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that in many cases bodies with which we have all been concerned from time to time simply take no notice of the fact that they have not been encouraged to do something and go ahead and do it. It may be that the Welsh Language Board would be perfectly happy and capable of doing that. However, in our view it would be an improvement to spell out a little more what is required. In our view the board should be empowered to offer comment on the adequacy of the vehicle in which it travels. The passenger should be able to criticise the bus. The board should appraise itself and advise the Secretary of State not only on what it has done, as it is required to do, but also on what it has not been able to do and could do to advantage if the Bill were amended in certain ways.
Self-monitoring is an important duty or function of the board and the activity may easily throw up weaknesses and lacunae which need to be treated by amendments to the Bill. I am not in any sense wedded to the particular words of this amendment and improvement could be made by adding a paragraph (d) to subsection (3) of Clause 2 to advise the Secretary of State of what changes should be made to the 176 board's functions that would meet the requirement. Some such power would be an improvement to the Bill and a help to the board.
§ 9.15 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
In compiling subsection (2) of Clause 2, the Government have been careful to limit the powers included to as few a number as possible. It is important that the board's most prominent powers should be spelt out on the face of the Bill, but it is equally important that the board should have as much flexibility as possible in future in determining how best to set about its task.
The power set out in this amendment does undoubtedly concern an activity with which the statutory board will wish to become involved. I would, however, offer the Committee two reasons why it would be unwise to include this. First of all, it might invite the retort: "What about the workings of other Acts?". The board does, after all, need to be in a position to advise the Secretary of State on the position of the Welsh language under all sorts of legislation, not only this Bill. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the Government will expect the board's advice to cover the workings of all the specific Acts that he mentioned.
Secondly, this activity as well as that of advising on other Acts is already subsumed within the terms of subsection (2) (a), as of course is that of advising on the workings of other Acts. This amendment would not therefore contribute anything to the Bill and indeed could be said to detract from it.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I should not have thought that it would detract from the Bill. I should have thought that to place this duty on the board would be an assurance that it is keeping its eye on all the relevant legislation. I accept the point that the duty ought not to be restricted to the operation of this particular Bill. We need to be reviewing all the legislation which directly affects the Welsh language.
I am conscious all the time of the number of occasions when we have failed to come up with an amendment to legislation which clearly affects Welsh speakers. I think, for example, of the permanent power of attorney. We made no attempt whatsoever to secure a Welsh language version of that provision. However, I take on board the Minister's message to the Committee. I shall reflect on it and decide whether or not this is an issue to which we ought to return on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 2, line 3, at end insert:
("() advise persons seeking to extend Welsh medium provision in education so as to ensure that such provision is made available within reasonable travelling distance of all pupils and students who desire it.").
§ The noble Lord said: This is the first attempt to introduce the subject of education specifically into our debate although I have given the Minister advance warning, as it were, that I was going to mention this. This amendment seeks to give the power of advice specifically to persons seeking to extend Welsh 177 medium provision in education and to make that provision available within reasonable travelling distance of all pupils and students who desire it.
§ The purpose of the amendment is to try to give effect to the view expressed by many organisations, including the Welsh Medium Parents' Association— Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg that a right of access to the extension of Welsh medium education is placed in the Bill. There is a long history to the debate about the role of Welsh education into which I will not enter at this stage of the debate in Committee, save to draw to the attention of the Minister the remarks of the noble Earl at Second Reading.
§ He emphasised the important role of education in the restoration and recovery of the language. We have already seen that quite clearly from the recent census figures relating to children and young persons in Wales. That has been the effect of continuing campaigns to extend Welsh medium education and the status of Welsh within schools and in further and higher education. The effect has also been to make such provision available particularly in areas of substantial population on the northern coast and South-East Wales where Welsh medium education has not previously been readily available. That extension has taken place by local authorities, sometimes tardily and sometimes positively, responding to the demands of parent groups.
§ Here I have a difficulty. I have always resisted the idea that in linguistic legislation in the United Kingdom we should place language rights on individuals. I believe it is an important principle that, rather, we should place those rights upon institutions. That is what we have done in the case of the national curriculum whereby, in treating Welsh as a foundation and core subject within that curriculum, we have ensured that it is a national language in South Wales. That process is being extended, although clearly it requires more resources. Similarly, we need to extend the ability of pupils to pursue Welsh medium education in response to parental choice. That is not the same thing as imposing a right upon individual parents to have access to that service. This amendment is a compromise to draw attention to the need to develop further the whole area of Welsh medium education and the tremendous goodwill among parents, pupils and the teacher unions towards that extension. There is also a need for the Welsh Language Board to take a proactive role in the development of Welsh medium education and its extension.
§ I hope that in that spirit the Government will respond by indicating that it is their policy to see the extension of Welsh medium education and that where practicable and reasonable—I use words that we will come to later in our debates on the Bill—that provision should be made available to all pupils within Wales. Clearly, there can be no compulsion upon individuals in this area, but where pupils and parents desire it, that opportunity should be made available with as good an access as possible and within a reasonable travelling distance at all levels of education.178
§ I hope that the Government will respond positively to the amendment. It is an attempt to bring the whole question of Welsh medium education to the heart of the Bill where I believe it belongs and to do it in a way that does not create rights for individual users of the language but the possibility for the Welsh Language Board positively to advise organisations seeking to extend Welsh medium education. In that way they can be supported directly by the board in its attempts to ensure that local education authorities and schools extend such provision and that Welsh medium education provision is planned with the assistance of the statutory board itself. This is an area where some local education authorities have been progressive and others have not been. I will not name any of them in our debate; it is invidious to do so and will be counter-productive. Here is an opportunity to take it one stage further by the Government making it clear that they see it as a function of the board to facilitate the development of Welsh medium education as one of the key sectors in the campaign to restore and normalise the position of the Welsh language throughout Wales. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
We on these Benches are very much in sympathy with the general thrust of the amendment. It is, of course, nothing new. Pressure for Welsh medium education to be freely and easily available to all who wish for it has for many years been a consummation devoutly to be wished for many of us.
I hope that the noble Earl, when he replies, will not simply dismiss the proposal by saying that the amendment has nothing to do with the Bill. In a superficial sense he would be entitled to do so because the creators of the Bill gave it its present form in full awareness of the importance of education through the medium of Welsh and chose deliberately to exclude it except for the provision of schemes. Schemes for the use of the Welsh language have in the past traditionally been concerned mostly with questions such as receiving letters in both languages, creating conditions in which inquiries can be answered in Welsh, telephone answering in either language, and so on. Education goes very much further and deeper. It raises a number of questions which I should like to put to the Government, even though I do not expect them all to be answered in our debate tonight. There are some which I hope that the noble Earl will be happy to take away and consider later.
I should like to ask, for example, whether the Government envisage a scheme in schools creating opportunities for all subjects to be studied at all levels throughout the school through the medium of Welsh. Again, what curriculum proposals would they welcome in a scheme from one of the schools listed in the Bill? Would the Welsh Language Board be empowered to ask for changes in the curriculum in a scheme of an individual school because, for example, of the board's view of the linguistic and cultural ambience of that particular school?
Many of us would find it profoundly helpful if the Government could explain why the Bill does not address the relationship between the promotion of the Welsh language and the provision of education, 179 because nothing on earth would better promote the Welsh language than facilitating education through the medium of Welsh.
Will there, perhaps, be another Bill on Welsh medium education in the foreseeable future; or is that not envisaged? Why must a scheme, as the Bill currently stands, be presented by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales but not by the University of Wales or its constituent colleges or the new University of Glamorgan? Indeed, is there a comprehensive government policy on education at every level through the medium of Welsh at all?
I am sorry to put those questions in that way, but I should be grateful for any answers that can be provided tonight. I should also be happy to receive any correspondence before we reach a later stage, if that is possible.
While we favour the intention of the amendment, although we are a little puzzled by the implications, we notice that it does not specifically confront the question of cost. It is, after all, not only reasonable distance which is a criterion in this case but also reasonable cost. Many local education authorities are extremely worried at present as to how travel costs are to be met in next year's budget, and an open-ended commitment such as this is the last thing that they would welcome because it would present them with an insoluble problem. From our point of view the amendment offers the Government the opportunity to disclose the present state of its thinking on this central and vital question of Welsh medium education. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to enlighten and reassure us.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, identified some of the practical problems. Clearly there are practical problems. The amendment is curious. It takes us into a wholly different area and produces an extraordinary contradiction. On the one hand it seeks to have the board advising persons on how they may set about dealing with a matter which is clearly the responsibility of education authorities under the education Acts. If ever there was a case for using the influence of the board through schemes which can identify practical realities and which can be worked out after detailed consultation with the education authorities responsible for delivery this is it. That is the strength of the Government's Bill: it translates rather vague requirements to advise people on how to extend Welsh medium education in an enormous variety of circumstances into practical schemes.
I very much welcomed the confirmation by my noble friend Lord Ferrers at Second Reading that the requirement for Welsh medium education policies will be included in the schemes. He suggested that it would help to secure the improvement that we all desire and would ensure that parents are fully consulted. My noble friend pointed out that the board will play an important role in ensuring that the views that parents have expressed are reflected in the services which result. It seems to me that such interplay between the board and the education authorities, or the funding 180 bodies, which have difficult responsibilities, is exactly the relationship that we should have. I hope that the Government will stick to their present proposals and will not be led down a path which may bring them into a quagmire.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that guiding advice. I certainly will not do as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, suggested and say that the amendment has nothing to do with the Bill. Of course it has something to do with the Bill. However, as my noble friend said, it takes us down a rather different avenue which we might do better to avoid.
I can give the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, the satisfaction that he seeks in the amendment. I am aware of the anxiety surrounding the provision of Welsh medium education in Wales and indeed of the interest that has been expressed in the way that the matter is dealt with in the Bill. But the Committee will be aware that in preparing the Bill the Government have been at considerable pains to avoid references to particular services. That is for one good reason: it is our intention that the Bill should apply to them all. I am only too happy to reassure the Committee that Welsh medium education is among those services. The organisations which are charged with the delivery of Welsh medium education will be among those which the board will advise. Welsh medium education will be included within the schemes. It will also be a subject on which the board will be expected to prepare guidelines. The effect of the guidelines will be to assist the providers of education in carrying out their duties under the Education Act 1944.
The board will therefore have a crucial role in relation to Welsh medium education. The Government have introduced a wide range of measures to strengthen the position of Welsh medium education. I can confirm that we intend the Bill to continue that trend. Welsh medium education will be included in schemes; and schemes will have to take into account the wishes of parents.
I hope that that explanation will allay the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas.
I do not wish to appear to be too easily satisfied because clearly it is an issue on which we have all had much correspondence and substantial lobbying. It is an area of deep anxiety to all of us as parents. In the past some of us have had to resort to the private sector when we were outside Wales in order to ensure that our children had Welsh medium education.
As to the Minister's response, I am fascinated that we are legislating on a Bill, which, by avoiding references to all services, applies to them all. If that is the case, then I have to be satisfied, but that needs clearly to be seen by those organisations that have contacted us on the issue.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the purpose of the board will be to advise those delivering education services as to how best that can be done; that certainly the development of Welsh medium education is within the schemes; that the Government 181 see the crucial role of Welsh medium education; and that the wishes of parents can be taken into consideration.
However, I have to say to the Minister that parents and organisations representing Welsh medium education have told us continually that in the past they have been frustrated by the difficulty of having community provision or provision of Welsh medium education within reasonable travelling distance. Again, I shall not name individual local authorities, but we know what we are talking about. Some authorities have not always responded to the wishes of parents. We appreciate that there are difficulties with resources, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris, made the point. However, if the Government are to give effect to the principle that the wishes of parents should be taken fully into account in developing Welsh medium education, then the Welsh Language Board has to be able to assist in the planning of the provision, assisting local education authorities and individual schools in extending it, and ensuring that resources are used in the most effective way to develop that provision.
It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us a little more about the way the Government see the board functioning, how they see the board taking a proactive role in the delivery of education services, and how they see the wishes of parents being responded to. It is an area of concern and, although I am prepared to withdraw the amendment on the basis of the assurance given by the Minister, I have to give notice that we may wish to return to the subject in view of the response that may come from other organisations to the amendments that have been moved and to what the Minister said.
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment—if that is what he wishes to do—perhaps I may refer to one omission. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, asked me a number of specific questions about education to which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, also referred. The questions were quite detailed and I wish to absorb them, reflect on them and write to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, about them. Perhaps I may do the same for the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, as I realise that it is an important point. I shall read what he said and give him a fuller answer.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, should not worry too much about appearing to be easily satisfied. If he is, it is a good trait, for which I commend him. I anticipate progress in that respect; it is nothing to be ashamed of.
§ Lord Davies
I speak as a member of an earlier edition of the Welsh Language Board back in the early 1970s. As a result of what I learned on that board, my four children went to a Welsh medium primary school and one of them is still there. By the time they were 10, they were all fluent in Welsh—the first of my family to have been so for three or four generations.
One point came out of the discussions we have just had. If the Welsh education authorities are abolished, as appears likely from my reading of other Bills due to come before us, the planning that needs to go into 182 Welsh medium education is absolutely vital for the regeneration of Welsh in Wales. However, that planning will no longer take place or is liable no longer to take place. That will mean that an important function will need to be carried out by the board on which it will have to concentrate. Choices have to be made in the distribution of resources and that cannot be done by individual schools. Certainly, in my part of Montgomeryshire one primary school covers a large area and one secondary school covers a large area. Other secondary schools have provision for the children to be taught in Welsh, but not across all subjects. That is an important matter which I hope will be borne in mind by the Government.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving us his testimony and reminding us of the role of the Welsh Language Council, as it then was, and the activity of that council, and also for the point that he made about the planning of Welsh medium education. I hope that the noble Earl will, in responding by letter to those of us who raised these concerns, also refer to that issue.
We are likely to have in the legislation being discussed in another place a new statutory non-departmental public body with responsibility for the funding of Welsh schools, the Funding Council for Wales. Presumably that body will have to prepare its scheme. There is room here for planning across the board, whatever emerges out of the present education system involving local authorities. It has been put to us by many organisations representing Welsh medium education and educationalists generally that they see that the role performed by the the Welsh Language Development Committee of the Welsh Joint Education Committee—Pwyllgor Datblygu Addysg Gymraeg—has now been reconstituted. Part of it has been absorbed by the Further Education Funding Council, other parts of it being absorbed by the schools assessment and curriculum body.
There is concern that extending the work of this body into the work of the new statutory agencies will dilute its activity or strategic planning. I think that is what the noble Lord had in mind, and I am grateful to him for reminding us of the need for that. I hope that in the Government's response there can be further satisfaction. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed to.
Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 9.
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause: