§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ Clause 11 [Revision of guidelines]:
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 5, line 27, leave out ("from time to time") and insert ("at such intervals as it thinks fit").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2. The amendments will remove the condition which was contained in the Bill as originally drafted that the board could not revise its guidelines within the first five years of operation of the initial set of guidelines.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, proposed on Report amendments which were similar to the two amendments which now stand in my name. He said that this was an area where we needed both rigidity and flexibility. That seemed a remarkable combination; rather like the irresistible meeting the immovable. I was, though, taken with his analogy of the garden hose and the garden fork representing rigidity and flexibility. I have been unable to come up with a better analogy for my own amendments.
§ It is important that there should be a certain amount of rigidity, which is the garden fork, so that people know where they are and so that there is consistency in the guidelines. It is important too—and I am grateful to the noble Lord for pointing it out—that there should be flexibility, which is his concept of the garden hose. Furthermore, the guidelines should be able to be changed if and when the board considers it necessary. On reflection, I agree with the noble Lord that our original proposal of a five-year period before the guidelines could be reviewed smacked a little too much of the fork and not enough of the hose. The amendments which I propose will allow the board to alter its guidelines as and when it deems that appropriate.
§ We can leave it to the board to ensure that too frequent overhauls of the arrangements will not be allowed to detract from the main benefits which the Bill will bring. I am sure that we can rely on the board to do that effectively. Where it does decide to, revise the guidelines, those will have to be approved by Parliament. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for tabling the two amendments, which are similar to those that I tabled at an earlier stage. Indeed, one could not get a shovel between his words and mine. The amendments will improve the Bill and will be extremely useful. As a measure of my gratitude I must say that, if the noble Earl wants his garden dug at any time, I shall be happy to go across with my garden fork.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 2:
§ Page 5, line 31, leave out subsection (2).343
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ An amendment (privilege) made.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
At the opening of our discussions on the Bill I confessed to your Lordships that my expert knowledge of Welsh did not compare with that which was at the disposal of your Lordships. I found that I was right. Our subsequent discussions have served only to increase my realisation of how limited my own knowledge is and how complicated to the uninitiated the Welsh language is.
I am only too glad that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, generally restrained himself from emulating the example of his father and did not subject me, as did his father to him, to shouts of, "Speak Welsh", whenever I attempted to respond to your Lordships' debates in English. I find that formidable enough.
I am, I am sorry to say, as much of a monoglot now as I was when this Bill started in your Lordships' House. I do now, though, understand better, as a result of the passage of the Bill, the issues which concern your Lordships and others by which the Welsh language will not only thrive but will also advance.
At the beginning of the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, I said that it was the Government's desire that the Bill should be subject to detailed scrutiny. I think that we can fairly claim that it has been. I also said that the Government were in the business of listening. I hope that we can also claim that we have listened—and indeed we shall continue to do so.
Legislating for a language is far from a frequent occurrence. It is a peculiar form of legislating. It inevitably involves an element of the abstract—loyalties, emotions, sentiments and patriotism—as well as facts. It is not the stuff of what one might call "every day" legislation.
The Government have never, therefore, taken the view that this Bill is incapable of improvement. We were anxious to hear your Lordships' views and to consider them carefully. If I have been obliged, sometimes, to say that we think that some of the suggestions which your Lordships have put forward might not be appropriate to incorporate into the Bill, it was not because of obduracy or because of any feelings of intellectual arrogance on behalf of the Government, but simply because we felt, after genuine consideration, that the proposals might not work in the way intended.
Many of your Lordships—too many in fact to list—have said much which has been helpful, and to which we have been only too glad to listen. We have had some enormously interesting and even philosophical debates, which have been, mercifully, free of party politics, and subject only once to the rigours of a division; and I am grateful to your Lordships for that.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who has taken the brunt of the responsibility from the Benches opposite with characteristic skill and patience, and with that peculiar 344 capacity of his to get hold of a point and worry it through—rather like a terrier—to a conclusion. And he was supported, fascinatingly, by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, who rested, as he frequently does, on Holy Writ to help him through.
I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, a distinguished former Secretary of State for Wales, who himself introduced, and saw passed into law, the only other Welsh Language Bill. It is with a twinge of humility that I realise that his Bill will be dissolved into the fulsomeness of the present Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has brought his formidable, clear legal expertise to bear, with, for me, uncomfortable regularity.
Then my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Thomas of Gwydir, both previous Secretaries of State for Wales, brought their own wise and considered contributions to our debates. And my noble friend Lord Crickhowell showed his characteristic Welsh independence of view when he found it appropriate, in all the circumstances, to go into a different Lobby from me.
The Bill will also be remembered for the participation of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. As a newcomer to your Lordships' House—and, if I might say so, a welcome newcomer—and as one who has always been a fervent advocate for Wales and the Welsh language, he has made many important contributions on difficult and intricate aspects of the Bill, always with charm and a smile, and always with that wholly enviable capacity of being able to speak articulately without a note—in either language. That is to be admired.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has produced his remarkable powers of advocacy to press his points—powers which are fine if you are of the same view, but uncomfortable if you hold a contrary one. In either case, they are impressive and have helped to structure our debates.
Even the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, has restrained himself from expressing his original stance—even if he may still feel it, which I hope that he does not—of being totally opposed to the Bill. I am particularly glad that my noble friend Lord St. Davids has also taken his share of the heat from these Benches. I am most grateful to all of your Lordships who have participated in this Bill.
I hope that your Lordships will feel that there is flexibility inherent in this Bill, flexibility which will enable us to take account of the substance of many of the amendments which your Lordships have proposed, without them being specifically referred to on the face of the Bill. There have, of course, been other amendments which the Government have not felt able to accept. The most prominent of these has been how best to accord full equality of status to the Welsh language, which we have discussed on a number of occasions.
The Government understand the depth of feeling which many of your Lordships have on this—a feeling which is a reflection of that which is prevalent in the Principality. We understand that because confirming the status of the Welsh language in Wales is a prime objective of this Bill. We think, though, that the Bill 345 achieves this by establishing the principle of equality and by removing legislative obstacles which would prevent the Welsh language from enjoying equality of status with the English language.
Where we have not felt able to accept amendments on this, that has only been decided after the closest possible scrutiny and because it has transpired that there have been considerable legal obstacles which have prevented us from so doing.
Before we pass this Bill onto another place, I would just like to refer to some of these matters because I know that there are areas where a number of your Lordships continue to have concern.
The Government's view is that the official status of the Welsh language should not be dependent upon any single piece of legislation. Its status should be—and is—a reflection of its general position in the statute book and because it has been the everyday language of public administration in many parts of Wales for many years.
The whole philosophy behind the Bill has been that the provision of public services in Welsh should be seen as part and parcel of the provision of public services in Wales. The intention is not to establish Welsh as an official language, but to reflect our view that it already is.
We are not, therefore, proposing that Welsh language schemes should be drawn up in order to emphasise the status of Welsh as an official language. They will be prepared because Welsh already enjoys official status, and they will simply illustrate how individual public bodies intend to reflect that fact.
Schemes are important because of the practical measures which they will contain. The basis of the Government's case is, though, that the status of the language must be about more than just the content of schemes.
On Report we became immersed in the concept of a purpose clause. I think that it could be argued that the purpose of this Bill, in part, is to put right the legislative wrongs which have befallen the Welsh language over the past 500 years. The Bill is not, though, a magic wand which we can wave in order to overturn the course of history.
The challenge which faces the language now, as we prepare to enter the 21st century, is about more than just the way in which the language is treated in law. The challenge which faces the language is that it is a small language in numerical terms—although, as I have come to learn, it is a very large language in many other respects—but it has, as its nearest neighbour a language which is very large and very powerful in every respect.
If Welsh is to continue to co-exist with English over the next 500 years, then it will need to be supported by all those who have an interest in its future well-being. In that I certainly include many of your Lordships. Most of all, though, it depends on the people of Wales themselves. It depends on those who are active in the voluntary groups to whose valuable work we have referred. It depends upon the teachers at all levels who, by their efforts, will help to ensure that young people grow up not only speaking the language, but 346 also being aware of its wider cultural riches. Most of all, it depends upon ordinary people deciding that it is a language which they wish to speak.
I therefore return to the point which I made at the beginning of our discussions on this Bill at Second Reading. The Government have a contribution to make towards creating an environment where people can exercise a choice—a choice as to whether they want to speak Welsh.
This Bill reflects that, and it seeks to ensure that that choice can be exercised in all aspects of public services. If there is to be a banging of the drum of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, then it seems to me that the message which the drum should bang is that the very presence of this Bill is an indication of the Government's total commitment to the Welsh language.
The challenge now, for the people who speak Welsh and for those among the wider population who have the interest of the language at heart, is to ensure that the opportunities which the Bill provides are grasped.
Their use of Welsh will reinforce the position of the language as an integral part of the everyday lives of so many people. I think that the Bill has an important contribution to make towards ensuring that that will continue to be the case. I am grateful to noble Lords for the consideration which they have given to this Bill and for the courteous and understanding way in which that consideration has been given. I hope that the Bill will prove to be not only a buttress but also a substantial step forward in the protection and in the advancement of the Welsh language.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, the Motion is that the Bill do now pass. In indicating our intention not to oppose the Motion, I should like to say that that does not mean that the Bill has met with our full approval. Indeed, the Bill has proved to be more notable for its omissions than for its content. The main change which it brings about is the setting up of the statutory Welsh Language Board to promote and facilitate the Welsh language. Let there be no doubt that we welcome that development. A great deal of the value of the board will depend upon the degree of independence it will enjoy. However, we noted in Committee that the board will be subject to general and special directions of the Secretary of State. Much will depend on the quality of its chairman and of its members. We very much regret that our amendment on the board's membership was not acceptable in its entirety to the Government. The membership clause, even as amended, does not provide for an independent element in the membership. I respectfully remind the Minister that he acknowledged on Report that he would take note of that point.
The other notable change introduced by the Bill is that public bodies in Wales will be called upon to agree language schemes. That long overdue reform is welcome. I suppose the major problem at the moment is one of uncertainty, partly because we have not as yet seen the timetable for the implementation of the Bill and partly because the content of the guidelines and the content of the language scheme are as yet unknown. However, they will be known in due course.
347 My greatest sadness is that the Government did not use the Bill as a vehicle to confer upon the Welsh language the status of an official language in Wales. The Minister has dealt with that matter this afternoon but I believe I am right in saying that there is a strong body of opinion in Wales which is not satisfied with Clause 1 as it stands and will not be satisfied when they read the comments of the noble Earl. I add only the following. If Parliament continues to deny to the Welsh language the status as such of an official language in Wales, in the long run—and in the not so long run—the fruit of that failure may be bitter. I therefore hope that the Government will still reflect upon the purpose clause tabled by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn.
In our view there have been other considerable omissions from the Bill. There is the failure to extend its provisions to government departments. In our view it is quite wrong that the Government's legislation should not apply to their own departments. Without wishing to be disrespectful to Ministers, I must say that we have not been given any sound justification for excluding government departments from the Bill. On the contrary there are a number of objections of principle to their exclusion. Nevertheless we shall look to the realisation of the Minister's firm undertaking, given on Report and in his letter to me of 22nd February, that,this Bill will affect Government Departments in the same way as it does all other public bodies".However, I must confess that I do not see how that undertaking can be enforced.
It is equally disappointing that the Government have not been able to extend the Bill to those functions of the privatised public utilities which are of the nature of a public service and to which a language scheme should therefore be attached. Time alone will tell whether Parliament would be wise to rely—as Ministers and the Government are relying—on the utilities developing Welsh language policies on a voluntary basis. The Minister's words on that matter have been carefully selected. He has referred merely to "a view".
There is one matter where there is still a great deal of anxiety and that concerns the role of the board in the educational field. The position as described in a letter from the Minister of State at the Welsh Office has been noted. Nevertheless we do not wish to find ourselves in a position where it could be argued that there is a conflict, or a potential conflict, between the Education Acts and this Bill when it is enacted. We believe that the position should be spelt out in this legislation. I venture to ask the Minister whether, in the event of a possible conflict between this measure and the Education Acts, the Welsh Language Act 1993 would prevail. That question has not been answered.
The Opposition tabled a large number of amendments in an endeavour to improve the Bill. Notwithstanding the kind words of the Minister, the great majority of those amendments were rejected by the Government. We thank the Minister for accepting 348 three of the amendments together with about one-third of our amendment on the important Clause 1 relating to the composition of the new board.
I wish to place it on record that it is my understanding that the Government are still giving consideration to the following important matters raised by the Opposition. Those matters are, first, the need for a clause which would in effect amount to a defence within the meaning of the Race Relations Act to a complaint of discrimination in the circumstances we have discussed in Committee where the ability to speak Welsh is a condition of employment; secondly, the need for a read-over clause when a service which has attracted a language scheme is contracted out under compulsory competitive trading provisions to the private sector; and, thirdly, whether the board may pay or recommend the payment of compensation to a successful complainant. That point was not covered in the Minister's letter to me of 22nd February. With respect I refer the Minister to the proceedings on Report at col. 1307 of Hansard.
Fourthly, there is the question of whether to place on a public body an express duty to implement an agreed scheme. Finally, the Government have still to bring forward the amendment promised on Second Reading to allow the use in the courts of written as well as spoken Welsh. I trust that when the Bill comes back to your Lordships' House it will have been changed to accommodate those matters.
I make a plea for the provision of adequate staff and finance for the board. The new board faces a huge task. It has to draft the precise contents of the guidelines and agree the detailed contents of the language schemes with all the public bodies operating in Wales and to do so as quickly as possible. In each case that will involve anything from 20 to 30 stages. In addition to all that, the board has to undertake the promotional functions under Clause 2. Regrettably those functions were not much discussed in Committee. I trust that all noble Lords can support that plea for adequate resources for the new board.
I now come to my concluding remarks. I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Viscount, Lord St Davids, for their assistance and unfailing courtesy. Throughout they have always been anxious to help. I must also thank the Churches in Wales, the voluntary organisations to which the Minister referred, and the hundreds of people who have toiled long and hard during the past 10 years in order to secure a strengthened Welsh Language Act. Without their contribution and perseverance there would be no Welsh Language Bill before the House this afternoon.
I also wish to acknowledge the contribution of the present board, although I have often been critical of it. I am indebted to his Honour Judge Dewi Watkin Powell and to Dr. Christopher MacCrudden of Lincoln College for their advice whenever I sought it over the years. I should also like to thank my noble friends Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Williams of Mostyn for their substantial contributions during the passage of the Bill. I want to acknowledge my debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn for his encouragement for over a quarter of a century, 349to preserve the vineyard which has been handed to our keeping",to quote the words of probably the greatest Welsh language writer and poet of our century, Saunders Lewis.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, as we send this Bill on its way to another place, as we surely will—I have had a restraining influence on my noble friend Lord Geraint in this matter—we can all reflect on the fact that half a million people speak Welsh today and on the amazing survival of the language. When one considers that there have been four-and-a-half centuries of legislation directly specifically against the language, that is an amazing survival. It has many lessons for Europe. As we move towards a more united Europe there will no doubt be a dominant economic language and a dominant culture and Europe will have to get used to majority and minority cultures living side by side within national boundaries.
I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl and the Government for the spirit in which the legislation has been considered. I find it difficult to recall an occasion when there has been more consultation with the opposition. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, and, behind the scenes, Sir Wyn Roberts—who is very much the architect of the Bill—have been extremely helpful. It is admirable that a non-party approach has been adopted. I see the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, expressing agreement with that sentiment. It is very important with a Bill of this kind.
We have to take Wales as we find it. As I said at Second Reading, it is no good thinking that we can right the wrongs of four-and-a-half centuries in one Bill. Therefore, the Government have adopted the right approach. They had to create the framework within which it will be possible for future generations to develop the Welsh language. I am no believer in simple gestures. The people of Wales have to make sure that the Welsh language survives. All the Government can do is to provide the means of doing so. As I said at Second Reading, important though the Bill is, it is not as important as access throughout Wales to bilingual education. That is the secret.
I remember reading the words of the late Saunders Lewis, who was a notable man. He said that it was impossible to have a bilingual nation in Wales, it had to be monolingual; in other words, it had to be entirely Welsh speaking. I read those words during the war while I was in the Navy. I was in a corvette and feeling rather seasick as I read those words and I thought that they were nonsense. It seemed to me that in the world we were moving into it was impossible for the Welsh language to survive other than on the basis of bilingualism.
However, having said that, and having broadly approved of the way in which the Government have approached the Bill, I believe that they have made one fundamental error. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was kind enough to consider very carefully two amendments: the purpose clause on which the noble 350 Lord, Lord Cledwyn, had taken advice and my own circumscribed clause, which was rather different. On mature reflection I feel that the clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, might have led to some of the problems which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, mentioned. He said:For example, every Act of Parliament that applies in any way to Wales would have to be printed in Welsh as well as in English, as would every statutory instrument, every decision of a government department and every copy of Hansard in both Houses. The statute books themselves might even have to be written in Welsh too. The task would be endless, as would be the imagination and the cost".—[Official Report, 18/2/93; col. 1266.]There was an outside chance that that might happen under a purpose clause, but there was no chance whatsoever of that happening as a result of the amendment that was voted on. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, was generous enough to withdraw his own amendment and not press it to a Division so that my amendment could be tested. The noble Earl made it quite clear that he was sympathetic to the purpose of the amendments, as were the Government. However, expressing his general opposition, he said (at col. 1268):I do so simply because of the legal implications. We are introducing law. Laws ought to be clear and unambiguous".I hope that the Government will seek high quality legal advice on the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that it was not beyond the ingenuity of man—or of lawyers in this context—to insert a clause setting out such a general statement, which is so important to Wales, that Welsh is an official language. One is putting right the wrong of four-and-a-half centuries because the Act of 1536 specifically prescribed Welsh. Welsh was specifically declared not to be an acceptable language, and something has to be done to put that right.
When he carefully analysed my amendment at Report Stage the noble Earl did not deal with the last words which I had included:this is to be achieved as provided in this Act".I think that if he takes advice from constitutional lawyers on that point the noble Earl will find that those words would mean that the meaning to be ascribed to the general statement that Welsh is an official language would be interpreted with regard to those words. Even if I am wrong about that I am quite sure that lawyers could provide a means of making the general statement and circumscribing it so that the problems which the noble Earl outlined would not arise.
The Government have said that they are concerned that an amendment of that kind might cause further trouble. Have they reflected for a moment on the kind of trouble that they might have if they do not have such a clause? One has only to look at the history of this matter to realise how important it is. In this House we are all anxious to make sure that the Government have it right. I approve of their approach in general, but I believe that they would be making a great error in allowing the Act to leave the Palace of Westminster without such a declaration. I am sure that practical means can be found of circumscribing the matter.
Having said that, I wish the Bill God speed. I hope that it will be a very successful Act. Wales has waited 351 for many years for such an Act and the Government are to be congratulated. In particular, Sir Wyn Roberts is to be congratulated for his persistence. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said, the Welsh Language Board is to be congratulated on its contribution behind the scenes and its debates with the Government department. Those debates must have borne fruit in the Bill. I also wish to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for the spirit in which they have done so. It has been an important contribution to Welsh history.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, and to follow my noble friend Lord Hooson. I thank the Minister for the way in which he has handled the debate. He was less than fair to himself when he said that he had not learned much Welsh in the course of our debates. I am sure that he is now able to pronounce Bwrdd yr laith Gymraeg very effectively. The creation of the board, and the way in which the legislation has been introduced by the Government is a response to the demand from both language communities in Wales for many years for a statutory body which will deal with promoting the language.
I agree with one sentence that the noble Earl stated at Third Reading; namely, that the way in which the Bill is dealt with and how we progress legislation is up to the people of Wales. But the people of Wales also have a right to look to these Houses of Parliament for a legislative framework which will facilitate the required restoration and normalisation of Welsh as a national language. In our debates on the Bill I have noted a shift of emphasis. I noted with some care what the Minister said at Third Reading about the phrase "official language". During previous deliberations it was argued that the Welsh language was an official language already and therefore did not need to be recognised as such in law. The argument now apparently is that it should not be recognised in one statute because it is already in effect in other statutes.
If we cannot have the phrase which recognises the statutory position of Welsh in the Welsh Language Bill, where can we have it? I therefore say this to the Minister, his officials, and his colleague the Minister of State for Wales, Sir Wyn Roberts. Surely the resources of government can look again at the principle of an official language. It is not the content of the phrase so much as the formal status that it will endow. I do not say at this stage in the revival and reintroduction of Welsh that that principle is necessary, but there has been sufficient public opinion in Wales for it to be justified. I therefore ask the Government again to consider that principle.
From an early sighting of the Bill—on publication it was brought to me by courier on a damp day in Dolgellau—I recognised that the Government had devised a form of language legislation which could be effective. It combined the principle of treatment on a basis of equality with practical schemes. I still believe that that is a preferable and more practical structure than an alternative of equal validity or a scheme which might be regarded as statutory bilingualism. The Bill 352 gives the board the necessary powers to ensure that, throughout the public sector in Wales, Welsh will be a normal language of administration.
A T-shirt, produced by a company which franchises such items for Cymdeithas yr iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society, is going the rounds. It says something to the effect, "No to a weak Welsh Language Bill". I am thinking of commissioning another T-shirt which says, "Yes to a strong Welsh Language Board". The Bill enables the board to undertake the promotional and statutory activity of ensuring that throughout the public sector there are schemes and services to be delivered; and that the public will understand what those schemes are.
There are a number of outstanding issues. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench for the way in which they have led us on the Bill. I shall not repeat what they said. However, there is the issue of privatised utilities. Although the Government have come part of the way in statements, letters and debates, there is no change on the face of the Bill. The issue of whether those public utilities, now privatised, should be brought within the ambit of the Bill should be considered by the Welsh Office officials and the Minister before the Bill appears in another place.
There is also the issue of the competitive tendering procedure. The Minister told us that the Welsh language schemes will follow through the contract to the contracting privatised sector. However, the issue again needs to be considered.
I refer to the relationship between this legislation, employment opportunities and racial equality. It is essential that it is not sufficient to say that schemes will be devised between the EOC, the CRE and Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Board). It is essential that it is made clear in employment law and in anti-racism legislation that language qualifications are an essential part of choice in the public sector, and that they are not themselves discriminatory.
There is also the issue of the funding and nature of the board. I do not wish to see a Welsh language bureaucracy created. I wish to see a small, efficient staff delivering the service. But wherever that service can be delivered by the voluntary sector, by commercial small-scale companies, or by local authorities or other agencies, it should be so delivered. I do not wish to see a linguistic or language bureaucracy created in order to administer the Bill.
Finally, I refer to the overall context in which we make these historic decisions. It would be wrong of me not to remind the House, as I did at Second Reading, that there is a long history of campaigning on the issue. In many other parts of the world linguistic campaigns have turned exceedingly bitter. Although we have had some bitterness in Wales—we have had some forms of protest which I could never condone —it is fair to say that the commitment of Cymdeithas yr iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) to non-violence against persons has at least prevented some of the linguistic bitterness experienced in other countries from manifesting itself in Wales.
The campaigns of the language society have been motivated by successive generations of committed 353 young people who regard it as their obligation to ensure the maintenance of the Welsh language. They have taken on public authorities on that basis. In many of their campaigns they have succeeded. I believe that they should now consider their position. What is the most creative and productive action that Cymdeithas yr iaith Gymraeg can now take? It should pause in its campaign of negating the Bill and the activity of the board, and consider carefully whether there is now an opportunity to create a new consensus and a positive approach towards the revival of Welsh in Wales. As the Minister so clearly said, it is for the people of Wales to resolve the issue. I believe that in this legislation we have the opportunity to do that. I hope that all sectors of Welsh society will seize that opportunity.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, as a mere Scot perhaps I may indicate my interest in the Bill. I am not a Gaelic-speaking Scot, but I am interested in the Welsh language because after over 20 years' membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party the one thing that has always impressed me was the way in which Welsh colleagues of mine seeking election to the Shadow Cabinet always lapsed into their own language when strangers like me appeared so that I would not know whom they were voting for and whom they were voting against! My interest in the Bill is that I wish to ensure that my good friends in Wales —and my best friend in Wales is the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos—are always able after Murrayfield to say in their own language, "Scotland, 20; Wales, nil".
§ Lord Geraint
My Lords, I find it very difficult to restrain my feelings on this occasion and also the feelings of the majority of the people of Wales that once again we have been let down by government policies, especially by this Bill.
When I first heard that the Government were to present a new Welsh Language Bill to Parliament, I allowed myself to feel a little optimism. What I and thousands of my fellow Welsh men and women had fought and argued for, over many years, seemed nearer to realisation. Our goal was simply to ensure that the Welsh language enjoyed exactly the same status within Wales as did the English language. To us, that seemed only fair and just.
My disappointment when I actually saw the provisions of the Bill was great. But it was tempered, as my noble friend has just said, by the hope that amendments would be accepted during its progress through your Lordships' House. However, although many noble Lords spoke with great eloquence and put forward what I and others believed were irrefutable arguments in favour of the amendments, the Government were not impressed or moved.
Yes, I shall say that the Government are prepared to spend money on the Welsh language, but they are not willing to take one more step to bestow on the 354 language the status we think it merits. That saddens me greatly, for I think we have lost a great opportunity here to make history in 1993.
If the Bill continues its passage without giving Welsh the status of an official language in Wales, it will be decisively rejected. It has already been judged unacceptable in its present form by all the organisations in the Welsh Language Forum, as well as by other religious and cultural leaders throughout Wales and by the mass of public opinion. In my view, in short, it fails to come up to Welsh expectations.
The Welsh verdict on the Bill will be clear cut. As has been acknowledged by both sides of this House, we have had four-and-a-half centuries of foul play, rigged rules and biased referees. That was to change with this Bill, but it has not. The Government's famous sense of fair play has failed. Make no mistake, the anger will be deep, the disappointment great, the result disharmony in Wales.
For nations to be good neighbours, especially when those nations are part of the same state, there must be mutual respect, mutual civility and mutual recognition. We looked for this Bill to establish a framework for that, but we do not have it. We understand from the Government's spokesman, Sir Wyn Roberts, that the Government sought to improve the Bill, but in this House we are told that Welsh is still not to be recognised in English law as an official language in Wales.
I say to Ministers, "You have both been courteous in manner, but you have not been just, fair or courteous in content. Saying 'no' nicely is not enough when justice demands you to say 'yes'". Wales wants a Welsh Language Bill—we are still waiting to see one.
The debate now moves on to another place and I earnestly hope that the Secretary of State will have taken careful note of the words spoken in this Chamber only last week by his distinguished predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.
§ 4.25 p.m.
My Lords, it was not to be suspected that those of your Lordships who have felt concern about the insertion of the words "an official language of Wales" would not return to that subject again today. I know that it strikes close to the hearts of many noble Lords; indeed, all those who spoke on the Motion that the Bill do now pass referred to it other than the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford. He seemed to be more concerned about Scotland and it was a mere passing reference; he was not concerned about the official language.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, hoped that the Government would go on considering the suggestion. I said that we would. As I explained earlier, this is an unusual type of Bill. We do not often legislate for languages and we have been concerned to do our best. I accept that we cannot always meet everyone's views, but the reason why we were unable to accept the amendments—whether they came from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, or the noble Lord, Lord Hooson —was because of the legal implications they would have, and not any lack of sympathy we may have for what they were getting at. Of course we shall continue 355 to consider the matter and see whether there are ways in which we could meet the aspirations without running into desperate legal complexities or uncertainties. Both those are undesirable.
I had hoped that the entrenched ruggedness of disapprobation for the Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, exuded at Second Reading, would have modified itself a little. He shakes his head. He indicated that it had not budged an inch. We brought in a Welsh Language Bill in order to try to help the Welsh language. It might not be all that the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, aspired to, but at least it is a genuine effort on behalf of the Government to encourage the Welsh language. It is disappointing—I put it no higher than that—that one who is such an advocate and admirer of the Welsh language cannot see a tiny bit of the other side of the coin and accept that the Government are trying to help the language, as the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, wishes.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked whether I would give an undertaking that should there be a conflict between the Education Act and this Bill, this legislation would prevail. The noble Lord knows that no Minister would be so stupid as to give an undertaking of that nature. I cannot say what will happen when laws are passed and they become the laws of the country. No Minister could give such an undertaking. We do not believe that there is any conflict, or that there will be any. However, should that be the case, in the end it must be a matter for the courts. It is not a matter about which Ministers—passing birds of passage as they are—could ever give long-term undertakings.
It would be inappropriate for me to answer all the points which have been made, many of which we have discussed before. I realise that they have been made today to mark down matters about which noble Lords are uneasy. There is another place through which the Bill still has to go in all its stages. I have no doubt that your Lordships' observations will continue to be reflected on by the Government. No doubt they will also be reflected in speeches in another place. I had hoped for a little more encouragement as the Bill winged its way to another place, although the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, was generous with his encouragement. I hope that noble Lords will find that when this Bill becomes law it will be a great asset to the Welsh language.
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.