§ 4.7 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
It is a great privilege to introduce such an historic Bill as this, although it is with a small sense of humility that I do so. For one who finds immense difficulty in conversing in any language other than English, and sufficient difficulty in that, I find it somewhat ironic that it should fall to me to introduce a Bill on the Welsh language. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and other noble Lords from that delightful Principality will not take advantage of my linguistic limitations. I shall rest upon your Lordships' indulgence should I inadvertently slip into error.
833 When one looks at the list of speakers in this afternoon's debate and realises that each one, except one, has had and still has distinguished connections with the Principality, one cannot help feeling that the list has a haunting resemblance to a centipede with a wooden leg.
In their normal helpful manner the Government have produced a version of the Bill not just in English but also in Welsh. I hope that your Lordships will understand a personal reluctance on my part to get too involved with that version, and you may find it convenient if we adhere, at any rate for the purpose of the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House, to the English version—the "second" official language in Wales.
I can assure your Lordships that the Bill is a pretty historic measure. It will give effect to the principle that in the conduct of public business and in the administration of justice in Wales the Welsh and the English languages should be treated on an equal basis and the Bill will ensure that action is taken to achieve that.
The Welsh language is an essential feature of the inheritance of these islands. It is a direct descendant of the Brythonic language which once was spoken throughout mainland Britain. It is one of the oldest European languages, and it enjoys a literary heritage which continues to this day, though, mercifully, it is not the subject of frequent legislation.
In presenting this Bill to your Lordships I am conscious of the fact that there are a number of noble Lords on all sides of the House who have had direct experience of the threats and the challenges which have faced the Welsh language as well as the opportunities for it. I shall be particularly interested in hearing what your Lordships have to say. I look forward to the agreeable prospect of the furtherance of my education as the Bill becomes subject to the detailed scrutiny that your Lordships customarily give to Bills that come before the House.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is anxious to encourage a detailed debate on this Bill. We want to see that, when the Bill is passed into law, it is as effective as it can be in support of the Welsh language.
The Government's policy towards the Welsh language is based on the good will which surrounds the language in every part of the community in Wales. The Bill builds on that good will and it will benefit from as wide a degree of consensus as it is possible for us to achieve.
The Bill is the latest in the series of measures that have been introduced over the past 30 years to safeguard the language and promote its use. These measures include the last Welsh Language Act, which found its way on to the statute book in 1967—an event which was helped in no small part by the contributions which were made to the passage of the Bill through Parliament by the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, both of whom I am glad to see are in their places and will be participating today. The 1967 Act was based on the principle that in providing public services the aim should be to give 834 Welsh speakers the opportunity to speak Welsh irrespective of whether they also spoke English. This was essential if the two languages were both to have a place in the conduct of public affairs in 1967. It is no less essential today.
The creation of the Welsh fourth television channel, S4C, gave another boost to the Welsh language. Television is an important factor in sustaining any language. I remember those happy but somewhat controversial days of the passage of the Broadcasting Act in 1990 in which I was privileged to have played a modest part. That Act established a new financial framework for S4C. I am glad to see that that channel continues to go from strength to strength and has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Government support has also played an important part in strengthening the other main Welsh language organisations. The National Eisteddfod remains at the heart of Welsh culture. The Welsh Books Council over the past decade has also been instrumental in securing a sea-change in the range and quality of Welsh books. More than 200 new titles are now produced every year. A whole host of other voluntary groups around Wales form an integral of the Welsh-speaking community. Probably the most important fact of all is that over the past 25 years there has been a considerable growth in Welsh medium education. I am particularly surprised to learn that 22 per cent. of primary school children and 15 per cent. of secondary school children in Wales now receive their education in schools where some or all of their instruction is in the medium of Welsh. All other children are provided with the opportunity to learn Welsh now that it is a foundation subject under the national curriculum.
The cumulative effect of all of these policies is illustrated in the census figures which were published recently. After a century of near constant decline the figures show that the fall in the number of Welsh speakers has been halted. It now stands at 508,000. Many outside the Principality are not aware that Welsh remains a language which is spoken by almost one in five of the population.
I think that the most significant feature of the recent census figures is the growth in the number of young people who speak the language. The percentage of those who can speak the Welsh language between the ages of three and 15 (a very important age group) has increased from 18 to 24 in the last decade. It is developments such as these which form the basis of the Government's desire to build on what has been so successfully achieved over the past few years.
I hope that the Bill will achieve this by confirming the official status of the Welsh language across the public sector as a whole. At the heart of these proposals lies the principle that the Welsh and the English languages should be treated on a basis of equality. The Bill concentrates on the practical measures which are needed to ensure that this becomes a reality.
The body that will shoulder the heaviest burden in ensuring the success of these policies will be the Welsh Language Board. Part I of the Bill places the present non-statutory board on a statutory basis. My right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Welsh 835 Office has paid particular tribute to the work of the board under its present chairman, John Elfed Jones. I should like to reiterate that tribute. The board has already achieved much, not the least of which is the report that gave rise to the Bill which is in front of your Lordships today. The board will be at the centre of the changes which the Bill is intended to bring about.
What is not in Part I of the Bill is a long list of the specific tasks which the board is expected to perform. There is good reason for this. The function of the board will be to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language, but it will be for the board to determine how best this can be achieved. The board's wide remit reflects our view that there is no single policy or set of policies which will ensure the future of the Welsh language as part and parcel of daily life in Wales. Experience has shown that policies in support of the language must be as many and varied as are the circumstances in which the language is used.
The board's advisory powers therefore ensure, for example, that the board can advise the Secretary of State on the situation of the language and do so in the widest possible sense.
I should also draw to your Lordships' attention the board's role in relation to private sector organisations. The Government do not believe that it would be right for a Bill such as this to place burdens on the private sector, though a growing number of companies have seen that there are commercial benefits to be gained from the sensitive use of the Welsh language in their businesses and have acted accordingly.
The 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. Although the Bill will not place any obligations on private businesses, the board will be able to offer advice to those companies that want it. The Government hope that this will lead to a continuation of the present encouraging trend.
The Government's intention is that the Welsh Language Board should over time assume responsibility for the programme of Welsh language grants which is at present administered by the Secretary of State. The power to pay grants is deliberately made flexible in order to ensure that the board can provide assistance for a wide variety of projects. It is intended that the board should assume responsibility as soon as possible for the payment of grants to the smaller-scale projects. Responsibility for funding the main Welsh language institutions such as the National Eisteddfod and the Welsh Books Council will, for the foreseeable future at any rate, remain with the Secretary of State. This division reflects our view that the board's immediate priority should be to establish Welsh language policies throughout the public sector in Wales.
The objectives of the Bill are much wider than simply the establishment of a statutory board. If the language is to prosper—which we all hope it will—Welsh speakers must feel able to use it in all aspect of their lives. It is just as important that those who are learning the language should also benefit from seeing it in use as widely as possible in their communities.
836 Welsh has a great literary tradition and remains the language of poetry and of song. It is the oldest language in the British Isles. Even more important than that is the fact that it is the living everyday language of more than half a million people. The public sector must therefore recognise and reflect what is a reality. Part II of the Bill establishes a framework which will ensure that it does this.
It will extend Welsh language services but in a way which will be sensitive to local circumstances. It will cover all public bodies in Wales as well as many public bodies from outside Wales whose services nevertheless extend to cover Wales. All these bodies will be required to produce Welsh language schemes. Schemes will also extend to the new forms of service in the public sector, including those which are contracted out, and to private organisations such as the training and enterprise councils which are funded by government.
The Bill does not specify the particular ways in which the Welsh language should be used in providing public services. The Bill will extend to them all—but it will be for the board's guidelines to show how in practical terms this can be done. All public bodies will have to have regard to the guidelines in preparing their schemes. The board will, therefore, be required to consult widely during the preparation of the guidelines, which will require the approval of the Secretary of State—and indeed of Parliament.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State expects the guidelines to build upon the achievements of the board's existing voluntary guidelines. First of all, before making a scheme, bodies will he required to consult their Welsh-speaking customers. The Welsh Language Board will be able to issue directions about the form in which this consultation should be undertaken. Secondly, schemes will have to comply with the purpose which is defined in the Bill —and that is giving effect to the principle that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales the Welsh and English languages should be treated on a basis of equality.
The Bill provides for the implementation of this principle by public bodies in ways which are,appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable".This consideration will need to be made in an objective manner in every case. It will not allow bodies, therefore, to adopt a highly subjective and restricted view of what is appropriate in their circumstances, and every public body will be required to have regard to the board's guidelines.
Once schemes are in place it will be important that Welsh speakers should be made aware of the range of Welsh language services which is available. Schemes will be publicised, and it will be for the board to ensure that the proposed publicity arrangements are satisfactory.
If the Bill is to succeed in achieving the aim of extending best practice in providing Welsh language services across the whole of the public sector, then it also has to be flexible—in order to reflect the wide variety of different bodies which it will encompass. The definition of the purpose of schemes enables the 837 schemes to be tailored to the circumstances under which the body in question operates. But the underlying principle—that the Welsh and English languages should be treated on a basis of equality—will be common to all schemes.
Although many public bodies already have comprehensive Welsh language policies, there are others for which this goal is yet some way off. Schemes will, therefore, contain timetables depicting when the various measures will be introduced. The board will ensure that all this happens as quickly as possible.
Schemes will not be cast in tablets of stone. The framework which is proposed in the Bill should be able to respond as the use of the language evolves by enabling the board to update its guidelines periodically and to require that schemes should also be updated. The Bill—rightly, I think—places emphasis on schemes being agreed between the Welsh Language Board and the public body. This is by far the best way of ensuring that the practical obstacles are identified and are then removed.
The process of negotiation will be assisted by the knowledge that the Secretary of State will have powers, if necessary, to intervene and to direct. But it would be a mistake to see these powers of direction as playing too prominent a role. We hope that they will be used only as a last resort, but they will be there.
Recent years have shown that there is a considerable reservoir of good will towards the language throughout the public sector—not to mention considerable innovative skills—which this legislation should help to release. There was, for instance, no requirement placed upon the Benefits Agency to extend its range of services to Welsh speakers. Yet it did so, and its existing policy is seen as a model of its kind.
Inevitably there will be occasions when a member of the public does not receive the level of services which a public body has undertaken to provide via the scheme. The board will then have the task of investigating any complaint which may arise as a result. We think that the board's priority in doing this should be to use its good offices to find quick and practical solutions.
The principles in this Bill apply in practice to government departments just as they will to all other public bodies. Government departments will also submit schemes to the Welsh Language Board just as if the legislation placed them under an obligation to do so. These schemes will have regard to the same guidelines as those which will apply to all other public bodies.
It would though be nonsensical to provide in the Bill that the powers of direction of the Secretary of State should be directed against himself as well. We can achieve what we want without that legislative peculiarity.
I know that Welsh medium education, in particular, is a matter of great interest to many of your Lordships and to many people in Wales, and the Bill also has an impact on education in Wales. The Government do not think that the concerns about education in Welsh are due to the legislation under 838 which education is provided. There has been a spectacular growth in Welsh medium education under the arrangements which were created by the Education Act of 1944 and it would be unwise to interfere with them.
The educational reforms which are at present being considered in another place would establish new educational institutions in Wales which will have Welsh language education, including Welsh medium education, at their heart.
Where the Government think that the Bill has a contribution to make is in ensuring that the reasonable wishes of those who use the education service—that is, the parents and the children—should be fully considered. This should be so whether the education is provided by a local education authority or by a funding council. The requirement for Welsh medium education policies to be included in schemes will help to secure this improvement. It will ensure that parents are fully consulted. The board will then have an important role in ensuring that the views which they have expressed are reflected in the services which result.
Part III of the Bill repeals or amends legislation which interferes with the principle that the Welsh and English languages should be treated on the basis of equality. One example of this is, in particular, the repeal of the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542. I know that many see those Acts as having undermined the status of the language in Wales over the centuries. Although the provisions of both Acts are now spent, the patronising and, some believe, offensive references to the Welsh language remain. We thought it appropriate that once the Bill is enacted all this should be removed.
Another provision which is to be repealed is that part of the Welsh Language Act 1967 which provided for the English version of a document to take precedence over the Welsh version where there was a case which was in dispute. In future such differences will need to be resolved by reference to both versions of the document.
There are other changes which the Bill introduces which will further the principle that the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality. We intend to introduce an amendment to provide that the use of Welsh in the courts should be extended to include the written as well as the spoken Welsh. We also intend to extend the use of Welsh in the titles of statutory bodies.
I hope that in my exposition of this Bill I have been able to show that the Government believe that the Welsh language belongs to the entire population of Wales and that it enriches the cultural life of the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government are not in the business of requiring people to speak the language against their will but they want to give every encouragement to those who wish to do so and to those who want to learn. These people can exercise their choice of language and so will enable the Welsh language to prosper and to flourish.
I very much hope that in this and subsequent debates on the Bill your Lordships will agree that the Bill represents a real advance for those who speak the 839 Welsh language and for those who are learning it. It seeks to support and to sustain the Welsh language, not just in the short term but for generations to come. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the background to the Bill and for his exposition of its main provisions. I also very much welcome his approach to his task. I hope that we can build on the basis of the Bill in Committee. Perhaps I may say at the outset that there are clauses in the Bill which we are glad to welcome. But we deprecate the inadequacy of many of its key provisions and are saddened by the gaps that we see in it. So in general we are concerned and disappointed by the weakness of the Bill.
I look forward very much to the delivery of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I also look forward with great interest to the contribution of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn as he was the Secretary of State for Wales who overcame the resistance to legislation in the 1960s and brought forward the Welsh Language Act 1967.
The Minister could have said, and probably did say, that the Welsh language is a subject of fundamental importance for Welsh speakers who live in Wales. It is currently the language in which half a million or more people in Wales (that is, a fifth of the population) live their daily lives to the greatest possible extent. That is why in 1985 a departmental committee chaired by Lord Swann acknowledged in its report Education for All that, unlike ethnic minority languages, Welsh is the national language of Wales. Indeed the noble Earl acknowledged that within the islands of Britain historically the Welsh language has primacy of title. It has been spoken here since before the poetry of Y Gododdin, the earliest surviving literary work in Welsh, which was composed in the sixth century. That great literary tradition is not just part of antiquity; it is very much alive today.
The Minister referred to the Acts of Union. Indeed he could have taken as his text the first few lines of the second schedule to the Bill which repeals the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542. These of course are the laws of the Acts of Union. It has to be said that the policy of the Acts of Union was to strangle the Welsh language and to give it no place in public life in Wales. In the result, Ellis Wynne, one of Wales's most distinguished writers, could write with sadness in 1701 when he translated into Welsh Jeremy Taylor's The Rule and Exercise of Holy Living that there was no point in his translating the chapters dealing with the duties of kings, judges and governors as they,are unfortunately irrelevant to the Welsh language".So the Acts of Union had actually slammed shut the doors that would in a normal society be open to the native tongue, and they were to remain closed for centuries.
Allied to that policy the early education Acts debarred Welsh from the schools of Wales. But I am happy and glad to acknowledge that throughout the 840 past 60 years or so Welsh people have been striving, with a considerable degree of success, to reverse the linguistic policy of the Acts of Union. I accept that London has been comparatively benign towards the Welsh language during the past 40 years.
But this Bill at long last formally confirms that the provisions of the Acts of Union are repealed. That is greatly welcomed. It is on that basis that the Minister of State at the Welsh Office, and the noble Earl this afternoon, can describe the Bill as being historic. So I believe that we are entitled to ask whether the policy of the state towards the Welsh language, as expressed in the Acts of Union, has now been completely reversed and that the Government accept that it is in the national interest of Wales that the Welsh language be restored to its former position; in other words, it should be restored to be an official language in Wales, a status which it lost 450 years ago.
Like the Minister, I am immensely impressed and encouraged by the ever-growing demand during the past 20 years in south-east Wales in particular and in Wales in general by non-Welsh speaking parents who themselves were deprived of the Welsh language but who are determined that their children should speak Welsh and have access to the cultural heritage that is so distinctive, indeed singular. That is reflected in the statistics that the noble Earl quoted in his speech which show that the decline in the number of Welsh speakers over the past century has now been stopped. However, that should not make us complacent. Access to Welsh language education is still not fully guaranteed. There is indeed much talk and anxiety in Wales that the new new governance of schools makes it more difficult to develop a coherent system of Welsh language education. I have looked with great care at the Bill and I fail to see that it addresses this issue, notwithstanding the reassuring words used on 18th December last by the Minister of State at the Welsh Office. That is one of the issues that we shall seek to raise in Committee.
Many Members of your Lordships' House will be aware that for the past 10 years there has been a powerful campaign in Wales in support of a new Welsh language Act. I have been glad to give it my support. I should like to pay tribute to the people, drawn from all walks of life in Wales, who have striven over the past 10 years to reform the law. At last the Government have been convinced of the need to bring forward legislative reform. It is against that background that we now have the Second Reading of this Bill.
The present Welsh Language Board reviewed the current legal position of the language. It is to the board's credit that it reported in 1989 that new legislation was necessary. Paragraph 7 of its final report states:The Welsh language lost its official status not through neglect or misuse but by an Act of Parliament. Only an Act of Parliament can restore it".We are greatly indebted to the Welsh Language Board for that recommendation. What we now want is a Bill that will in fact achieve that aim. As I understand the board's position, it does not fully approve of the Bill. The Bill has been heavily criticised by many organisations on the ground that it fails to confer 841 upon the language the status of an official language. We shall return to that key point in Committee. We shall develop arguments in support of the historical argument that Welsh should henceforth be an official language in Wales.
Clearly we welcome what is good and beneficial in the Bill. It can be commended upon four main counts. First, I am glad that it places a long overdue statutory duty on public bodies in Wales to produce and implement an agreed language scheme, although we have worries about the definition of "public body"—but the principle is sound. Secondly, it provides for a compliance mechanism, even though it is applied in strictly limited circumstances only. Thirdly, it provides for the issue of statutory guidelines. It would be helpful when the Minister replies to the debate if he could give an indication of what type of matters the Welsh Secretary contemplates will be addressed by the statutory guidelines. Fourthly, I am heartened by the fact that the Bill sets up a statutory board having the function of promoting and facilitating the use of the language.
Those are the principal benefits of the Bill. Although they do not involve additional money, they represent an advance which we can welcome. However, there is a strong body of opinion in Wales that is highly critical of the Bill. I touched upon that point earlier. It has even been rubbished by some organisations with a special interest in promoting the use of the Welsh language.
I shall now turn to those provisions or omissions which are the cause of anxiety and which sadden many people. There are seven such areas. The first is that nowhere in the Bill, regrettably, is there a clear governing proposition about the status henceforth of the Welsh language in Wales. It would have been of immense value if a governing principle had been spelled out and put in the forefront of the Bill. What should that governing principle be? There is a growing consensus in Wales that the principle should be that in Wales the Welsh language should henceforth be restored to be an official language, enjoying a status of equality with English. That was, and remains today, the clear advice of the present Welsh Language Board.
Information from the Minister when he replies on the meaning of the phrase "a basis of equality" that he has quoted a number of times will be welcome. It appears in the Bill's preamble and in Clause 4(2). What does it mean? Why did the draftsman not simply say that henceforth both languages should be treated equally; or is it intended that English should still be more equal than Welsh? There is then the interesting change of terminology. Ever since my noble friend Lord Cledwyn brought forward the Welsh Language Act 1967—to give effect to the recommendation of the Hughes Parry Report—the fundamental concept in that area has been expressed in terms of equal validity; but the term "equal validity" is not used in the Bill. The significance of the change in terminology is unexplained. Perhaps the Minister will explain what the Government, or the draftsman, are getting at.
A second cause for concern is that the Bill's provisions will be fully applicable only to the public 842 bodies as defined in the Bill. Clause 5 contains a restricted list of such bodies. The shopping list excludes the private sector in its entirety from the board's remit. Why on earth should it be excluded? Why does the Bill not apply to those privatised utilities which were formerly in the public sector? It is always revealing to trace ideas back to their source. I believe that the source of the clause is pretty obvious. Despite what has been said by Ministers and by the noble Earl this afternoon in defence of that decision, we believe that it is thoroughly misguided. Given the vital and ever-growing importance of the private sector, that is a clause which we shall seek to amend in Committee.
The third cause of anxiety is that the Bill's scope is further considerably restricted by Clause 20 which puts Crown bodies in a class apart from public bodies. The noble Earl spent some time over Clause 20. The fact remains that the statutory board will have no power to serve a Clause 6 notice—the triggering mechanism—on a Crown body. Notwithstanding what the Minister said, I have not seen in the Bill a duty placed on a Crown body to prepare a language scheme and send it to the board. It may do so, but to the best of my knowledge there is no duty to do so. Clause 20 has been received with disbelief.
The Prime Minister has encouraged us to believe that he is the author of the doctrine of subsidiarity. We make the point that the doctrine should mean that government departments and agencies should in Wales communicate both in Welsh and in English as part of the process of bringing decision-making closer to the people of Wales. The Welsh Office, Ministers and the noble Earl this afternoon have explained that the clause is necessary as there are technical difficulties which prevent the Secretary of State taking mandamus proceedings against himself or another Secretary of State. Of course, given the Bill's structure, the technical difficulties exist, but that argument is not convincing. A solution is to change the Bill's structure.
If the Government really want to ensure that departments of state and the important executive agencies such as the five social security agencies communicate in Welsh with Welsh speakers, then a coherent and practical way to proceed is to give the compliance powers to the language board rather than to the Secretary of State. The technical problems would not then arise. We shall therefore put down an amendment to consider the Bill's structure.
Fifthly, it is a matter of concern that the board's efforts will, in practice, be restrained by the key tests to be found in the important Clause 4(2) which are worrying. Your Lordships will recall that the subsection provides that the principle of equality applies only so far as it is both appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable. Those are critical tests. Many Welsh speakers find them offensive. It is also something of a mystery how an official is to decide, there and then, whether the conditions have been satisfied. Moreover, they are so discretionary that we fear that in practice they will usually work—with one possible exception that comes to mind, from which I shall not elaborate—to the detriment of the Welsh speaker. Only if those conditions are met will a Welsh speaker have an 843 implied statutory right to use his own language in the public domain in Wales. Therefore, the thresholds in Clause 4(2) are offensive to a growing body of Welsh public opinion. They are based on a profound misconception of the mood among Welsh speakers in Wales today. In Committee we shall open up Clause 4(2) for rigorous investigation.
Sixthly, it is a cause of considerable disappointment that the Bill fails to give any statutory linguistic rights to the Welsh speaker; that is, apart from the express right to make a complaint to the board and the implied right to use the Welsh language where he has successfully negotiated the obstacle course. I have looked in vain through the Bill for other individual rights. That is odd because we have always understood that the individual's rights are much cherished by the Prime Minister. Thus we now have in Wales a Parent's Charter, a Patient's Charter, an Environmental Chapter, a Tenant's Charter, a Customer's Charter, a Taxpayer's Charter and a Citizen's Charter. There is no Welsh-speaker's charter. Of the charters that I have named only in the Tenant's Charter have I seen a single reference to the wishes of Welsh speakers and that is couched in bland terms.
That failure has been heavily criticised by many organisations which have commented on the Bill. Those organisations which represent consumers are the Welsh Consumers' Council, the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, the Women's Institute, the Merched y Wawr and Cefn. We shall endeavour to rectify that failure.
Finally, I turn to the composition and powers of the board. We have read that the Minister of State at the Welsh Office has expressed the view that:a strong statutory hoard lies at the heart of the changes which this Bill in intended to secure".I fear that that is not a correct description of the board which is set up by the Bill. It is not a strong board; it is a weak board. Therefore, there are warranted anxieties about its lack of powers and its membership. As the Bill is structured the board's powers are vested in the Secretary of State. All its members will be appointed by him. The nature of its membership is nowhere spelt out. Where will the 15 members come from? Will any of them be Welsh-speaking? More important still is the question of whether they will be in sympathy with the objective of working for the equality of the two languages.
Our fears about lack of independence of the board are reinforced by the third clause which makes it obvious that it will be subordinate to the general and specific directions of the Secretary of State. The basic role of the board is to make recommendations. I believe that it has been given only one unconditional power; that is, the power in Clause 12 to give directions as to the consultations which the public body must carry out when preparing its language scheme. The Minister might have gone further and said that the Bill is silent as to what will happen if the directions are ignored. We believe that a fundamental question arises as to whether such a board can ever command the confidence and respect of Welsh-speakers. Another equally important question for the Government to ponder is whether such a board is 844 likely to become dissatisfied with its role and be a source of genuine grievance and discontent. The board's constitution merits thorough investigation in Committee.
I have taken 23 minutes in making my speech. I do not apologise to the House because I believe that the Bill is important to Wales. I conclude by assuring the Minister that our efforts in Committee will be constructive. The Bill is important because it will provide the legislative framework for the Welsh language for years to come. We want to do our best to improve the Bill so that the status of equality of the two languages will be achieved. We therefore hope that the Government for their part will have second thoughts about those clauses which are the cause of so much anxiety. If the Government are unwilling to meet the deep concerns which have been voiced, the Bill will represent a missed opportunity.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas. His is one of the liveliest minds on the Welsh political scene. I do not know how he planned it, but it is interesting that he is able to make his maiden speech on a Bill as appropriate as this one.
While having lunch today one of my English colleagues asked me what the Welsh Language Bill was about. I told him that it was to provide officially for equality in Wales of the Welsh language with the English language. He said, "Good heavens, have you had to wait until 1993 for that?". I echoed that reaction. Clearly, I welcome the Bill. In his introduction the noble Earl rightly said that this is an historic Bill. It has the makings of an historic Bill. It is of great importance to Wales. However, I believe that its provisions are capable of being immeasurably improved and strengthened during its passage through this House and another place by relatively few but important amendments. I welcome the indications that the Government will have an open and receptive mind to constructive, reasoned amendments.
This is not a party issue and it is of great importance to noble Lords in all parts of the House to see on the statute book a worthwhile Act which will provide an acceptable framework for the future. If we achieve that the Bill will be truly historic. I believe that the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. David Hunt, and in particular the Minister of State for Wales, Sir Wyn Roberts, deserve thanks and congratulations for bringing the Bill before Parliament. For years Sir Wyn has pursued a persistent and dogged path on this issue. Often he has been subjected to what has appeared to me to be totally non-constructive criticism from those who understandably but impatiently seek the ideal rather than the possible. One cannot put right in one Act the public neglect of centuries. One can, however, seek to create the conditions and the framework for repairing the wrong.
During the Christmas Recess I read with interest and pleasure the autobiography of Mr. Dafydd Wigley, the leader of Plaid Cymru, whose presence I feel here today. Although I know his constituency well 845 I was surprised by what I read because I had not fully appreciated that his electorate is 85 per cent. Welsh-speaking. To provide Welsh with proper status, and to promote and develop its use there, is a different problem from providing the same in, say, Montgomery, New Radnor or Chepstow, all of which are parts of Wales. Therefore, one must have an Act which is far-seeing but practicable in its working provisions and unlikely to prove counter-productive in its impact.
It must have been with such considerations in mind that in July 1988 the noble Lord, Lord Walker, when he was Secretary of State for Wales, set up the Welsh Language Board with the following terms of reference:To promote and develop the Welsh language and advise on matters requiring legislative action".It was then clearly contemplated that an Act of this kind would come before Parliament. The board has done extremely valuable work and in its report has advised the Secretary of State as required on recommendations for a new Welsh Language Act. I am sure that your Lordships will refer to that report and to the draft Bill which is included in it. That is greatly different from the Bill now before Parliament.
I believe that the Bill is well worth supporting if only for one reason, touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, although I find other considerable merits in it. The reason is that it repeals what is left of the old Tudor Acts of 1536 and 1543, which was when they became law. They are generally described together as the Act of Union of England and Wales. However, as the distinguished historian, Professor Glanmor Williams, rightly pointed out in his contribution to the four-volume history of Wales, they are more accurately to be regarded as Acts for the assimilation of the Government of England and Wales. Wales had been conquered in 1282 by Edward I but thereafter it was ruled under a hotchpotch arrangement; partly through direct rule by the Crown in places and then through a myriad of marcher lordships in others. However undesirable and, indeed, brutally objectionable some of the arrangements proved to be, under them Welsh social and cultural life survived well. Moreover, Welsh courts administering traditional Welsh law flourished into the first half of the 16th century.
However, the Welsh as a people had suffered severe legal disadvantages as a result of punitive pre-Tudor legislation. One school of Welsh historians has always regarded the so-called Acts of Union as liberating measures which were necessary and totally welcome at the time of their enactment. Another school of Welsh historians, particularly in this century, have argued that the purpose of the legislation was to destroy deliberately the distinctiveness of Wales by launching an attack on its language and the culture based on it.
In their contrasting assessments, much has depended on the political viewpoint of the historians. Suffice it to say that there is merit in both assessments. On reflection—and it is something which your Lordships can remember today —when re-reading some of those viewpoints it has tended to demonstrate 846 to me that politicians are nothing like as far seeing, as calculating or as knowing as subsequent historians, whatever their political viewpoint, think thereafter.
Much legislation has completely uncalculated effects and unforeseen consequences. I do not subscribe to the view that in a calculated way the Tudors set out to destroy the Welsh language. Had that been so, they would hardly have allowed through Parliament, without any opposition, the Elizabethan Act of 1563 which commanded that the Bible and the Prayer Book should be translated into Welsh and should always be available thereafter in every church in Wales. It was a consequence of that Act, with the great Bible of Bishop William Morgan, which proved over the centuries to be the great saviour of the Welsh language.
However, the part of the 1536 Act which understandably sticks in the modern gullet and which became the most controversial provision was that which laid down that,all administration and judicial proceedings were to be conducted in English",and that no one using,the Welsh language or speech … shall have or enjoy any manner of office … unless he or they use the English speech or language".Professor Glanmor Williams said that the conesquence of that was:Until the 1530s, it is argued, the gentry took a pride in their language, were enthusiastic patrons of literature and the guardians of national awareness in Wales. The terms of Henry's legislation were deliberately calculated to offer them the lure of status and power in return for their willingness to sacrifice their language and their sense of nationality of which it was the chief ingredient".Having swallowed the bait, they ceased to patronise Welsh culture and we had a great schism in Welsh life for centuries. It was totally regrettable in its social, cultural and, indeed, economic consequences.
This Bill removes from the statute book the remnants of the Acts of 1536 and 1543 and, therefore, symbolically ends the totally unjustified discrimination in public life. The Long Title to the Bill rightly recites 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 does not appear to me to disturb the principle of equal validity which we have accepted so far.
That provision puts to rest the ghost of 1536 but, even bearing in mind the great importance of carrying public opinion with one and being practical in one's approach, I believe that there are certain glaring weaknesses in the Bill which can be put right by sensible amendment. I give a fairly obvious example. My present thought is that it is a grave mistake to include in Clause 4(2) the words:as is … appropriate in the circumstances".It seems to me that the principle that it is appropriate in Wales is decided already and is referred to in Clause 4(2) which sets out 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. To deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, I should have thought that that sets out the basic principle within the body of the Bill.
847 Surely it is a sufficient safeguard to use the words "reasonably practicable". Those words have been interpreted many times in our courts and the words to which I object are quite unnecessary. It seems to me that they may also be a source of future problems. For example, who should decide whether it is appropriate in the circumstances? That is a different consideration from reasonable practicability. However, I am open to persuasion that the words to which I object may be a necessary safeguard in certain circumstances.
As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, pointed out, there is a glaring omission in that government departments and public utilities are excluded. I see no justification whatever for excluding either of those two categories. It seems to me that if I am right in the view that they can be included in Clause 5, that would render Clause 20 of the existing Bill totally unnecessary. Incidentally, it is astonishing that in Clause 20 a person can come forward with a scheme before the Act comes into effect and can avoid any obligation to put forward an "acceptable" scheme and, indeed, can resolve not to have a scheme at all provided that a resolution is taken on the subject. It will be necessary in Committee to give careful consideration to the position of government departments and public utilities. I see no reason whatever for excluding the latter. After all, only a year or two ago they were public bodies and they have now recently become privatised.
In introducing the Bill the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, put my mind at rest as regards one matter. I thought that there was a drafting error in Clause 21 where it refers to the fact that the Welsh language may be spoken by any party when the précis of the provision in the margin has the heading:Use of Welsh in legal proceedings".It seems to me that the substitution of the words,The Welsh language may be used by any partywould deal with that matter extremely simply. That will ensure that the use of Welsh will not be confined to the spoken word.
The scheme of the present Bill is very different from the scheme of the Bill drafted by the Welsh Language Board and we must consider the differences extremely carefully. It seems to me that under the present Bill an obligation is being placed on public and other bodies whereas the scheme of the Welsh Language Board's Bill gives rights to individuals so that those people have the remedy in their hands to take an action for judicial review if those rights are not accorded. It seems to me that a different scheme could have been brought in by any government and it is impossible to combine both schemes. Therefore, we must seek to amend the Bill on the basis of its own scheme.
I very much liked Clause 2(1–3) of the original Bill as drafted by the board just as I liked the general provision in its Clause 3. I mention this matter at this stage to indicate that in my judgment a few crucial strengthening amendments are needed which go to the heart of the matter. The Government are probably right to leave out the private sector. Private enterprise should be encouraged by the Welsh Language Board to use bilingual signs, and so on. I am a non-executive director of a public company in Wales. Some years 848 ago I asked why there were no bilingual signs in all shops and factories in Wales. That was agreed to immediately and carried out within one week. It was not a very costly process. It so happened that the whole board immediately agreed to it. It is a small matter to get up shop signs in the Welsh language and have bilingual signs in factories, and so on, but this should be done more by example and encouragement by the board than by trying to force private industry to do it.
One of the best provisions within the Bill, which could in the long run prove to be the most practical and effective, is to charge the proposed board with the function of promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language and to empower it to receive moneys and to give financial assistance by way of grants, loans, or guarantees to that end. That could be the most effective agency, depending of course—as everything does in such circumstances—on the calibre of the people who are appointed to that board.
Let me conclude by saying that I think a provision that every child in Wales should be entitled as of right to a bilingual education is of greater importance to Wales, so far as the survival of the language is concerned, than anything else. It is the day-to-day use of the Welsh language and an appreciation of the wealth that is to be discovered in its great body of poetry and other literature that will ensure its survival.
Recently I saw a distinguished young Welsh rugby international—in fact, Mr. Scott Gibbs—interviewed in Welsh and in English on television. He disclosed that none of his family spoke Welsh but that he had learned Welsh at the bilingual village school he had attended. That was about the best bit of PR that I have heard for the Welsh language for quite a long time, for all of us in Wales realise that the bilingual schools in Wales have been extremely successful, not only in turning out bilingual pupils but also in their general educational achievements. That is important.
So far as the survival of the language is concerned, the provision of effective bilingual education, particularly at an early age, could well prove to be in this modern age the equivalent to the translation of the Bible and the placing of it in each parish in Wales in Elizabethan days. If it is true that the Tudors sought to destroy the language by means of the provisions of the Act of Union, then we must remember that they singularly failed.
Likewise, I do not believe that the Welsh language can be saved merely by enacting this Bill. However, what this Bill does—and this is its importance—is to give the modern generation in Wales the framework for setting about the task of ensuring that the Welsh language continues as a rich cultural heritage. It will be up to the modern generation to prove that this Bill has not come 100 years too late. I do not think that it has.
In the past two decades we have become used to a multi-language Europe. Judges in the European courts, for example, normally read in their own language the submissions of parties that have been translated from their original language. It works perfectly well, and no wonder that the judicial side in 849 this country has changed its mind somewhat on whether one language or the other should dominate in the interpretation of documents.
We shall no doubt end up in Europe with a dominant economic and business language, which may well be English. It may be Spanish, or it may be French, but whatever language it is, it will be the general population who decide. It will be decided on the basis of utility. But the other European languages, with their vast wealth of background culture, literature and so on, will continue to survive, and will be safeguarded and nurtured. Likewise, so it should be with the Welsh language.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to be able to thank colleagues who have already spoken and who have made some kind references to me. I feel a little more relaxed in making my first speech in this noble House in that I am sandwiched between my noble friends Lord Hooson and Lord Thomas of Gwydir. They escorted me on the day of my introduction and looked after me, and I am grateful for that.
On that day of introduction I took advantage of the opportunity afforded in this place to take the oath of allegiance in Welsh as well as in English. It was the sixth time—and this is also probably true of my noble friend Lord Geraint—that I have taken the oath of allegiance. Of course, being bilingual, I have taken it 12 times, which probably makes me twice as loyal as some others.
Twenty years ago it would not have been possible in this House to use the Welsh language officially. Ond does dim hawl gen i i siarad. Gymraeg mewn dadl yn y Ty hwn. Before I am accused of being controversial in my maiden speech I shall translate and say that it is still not within the rules of order here to speak the Welsh language in debate, although I look forward to the day when simultaneous translation from Welsh to English will be as available as it is these days in many of the local authorities and most of the county authorities and the courts in Wales, and of course in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, although perhaps I would not get away with speaking Welsh there either.
That is what this Bill is all about. It is about extending the use of a language whose domain, as the linguists call it, is restricted. I am grateful to colleagues who have given an historical analysis. I do not need to repeat that except to say that it is a particular pleasure for me to be present here, for the first time, celebrating the end of the Act of Union. I am a nationalist with a lower case "n", but I can still rise to that one.
I do not use the word "minority" language, because for those who speak it it is of course not a minority exercise. There is a lovely story about two young daughters of a friend of mine who were on a boat travelling to Sweden. His partner speaks Danish. The young girls were speaking together in Danish when along came another Scandinavian lady who asked them, "What language are you speaking in?" They 850 said, "We are speaking Danish." Clearly, they did not want to be involved in debate with this lady and so they started speaking Welsh.
The lady asked them, "What language are you speaking now?" They said, "Welsh." The lady said, "Why do you speak two small languages?" The young girls said, "They are not small when we speak them." For the speakers of the smaller languages, they are the world view. They are the means of communication, but they are also the sign of identity. That is why, when we are dealing with issues of language, we are not just dealing with communication. We are also dealing with vehicles of culture and with a sense of identity.
This is where conflict arises. There are more senses of identity than perhaps one imagines in the present world. There are some 4,000 languages that are used officially in various levels of government throughout the world. There are tens of thousands of languages which are not so officially recognised. Because languages are vehicles of identity and culture as well as means of communication, where you have more than one language crossing a linguistic frontier in any aspect of life, particularly in official life, then there is a recipe for conflict.
It would be wrong of me and the "constituency" that I represent in this House as a Cross-Bencher, albeit from Wales, not to refer to the fact that we have had for many years in Wales a long-running campaign where many young people, and indeed older people, have taken part in all kinds of protest and direct action in support of the language. We must create circumstances—it is our responsibility in this Chamber to do so—where this kind of campaigning and suffering for many people is no longer necessary.
I want to see a climate where young Welsh men and women can feel that the Welsh language is as secure in the United Kingdom as the English language. That may be a rather rhetorical statement, but we have the beginnings in this legislation for that kind of context. We have the beginnings of establishing a principle of equality. It is not the concept of equal validity that we are used to, but it could be argued that treating the two languages on a basis of equality might well be stronger—I would be interested to hear what the noble Earl says—than the principle of equal validity.
But we must also see this Bill in the context of other legislation introduced by this Government and by previous governments, which have brought about an increase in the status and use of the Welsh language. I am particularly concerned to mention both the broadcasting legislation and the education legislation. I was pleased to serve in another place on the Committees involved with both those aspects of legislation.
I have seen the transformation of the status of the Welsh language. I have seen the creation of substantial numbers of jobs in economically difficult areas of Wales through the culture industry and the media industry. I declare an interest here as a chair of Screen Wales, a promotional organisation for the Welsh media. I have seen a cultural transformation occurring.
851 I have a second and final anecdote. Visiting a certain valley in south Wales when I was involved in a certain by-election campaign—I have put all that behind me now, of course—a middle aged lady accompanied by her daughter ran up to me. She said, pointing to her daughter, "You must speak Welsh to her." I agreed and spoke Welsh to the daughter. After about two minutes, the mother asked, "Was it all right?" I said it was excellent. The mother then said, "I hope so because she has been going to the Welsh school now for three years and I want her to get a job with S4C."
That gives one an idea of the cultural and economic value people place upon a small language. That perception would never have been possible if it were not for the creation and maintenance of the Welsh fourth channel.
I have been pleasantly surprised to note that it is now widely recognised throughout Wales, even in some border areas where it had been unexpected, that the reintroduction of Welsh in the national curriculum has been accepted and has been seen as a positive gesture. It is now regarded as normal in the European context for people to become bilingual and to have their own identity rooted in a smaller language in terms of its numbers of speakers but also to have another one that enables its speakers to participate in wider cultures. That gives a sense of security to people in a multi-cultural and pluralistic Europe.
Those changes in education have become possible through the role of the Government and the partnership between central government and local education authorities, the governors of schools and the teaching unions. This Bill points to the new partnership we have to establish through the statutory board. As we have heard, the role of the statutory board is central to the Bill. There is always a problem when legislating for linguistic rights. Do we base the legislation on the rights of individuals, who may be bilingual or who may be Welsh speakers and demand those rights in a particular context, or, do we place the rights with an institution? That in a sense is what much of our debate in Committee on the Bill, both here and in another place, will be about. I know others will wish to insist that we need to increase the element of statutory rights in the Bill. I support that, as I support many of the arguments heard today.
However, I wish to emphasise the importance not just of statutory rights but of viewing the board as a dynamic cultural development agency, which acts in partnership with other agencies in public life. I have referred already to what the Welsh Language Board is doing with Menter Cwm Gwendraeth. That partnership between a cultural, linguistic organisation and the Welsh Language Board has created an opportunity for restructuring and reinvigorating an economically relatively depressed area. I see the opportunity for the new board to be able to work in partnership with the other development agencies within Wales. That already occurs through Menter a busnes, the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency's rural initiative. This is not just a statutory board concerned with language and culture. It is concerned with what we might call 852 cultural ecology in the broader sense. It is also concerned with maintaining not just an ancient language and culture but also maintaining the identity of Welsh and developing that identity.
I believe that we have turned the corner as regards the Welsh language. Social linguists talk about language shift. We have made that shift with Welsh. We have turned the language around. When I say "we" I mean not just the campaigners such as myself and people outside the Chamber but also the Government, agencies, providers and people in all parties who have come together, as we have today, in support of the language and in support of this kind of legislation. We have turned the corner and we have enabled a language to extend its domain. It is a small language in terms of numbers of speakers but it has managed to become a language of mass communication culture at the end of the 20th century. That is a significant achievement, and I congratulate this Government on their part in that achievement.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
My Lords, I know the House will wish me, on behalf of everyone present here, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, warmly and sincerely on an admirable maiden speech. I am delighted to do so because I can say—I believe without any fear of contradiction—that I have known him longer than anyone else in this House, and possibly longer than anyone else in the other place.
Many noble Lords in this House have been born with advantages and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is one of them. I can think of two advantages in particular which give him an air of distinction. The first is that he was born in the market town of Llanrwst. Those of us who were also born there know full well that it is the best town in Wales. The second advantage I can think of is that his educated and intelligent parents had Welsh as their first language. That was their home language and their living language. I was privileged to know those two people. That is an inheritance that the noble Lord has not squandered, for today Welsh is still his first language and the living everyday language of his life.
Having heard the noble Lord's speech today, the House will be able to judge the supreme quality of his Welsh when I say that he speaks it just as well as he speaks English. In the other House the noble Lord was highly respected for the quality of his debating skills. I know that those of us who have heard him today look forward to hearing him again and often.
In the course of this debate so far we have heard —I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies —say that there are about 500,000 people in Wales who speak Welsh with varying degrees of fluency. That, of course, means that one in five is a Welsh speaker. One therefore has to face the fact that the language is used by a minority. However, I wish to stress the following important point. The language may be used by a minority, but most Welshmen have a possessory pride in the language and it receives, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, the good will and support of the majority of the people in Wales.
853 There is, of course, good reason for that. I remind the House of what my noble friend Lord Ferrers said. Welsh is a living survival of the Brythonic language, the dialects of which were used in Britain long before the Romans arrived. Next to the Greeks and the Romans the Welsh have the oldest extant literature in Europe. They have an unbroken literary tradition, particularly in poetry, that dates from the 6th century to the present day. Therefore, it is a language which commands widespread pride and respect in Wales. I mention that because I wish to see that majority of support remain. I want to see the growth of the Welsh language fostered in a way that is acceptable to all Welshmen in the Principality.
If an Act of Parliament designed to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language in Wales is divisive and thought by the 81.3 per cent. non-Welsh speaking majority to be unfair or antagonistic, it will be the 18.7 per cent. Welsh speaking minority and the Welsh language that will suffer. Therefore, it is on the basis of that concern that I approach the Bill.
Having heard the excellent opening speech of my noble friend Lord Ferrers and having studied the Bill I have come to the conclusion that it is just about right, and I congratulate Her Majesty's Government. As was mentioned by my right honourable friend Sir Wyn Roberts, as a Bill in support of and for the promotion of the Welsh language it is an historic constitutional development. It has enormous potential and, just as important, it provides adequate safeguards to command majority support. That is of great importance.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who used words such as "inadequacy" when he referred to the Bill, nevertheless welcomed certain aspects of it. He must do so, because in the basic areas covered by the Bill one finds that it enshrines in law for the first time the principle that in public business and justice in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality; it gives statutory authority to a Welsh Language Board to promote and facilitate the use of Welsh with powers to secure its use in the public sector; it confirms that there is no restriction on the use of Welsh in legal proceedings; and it gives powers to prescribe Welsh statutory forms.
The House must agree that those are immense steps forward, giving the opportunity for an unparalleled advance in the use of and fostering of the Welsh language. As I see it, the Bill as drafted is designed to take those steps forward with broad support throughout Wales. I therefore give it my full support and commend it to the House.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to join the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on his first speech in this House. The noble Lord showed his knowledge of the Welsh language and its history and his great attachment to it. He impressed us all with his speech. The noble Lord's late father was an old and valued friend of mine and 854 he would be very proud of his son today. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, was born in Llanrwst but he omitted to point out that, like the Tudors, his roots are in Anglesey.
I must also extend a welcome to this Bill as a further step in the process of preserving and strengthening the Welsh language. It follows the report of the Welsh Language Board although it does not reflect all of the recommendations of that board. I should like to congratulate the chairman, Mr John Elfed Jones, and his colleagues on the Board on their work over a period of more than two years. That has been extremely helpful to the Government and to all of us who are concerned about the language. I should add that governments over the past 10 years or more have been left in no doubt about the strength of feeling in Wales on this issue, and organisations and public bodies in the Principality have been making their views about the Bill known to all of us.
Twenty-six years have passed since I introduced the Welsh Language Act. Our late friend Lord Elwyn-Jones was responsible for the Bill in this House. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for his generous words about my association with the 1967 Act. I must admit that I am proud that I was responsible for a Bill which gave the Welsh language a legislative status after five centuries of what I can only describe as neglect and insult.
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?
We are grateful to the noble Earl for his sympathetic opening speech. I am sure that he will be receptive to the suggestions which have already been made in the debate and which we shall repeat in amendments when we come to the Committee stage.
We are also appreciative of the constructive and, in parts, moving speech of my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. No one has a greater love for the language or has worked harder to defend it than my noble friend. His own draft Bill, as well as that produced by Mr. Dafydd Wigley, has been of considerable help during the debates of the past two years.
There are many questions to be asked as we contemplate this measure. For example, how does it compare with the language board's own draft Bill? We must accept that it is not as strong in language and objective and we shall need to go into detail on that issue in Committee in a fortnight or so. I must, however, in fairness welcome the proposal to establish a permanent Welsh Language Board with the functions set out in Clause 2. I note that it abolishes the requirement that the records of the courts in Wales be kept in English, and that brings to an end the existing anomaly. I, too, want to see a dynamic and imaginative body and not another dull quango operating in Wales.
The words of Clause 2(2) (b) are of interest because they say that: 855in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales, the Welsh and English languages should be treated on a basis of equality".That certainly seems to establish a precise statutory status for the Welsh language in law and in public life and I believe that that is a foundation on which we can build.
My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies dealt ably and in detail with what he sees as the shortcomings of the board while welcoming the fact that it is established by statute. However, he believes strongly that its functions should be wider than those in Clause 2. We should at least consider the list of functions proposed in the language board's draft Bill when we give this Bill further consideration.
There are omissions in the Bill, which I shall mention very briefly. First, there is an absence in the Bill of any provision requiring public authorities to make reasonable provision either for equality of status of both languages or for the day-to-day task of communicating with those who wish to speak to them in the language of their choice whether it be Welsh or English. The absence of service in Welsh on a par with the service in English is a major source of resentment.
As my noble friend said in his speech, Clause 4 is of the first importance. It must be amended to avoid the possibility of uncertainty and injustice. However, I believe that that can be done without breaching the general intentions recited in the Preamble to the Bill.
I must also draw attention to the anomalies which must inevitably arise as between the public bodies listed in Clause 5 and the private sector. I support the preparation of schemes by public bodies but I regret to say that I fail to see why comparable bodies in the private sector are excluded. I consider that Clause 4 schemes in the private sector could be as important to Wales as "public body" schemes. I should think that private bodies such as Welsh Water, for example, would be glad of the opportunity to become involved.
Furthermore, the omission of government departments and agencies from Clause 5 is difficult to defend. Noble Lords will no doubt wish to return to that point also in Committee. I note what my noble friend said about criteria and the need for amendment, and I support him in that.
Another area for discussion lies in Clauses 21, 22 and 23, which deal with the courts and which were covered in some detail by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. The Bill makes no provision for Welsh speaking juries to be empanelled. I understand that the Home Office objects because it would open the gates to a flood of requests for "ethnically composed" juries. I seek now to control my temper! But we are dealing with the use of our own language in our own country. As the noble Earl said in his opening speech, we are talking about the oldest spoken language in this country, and one of the two oldest in Europe. The basic purpose of the Bill is to ensure that it should not be treated in this fashion. Is the Minister able to assure us that the Bill confers equality of status on the Welsh language and that it will be one of the two official languages in Wales?
We appreciate the opportunity given us by the Bill to have a full discussion about the state of the Welsh language at this critical moment and about the steps 856 which are necessary to ensure its survival. I feel sure that noble Lords in all parts of the House will regard the problem with sympathy. We want the Welsh speaker to enjoy the same linguistic rights in his own country as the English speaker; and those rights should be enshrined in the Bill. As my noble friend said, there is considerable feeling in Wales about it.
The House knows that I could deliver this speech as freely in Welsh as I have done in English. I wish to be sure that in 100 years from now there will be Members in this Parliament who could do likewise. The Bill, suitably amended, can help to that end. As all noble Lords and noble Baronesses in this House know, the final words of the Welsh national anthem are:"O bydded i'r hen faith barhau".May the old language live on. That is our hope and expectation; and we hope that this Bill will help us to achieve it.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, it gives me, too, great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas on an outstanding maiden speech. For many years we sat together in another place and engaged in vigorous debate, always with goodwill, and he always spoke with courtesy. I greatly appreciated that at a time when I had heavy responsibilities. Like my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir, I look forward to hearing him speak on many occasions in this House.
In 1979, the manifesto of the Conservative Party in Wales, which I played some part in preparing, contained the words,We shall continue to give active Government support to the maintenance of the Welsh language as a living tongue. We are anxious, however, to avoid raising excessive expectations of what can be achieved by Government action, much more depends on the wishes and goodwill of the Welsh people".I quote those words because it seems to me that the Welsh Language Board, chaired by my old friend and colleague, John Elfed Jones, went perhaps a little too far when it suggested that the Act that it proposed in its 1991 report,would provide an indestructible infrastructure upon which to build for the future of the language".Legislation has an important part to play but it is still true that much more depends on the wishes and goodwill of the Welsh people.
In that manifesto we went on to say that,our objective must be to ensure that Welsh and English speakers live side by side in harmony and we reject those who disrupt and destroy, just as we reject the suggestion that participation in Welsh public life or employment should be the exclusive prerogative of those who speak the Welsh language".I make those points again because it is right firmly to condemn violence in this or any other cause, and because we must be careful to get the balance right, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir said, on the one hand by removing what the Welsh Language Board describes as,the inferiority of the Welsh language",created by Act of Parliament, without on the other,reducing the rights of non-Welsh speaking citizens".I represented in Parliament a constituency partly Welsh-speaking and partly English-speaking, divided down a line that has existed unaltered since soon after 857 the Norman Conquest. I live in a part of Wales in which today Welsh is seldom heard. I am the grandson of a Welsh speaking Welshman who regrets that he does not speak the language. However, with that background, I understand just how important it is to protect the Welsh language without making the English-speaking Welsh, whose goodwill is so crucial, feel that their job opportunities and rights are threatened.
On becoming Secretary of State in 1979, and recognising the sensitivity and importance of the issues, one of the first things that I did was to ask Wyn Roberts (now Sir Wyn) to undertake a widespread consultation about realistic and practical ways in which Government might lend support to the language. That consultation led to my delivering in April 1980 near Llanrwst, a town that has been referred to several times already in today's debate, a speech which was the first in which any government had set out in comprehensive terms their policy for the language. I believe that most of the principles enunciated in that speech are valid today.
In a statement issued in December, the Welsh Language Board tells us that,indigenous linguistic rights are fundamental and universal".That is the same point that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, made in his speech. Great statements of principle are all very fine. But legislation is about definition and the translation of principle into practice. In the Llanwrst speech I started from the assumption that it was,impossible to believe that this language, which is recognised as a priceless heritage, not just of Britain but indeed of Europe, could be allowed to die".I further stated:The people will want to speak Welsh, and it is therefore up to the Government to make this a practical possibility for those who make that choice".The emphasis that I put on choice is crucial. I committed the Government to support the language by substantial increases in public expenditure, through education policy, by giving support to the national institutions in Wales, and to the voluntary organisations. However, I said that there could be no question of compulsion and that there was an element of unreality about a blanket policy directed towards universal bilingualism.
My own judgment is that both CEFN and the Welsh Consumer Council—two organisations which have made representations to this House—make a mistake in seeking to achieve through this Bill full bilingualism in all situations where the language is used, including shops and businesses. I hope that many shops will put up signs in Welsh and will use the language, but I do not wish to go down that route by legislative direction. In my view, the Gwynedd County Council is wiser and more restrained in pressing for an amendment that will require the Welsh Language Board to,publish guidelines for the use of Welsh in commerce and other fields of activity".The Welsh Language Board and many others believe that, despite the growing public goodwill, the support of government, the success of bilingual education policies and the beneficial effect of Welsh 858 language television and broadcasting, the Welsh Language Act 1967 has not achieved equality of status for Welsh with English. Many have explained why that is so. For those reasons the board, and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, prepared Bills which included clauses declaring that the Welsh language should have equality of status with the English language. However, the Bill before us does not contain such a clause. The question that Parliament will have to decide is whether such a clause would add anything to what we are offered. That is the central point in almost all the representations that we have received. The Welsh Language Board in its statement on 19th December stated that it,welcomes the Secretary of State's personal commitment to the removal of all legislative prohibitions on the use of Welsh, and the raising of the status of Welsh to one of equality with the English language in Wales".It stated that that,would amount to the most radical reshaping of the rights of the language and the people who use it since those rights were removed in the 16th century, but the Government's Bill clearly failed to achieve that objective".However, the argument for general declarations is not quite as powerful as perhaps the board has made out. I have voiced my reservations about such declarations. In my view, good legislation is not the result of declarations of principle, but of clear statutory definitions of what it means in practice, what one may or may not do, when, and in what circumstances.
It is undoubtedly a fact that a declaration of the kind proposed by the board could only be enforced by the courts and I am doubtful that that is the best way of helping the language. The Bill comes pretty close to giving us a general principle in the Long Title and in the frequent references to the principle that Welsh and English should be treated on a basis of equality. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said that the Bill,will give effect to this principle".Clauses 24 and 25 will ensure that we are no longer to be in the situation where, in cases of discrepancy between the Welsh and English texts, the English text shall prevail. The Bill also provides for oaths and affirmations not just to be permitted in Welsh, but to ensure that they are just as effective as in English, while in any legal proceedings in Wales the Welsh language may be spoken by any party. I understand that the Government are committed to the tabling of amendments to ensure that written evidence may be submitted to the courts in Welsh.
The Bill, as we have also heard, sets up the Welsh Language Board, which, among other tasks, is to advise those exercising public functions about the way in which to give effect to the principle. Public bodies are required to prepare Welsh language schemes wherever appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practical for the purposes of giving effect to the same principle.
Indeed, the principle is referred to so frequently that there can be no doubt about the intention of the Bill. Therefore, my first thoughts were that a general declaration would not give us much more. A Bill that sets out to turn general principles into practical effects is clearly to be welcomed and I welcome it. But, if not all that much will be gained by a general declaration, 859 I am forced to ask myself whether very much is lost either. It is not enough for the Government to say that there is nothing in law that states that English is an official language. That ignores Henry VIII's statute of 1535 or 1536 and everything that has followed from it. We are reversing and finally bringing to an end a process which in effect made English the official language and disqualified Welsh.
The board's draft clause does not seek to force anyone to use the language. It does not aim at full bilingualism, it seeks:equal validity for the purposes of the administration of justice and the conduct of administrative business".To me, the crucial issue is whether it will create legal complications of which I am unaware, or so many court cases that it would be a hindrance rather than a help to the Welsh language. I am intrigued as to what it is that has persuaded the Government to reject this apparently innocuous clause, because they have not yet made that clear. It would create much goodwill and would reinforce and underpin the practical steps which I so strongly welcome.
Therefore at this moment I have an open mind but hope that, if during the course of the parliamentary examination it becomes clear that amendments are desirable and would strengthen the Bill without changing its fundamental objectives, the Government will listen to the case with an equally open mind.
The Bill gives us a statutory Welsh Language Board. I believe that it is of fundamental importance that the distinction should clearly be made between specifically defined duties, advice given and schemes proposed on the one hand, and the acceptance of advice and the formal approval of schemes on the other. I have no doubt at all that Ministers answerable to Parliament must have the ultimate responsibility. That is in fact the position that applies to my own organisation, the National Rivers Authority, where water quality objectives are proposed by the authority but approved by the Secretary of State and where the conditions set by the authority can be appealed against to the Secretary of State.
I think that one has only to turn to the Bill and see the nature of the powers contained in it to realise that this must also be the basis of the arrangement that applies in this instance. The schemes that are to be implemented will have very profound consequences for the organisations involved. It is not inconceivable that the board will put forward proposals or make requirements that in practice cause great difficulties to the organisations concerned. I therefore strongly support Clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill, which give the final authority to the Minister and to Parliament.
I did not really follow the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, to put powers of enforcement in the hands of the board as a way of seeking to resolve a difficulty about Crown bodies. I do not see how the board could act as an authority superior to the Crown. The Welsh Language Board itself points out that, in our system of government, to have a statutory body which is not accountable in one way or another to a Minister of the Crown and through him to Parliament is not possible. It is perfectly practical for an organisation that is accountable to Ministers 860 and Parliament to be robustly independent in the advice that it gives. I believe that the demand for a strong and independent board can be adequately met by the Bill.
Clause 5 defines the meaning of a public body and lists a number of organisations. It then sweeps up the remainder in a general but pretty obscure definition. I suppose that my own organisation, the National Rivers Authority, is swept up in that way and I welcome the assurance given by the Government that the requirements of the Act will apply equally to government departments and other Crown bodies.
The Bill, as we have heard, is intended not to cover the private sector and again, as a general principle, I am sure that that is correct. There would be huge hostility to the Bill if it attempted to impose on private businesses a whole range of new duties and particularly the duty to prepare schemes.
However, there are questions to be answered about the position of the utilities. The Welsh Language Board was quite clear about this. It argued that the utilities should be included on the grounds that they remain to all intents and purposes monopoly suppliers of key services and consequently have regular and widespread contact with the community at large.
The board gives British Gas plc, Wales, as an example of an organisation that has a positive attitude towards the Welsh language and which already fulfils many of the requirements likely to result from the present legislation. I think it is right to exclude the private sector and a real difficulty arises if we then start making exceptions. Yet the Government are confronted by what will be an increasing problem. It would be somewhat bizarre if, for example, the National Rivers Authority had to provide bilingual material, respond to correspondence and answer telephone calls in Welsh, as we do already, but not Dwr Cymru, Welsh Water.
Privatisation is also a process that is going far beyond the transfer of whole industries or sectors of industry into the private sector. Many of us responsible for the management of public sector bodies are engaged in the process of privatising parts of our activities. While no doubt the contract conditions can lay down the Welsh language obligations of these privatised sectors, a good deal of thought will have to be given to the practicality of such arrangements.
I believe my noble friend said that the Bill would extend to bodies contracted out and bodies dependent on public funds. But that statement itself raises difficult and complex questions to which we shall have to return. The Welsh Language Board itself saw the difficulty of dealing with the genuinely private sectors of the utilities such as the shops of British Gas. It argued that they were not executive functions and should be excluded. So that is an area which we shall have to return to and examine very closely.
I think that on balance the Government have got it right. It may well be that a sensible way to proceed with the utilities would be to urge them to initiate private schemes. It seems almost inconceivable to me that they will not do so and that they will not be anxious to conform to the general standard 861 established in the public sector. I am interested to note that on this point the Welsh Consumer Council suggests that the way to proceed with privatised bodies and public utilities is by encouragement and not compulsion.
However, I believe that the Welsh Consumer Council and others are wrong, for the reasons cogently advanced by the Welsh Language Board itself, to urge that the words about compulsion in the relevant clause, the words about choice and being "reasonably practical" (I believe that is the phrase I am looking for) should be removed. It is very important that we approach these things in a very sensitive way that meets all the varied requirements of different parts of Wales. That is particularly true of our approach to the role of education. A flexible approach responsive to local circumstances has produced a remarkable expansion of Welsh-medium education in the past 20 or 30 years. Local education authority policies on Welsh-medium schools are to be included in the schemes provided for in this Bill and will therefore become the subject of comment and examination by the Welsh Language Board.
I am alarmed, however, by the tone adopted by the Welsh Language Education Development Committee in its recent communication to Members of this House. In particular I am alarmed by its apparent desire to impose all-Welsh schools in place of bilingual schools, apparently almost regardless of circumstances, and its insistence that Welsh should be the only language used on the premises, even in the playground. Equally unrealistic is the demand that any group of parents should be able, almost regardless of the circumstances, to demand a Welsh language school.
Genuine bilingual schools have a very important part to play. One of the very best schools in my former constituency was the comprehensive school at Crymych. During my time, the outstandingly able headmaster and I resisted pressure to make it an all-Welsh school. It would have divided a community that was united; it would have involved many children being bussed quite long distances to a separate school; and it would have halted the process by which the Welsh of the primarily English-speaking pupils was helped and strengthened by their intimate contact with those primarily Welsh-speaking. In my view it would have hindered and not helped the Welsh language in that part of North Pembrokeshire.
In other circumstances, perhaps in a large centre of population, a wholly Welsh school may be appropriate. But these are things that should not be imposed by means of legislation.
I turn to the general issues. It needs to be made clear that the reason why public bodies should be prepared to do business in Welsh is quite simply because it is reasonable that people whose first language is Welsh should be able to do business with the public sector in their own language. I do not think that we should take the argument very much further than that and suggest that those public bodies have themselves a duty to help the language. People will speak the language because they will want to speak it. 862 The Welsh Language Board is wrong to suggest that it will be confined, if they are not supported by these bodies, to churches and colleges. That is a view that could only be advanced by churchmen and academics. It is much more likely to be spoken in the home, in the pub and in the club. It will be heard in the markets, on the farms and in local workplaces. That is where I hear it. The Government have a duty to assist in arresting the decline of the Welsh language.
I believe that the Bill gets the balance about right. There is a huge fund of goodwill for the language. Do not let us undermine it. As I said at the very end of my Llanrwst speech, the language is the inheritance of all Welsh people. We should all work together for it. Together we can do great things for the Welsh language.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, the Bill before us is by no means, as we all realise, the first enactment to deal with the Welsh language. I am very glad to have heard from the Minister some welcome and far more positive statements than are included in the Bill itself. Undoubtedly the most cheerful and popular part of the Bill is Schedule 2, which eliminates what is left of King Henry VIII's very heavy-handed language decrees. If one reads one's history one recognises that Henry VIII had some quite understandable reasons, from his own point of view, but they are not our reasons. I think we all rejoice in Schedule 2 even if we may disagree with some of the other provisions in the Bill.
It was the Welsh Courts Act of 1942 which repealed the most offensive section, Section 17 of the statute of 1536. Thirty years later, in 1972, the resulting situation was officially examined by the late Lord Edmund-Davies, whose passing will be lamented, but with gratitude, at a service next week in Llandaff Cathedral. It was he who proposed for the courts of law the system of simultaneous translation. This experiment has proved on the whole successful. Incidentally, it is interesting that he was co-operatively sustained in that suggestion by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone.
It is only suitable to mention today that the necessary references for following all these various historical procedures are provided in the excellent notes on the Welsh Language Bill, available in the Library of this House, which were drawn up by our Welsh-speaking Librarian, Mr. David Jones.
What is plain is that it has taken an extraordinarily long time to change anything. Contrary to the views of some people, the Welsh have for far too long been an exceptionally patient as well as a long-suffering people.
My particular concern is not mentioned in the Bill at all. I was extremely glad to hear from the Minister that education is intended to be a major concern. There is not a word about that in the Bill. It is surely obvious that the proposals which are in the Bill cannot be successfully carried out unless adequate provision is made for Welsh language teaching for adults as well as in the schools. After all, it will be some years before 863 the present school pupils who have much improved opportunities of learning Welsh will be old enough to attain positions of power and importance. Meanwhile, it is essential that there should be further continuing education available for those who will have to operate the proposals in the Bill, or the much wider proposals which we may expect from the new Welsh Language Board.
Welsh is not an easy language to learn. That fact is not fully appreciated by those who have grown up in a Welsh-speaking family or area. It is not only an ancient language but a sophisticated one—although I admit that I occasionally cringe at the simplistic phonetic transliterations from English which some lazy-minded Welshmen are willing to adopt.
There have been admirable voluntary efforts to secure Welsh-speaking nursery schools and playgroups—not to mention the Welsh School in London —and long may they be sustained. But early familiarity, as I know from my personal experience, is simply not enough. To ensure reality for the schemes which are to be set up under the Bill and to maintain standards of administration in the public services which are to use more Welsh in their transactions, there should undoubtedly be continuing education schemes for adults. Such a provision cannot simply be left to the initiative of local education authorities. In present circumstances they do not appear able to cope with their existing obligations, let alone assuming new ones.
It would be helpful to know what is the Welsh Office opinion on that and what its intentions are. On the other hand, an increasingly significant factor must surely be the rapid advances in information technology. If British Telecom can employ directory inquiry staff who work from home, no doubt Welsh-speaking staff in other spheres can be successfully deployed—a move which could meet many problems, particularly in low populated rural areas. I hope that those opportunities will be followed through.
One assumed that the Secretary of State would accept the main recommendation of the existing Welsh Language Board—Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg. He has done so, though not accepting the proposed change of name for the new body. But under what conditions is the proposed new board to be expected to work? I do not propose to take up the time of the House by going into any detail. However, when one progresses from Part I through Part II of the Bill one gathers that the Welsh Office will be engaged in continuous second-guessing and that a good deal of the work of the board may seem to be time-consuming rather than inspiring.
From what the Minister said today, that impression may be mistaken. I was glad to hear his affirmative suggestions. However, one would not necessarily gather that from the Bill. I was glad to hear the assurances and hope that they will be fully carried out. Otherwise one cannot but think how many months or years may pass before one reaches mandamus, should that ever be necessary.
I cannot help believing that the ideal solution to the language problem is genuine bilingualism. If the Swiss 864 can do it, why cannot we? The dragon should have two tongues. That ideal has been in sight at least since the 1886 Royal Commission on the Education Acts. It surfaced again in 1953 in a major report by the Central Advisory Council for Education. In the present state of our schools and colleges it would be optimistic to hope for its realisation, although I believe that the public attitude today is considerably more favourably disposed than in either 1886 or 1953. A serious negative factor is the decline in the numerical strength of the churches and chapels in Wales, on which so much of the Welsh usage has depended. Pop songs and TV programmes do not quite compensate.
Finally, I wish to say a word in regard to the Welsh Language Act 1967. Although I became Minister of State at the Welsh Office during that year, I was not directly involved in the preparation or handling of the Welsh Language Bill. That fell to my noble friend, now Lord Cledwyn, and the late Ifor Davies, our Parliamentary Secretary. It was they who were dedicated to what in its time was an extremely important innovative measure. The present Welsh Language Board is critical of the 1967 Act, I believe unduly so. Nevertheless, on page 18 of its 1991 February report, which most Welsh Members have received, it records,Shortly after its passing there was positive activity on the part of the Government to improve the use of the Welsh language in the public sector, but this was not sustained".Perhaps I might respectfully suggest that that may have been influenced by a change in the Secretaries of State in 1968 and by the distance between Penrhos and Tonypandy.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, this is an opportunity which will not recur over these next 25 years. We need to get it right. Why does it matter? The essence of the United Kingdom is and ought to be tolerant diversity and a generous willing acceptance of difference. The Bill in its present constitution limps towards those objectives. If it is not amended in the ways suggested in specific detail by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and others, we shall be back in our usual familiar terminus—too little, too grudging, too late.
A central point of the difference of Wales is language. Unless that is grasped and understood we shall get nowhere. But the Welsh language is a stubborn, mulish beast. It declines to die; it resents attempts to circumscribe its value and its use; it insists on being heard. As my noble friend Lady White observed, historically the life of the language has been hand-in-hand with the life of organised religion, as some years ago the English language used to be nourished and nurtured by the Bible and the authorised Book of Common Prayer. In these new times the Welsh language needs—I respectfully say requires, and, before your Lordships, demands—recognition in terms that it is an official language.
In introducing the Bill the noble Earl used a phrase which I jotted down so that my mind would not overlook it: that there would be a "second" official language. We ask that those words—which, if they mean anything, mean no more than what we 865 legitimately ask—be contained in the Bill. I want to put this carefully: that we cannot and shall not move on that.
A few weeks ago, as a connoisseur of the unusual, I took the opportunity and pleasure of listening to the debate in your Lordships' House on the Bill to allow the descent of a hereditary peerage to pass to a female child if she were first born. I heard the pride expressed in regard to ancient lineage; and indeed as an outsider I enjoyed it. When recently reading the Bill I reflected, I hope not ungraciously, that several centuries before the creation of any of those ancient peerages the Welsh language was alive, active and extremely vigorous.
My late father was a schoolmaster in North Wales. I believe that he had the first state school in Wales officially teaching in the Welsh language. It was regarded as quite extraordinary in the late 1940s that small children should be taught mathematics, history, geography and even English through the medium of Welsh.
Perhaps I may interrupt myself, as none of your Lordships are ungracious enough to do so, by repeating the congratulations offered to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I imagine that he and I shared the same experience in the hot summer evenings as the darkness fell, whispering quietly upstairs in the English language to our brother or sister and hearing father downstairs shouting, "Siaradwch Cymraeg" —"Speak Welsh!"
Nowadays education in the Welsh language is a commonplace—and increasingly wanted by monoglot English parents in areas which were formerly regarded as unutterably, irredeemably, Anglicised—Glamorgan and Gwent. As the noble Baroness points out, there is not a dot or a syllable about education in the Bill. If there is no development by way of free right to bilingual education, there will be no future for the language. The importance of the everyday use of Welsh in official documents, on television and radio, in the ordinary transactions of commercial business and in the ordinary business we all do in our modest ways cannot be overstated. If the language is one only for academics and clergymen, or (if the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will forgive me) those who live in the remoter fastnesses, the language will die, not soon but inexorably.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, pointed out that a Welsh-speaking person in Wales had no right to be tried by a jury that spoke Welsh; that is to say, in the nature of things, a jury that was bilingual. There is nothing in the Bill that will right that wrong.
Perhaps I may indulge in a rhetorical question and then offer an answer to it. I hardly need to offer an answer, and perhaps I shall not do so. The question is this: what would we have said if that situation had obtained in Bosnia, Hertcegovina or Iraq? What an outcry there would be if a defendant could not have a trial by a jury that understood his language. I would respectfully suggest that any language is an extraordinary creation. It is among the noblest of human achievements. Just a few months ago part of Windsor Castle was attacked by fire. Immediately the 866 Secretary of State offered £60 million of public funds for its repair. I do not quarrel with that. I simply suggest that the language we are attending to this evening is of infinitely more subtlety, virtue and value as an item of human creation than something produced as a high-Gothic creation in Victorian times.
I recognise that the Bill is well meaning, but being well meaning is not enough. Clause 1 does not even require that a majority on the new board should be able to speak the language that it is to oversee. I think that to achieve that would require a significant exercise of human perversity. It does not even require that any proportion of the board should have a connection with organisations that are even barely representative of Welsh speakers.
Clause 5 will not attend to the question of public utilities that was touched upon earlier. This is a wholly unacceptable omission. As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, pointed out, the recently privatised utilities are of extreme importance in any community. First, their everyday influence is enormous and cannot be overstated. Secondly, the brutal, bald fact is that one cannot go elsewhere for one's electricity, water or gas.
In mentioning the utilities I reiterate respectfully the tributes paid to Mr. John Elfed Jones, chairman of the Welsh Language Board. He is a doughty campaigner for the Welsh language. We should not forget that he is also chairman of Dwr Cymru—Welsh Water PLC—and anticipates no problem about a regime that will apply to his commercial organisation the rules that we are presently considering.
To paraphrase Clause 4(2), it is indicated that Welsh language protection must be given effect to only where it is appropriate in the circumstances. That is wholly unacceptable. It will not be accepted.
Clause 20 excludes the Crown and its agents from any obligation to conform. That simply will not do either. I have touched briefly on various defects of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has undertaken and engaged, we shall return to the specifics at the appropriate time.
I have read the Bill with some care and the literature produced in particular by Gwynedd County Council, which I believe among the local authorities in Wales has the best and most honourable record. They are powerful documents. But I wanted to give a fair assessment of the Bill. I invoked the shade of my late father (once a school teacher, always a school teacher) and wondered how to mark the effort so far. I was going to give five out of 10 but was seduced by the charm and generosity of the Minister's introduction. I concluded, "Six out of 10. Must try harder".
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, there is an astonishing pelmanism in communications in this House, which is particularly rife and right today, because my opening phrase has just been used as the sitting-down phrase of my noble friend. To be part of this debate is a particular pleasure. It is a pleasure too to pay tribute to all those who have taken part. The noble Earl on the Front Bench, with his disarming introduction, stands as much among us as anyone who has spoken. There is no-one here who has not made a contribution 867 to Welsh life and, in that way, to the preservation of the Welsh language. It is a further pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. The contribution he has made both this side of the barrier and the other is well understood in this House. His maiden speech contained some memorable phrases, one of which I wrote down. He saw the language as the expression of the community and the culture and identity of the individual within the community. He wished to see the language board as a cultural development agency.
If we start from the premise that the Bill is a very good beginning, congratulate all those who have played a part in its development and look at it critically in Committee, we can make it a very much better Bill. I will not go through the history nor use any of the phrases already mentioned. I wish to emphasise education and bilingualism. The importance of bilingualism was given an effective introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and was referred to also by my former leader (sitting more comfortably today) and by the noble Baroness, Lady White. Mention has been made of the total heritage. I particularly welcome the expression of the noble Earl who told us that he saw the Welsh language as part of his heritage as an Englishman and stressed its contribution to British life. It is part of the total heritage of the British Isles and as such is worthy of preservation. Those who have helped to preserve it will long be remembered in the history of Wales.
But why at this point in our history should we be particularly interested in ensuring that this noble, lilting, lovely, lyrical language of the Welsh should stay alive? I speak as an educator, having spent all of my time in the classroom and most of it in Wales. I do not know how old I was before I realised that I was a particular type of Welshman. I knew from my home that I was Welsh. My mother was Welsh speaking; my father was not. When my father became more fluent they used the language to communicate things that the children should not necessarily hear at the table. I was in a sense insulated early in my life against the acquisition of Welsh. Then I discovered that I was described by the Welshman who had both languages as a cymru di cymraeg, a Welshman without Welsh. Yet I came to realise that my heritage was not totally available because I did not have the fluency and did not have the understanding. I could not read the literature of my own land simply because my mother's tongue had denied me my mother tongue in the early days.
I fall then into the category dismissed by the noble Baroness, Lady White, as lazy Welshmen. It is a difficult language to learn. It could have been a priority that I set myself, but my life has been exciting and interesting and I did not get around to it. I do though feel the nuances of Welsh when I hear people speaking it more quickly than I can follow, and, in speaking English, I communicate my Welshness. No one has ever been at a loss to understand where I come from.
Let us get back to the significance of bilingualism and to the importance of it now in education in the 20th century, particularly at a time when the world power blocs and the ancient prejudices are breaking 868 down and we are not too certain as to what will replace them culturally, politically, socially or indeed militarily. The importance that I attach to bilingualism is that the learning of language is the key to all learning. Those who really do understand how languages are acquired are more able to communicate teaching. I once met an Italian barrister who said to me that the man who has one language is one man but the man who has two languages is many men. I believe that if a man, a person or an individual is bilingual it gives a new dimension to the mind.
In their anxiety to communicate the need to keep the language alive one of the failures of those who perhaps cared most was that they limited the use of the Welsh language simply to Wales and to communication within Wales rather than seeing it as a key to international understanding and using it in that way. I believe too that we neglected a reservoir which could in itself have attracted to Wales considerably greater interest than has hitherto been the case. My noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris, who went back to his sources and actually acquired Welsh to a standard which even the Western Mail considers to be surprisingly good, was the principal of a university in Wales which, because of its experience in the teaching of language and in turning the use of the mother tongue into the acquisition of a second and a third language, has attracted to itself an astonishing interest. My noble friend may have time to say something about that when he comes to speak. It is not simply a priceless heritage in the rhetorical sense of paying extravagant tributes to something which we do not wholly understand. It is part of our heritage which has an effective use in education and in communication. I return again to wishing the statutory body to become a cultural development agency and to help in the exchange of such ideas.
My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies spoke of the difficulty of providing a full and coherent pattern of Welsh within Wales and pointed out that it is perhaps aggravated by changes taking place in education in Wales. Throughout my life it has always been a patchy business. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who was Secretary of State for Wales and represented a constituency in Wales, knows, as I know, that on either side of that ancient division high quality English, interesting Shakespearian English, is spoken while north of the Haven there is an equally beautiful idiosyncratic Welsh.
One of the problems that we face in providing a full pattern of education at primary level in our schools is that teachers who have Welsh, who are essentially full Welshmen speaking both languages, do not normally wish to become missionaries in areas that do not speak Welsh. There is no reason, other than a missionary zeal for the language, why a young person should want to move a couple of hundred miles from the area in which he has grown up in order to take part in an education scheme. Therefore areas like Pembrokeshire find it difficult to provide at primary school level teachers adequate in their own language to teach their own language to their fellows in Wales.
There are problems. This statutory board must be freed at the beginning from any handicaps that might 869 be inadvertently placed upon it. If we are saying, "Six out of 10" and "Must try harder", then the area on which we will have to concentrate is freeing the new statutory body to do the work that we are all agreed should be done. There has been no dissenting voice in the debate. There have been differences in emphasis, correcting this or that particular thrust, but we are all agreed that the language is vital to the Welsh who speak it, that it is vital to the Welsh who do not speak it, and that it should be understood by those who are associated with and interested in Wales so that they too can make a contribution to its preservation, as indeed the Minister said in his introductory remarks.
In Committee let us strike out from the Bill those little things which are really only a government department trying to retain authority. Under the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I was head of a statutory body, the Wales Tourist Board. It was a good body and had a great deal of strength. I was conscious, when I went to see the Secretary of State for Wales, of the strength of the body. Why is it that we conceive a statutory body for the language that does not have that sense of confidence? Should that sense of confidence be limited because someone might have told the Secretary of State for Wales that the department must be careful that these chaps did not become too big for their boots? We have a consensus. It is the art of chairmanship to go for consensus. With the agreement that we have, let us take it a little further.
We have been briefed for this debate by important contributors to Wales. I refer to the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and CEFN, whose representations we have all received. They take the view that the statutory body, within the normal constraints of democracy and taking away none of the responsibility of Parliament and without weakening the Minister in any sense, should be given the right to stand for the things which many of us agree so closely about. There are gaps in the Bill. I am concerned that it does not set out the linguistic rights of Welsh speakers in Wales. A great deal will be said about that. There are other gaps, many of which have been noted, but I am sure that those can be closed in Committee. Why do we not resolve the difficulties experienced by the county councils. They require a knowledge of Welsh because their employees come into contact with Welsh speakers in the course of their employment. I see no threat to me as a Welsh speaker who does not have a command of the language. It is extremely important to people who are handicapped and people who are cut off from communication with the general public that Welsh should be the language in areas where Welsh is the language. I would wish the Bill to be strengthened in that regard.
I want the Government to improve the Bill in the light of the discussion that takes place in Committee. I do not think they will fail to respond to the suggestions made by so many powerful individuals here today. If they do, they will regret their decision because they will have missed a great opportunity.
I was a little startled, as someone who has lived in Wales all his life, to receive a pamphlet which says, 870 "One of these labels is illegal in Wales". The pamphlet has product advertisements in a number of languages, chiefly products which my father as a campaigner for total abstinence would not have advertised. The leaflet states that one of the products is illegal. It is a label from a wine bottle. I did not know which one it was, but it is in my own language —the same mother-tongue which I spoke about earlier. The only item which is illegal is the one that carries the Welsh language. That is a nonsense.
In getting the Bill off the ground and making it an Act, and in carrying these people with us, let us see that we wipe out all these nonsenses once and for all, so that the Welsh people can say, "This Bill was the beginning of our being given the opportunity to express ourselves in the courts and for our children to learn the language which is so much a part of the common heritage of the whole of the British Isles."
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Geraint
My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the Secretary of State for Wales and all his predecessors who are here this afternoon in the Chamber. I pay tribute to every one of them for their helpful hand over the past 30 years to promote, aid and give financial assistance to the Welsh language in Wales. That help has been very useful indeed in keeping our language alive.
I have listened with great interest to noble Lords on both sides of the House. I was very impressed by the opening speech of the Minister. Perhaps I may also name my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas. We both went to the other place at the same time and we came here on the same day. On the occasion when we took the Oath in this place we both took it in Welsh. History was made with two noble Lords, on taking their seats, taking the Oath in Welsh. I was also delighted to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. It may be that many noble Lords are not aware that his father taught me. He was headmaster at Ponterwyd village school many years ago. I remember him vividly. He was a very strict disciplinarian and did his job very well. Perhaps that is the reason why I am here, but I do not know.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to say a few words about the proposals. I am bitterly disappointed with the proposals in the Bill. In my view they do not go far enough. Seven generations of my family have lived in Ponterwyd which is a small village in the heart of the Plynlimon mountain range in Cardiganshire in West Wales. During the lifetime of the seven generations each one of the family was a fluent Welsh speaker. I hold the view in 1993 that I am entitled to have equal status for my native language like my English friend next door.
Until fairly recently, Ponterwyd has maintained its Welsh character. In its own special way it has made a valuable contribution to the preservation of the Welsh language and culture. But now there are many English families living about me with different traditions and, as yet, with little knowledge of the Welsh language. The whole essence of the village is changing. In those circumstances it should not he regarded as surprising that I should be asking—no, demanding—that I 871 should be given the same rights as regards the use of my native language as my English neighbour has for his. The surprise is that it should be necessary for me to do so.
Tonight many noble Lords have spoken eloquently about the chequered history of the Welsh language and the way in which it has survived over the centuries against almost impossible odds. The language has survived because we have willed it to survive. But in this modern world the erosion of our traditions and way of life, together with our language, is increasing at a quicker pace. Legislation is now more necessary than ever to stem that decline.
For over 400 years we have been thrown crumbs in the form of some small measure or other by successive British governments. But why is no one willing to give us the whole loaf and let us have an effective Welsh language Act for once and for all? Perhaps I may be told why we cannot have that kind of Welsh language Act. What we have before us today is nothing of the kind. My generation had, I believe, the right to expect that at last due recognition would be given to one of Europe's oldest surviving languages.
At one stage I, like many others, was optimistic, particularly when the Welsh Language Board was set up to look into the possibilities of bringing forward a new Welsh language Act. The members of the board, under the chairmanship of John Elfed Jones, worked diligently to obtain the views of interested bodies and draft a suitable Bill that seemed a step in the right direction. But, alas, our hopes were dashed.
What we have before us today is a travesty. In its preamble the Bill holds out the promise of great things, but when one examines the details disappointment is inevitable. The Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of State, who is, after all, a Welsh-speaking Welshman, had a golden opportunity to present the gift of right to the Welsh people. Instead, they have chosen the half-hearted approach that goes no way towards meeting the aspirations of those who have the interests of Wales and its language at heart.
Why, after appointing the Welsh Language Board, did they then choose to ignore its recommendations? Why is the Welsh Office more willing to listen to its special advisers, who obviously have no idea of what goes on in Wales, than to the experienced and knowledgeable people that it appointed to the board? That is the great mystery. Perhaps the Minister will answer that when he replies to the debate.
My whole instinct is to oppose this Bill in its entirety, but bitter experience has taught me that once again a Bill will be imposed by this Government on the Welsh people against their will, like many other Bills. Therefore, my aim is to urge this House to agree to amendments that can at least improve some aspects of the Bill. I can assure the House that I am not alone in my distaste for this Bill. Bodies ranging from the Welsh Consumer Council to the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, the WI and the Welsh Language Education Development Committee, and countless others, have expressed grave doubts about the Bill's effectiveness. They realise that it seems to depend more on good will than the rule of law. It is agreed that 872 to function properly the proposed board must be independent of the Welsh Office in the same way that the Equal Opportunities Commission or the Commission for Racial Equality are independent of the Home Office.
Perhaps I may quote from a letter sent to me by the President of the Court of the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, which has long been the guardian of the language. It encapsulates the whole thrust of my argument. Professor Derec Llwyd Morgan says in a letter written to me in Welsh, which I have tried to translate to the best of my ability:Although the opening passage of the Bill proclaims that it is intended to 'promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language on a basis of equality with English', yet the measures proposed are hardly those that put Welsh on a par with English. True equality means that Welsh should be acknowledged as one of two official languages in Wales—and that by virtue of law. It is difficult to accept that the present Bill has been designed to achieve this aim, because it is a Bill that puts the emphasis—not on the strength of legislation—but on the exercise of good will. It is no use having a law that comprises a series of good intentions that some—and only some—public bodies are expected to follow. Rather, we demand a Bill that gives the right to every citizen of this realm who lives in Wales the statutory right to use the Welsh language, if he or she wishes, in dealings with every public authority, including corporations or private companies that have statutory duties in Wales; and in addition, a Bill that gives the Welsh Language Board the necessary powers to ensure that its requirements are complied with".I shall approach succeeding stages of the Bill with those principles in mind. In addition, I support the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Hooson, who made an excellent speech and put forward many proposals. I am sure that the Minister and the Government will heed what he said about the importance of education in the preservation and development of the Welsh language. I shall argue for the right of children to be taught in Welsh in every school in Wales. I also agree with the argument that defendants should have the right to be tried by jurors who can at least understand Welsh.
Now is not the time to argue in detail the radical changes that I wish to see in the Bill, but I want to make it clear that, as it stands, it comes nowhere near what I had hoped for or what the people of Wales deserve.
To those noble Lords who are possibly English but who have stayed to listen to us tonight out of interest, perhaps I may say, "Put yourselves in our place. What if the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare had been demeaned over the centuries to the same extent that Welsh had been demeaned, and denied any right in law? Would you not stand up and shout, 'enough is enough'?"
Language, after all, expresses the soul of a nation, and that is why I earnestly seek your Lordships' understanding of the importance of achieving justice, after many long centuries, for the language of Wales.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, in 1725, in a letter to Fortescue, it was the English poet, Alexander Pope, who added a ninth beatitude to the other eight when he wrote:Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed".873 It seems that many in Wales expected too much because, as the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said, the general response to the Bill of responsible opinion in Wales has been one of disappointment—disappointment especially in the climate of hope and optimism about the future of the language now prevalent throughout Wales itself; disappointment ranging across the whole spectrum of disillusion that they feel in Ponterwyd to simple regret at yet another example of missed opportunities and labour in vain. As my noble friend Lady White said, Wales has been very patient. Yet it must be said that at a recent meeting of Forwm yr Iaith (the National Language Forum) 26 out of the 28 representatives of organisations interested in the Welsh language said that they were hostile to the Bill in its present form. That is a sad state of affairs.
Their "vote" was more in sorrow than in anger, as was a letter I received from a senior local government official which said:As you are aware, although certain aspects of the proposed legislation, in particular the proposal to establish a statutory Welsh Language Board, have been welcomed, the Bill generally has been branded as 'deficicient and completely inadequate by a wide range of organisations and individuals in Wales and these sentiments are in no way confined to the Welsh-speaking community".Equally moderate in its tone is the response of the Welsh Consumer Council, which might be expected to be sympathetic to the Government's philosophy. It says:As a consumer organisation we believe that the Bill as published is seriously flawed in many areas and will cause quite unnecessary dissent and confusion. Our main concerns centre on the effect the Bill will have on the use of Welsh in the high street and the failure to establish clear rights, choices and means of redress for the individual language user".For all its politeness, that is fairly devastating, suggesting, as it does, that the whole matter has been approached from entirely the wrong end—the cart is before the horse—and that it is likely to confuse and alienate the ordinary people of Wales. That was clearly not the Government's intention.
Less expected, and therefore more disappointing, must have been response of the Government's own creation—their ewe lamb—the Welsh Language Board. In its press release on the Bill the board states:The Government's Bill clearly fails to achieve the objectives set out by the Secretary of State in his statement to the House in February 1992 and falls well short of the Board's own proposals published in February 1991".It is not that the Bill does things that it ought not to have done but that it has left undone those things which it ought to have done; and there is no health in it.
Many organisations and individuals made comparisons, often reprovingly, between provisions made in the Welsh Language Board's Bill, Recommendations for a New Welsh Language Act, February 1991, and the Government's Bill. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, drew attention to that. I am sure that the whole House would find it most helpful if when he comes to reply the Minister could explain to us why so many of the board's recommendations were ignored.
The board's Bill began with a statement that Welsh 874 shall be an official language in Wales and shall be of equal validity to the English language. My noble friends Lord Prys-Davies, Lord Cledwyn, and Lord Williams of Mostyn and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked some shrewd questions on that. We have all been concerned to obtain greater clarity on the issue. There is no corresponding provision in the Government's Bill, although in the Long Title and in Clauses 2 and 4 there are references to the principle that,The English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality".But that principle is immediately hedged around with conditions which breach it, like the words,So far as is both appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable".in Clause 4. Why such caution?
The Welsh Language Board clearly believed that every citizen has the right to expect that every public body should comply with his requirements as to whether he wishes to be communicated with in Welsh or English. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn drew attention to that fact. The board's Bill imposed a duty on government departments and public bodies to try to act accordingly. Again, there is no corresponding provision in the Government's Bill and Clause 4(2) is unlikely to achieve the same end unless it is developed and spelt out far more carefully, a point made gently but firmly by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson.
On the matter of Clause 5 and the meaning to be attached to the words "public body", the board's proposals were applicable to government departments and privatised companies as well as to local authorities, health authorities and the like. The Government's Bill seems not to include them. But surely public utilities, whether privatised or not, must be required to provide a bilingual service and to prepare schemes to that end. Clause 5 leaves so many questions unanswered. British Telecom is partly privatised but where does it fit? British Rail as it stands would have to prepare a scheme but when it is privatised it will not. A public service is a public service whether it is provided by the local authority, a government department or a private utility. Surely all of them should be required to prepare schemes to provide their service to the general public bilingually. As my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies said, the private sector and Crown bodies are excluded. Why is that? Why does the Bill divide the field in that confusing way?
Clause 4 of the board's Bill made provision for the implementation over a period of years of a rolling programme for the preparation of bilingual forms and documents. There is nothing in the Government's Bill to correspond to that and on the whole matter of true bilingualism the Government's Bill has nothing to say. My noble friend Lady White mentioned that. The Bill gives no aims, no objectives and no timetables for the achievement of bilingualism. Once again may we ask why not?
On the question of language qualifications and employment, the Government's Bill has nothing to offer. Yet that has been a contentious and litigious matter in Wales for many years. Gwynedd County Council has been challenged for requiring the ability 875 to speak Welsh in appointments to posts in residential homes for elderly people, most of whom are normally Welsh speakers. The board's Bill included a clause to amend Section 4 of the Race Relations Act 1976 so that the requirement of an ability to speak Welsh would be justifiable where the person concerned would be regularly dealing with people who usually speak Welsh. There is no such clause in the Government's Bill. It would be helpful to know why the Government decided to reject that clear recommendation of their language board.
There has been real disappointment in Wales that the Government have not seen fit to take the board's advice on the matter of Welsh-speaking juries. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn only just managed to restrain his righteous fury on that matter. The board's Bill included a clause which would amend Section 10 of the Juries Act 1974 so as to discharge from jury service persons found to have an insufficient knowledge of Welsh where a trial was to be held in Welsh. I can assure the House that even the very finest simultaneous translation service is not an acceptable substitute for understanding at first hand what is being said by defendants and witnesses in criminal prosecutions. The choice of words, the tone of voice and the credibility of utterance are vital matters when a member of a jury is trying to assess the veracity or otherwise of what is being offered in evidence; and natural justice alone surely requires that the whole jury is at least reasonably fluent in the language of the proceedings in its case. What reason can there be for rejecting that proposal contained in the Bill drafted by the Welsh Language Board?
Although there was no specific provision in the board's Bill for developments in education, the board's report referred to the invitation to the Welsh Language Education Development Committee to submit legislative proposals to be included in the new Welsh Language Act and the WLEDC made some suggestions. The Government's Bill does not refer to education or training except for a reference to educational bodies in Clause 5. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn drew attention to that point most forcefully. Yet the right to education through the medium of Welsh for people from the age of five to 16 has been demanded by one body after another for the past decade and more. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in his most inspiring maiden speech, spoke so vividly about the centrality of education to the health of the Welsh language. So did my noble friend Parry yr athro; that is, the noble Lord, Lord Parry, the teacher.
Similarly, in the field of training, the National Language Forum has long argued for statutory rights for the staff of statutory organisations to claim a set number of working days each year to attend courses in reading, writing and speaking Welsh. Just in case any of your Lordships might think that such courses are an easy and pleasant alternative to work, I can assure you that the WLPAN courses run by the University of Wales work on principles and practice which make an SAS assault course feel like a stroll down a country lane.
876 It is quite unreasonable for the Government to claim to be working for Welsh fluency throughout public administration unless they give clear rights to employees to undergo the necessary training. They should also provide financial rewards as an inducement to achieving fluency in Welsh in public sector jobs. That principle is already applied in Europe to proficiency in many other languages, but it is almost unknown in Wales. As the Welsh Consumer Council stated:The 'British' are notorious within Europe for their reluctance in handling and responding to other people's languages".The Welsh have suffered from this—the attitude that somehow speaking a language other than English is unnatural or unnecessary. But, as the Welsh Consumer Council noted in 1990:Government is becoming increasingly used to dealing with multiple ethnic minority languages within Britain as well as with multiple languages within the wider context of the European Community. There should, therefore, be no problem in its also dealing with the needs of an indigenous language".That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson.
The Government's Bill has no proposals and no suggestions for the whole area of teaching, learning and training. One wonders why not. One also wonders why the Government are not signing the Convention of European Regional Minority Languages which was opened for signature last October.
The Welsh Consumer Council, in its advice to us, made much of the virtual silence of the Government's Bill on the question of arbitration. Both the Welsh Language Board and the National Language Forum recognise in their proposals that the promotion of the Welsh language must envisage some mechanisms to arbitrate and provide conciliation where disputes arise; and the Welsh Consumer Council recognises that at the very heart of consumerism lies the necessity for choice and the means for redress of grievance. In our present climate the Citizen's Charter is equally adamant on the provision of prompt and proper redress.
There is no unanimity of opinion in Wales on what exactly is required in the arbitration of language matters. The Welsh Language Board thought that its statutory successor would be the right body. The Welsh Consumer Council favoured the establishment of an independent ombudsman service for Welsh language matters. The National Language Forum argued for a Bwrdd Cymodi Ieithyddol, or a Language Reconciliation Board. But all were agreed that some mechanism for considering complaints was vital. However, the Government's Bill offers only referral to the Secretary of State if the bodies in conflict cannot agree between themselves. It is a well-known fact that all Secretaries of State for Wales are endowed with the wisdom of King Solomon immediately upon assuming office. But that is too much to ask either of them or of the complainants. Why have the Government rejected every idea for an independent arbitrator?
In the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum the only financial effect of the Bill which is identified in figures is the increase of £82,000 for next year in the 877 budget of the new Welsh Language Board. Yet promoting and facilitating the use of Welsh is bound to have financial and manpower implications both for implementing schemes and for retraining personnel. As the librarian for the National Library has pointed out to me in a letter:If no additional funding is to be made for implementing bilingual schemes—if that is what is meant by accommodating additional costs within mainstream budgets—then inevitably the use of Welsh will be said to be in competition with effective management. There should be some reference to a positive commitment to promote the objects of the Bill".It is that lack of positive commitment in the Bill which seems to have saddened so many people in Wales.
One person writing to me regretted what he described as "the somewhat grudging tone"—a word picked up quite independently by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn—of the Bill which seemed to him,designed to have as little effect as possible on the status quo".This Bill is a heavyweight in bureaucracy but a flyweight in citizens' rights.
On these Benches we welcome warmly a few provisions in the Bill and mourn the absence of many others. Weak as it is, we shall try to make it stronger by proposing positive and constructive amendments in Committee. Sadly, it is widely seen in Wales as yet another chapter in the long saga of missed opportunities. Let us together try to make six out of 10 into at least eight out of 10 and turn "Must try harder" into "Has made great strides in recent weeks".
§ 7.10 p.m.
My Lords, with so many educationalists among your Lordships, it is not surprising that the examination results should be much to the fore. We have heard a number of important and knowledgable speeches. I knew that we should and that this would be a fascinating debate. Your Lordships will understand that I cannot answer every point which has been made and, indeed, that would be a most disagreeable prospect for your Lordships. However, I am grateful to your Lordships for pointing out those matters of anxiety with which your Lordships wish to deal in Committee.
At the outset, I join with those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on his maiden speech. I found making my maiden speech the most terrifying experience that I have ever had. I am still greatly apprehensive about making a speech in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, spoke without a note in his hand and he spoke fluently and engagingly with a degree of wit which made it a most agreeable experience for those who were listening. I am sure that the noble Lord will make many stimulating speeches of that nature in future. His reputation has come before him and even those of us who were not in another place knew the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. We shall look forward to hearing from him again in this House.
The noble Lord was very clever in that he spoke briefly, wittily and with no notes and yet did not contravene the practice of your Lordships' House. I thought that he was going to do so when he started to 878 speak in Welsh but he soon got himself back on the rails and explained what he was saying. The only reason that speaking in Welsh might be considered against the practice of the House is because the idea of debate is that people can understand what you are saying. Therefore, speaking in Welsh may have had a rather inhibiting effect.
I am grateful for the courteous and measured way in which noble Lords have spoken on the Bill. We must return later to the detail of it. One cannot introduce a Bill on a language and expect it to meet with everyone's approval. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said that the language is the soul of the nation. This Bill aims to encourage the use of the Welsh language. Of course, some will say that it does not go far enough and should go further; I understand that. However, I was disappointed because the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said that he would oppose the Bill in its entirety. I am sure that that was a piece of Welsh rhetoric which he did not really mean. He described his distaste for the Bill. It is difficult for the Government to do anything right. We have introduced a Bill to encourage use of the Welsh language. As a mere layman I thought it would be greeted with great approbation, only to be told that it will be opposed in its entirety by an extremely impressive and influential Welshman. I hope that as time goes by the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, will mellow his views somewhat.
I must try to walk with great delicacy. To be the only Englishman surrounded by Welshmen is a most formidable experience and I do not wish to say anything which may be considered to be inappropriate. Throughout the passage of the Bill I shall listen and take careful note of what your Lordships say and I shall do my best to allay the genuine anxieties expressed. It is right that those anxieties should be addressed, because the Government wish to try to ensure that the Bill which reaches the statute book is as good as it reasonably can be. It will not meet everyone's requirements by the very nature of things. It cannot. I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, when he said that we must show tolerance and understanding. The noble Lord was referring to the Bill but perhaps I may transfer that suggestion to your Lordships. We should show tolerance and understanding for the views of all as we approach the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that the Bill limped in the right direction. At least it is going in the right direction, which apparently is not the view of the noble Lord, Lord Geraint. However, that was not a particularly generous description.
The noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and others said that Welsh should be an official language. It is an official language. It has equal status with the English language. I referred to it as a second language and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, picked me up on that. I was merely referring to the numerical order rather than pecking order. Of course, the two languages are equal.
I was extremely pleased when both the noble Lords, Lord William of Mostyn and Lord Parry, said that I should get five out of 10 and they then increased that 879 to six out of 10. As I never achieved anything like five out of 10 when I was at school, I was greatly pleased by that. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was going to say that when I started my speech I was trying and by the end of it I was very trying but he missed the opportunity to do that.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and others compared this Bill with the Welsh Language Board's Bill. It is important to realise that the board agreed that a number of the proposals could be pursued by non-legislative means. The remainder are addressed by the Bill in a different way. The noble Lord was anxious about the response of the Welsh organisations and I understand that. However, I hope that as we go through the later stages of the Bill your Lordships may feel that some of those anxieties may have been unfounded.
The Bill seeks to change the law. Understandably, if the law is changed, the alterations must sometimes be couched in dry and legal language. I hope that we shall be able to explain some of the points which give rise to anxiety and show that they are unfounded.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, was anxious as regards whether Welsh should be a qualification for employment. Any uncertainty which may have arisen about the law in that area can be clarified by non-legislative means.
The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, was anxious about continuing the Welsh language. He made an important speech. If that difficulty is to be overcome, people who move to rural Wales must see the language as an opportunity and not as a threat. It underlines the importance of the Government's policy and dependence on goodwill, and that will remain at the heart of all that we do.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, made a remarkable speech full of questions. I shall not be able to address all of them tonight. It was a deeply thoughtful speech, and he asked why there was no Welsh speaker's charter. The Bill applies the principles of the Citizen's Charter and is fully in accordance with the Citizen's Charter. If the noble Lord wishes to call it a Welsh speaker's charter, then he is entitled to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, was concerned about extending the domain where Welsh is spoken. There is a great deal in this concept. The Bill will allow for this in response to the demands of Welsh speakers. The flexible framework in which it is drawn up will be such that the domain can be extended. It may be a small language in numerical terms, but this is not the Government's view. The Government's view is that it is an important language that we wish to see continued and enabled to prosper.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell referred to the role of legislation. Legislation obviously has a contribution to make, but I agree that it depends on far more than that: people must want to speak it. Our role is to try to create an environment where they wish to do so. We have done this by making a statutory board. Then of course the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, felt that the board should be dynamic and not a dull quango. This reflects the Government's view. That is why we have made it in the way that we have.
880 The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was concerned about the membership of the board. The composition of the existing board is an indication that the Government will expect Welsh speakers to be prominent among the board's members, though I hope that your Lordships could agree that non-Welsh speakers also have a contribution to make. The membership of the board was something that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was concerned about. We will certainly be concerned to see that membership of the board is representative of a spread of opinion in Wales about the language. He was also concerned about the content of the guidelines. It will be for the board to decide, but the board's existing voluntary guidelines will provide an illustration of the sort of thing that can be expected, covering as they do matters such as correspondence, personal enquiries, and the provision of information.
The noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Hooson, then came to the matter of government departments. This concerned a number of noble Lords. I gave a commitment to your Lordships that government departments and Crown bodies will produce schemes. I explained why it was not put in the Bill, because there is a certain absurdity of a Secretary of State being able to penalise himself. Both government departments and Crown bodies will produce schemes, and their schemes will be prepared in exactly the same way and to the same standards as those of other public bodies. Crown bodies will behave in practice just as if the Bill placed formal obligations upon them.
Some of your Lordships were concerned about the private sector and why it was not brought into this. I can confirm to your Lordships that the board will be able to advise the private sector. That is what it is entitled to do. Many of your Lordships referred to private utilities, which is a not dissimilar point. The privatised utilities have been at the forefront of those who have been developing Welsh language policies, and all of them on a voluntary basis. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who is chairman of the National Rivers Authority, a distinguished position for a distinguished person to hold, was concerned about private practices and services that were contracted out. That is a matter to which I will be happy to return. The Bill contains sufficient flexibility to extend to these people new forms of delivering services. I can assure my noble friend that I will be expecting a scheme from the National Rivers Authority in due course.
The noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Parry, as I expected, referred to the importance of education. I agree with what they said. It is central to the Government's policies. Welsh is now a foundation subject in the national curriculum. The Bill will strengthen this by ensuring that parents' wishes are complied with. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, again on education, asked why the Bill did not refer to it. Of course the Bill did not mention education particularly, but neither does it mention any other service. The Bill is intended to apply to all services. The whole point of the way the Bill is constructed is 881 that it should not be specific but should produce a general remit that will cover a wide spectrum of organisations in Wales.
The noble Lord, Lord Parry, talked about taking education into new areas. He mentioned the encouraging growth in the Welsh medium education. It is notable that even in Gwent there is now a Welsh medium secondary school. There is a trend towards taking Welsh into new areas, and this Bill will continue this. It will apply throughout Wales, whatever areas' linguistic character may be. The noble Lord was also concerned about the plight of non-Welsh speaking Welshmen. We hope that particularly in the world of education our policies will be aimed at ensuring that in future there will be fewer non-Welsh speaking Welshmen.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to Welsh classes for adults. That is another aspect of what might be called the Government's wider policy. It will be strengthened by arrangements that are currently being established to transfer the responsibility for these classes to the further education funding councils for Wales.
There were three similar matters that concerned the noble Lords, Lord Hooson, Lord Prys-Davies, Lord Elis-Thomas, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and others. They were equality, the basis of equality, and equal validity. I have no doubt that we shall refer to these nuances, if I can so express it, at Committee stage. The Bill puts the two languages on a basis of equality. There is nothing sinister about that. It is almost as far as one can go.
If there were to be just equality—if I may use this as an example—it would mean that a person who spoke to somebody in Welsh in a public place could, though that person did not speak Welsh, expect to receive a reply in Welsh. That would obviously be absurd. The requirements must be reasonable and practicable. Equality is directed to the practical issues surrounding the delivery of service as well as to the legal issues. Equal validity is a strictly legal concept. It is not defined in practical terms. That is a matter that would have to be determined by the courts. The Bill confirms the equal status of the Welsh and English languages. It recognises in Clause 4 that each public body reflects this in practice. Of course it must be 882 dependent on their particular circumstances how they do it. I assure your Lordships there is nothing more sinister than that.
Then there was the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, referred, as did the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Geraint: why cannot we have Welsh-speaking jurors? I can understand those concerns, but I ask your Lordships to consider the issue of interference with the random selection of jurors that might arise if you could only draw your jurors from Welsh speaking people. That might well have a restrictive effect on the courts. The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to the noble and learned Lord, as he was, Lord Edmund-Davies. I was glad to hear her tribute to him because he devoted a major part of his report to the practical issues surrounding the use of Welsh in the courts. His report continues to inform government policy. He was a great man. I have certain responsibilities for the police service and his name is enshrined there with a great depth and warmth of feeling. I knew him personally and had the greatest admiration for him, not least for the time he spent as chairman of the Cheshire Foundation.
The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said he wanted this to be an effective Act. We all want that. We believe—the noble Lord would not expect me to say anything else—that this Bill has all the makings of being an effective Act because it addresses itself to the practical issues and it provides for them to be addressed wherever they arise throughout the public sector. The Bill combines both good will and the rule of law.
In the end, one cannot force anyone to speak a language but one can try to nurture it, encourage it and make it grow. One can try to give it all the warmth one can, as one does with a plant. Noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said the language—these are not his words but a paraphrase—has been allowed to wither over the past generations. The whole idea of this Bill is to try to stop that process; to try to encourage the use of the Welsh language and keep it going. I am grateful to noble Lords for the partial welcome, in some cases, that they have given to the Bill. I shall look forward to being further educated in the next stages of the Bill.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.