HL Deb 12 October 1993 vol 549 cc182-4

8 Clause 26, page 10, line 19, at end insert:

'() Where the powers conferred by this section are exercised in relation to the form of a document or a form of words, a reference in an Act or instrument to the form shall, so far as may be necessary, be construed as (or as including) a reference to the form prescribed under or by virtue of this section.'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 8. With the permission of your Lordships, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 14 and 20.

One of the Government's principal objectives in preparing the Bill has been to repeal or amend legislation which does not reflect the principle that the English and Welsh languages should be dealt with on a basis of equality. These particular Government amendments are purely technical.

It was brought to our attention that the provisions of Clause 26 might not have been sufficient to include the complex regulations which govern the words to be included in ballot forms. This is, of course, a matter on which there should be no uncertainty, and these three amendments ensure collectively that there shall be none.

The amendment to Clause 26 ensures that any legislation which refers to a form of a document or a form of words is construed so as to refer to the version prescribed under Clause 26 in the same way as it does to the original. The amendments to Clause 31 and to Schedule 2 remove any doubt concerning the powers of the Secretary of State to prescribe versions of ballot papers in Welsh by amending the relevant legislation governing the words to be used on a ballot paper. In future, Ministers will have the power to prescribe ballot papers in bilingual form

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 8.—(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, in supporting the amendments I am in a sense speaking in a translated position compared with when I made my previous comments on the Bill as a Member of your Lordships' House. I have since been translated into the chair of the hoard. It is a particular privilege for me to be able to take part in the debate in that capacity and, in welcoming these amendments, to emphasise that there may be other cases when we need to look at legislation and regulations which emerge as the board, in partnership with the relevant government departments and public authorities, seeks to develop its language schemes. Indeed, we may find ourselves having to legislate, to change regulations. make orders or prescribe various forms in this House and in another place arising out of the work of preparing schemes. I am glad to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, on that.

Clearly we are in a new situation of language legislation in the United Kingdom, where we have a statutory board which is implementing a principle of the treatment of Welsh and English on the basis of equality. As a result of that we may well see that there are other regulations in addition to these amendments, and other forms of wording in other legislation that we have not yet anticipated in this House which may have to appear before us. Without straying beyond the specific debate, I think in particular of the transport legislation which applies to learner drivers—dysgwyr. I think also of the registration of births in Welsh alone not having to be written bilingually in English as well. There are other examples which will no doubt occur to us as the board progresses its schemes and the government departments respond.

I make that point merely to say that this is not the end of language legislation. There are those who have said that we are looking for a definitive Welsh Language Act. There are no definitive Acts in this House or in any other. There is a learning process. Part of that process is to assist the Government and the public in Wales as we learn to live through the new principle of treating the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality. On that basis I am pleased to support the contents of the amendments.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for his contribution. Perhaps I may also take the opportunity of congratulating him on his translated or elevated position as chairman of the Welsh Language Board.

The noble Lord said that the language legislation was just beginning. Indeed, this is an important Bill for Wales and for the Welsh language. I am certain that the Welsh Language Board, under the careful guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas—who is so concerned with the Welsh language and to see it prosper and continue—will have a great task to perform.

The noble Lord is a well-known Welsh speaker. Indeed, we have had the advantage of hearing him speak in that tongue in this House. In that respect I could not follow him. But all those whom he has the good fortune to guide in his new capacity as chairman of the Welsh Language Board will be grateful for his enormous interest in the Welsh language and the possibilities for it in the future. I wish him well in his task. I have no doubt that it will not be easy. There will be all kinds of problems and bumpy rides as he goes along. But that is part of the fun of starting something new. I know that the House wishes the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, the best of success in his task.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, perhaps I may add to those words of congratulation and point out to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, how fortunate it is that he is in this House so that we can reach him directly if ever we disagree with anything he is doing or we have ideas to put forward to him. In that he is fortunate and perhaps so are we.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I too should like to take the opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on his appointment to the chair of the new board. I have not always been constrained to agree with everything that the noble Lord has said on the Bill. However, I am sure that we will look to him for that judicious mix of vision and wisdom which is required and that much will be achieved by the Welsh Language Board under his chairmanship.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, with the leave of the House and without taking up any more time, perhaps I may respond to those remarks. I add my thanks to the Ministers who have helped us in taking the legislation through the House. There have been a number of historic statements which Ministers have made on the Bill, not least the statement that "Welsh is an official language in Wales". Indeed, the noble Earl went so far as to suggest that English was a second official language and I congratulate him on that also.

In seriousness, we have seen in this Chamber a consensus approach from all sides, here perhaps more than in the other place, but that is their problem. We need to look in Wales to implement that consensus on language policy from now on and certainly I hope to play my part in ensuring that that happens. I am grateful to the House and the Ministers for their kindnesses.

On Question, Motion agreed to.