§ 3 p.m.
§ Viscount St. Davids asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether English is the only official language in use in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, there is no concept of an official language enshrined in English or Scottish law. However, the Government accept the principle that for official purposes in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that many members of the Civil Service appear to be ignorant of the existence of the Welsh Language Act and are too often quoted in the national press as stating or implying that English is the only language used in the UK that has a status recognised by statute?
My Lords, my noble friend was kind enough to send me one such press cutting. I can understand why it has got his goat—or perhaps I should say wedi cael ei afr. Such statements are wrong in fact and wrong in principle. If they have been made, we regret it.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a widespread belief in Wales that Welsh is the language of Heaven—in which case he should give further consideration to the extent to which it is official?
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, when the Royal Assent is given in this House in the more formal way, is it not traditional for the words La Reine le veult to be used?
My Lords, English is a very catholic language and is influenced by many things. I am not aware of any current use of Welsh, but in view of what my noble and learned friend has said, perhaps that should be encouraged.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, since I have the responsibility for promoting the Welsh language on earth, in view of the Government's excellent record in the UK in this field, is it now their intention to become a signatory to the European Charter promoted by the Council of Europe for regional or minority languages?
My Lords, the question of whether we should become a signatory to the European Charter is still under consideration, but nothing in that charter would require us to do more than we have already done for the Welsh language. We are proud of our record over the past 16 years in the support and promotion of Welsh in Wales.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, are we not overlooking yet another language in the UK, much used in official documents and known as gobbledegook? Should not that language be suppressed as much and as firmly as possible since it is usually unintelligible to any linguist?
My Lords, certainly, and my noble friend will be interested to know that today a document called Plain English and How to Speak It arrived on my desk in the Department for Education. I hope that we shall endeavour to do that in future even if we have not done so entirely in the past.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, in those circumstances, does the Minister agree that it is high time that Her Majesty's Government took the lead towards the abolition of Eurospeak?
My Lords, I have had to wait a long time—I think it is about 10 months—for the noble Lord to be able to ask me a supplementary question about Europe. I am glad that he has done so, and I agree with him.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, if we may return, even briefly, to the general ambience of the Question on the Order Paper, and since the question of the Welsh language has been raised, will the Minister tell the House which public utilities and private companies in Wales have prepared and had accepted schemes for the use of the Welsh language in the services that they provide? Will he tell us when precisely the Government hope to lay before both Houses of Parliament the guidelines prepared by that excellent body Bwrdd Yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Board) as required by the Welsh Language Act 1993?
My Lords, I never can answer the questions asked by the noble Lord, and so I am not surprised to be unable to answer this one. I shall write to him with the answers for which he asks.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Treasury is reported in the press as having consulted the provisions of the Welsh Language Act in formulating the criteria for open-ended investment funds? Will my noble friend please ensure that all government departments follow that excellent example?
My Lords, sometimes reluctantly, but inevitably, all departments pay a great deal of attention to what the Treasury says.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, as we have just a minute on the clock, may I ask the Minister an easy question to which I have no doubt he will know the answer off the top of his head or out of his brief? Will he tell us whether Welsh-speaking prisoners in English prisons are or are not allowed to have Welsh language books, periodicals and videos?
My Lords, there is no prohibition on them having such things. Whether they are provided for Welsh speakers or speakers of any other language on this planet depends on the conditions in the prison and the prison authorities, but it is in principle our policy that such material should be provided within reason.