HL Deb 29 July 1998 vol 592 cc1502-4

2.58 p.m.

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the arrangements being made for the adequate translation of documents into the Welsh language in time for the first sitting of the Welsh Assembly in 1999.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, the Government are committed to the principle that the Assembly should, in carrying out its business, treat the English and Welsh languages on the basis of equality so far as is appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable. The arrangements that are being made for both document translation and interpretation will facilitate that.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on his well-deserved elevation. As he will appreciate, I am sure that I am expressing that sentiment on behalf of all sides of the House. I wish him the best for the future. Those are the kindest words that I shall eschew about him in this Parliament.

I turn to the Answer to my Question. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that the passing of the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the taking out of party political controversy the status of the Welsh language in Wales really means that the assembly, when it starts, must not start at any disadvantage as regards bilingualism. Is the Minister really sanguine that, with all the pressures on the translating service at present, all the documents will be in place when the assembly meets next year?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it is very important that the under-privileged, the less-favoured and the unfortunate should be properly protected so those who cannot speak Welsh will obviously be entitled to full translation facilities. In fact, there is work in hand. The Welsh Office is recruiting a new head for the assembly's translation services. That postholder will have a key role in designing the structure of the new services. We believe that we are well on track to provide a proper level of service. I thank the noble Lord Diolch Yn Fawr.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the Minister go a little further and assure the House that when our national assembly comes into being in May next year, it will, as a minimum requirement, be able to conform with the provisions of the Welsh Language Act?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I believe that that will be the position. We are consulting widely, not least with the National Assembly Advisory Group on which the noble Viscount has given such service. Its reports dealing with those particular matters will be available for the Secretary of State in a matter of days. We are taking advice from the Welsh Language Board, the Association of Welsh Translators and in particular Gwynedd County Council which has a very good record in that regard.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I too add my congratulations to my noble friend who is the most distinguished of our bilingual barristers. Will he agree that the steps taken by the Welsh Office and by the Welsh Language Board, which I chair—and I therefore declare an interest—to ensure bilingualism in the assembly will bring about precisely the circumstances which the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, set out; namely, that there shall never again be conflict on language issues? Will he agree also that when we come to legislate on delegated legislation in Cardiff, it will be the first opportunity since the great days of Hywel Dda for us to do that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it will be the first opportunity since the great days of Hywel Dda, who of course had a codified system of laws long before it was thought of in other countries. Being the first in the field of bilingual barristers in your Lordships' House confines it to a very small field indeed.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord on his elevation. He will be well aware of the variety of services, including translation services, which will be required by the assembly. Does he not consider it wise to establish some sort of body to co-ordinate the provision of the variety of services required?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we shall have a new head of translation services who will make a full analysis of the size and structure of what needs to be provided. We do not need a separate body, but we need arrangements in place to give the assembly a first-rate start in May of next year. I believe that preparations are well in hand for that.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will arrangements be made to give lessons to those unfortunate people who cannot speak Welsh at the present time?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, every encouragement will be given in Wales for English speakers who are monoglots and therefore not as well favoured to learn the language which is likely to be so important in the new Wales as well as in the new assembly.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, will the proceedings be held in both languages and will there be instantaneous translations for that purpose?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the probability is, subject to the advice that we have from various bodies, that there will be simultaneous translation and any person will be able to speak in either of the two relevant languages—Welsh or English.