HL Deb 13 April 1999 vol 599 cc629-31

3.21 p.m.

Bill read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Elis-Thomas.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for bringing forward this Bill and for the very clear way in which he introduced it at Second Reading. The noble Lord's keen interest in the provisions of the Bill was reflected in the speech he made at Second Reading, and we are most grateful to him. I also take this opportunity to thank your Lordships, in particular those noble Lords who took part in the debate at Second Reading, for their interest in the provisions of the Bill as evidenced by that debate.

As the noble Lord explained when he introduced the Bill, this measure will extend the important principles of equality and choice in the use of the Welsh language and in the range of birth or death certificates which will become available. Without in any way seeking to delay the House by going over the provisions, in summary the Bill makes it possible for births or deaths that take place in England to be registered also in the Welsh language with the co-operation of a registration officer from Wales. It does not apply to marriages. Marriages can take place at the location chosen by the participants, whereas that is not true for births and deaths. For citizens who choose to take advantage of its provisions, the Bill will provide welcome enhancement of a public service.

As I told the House at Second Reading, the Government warmly support the Bill. I understand from the tone of the debate that took place at Second Reading that the Bill also has cross-party support. We therefore wish to see the Bill passed by the House and given a speedy passage in the other place. It would be helpful if the noble Lord could assure us that he has made suitable arrangements for it to proceed in another place.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I had not intended to make a major speech because clearly it might contravene the provisions of the Representation of the People Act. As noble Lords will be aware, currently I am standing in another election and I do not want to take advantage of the platform that has been offered to me for whatever reason. However, I thank the Government, the Treasury and in particular the Office for National Statistics for their careful co-operation in the drafting of the Bill. I also thank my former colleagues on the Welsh Language Board, from which I have now happily retired, for their activities in assisting in the preparation of the Bill and in the implementation of the principle of equality and in particular the opportunity, which I did not stress at Second Reading and so I mention it today, of having the short form of death certificate. I believe that that will be warmly welcomed by many families who suffer undue pressure at the time of bereavement and later when they are reminded of it because of the form of death certificate.

As the noble Lord said, this Bill had all-party support and that was something I warmly welcomed initially. I am grateful to Members who have seen the very speedy passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House. I earnestly hope and pray, and any other verbs that I can think of, that the Bill will have an equally rapid passage through another place. I have obtained the potential support of an experienced lawyer. I refer to the Labour Member of Parliament for Clwyd West, Mr. Gareth Thomas, who I understand is prepared to introduce the Bill in another place. I hope that it will have all-party support and that some of the acrimony that we have seen recently in public debates in Wales about bilingualism will not be repeated when the Bill goes to the Commons. I shall not enter into details.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not think it is appropriate to repeat his speech in Welsh?

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, if I were to do so I would be out of order, whereas if I did it in the National Assembly in Cardiff there would be no repetition because it would be instantly translated.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend Lord Hooson, who extended the welcome of these Benches to the Bill when it was last before the House, is no longer in the Chamber. Perhaps the House will allow me to repeat on behalf of these Benches our welcome for the Bill. The right to keep one's records and to have one's families' births, marriages and deaths recorded in one's native language is a fundamental one. I believe that the Bill has the confidence not only of all parties but, I understand, of those concerned professionally in the vital work of preserving archives. We have been practically reminded in the past few weeks of how vital to a nation's identity are its collective memory and records. Anything which contributes to keeping them in a form where they may be consulted for serious research or other purposes and which helps to preserve the collective memory of a nation is to be welcomed. We congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on the work he has done in steering the Bill through the House.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, at earlier stages it fell to me on behalf of the Opposition to welcome the Bill and support it, which I did. I am grateful for the unexpected opportunity to repeat that support now, particularly as a debate is taking place on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I understand that it is unusual for such Motions to be debated, and at some stage this may prove to be a useful precedent. For that reason we are grateful to the noble Lord, the Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, for speaking to the Motion, particularly as he did so at such length and with such charm.

Lord Elton

My Lords, it may be that in the next couple of minutes the Government Front Bench can tell the House whether in the interests of parity there are to be similar provisions for Gaelic in Scotland and Erse or Gaelic in Northern Ireland as part of their devolution plans. I believe that that would fill a useful gap.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, with the leave of the House we have considered the possibility of further minority languages being treated in the same way. The noble Lord might have wished to add the Cornish language, although at the moment I am unaware of any provision whereby registration officers in the county of Cornwall have power to record births and deaths in that county in the Cornish language. I believe that this is a question of supply and demand. There may be a demand from those people in Scotland who speak what I call the Gaelic language. The noble Lord appears to believe that he has pronounced "Gaelic" correctly, but that is his privilege as a full-blooded Englishman, whereas I am only half-English.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am half Norwegian.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that does not help the noble Lord's pronunciation problem, particularly if he seeks to adopt the tonal variation which I understand is such a distinguished and beautiful feature of the Norwegian language. I congratulate him. Did the noble Lord say that he spoke Norwegian?

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, may the House take it that similar facilities will not be given to Eurospeak?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I had not finished answering the previous question. If my noble friend will have a little patience, I shall move on to that point. Certainly the Gaelic and Erse languages could be considered for similar legislation if there were to be sufficient demand. We should need to have a seminar in Eurospeak conducted by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington—he is the classic interpreter of Eurospeak—before being able to make a sensible judgement as to whether his suggestion is appropriate.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard whether the appearance of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House presages the appearance of the Queen of Sheba in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think that I, of all people, should become involved in biblical allusions of that kind. We are always pleased to see my noble friend the Leader of the House and to have her with us at this time.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.