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Road Traffic Signs

Volume 981: debated on Monday 17 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether, in the interests of road safety, he will ensure that no more bilingual traffic signs are erected.

No, Sir. The policy of successive Governments has been for bilingual traffic signs to be erected in Wales, and I intend fully to uphold it.

As an Englishman, Mr. Speaker, I ask this question with a great deal of humility and trepidation, but I have a Welsh wife and five half-Welsh children, and a Welsh rugby international father-in-law, and consequently, great admiration for the Welsh culture and language. I feel just sufficiently emboldened to ask the Minister whether he will agree with me that traffic signs are basically there to give direction to people from far-away places, and whether he considers that the signs, for example, on the M4 outside Newport, those great cinemascope screens, in an area of Wales where a relatively small proportion of the population actually speak Welsh, achieve the purposes for which they are erected or whether in fact they lead to a certain amount of confusion and danger?

The signs on our roads in Wales are there for the benefit of visitors and of Welsh motorists as well, from whom I have had no complaints at all. There is no evidence to suggest that bilingual signs are a source of danger to road users. I remind the House that they have been in use perfectly successfully for many years.

Does not the Minister agree, and will he not remind his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), that, after many years of some dissension and disagreement, the Welsh people have at last accepted bilingual road signs and that we take it very much amiss that an outsider should be stirring things up in Wales?

I do not regard a motorist from England or my hon. Friend in any way as an outsider. Indeed, he and others are more than welcome to the Principality. It is not true to say that Welsh motorists and the Welsh people have completely accepted bilingual signs, but I think that we are getting used to them and using them effectively.

When does the Welsh Office intend to respond to the representations from Gwynedd county council—and the same argument applies to Dyfed—as to the order of signs, and whether it is not confusing to have the county council signs with the Welsh version first, and the Welsh Office signs with the English version first in Gwynedd and Dyfed?

The hon. Member knows that the matter of the precedence of Welsh on road signs, which has been proposed by Gwynedd, is a matter to which I have given consideration. I hope to make a report on the matter in the not-too-distant future.

Might it not help my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) if he could spend a holiday near Brieg, in central Switzerland, where within 30 miles one encounters signs in at least three languages?

I should be very happy for my hon. Friend to spend his holiday in Gwynedd and support our own tourist industry.