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Welsh Language

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

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To ask the Lord President of the Council what assessment he has made of the cost of using simultaneous translation facilities in the Welsh Grand Committee so as to allow for the use of Welsh in its proceedings.

None, Sir. It is a rule of the House that all proceedings should be conducted in English.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the divisiveness that the Welsh language can and does cause in the Principality. Would this not be an inexpensive investment in confirming the unity of the United Kingdom?

That is a matter for the House, not for me. However, I very much doubt whether it would he approved by the House.

Bearing in mind that this year we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into Welsh and the fact that more than one-third of hon. Members from Wales now speak Welsh, does the right hon. Gentleman not believe that this year would be the appropriate time to introduce Welsh into the proceedings of the House?

No. The proceedings of the House have been conducted in English for many hundreds of years and I believe that that policy should continue.

In view of the large number of English Members who signed the early-day motion on this subject, will my right hon. Friend arrange for them to have Welsh lessons?

Will the Lord President of the Council resist this proposition? Is he aware that the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee are broadcast? Therefore, many of our countrymen who do not speak the language would be deprived of hearing the speeches made by Welsh Members if those speeches were made in Welsh.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience. The rule regarding the use of the English language extends to the Committees of the House. I understand that on two occasions, once in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and once in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, a language other than English was used by a witness giving evidence. However, an interpreter was present and the records of the meetings were produced only in English.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the four-fifths of people in Wales who do not speak Welsh will be grateful to him for his sensible decision? Does he also accept that if he were to give way to this unreasonable request, groups speaking many other languages in the United Kingdom—and some groups may be as large as the Welsh-speaking group — would want to make a similar claim on the House?

As usual, my hon. Friend has widened the subject very well. He has made a very good point and I will take note of it.