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The following Member took and subscribed the oath :

Mrs. Helen Liddell, for Monklands, East.

Point of order

3.31 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : On a point of order Madam Speaker. With great respect, what precedent is there for a Chairman of Ways and Means to veto a Bill that would have enormous implications for jobs and economic development in my constituency of Ealing, North and in constituencies throughout London and beyond ? I refer, of course, to the Crossrail Bill.

Madam Speaker : I fully support the course of action taken today by the Chairman of Ways and Means. The future progress of the Crossrail Bill is for the Government to determine.

Statutory Instruments, &c.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.),

Insurance Premium Tax


That the Insurance Premium Tax (Taxable Insurance Contracts) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.



That the draft Stonebridge Housing Action Trust (Area and Constitution) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Question agreed to.

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French Words (Prohibition)

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I draw your attention to pages 528-29 of "Erskine May" ? The first heading on page 528 is "Proceedings on Royal Assent". Within that section there are the following words : "The Clerk of the Parliaments subsequently endorses the Acts with the customary Norman French formulae".

On page 529 there appear the formulae for the Royal Assent for public and private Acts :

" La Reyne le veult', and for personal Acts Soit fait comme il est desire'."

As the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) introduces his Bill, it could undermine the Royal Prerogative in terms of Royal Assents to Acts and could interfere with the ability of the Clerk of the Parliaments to provide the Royal Assent to both Houses of Parliament. It seems to me that the proposed Bill might infringe the rights of the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Royal Prerogative.

Madam Speaker : As the right hon. Gentleman has just made clear to the House, court French of the 14th century is entirely permissible in the instances that the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated. We shall now have to see whether the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who is proposing the Bill, is going to interfere with that Norman French of the 14th century. I must hear what the hon. Member for South Hams has to say before I rule on the point or order. 3.35 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of French words in written and spoken English ; and for connected purposes.

I seek the leave of the House to introduce a Bill to outlaw the use of everyday French words in the English language, whether spoken or written, which, if infringed, would be punishable by a fine. I am doing this principally to make a point, not to be taken too seriously, to highlight the bizarre situation which has resulted in the French language prohibition Bill or le loi relatif a l'emploi de la langue Francaise tabled by Jacques Toubon, the Gaullist Culture Minister, which passed all its stages in the French National Assembly and the Senate last Friday.

That Bill banned the use of English words or expressions such as software, hamburger, football and tee-shirt on advertising boards, in the media, on television or radio, in work contracts and instruction leaflets ; and, even where English is the chosen language at international congresses held in France, all French contributions must be delivered in French. If someone were to flout the law and sneak in an English word or two, that person could be sent to the Bastille for six months or fined £5,000. Mr. Toubon's Bill tears up completely the entente cordiale which was signed by Edward VII on 8 April 1904 at the end of 100 years of hostilities between the French and the English.

Mr. Toubon's measure also makes a mockery of the French commitment to a federal Europe. Every country in the European Community is proud of its status as a nation state, but the French have tipped the scales towards chauvinism. They want harmonisation, but on their terms. When Jacques Delors preaches a united states of Europe, he no doubt wants the capital in Strasbourg, the currency in francs and a single spoken language--French.

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Some may conclude that the French language Bill is ridiculous but for the fact that Mr. Toubon insists that the Bill will be enforced rigorously. However, without employing battalions of language police, it will not be possible to prevent Frenchmen from using certain English words or expressions when they feel inspired to do so. To think otherwise is to live in cloud cuckoo land. My hunch is that the Bill will probably go the way of so many other French Bills--locked away in an anti-tilting filing cabinet marked "No further action". I stress that my Bill is solely retaliatory--a cause ce le bre. My aim is to introduce an equivalent measure as a tit-for-tat response. I am no enfant terrible and I am wholly in favour of the French--their food, their drink and their beautiful countryside. While some will see Toubon's Bill as a big joke, others see it as a discriminatory measure which is offensive.

What is the raison d'e tre, Madam Speaker--if you will excuse the phrase-- for Mr. Toubon introducing his Bill ? Perhaps the French fear an invasion of English words shooting through the channel tunnel and so infecting their language with impurities. However, is not the French Government's idea of a pure language a stone's throw from a policy of ethnic cleansing and purity of race ?

Outlawing the use of English words is especially rich coming as it does exactly four weeks after D-day celebrations and commemorations where we stood shoulder to shoulder with the French remembering past events. However, the entire French Cabinet has endorsed a Bill outlawing the language of the very people who liberated them 50 years ago and who are close market partners. It is a clear case of discrimination, not of race, age or sex but of language.

Languages are strengthened, not weakened, by the introduction of words from other countries. Purity of language is a contradiction in terms. English is a me lange, if I may so, of Saxon, Norse, Icelandic, Dutch, German and French. There is also Urdu--take a dekko is Urdu--and Arabic, including words such as raffia. To stand up for English is to defend the constantly evolving and expanding entity which cannot be restricted or controlled. English could produce Shakespeare and Joyce only because of its inclusion of foreign words. Without French words--and some 1,400 of them are in regular use--the English language would have holes as large of those found in a gruye re cheese.

Madam Speaker : Order. It is not clear to me whether the hon. Gentleman is speaking in favour of his Bill or against it.

Mr. Steen : Madam Speaker, if you give me a couple more minutes, you will see which way I am turning.

The fantasy of the French to believe that their language can ever be pure flies in the face of the fundamental promise and premise of what language is all about. It is about having sufficient words to describe life. As life gets more complex, we need more new words and phrases, not fewer.

How would my Bill work ? It would work by utilising a much under-utilised national resource--by giving traffic wardens additional duties. Last night, 1,000 extra wardens were announced for London, undoubtedly in anticipation of this Bill getting through the House. In addition to using their eyes and gazing at parking meters, they would be invited to keep their ears open in public places for any

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French word that might escape the lips of a passer-by. The law would empower them to issue an on-the-spot language fine of £10 for every French word used. The service would be self- financing, with £1 of every £10 collected going towards the wages of the warden, and the balance of £9 going towards paying the deficit in our balance of payments with France.

We should forget words like baguette or croissant--they are out. We would not be able to visit a cafe or brasserie. There would be no ape ritifs or hors d'oeuvres--in fact, there would be no restaurants. We should forget the table d'ho te ; there is no question of the a la carte instead. There would be no left or right-hand side of the menu and no nouvelle cuisine. Bon viveurs would be banned. One would not be able to shower one's fiance e with bouquets, meet at a secret rendezvous, or buy her haute couture clothes. There would be great difficulties in having a me nage-a -trois. Crime passionnel would be out of the question and neglige e would make a liaison dangereuse a little risque e.

If one is a gambling man, one would no longer hear the familiar words faites vos jeux or rien ne va plus when playing the tables. There would be no question of feeling de ja vu and there is no way that one could live in a pied-a -terre. If by chance one drives in a cul-de-sac, that would be a bit of a faux pas. In short, everyone in the country would have to mind their language and pardon their French because Mr. Toubon's Bill is a fait accompli. However, he does not realise that, if he ever came to Britain, he would be refused entry unless he changed his name to Mr. Allgood.

Our parliamentary processes would also grind to a halt. There would be no messages from the Commons to the Lords, but I think that that can be taken care of by the 14th century French. Royalty would also resent the fact that their coat of arms would be laid bare with the removal of the words "honi soit qui mal y pense". In fact, Parliament would exist no more because it is a French word. But what a relief--no more 10-minute Bills.

At one fell swoop, the French, by their actions, will bring our nation's communications to its knees without a bone being broken. While Englishmen have free access to travel and frontiers have come down, their words must stay at home. Perhaps the French will argue that their Bill banning English words is dealt with under subsidiarity. But just as the Maginot line of fortification which was intended to stop the German invasion failed, so too will the French Words (Prohibition) Bill. It will not stop the invasion of English words into French, and that is how the French see it--an invasion. The purpose of seeking leave to bring in the Bill is to introduce legislation which I hope will not cause a furore but which will highlight the absurdity and unenforceability of French law. I am raising the matter now to prevent a hairline crack in Anglo-Franco relations from growing into a chasm.

For those who say that this is all a waste of time, I remind them that the House sat for 1,978 hours and 14 minutes in 1987-88 and for 1,373 hours and 53 minutes in 1991. So 10 minutes is but a drop in the ocean in the affairs of state. Furthermore, the French clearly do not think that their Bill is frivolous. [Interruption.]

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : Guillotine him.

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Mr. Steen : Otherwise, they would not have passed it through Parliament. I personally believe that discrimination against the country's language has serious implications, if for no other reason because it deprives the individual of his freedom of speech

Madam Speaker : Order. The guillotine has fallen.

3.45 pm

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) : Given the e lan, the e clat, the insouciance and savoir faire with which my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has presented his Bill, it may seem churlish to oppose it, but I believe that, both for the sake of Franco-British relations and for the sake of the English language, a brief word of protest is called for.

English is the richest language in the world, but it is rich precisely because it is not pure. It is a mongrel tongue. Emerson called it

"the sea which receives tributaries from every region under heaven."

My hon. Friend has pointed out the many countries which have contributed to the English language, including, of course, France. The French have given our language more than a certain je ne sais quoi. They have enriched our vocabulary for centuries and will do so for many more.

For centuries, too, the French have been attempting to preserve the purity of their language, with the net result that their vocabulary is much smaller than ours. Shakespeare had a vocabulary of 30,000 different words in all his plays. James Joyce in just one work, "Ulysses", used a vocabulary of 30,000 words--several of which, Madam Speaker, I hope you have not come across. However, Molie re, in his entire work, used a vocabulary of only some 9,000 words.

I understand the desire of the French to preserve the integrity of their language, but I fear that, in an age in which, happily for this country, English is the lingua franca of the global village, they face an uphill struggle. So in the bistro, the restaurant and the cafe --which my hon. Friend would obviously like us to call eateries in future--it will still be easier for a Frenchman to ask for "un sandwich", even if the Assemble e Nationale would prefer him to ask for "deux morceaux de pain avec quelque chose au milieu". I reckon that, when it comes to the linguistic exchange rate mechanism, one cannot buck the market.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the exemplification of sang froid--in this case, it certainly is the mot juste--and his opposite number Mr. Alain Juppe have just produced a joint publication to mark the 90th anniversary of that special relationship for which there is no fitting English phrase. That is why we call it the entente cordiale.

Exactly half a century ago, the then Prime Minister reminded the House that all his life he had been grateful for the contribution that France had made to the glory and culture of Europe, above all for the sense of personal liberty that has radiated from the soul of France. In the name of personal liberty, in the spirit of rapprochement, and on the day that the Tour de France comes to Tunbridge Wells, I must oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No.19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business) :

The House proceeded to a Division --

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Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman gets the hat, I will take his point of order ; otherwise, I cannot hear it.

Mr. Marlow (seated and covered) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a relatively simple matter for you to rule on. As the treaty of Rome, as amended, includes the words "acquis communautaire", may I ask whether, before we vote on the Bill, I am right in assuming that, if my hon. Friend's Bill were to be successful, the treaty of Rome would then cease to have effect ?

Madam Speaker : I think that the hon. Gentleman is indulging in a lot of wishful thinking.

The House having divided : Ayes 45, Noes 149.

280] [3.49 pm


Allason, Rupert (Torbay)

Ashby, David

Banks, Matthew (Southport)

Beggs, Roy

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Body, Sir Richard

Booth, Hartley

Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes

Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Congdon, David

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Dickens, Geoffrey

Dover, Den

Duncan-Smith, Iain

Durant, Sir Anthony

Gallie, Phil

Gillan, Cheryl

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Harris, David

Hawksley, Warren

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)

Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine

Lawrence, Sir Ivan

Marlow, Tony

Molyneaux, Rt Hon James

Montgomery, Sir Fergus

Neubert, Sir Michael

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Porter, David (Waveney)

Ross, William (E Londonderry)

Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)

Shaw, David (Dover)

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Steinberg, Gerry

Sweeney, Walter

Sykes, John

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)

Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)

Trimble, David

Walker, Bill (N Tayside)

Whittingdale, John

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. Anthony Steen and

Mr. Michael Fabricant.


Alexander, Richard

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Battle, John

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Chisholm, Malcolm

Church, Judith

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry

Corbett, Robin

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Dalyell, Tam

Davidson, Ian

Dixon, Don

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Dykes, Hugh

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Enright, Derek

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Don (Bath)

Gapes, Mike

Gerrard, Neil

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Graham, Thomas

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Hendron, Dr Joe

Heppell, John

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