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Clause 20

Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): I beg to move amendment No. 118, in page 9, line 33, after 'purposes', insert

', including any simultaneous interpretation and translation staff and facilities required in order to give effect to paragraph 3A, of Schedule 3'.

The Second Deputy Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 119, in schedule 3, page 57, line 31, at end add--'The Gaelic and the Scots Languages--

3A.--The standing orders shall provide that any member of the Parliament shall be entitled to use the Gaelic or the Scots language in the proceedings of the Parliament (including its committees), in official documents, and in correspondence with constituents.'.

No. 35, in page 57, line 45, at end add--'The Gaelic Language--

6. The standing orders shall include provision for facilitating the use of the Gaelic language, where appropriate, in the proceedings and the publications of the Parliament.'.

Mrs. Ewing: I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 118 and 119, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I am pleased also to note that amendment No. 35, in the name of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), is grouped with them.

It is important to start by pointing out that, throughout the many years that I have served in this place, there has been a very broad consensus, spanning both sides of the House, on the protection and enhancement of the Gaelic language and, indeed, the Scots language.

I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), is on the Treasury Bench. I hope that, in view of that consensus, we shall receive from him tonight a response that takes account of the sentiments and principles that are contained in the amendments. It is vital that our first languages are seen as very important in a new Scottish Parliament. It is appropriate that we are discussing these issues during the season of Burns suppers, which many hon. Members will be well aware of. We are all stappit to the gunnells with haggis, bashed neeps and champit tatties, washed down with a good wee nip of uisge beatha. It is appropriate that we should be using these words at this stage because they are natural words to all Scottish Members.

I remember that, when I was a student at the university of Glasgow, where I read English language and literature, I found myself in a strange lecture in which the lecturer thought that he knew all the answers. He kept throwing out words at the students to see if we could understand what he was saying. I found myself in almost an isolationist position, because when he used phrases like "sneck the yett," or being "oot o kilter," or "It is a mochy day," I knew exactly what he meant. Those words were as natural to me as breathing.

It is wrong for us ever to feel like indulging in mockery against the use of good Scots words or the Gaelic language. An element of mockery came back to me from that class, as though I were a strange person from another planet because I understood those words--as though that was inappropriate.

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Similar mockery has often greeted the Gaelic language. Many hon. Members know that my predecessor as parliamentary leader of the Scottish National party was the very much respected Donald Stewart, the then Member for the Western Isles. His much respected wife, Chrissie, who did a great deal of work in a political context, told me that, as a youngster, she was forced to wear a wooden necklace as a punishment for speaking her native Gaelic as her first language in school. That mockery, and such demeaning of a language, is unacceptable.

I do not claim to be a fluent Gaelic speaker or to be an expert on the language. I suspect that, like many others, I can say "slainte" and "slainte mhath" and manage to get through some conversations in the islands and other Gaelic-speaking areas--including Glasgow, where there are probably more Gaelic speakers than in some of the islands.

I would just say to the House, "De ma tha daoine ag iarraidh bruidhinn anns a Ghaidhlig," which means, "What if people want to speak Gaelic?"

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Lady goes further, perhaps I may read a brief extract from "Erskine May":

I trust that the hon. Lady will now give us the translation.

Mrs. Ewing: I actually gave a translation: "What if people want to speak Gaelic?" I think, Mr. Lord, that you have made my point, because, to the vast majority of people in Scotland, Gaelic is not a foreign language but their native language--their first language. Amendment No. 118 would not compel anyone to speak in Gaelic. The issue is the right of native Gaelic speakers to use their language, in a Scottish Parliament, with translation facilities available.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Will the hon. Lady reconsider her statement that the vast majority of her fellow Scots can speak and understand Gaelic? That is not my impression. The vast majority of Scots may well be sympathetic to the position of those who can speak Gaelic and wish to continue to do so, but it is not correct to say that the vast majority can use it.

Mrs. Ewing: As the hon. Gentleman probably understands, that was a slight slip of the tongue. The vast majority of native Gaelic speakers expect it to be their right to communicate in Gaelic. I have stated clearly that I am not seeking any form of compulsion. The hon. Gentleman must know that in a constituency such as his, there are many, many native Gaelic speakers who want their language to be used in the Scottish Parliament.

The amendments do not seek any form of compulsion. Let me say to all the bluffelheids who do not understand either Scots or Gaelic that I will not force bluffelheids to learn Gaelic, or Gaels to learn either the Doric or the Gaelic. All I want is a recognition of all those languages in the proceedings of the new Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Connarty rose--

Mrs. Ewing: I give way to the bluffelheid.

Mr. Connarty: The hon. Lady started with a good argument for providing support for people who wish to

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use Gaelic--I see the case for using it in reply to constituents, for example--but to argue that people should have the facility to use Gaelic in the debates of a Parliament, the majority of whose Members will be non-Gaelic speakers and will not understand Gaelic, is to demean the entire case. If Members want to stand up, speak to others and convince them in a debate, as the hon. Lady is doing now, surely they must speak in a language that everyone understands, so that the discussion can proceed. It will only mystify the process if a Member is allowed to ring himself round with a language that no one else understands.

6 pm

Mrs. Ewing: The hon. Gentleman has shown that he has not read the amendments carefully. Had he done so, he would realise that his comments are irrelevant to the discussion. Other countries use such facilities. I am asking for a policy that ensures the reasonable use of Scotland's languages, which would require only a tiny share of the operating budget of the Scottish Parliament.

Parliaments around the world, both state legislatures--for example, in Switzerland, Ireland, Canada andIndia--and federal institutions such as regional Parliaments in Galicia and Catalonia, have adopted policies permitting the use of more than one language in legislative debates. I accept the complexities of achieving that, but I argue strongly that such facilities should be available to the Members of the Scottish Parliament and to their constituents when they wish to communicate with them.

That would not necessarily require all speeches to be translated into Gaelic or Scots. We all accept that English would probably be the main language in the Scottish Parliament. The cost of making available a translation facility for native Gaelic or Scots speakers, compared with the translation costs of the European Union as it expands, would be minimal. It is not much to ask.

The amendments seek simple and inexpensive ways to respect our languages. Any Member should have the right to use Gaelic or Scots in the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament, should she or he so choose. The Scottish Parliament should follow a formal policy of actively promoting the use of Gaelic and Scots in its documents, especially, but not exclusively, in documents intended for distribution to the public.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I am a little confused. Will the hon. Lady clarify what she means by the Scots language? She has talked about the Doric and the dialect languages of Scotland. Is she referring to standard Scots, which does not yet exist, or exists only in history? What language will the simultaneous translation be in? Most people who live in Scotland do not speak a pure form of Scots. They may be able to read it, but they certainly cannot speak it.

Mrs. Ewing: The hon. Lady has opened a debate which has defied many people who have tried to write their PhD thesis on the definition of the Scots language. She and I, both representing seats in the north-east of Scotland, would recognise that there are words that are difficult to translate into English, but which have a particular

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significance for the people in our area. Lallans, the language from the borders, which was my father's language, is slightly different, but there are many nuances that are similar to the Doric. Such words encapsulate emotions and ideas, and the right to use them in a Scottish Parliament is extremely important to us. I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that.

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