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Mr. Ancram: I am listening to the hon. Lady, and I understand that she is trying to provide for simultaneous translation machinery. How is it possible to simultaneously translate a word which, as she has just said, is incapable of translation into English? Also, how would she deal with the language of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who slips effortlessly between Scottish and English during most of his speeches in the House?

Mrs. Ewing: That is a really silly comment from the right hon. Gentleman, given his Scottish roots. He must be well aware of certain words used daily in the Scottish context that do not stand easy, direct or 100 per cent. effective translation, but are meaningful to people.

One of the few pleasures of working in this place for almost 18 years is to have listened to hon. Members from other areas of the United Kingdom, who have used particular words that were important to their areas and regions. All that I am asking for is the right of our people in Scotland to use words freely, without being interrupted by the First Minister, the Premier, or the Speaker. As we have heard, we are interrupted if we try to use words in Gaelic, Doric or Lallans because it is not the automatic language of this House.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) rose--

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) rose--

Mrs. Ewing: I am sorry. I am trying to be brief, because there are important issues coming up. I have set out my argument clearly.

Constituents should have the right to correspond with their MSPs in Gaelic or Scots without unreasonable delay. Gaelic and Scots should have high visibility in the Scottish Parliament--for example, on our notepaper and all the signs. There should be a structure for the provision and permanent employment of professional Gaelic and Scots translators. Simultaneous translation equipment should be available for MSPs who wish to use Gaelic or Scots. The Scottish equivalent of Hansard, which I assume we will have, should print any Gaelic or Scots spoken in the House, with the English translation of the text.

Over many years in the House, I have worked with the cross-party Gaelic group. I have worked with many people from different parties. We have always argued for the support of our languages and cultures, irrespective of which Government were in power. Many of us spent long hours arguing the case. Together, and with support from the European Union, we have achieved a great deal for the languages.

The amendments do not ask for anything unreasonable or unworkable. Past consensus and the aspirations for future consensus, about which we hear so much, can surely fuse in the amendments.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 547

Policies to ensure that Scotland's traditional languages survive and flourish in the new millennium are essential. The opening of a new Parliament provides an historic opportunity to create an exciting role for our national languages in the life of our nation. A flexible approach that is open-minded, creative, realistic and practical is required. Sin e.

Mr. Dalyell: The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) has spoken passionately, seriously and sincerely. It being a serious amendment rather than a probing amendment, I make two points.

I was a member of the indirectly elected European Parliament and I can promise the hon. Lady that the costs of simultaneous translation are mind-boggling. Does the Minister agree with the hon. Lady that we are talking about minimal costs? Like every other Scottish Member, I have increasing constituency demands for Gaelic tuition in central Scotland which turns out to be expensive. As a result, I have discovered that there is a shortage of Gaelic teachers and, doubtless, translators.

Mr. Salmond: If the hon. Gentleman does the lottery or the football pools, he will be familiar with the concepts of permutations or combinations. In other words, if 15 languages are being translated into 15 other languages, that will require a lot of resources because it is 15 2 . If one language is being translated, the costs will be much smaller. The European Parliament, which, by definition, has to translate many languages, is not a good comparison in terms of the costs of the amendment.

Mr. Dalyell: I was the one who said that speeches should be short because there are so many other matters with which to deal, so I just ask what the Government view is of the hon. Lady's claim that her amendment will give rise to only minimal costs. I do not know the answer.

Mrs. Ray Michie: I shall speak to amendment No. 35 standing in my name and that of my hon. Friends. It is similar in content, although perhaps more cautious, than that tabled by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). I should first congratulate her on her gallant efforts in using the Gaelic language and the Scots tongue in the debate. I assume that she has carefully written out the correct spelling of what she said for the benefit of the Official Report.

My amendment would give a strong signal that the Scottish Parliament would seriously develop policies for the future of the language. It would give a lead by including in the Bill the words:

The two words "where appropriate" are important, because, at this stage, I do not know, and I do not think that the Minister knows, how many Gaelic speakers there are likely to be in the Parliament. I hope that there will be a number, but, as the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), will not be there, there may not be too many. We need to nail the lie peddled by some, to which the hon. Member for Moray referred, that Gaelic will be forced down anyone's throat, Gael or non-Gael. Hours of compulsory evening classes for adults or mandatory teaching in schools are not on the agenda.

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Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the Scottish Parliament to provide facilities for those who, for example, are called to give evidence, perhaps to a Committee, so that they can do so in their native tongue. That will not be a costly business. It may happen once every six months or so.

If the Parliament had facilities for simultaneous translation, representatives from the Gaidhealtachd or from Europe would be able to speak in their native tongue. Someone from Catalonia might prefer to speak in Catalan and would be able to do so.

I would expect a Parliament geared to the 21st century and using all the modern technologies available to be able to provide those facilities. We have heard from the Secretary of State how the Scottish Parliament will be modern, using high-tech communications, and so on.

This is an important matter because, as is said from time to time, this may be the last chance saloon for saving the language from gradually declining into oblivion. Whether we succeed only time will tell. I am sorry that the Minister for--

Mrs. Ewing: Gaelic.

Mrs. Michie: --Gaelic, the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, is not here because he gave strong indications of his support, particularly for the status of Gaelic.

I hope that Ministers will appreciate that I have not tried to complicate the Bill by including an amendment on the status of Gaelic, or the legal position of Gaelic as opposed to English, because that is a complicated matter. I hope that the Minister for Gaelic will come forward with ideas in the near future as he said.

Mr. Ancram: Given what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) said in the previous debate, if ever there was a matter that should be decided by the Scottish Parliament and not by this Committee, is it not this one?

6.15 pm

Mrs. Michie: The right hon. Gentleman is right, but we want to put this small measure in the Bill so that it shows that the Government have taken on board a concern for the future of Gaelic.

Good progress has been made in the past 10 years or so. The Minister for Gaelic paid tribute to the Conservative Government during the last 10 years because they did a lot to help the Gaelic language.

Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Does the hon. Lady have any idea how many Gaelic speakers are not fluent and skilled in the English language? Who will decide what is appropriate? Does she have a definition of when it would be appropriate to use the Gaelic language. As far as I can see, the amendment is wide and would not be helpful to the Parliament.

Mrs. Michie: Only a few now speak Gaelic, but it is not so long ago that my husband went to school as a five-year-old not speaking a word of English. However, he became a consultant physician, so it was not a deterrent to him in the end.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 549

The hon. Lady says that the amendment is not helpful, but it would be helpful to people who speak Gaelic as their main language if they were to come to the Parliament. I am not saying that the proceedings in the Chamber should be conducted in Gaelic, but if such people were to speak to a Committee, they might wish to do so in their native language, not in a foreign tongue.

Ms Roseanna Cunningham (Perth): Does the hon. Lady agree that the attitude evinced by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) of "Let them speak English" is precisely why the speaking of Gaelic has declined and has the status that it has today?

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