Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Michie: The hon. Lady makes a good point.

I acknowledge that good progress has been made. There are some excellent Gaelic-medium units in schools, jobs have been created in the media and there is an increasing awareness of the urgent need for more teachers able to teach through the medium of Gaelic. It has been established beyond doubt that children who are bilingual by the age of five, six or seven find it much easier to learn another language. The Minister for Gaelic, who also has responsibility for education, said recently that he was disturbed about the poor standard of language learning in Scottish schools; he should endorse the fact that those who are bilingual are more likely to learn other languages. I believe that, if the Bill were amended, it would give a strong signal.

There has been an expansion, too, in the Gaelic "economy" over the past decade, including jobs in education, broadcasting, publishing, administration, the arts, tourism, as well as in the various Gaelic agencies and, of course, the national Mod, which in 1995 attracted some 2,000 entries from home and abroad.

The amendments show the need for the Bill to contain a commitment to the language. Some will ask, "Why?"--

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): Why?

Mrs. Michie: Because of its value and its worth, not just to Scotland but to the United Kingdom and Europe--indeed, the whole world; there are many Gaelic speakers in Canada, for example--and it has an historic obligation. I have paraphrased what the Minister for Gaelic said in the House.

Since the 18th century--indeed, since the Union of the Parliaments--Gaelic has suffered enormously. People in power methodically set about eradicating Gaelic culture and consciousness. In many schools and playgrounds, the mother tongue was forbidden. It has a wealth of literature, music, poetry and song. Its culture and tradition enhance and enrich the heart and soul of this nation. We would be Philistines if we allowed that to die. That is why I hope that the Minister will give a favourable response to the amendments. I look forward to his reply.

Mrs. McKenna: It is important to put on record my support for the Gaelic language. The last Gaelic language unit that the Minister opened was in my constituency, and I have long supported the provision of Gaelic for young children. At one time, there was a pre-school unit in my constituency. A neighbouring constituency still has one,

29 Jan 1998 : Column 550

and the children, on reaching school age, come to the unit within a school in my constituency, so I support the Gaelic language, and have long done so.

The point that I was making is that it will be appropriate for the Scottish Parliament to decide, as and when it feels necessary, to make provision for Gaelic, but there is absolutely no need for that at the moment. There is no need to amend the Bill.

Amendment No. 35 is not helpful, because it says "where appropriate." There is no specific guidance on what that means. It should be for Members of the Scottish Parliament to decide. The hon. Member for Perth (Ms Cunningham) said that I was saying, "Let them speak English." That is not the case. However, it is a fact, as the hon. Lady admitted, that few people speak only Gaelic. Once they get to school, there are probably no people who speak only Gaelic. I understand the point that she is making, but if Members of the Scottish Parliament, or people who come to address the Parliament, wish to speak in the Gaelic language, it should be a matter for the Scottish Parliament to decide, not this House.

Mr. Eric Clarke: I support the speaking of Gaelic. I encourage it, and if it is expensive, so be it. When I was youngster, I was annoyed that I was taught by teachers who told me--battered it into me--to speak properly--[Hon. Members: "Proper."] Not proper, properly. One of those teachers was a highlander and a Gaelic speaker. She did not accept that, as far as we were concerned, we were speaking the Doric, the local language. I was bilingual. What I said at home and what I said in the playground were totally different from what I said to the teachers, because I learn the hard way--if we did not speak properly, we were thumped. [Interruption.] She might not have made a very good job of it.

On a practical matter, will hon. Members who go to the new Parliament have to be bilingual, as they are in Ireland and Canada? If so, that will cut back on recruitment for the majority of people who I hope will get back into Scotland, or for those who are in Scotland itself. I was on the national executive of the National Union of Mineworkers, with Welsh-speaking members who thought in Welsh and had to translate into English. It is easy to say that they are bilingual, but I am thinking of someone who used to have to think it out and then translate it in his head, and, of course, there was a delay. He was not a computer--

Mr. Canavan: Was that Scargill?

Mr. Clarke: No, I would never have understood what Scargill said. I am being facetious. He is a good friend of mine. I am still friendly with him. I jumped at the bait there.

We are not talking about a dialect; Gaelic is a language. I was thinking about the late Dai Francis, who was general secretary of the Welsh miners.

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). I am sure that people who become Members of the Scottish Parliament will be sympathetic to Gaelic speakers. I certainly hope they will. I hope that she gets what she wants, but there will be practicalities and difficulties involved. It is really for the Scottish Parliament to sort it out.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 551

Mr. Grieve: I do not want it to be thought that no Conservative has said anything on this subject, because I endorse every word that has said by the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna), who spoke about the beauty of the Gaelic language. Although I understand it extremely imperfectly, I enjoy hearing it spoken when I am up in Scotland. I certainly enjoy trying to pronounce correctly the names of the mountains that I climb.

It seems to me to be a matter for the Scottish Assembly to decide--

Mrs. Ewing: Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Grieve: I apologise to the hon. Lady. That is what comes from going from the Government of Wales Bill to the Scotland Bill. It is for the Scottish Parliament to decide.

I disagree with the point that was made about the Scottish tongue. My ancestors spoke Lallands, but having listened to a number of hon. Members--in particular the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham), who is not present--I have never had too much difficulty understanding what people from Scotland have to say. I can think of no occasion when someone speaking a Scots version of English in the House has ever been told that they are out of order. Indeed, the Secretary of State slips into "Scoticisms" frequently. I find it difficult to see the need for interpreters. It would simply be the case that in the Scottish Parliament, the note would be reproduced verbatim.

Mr. Salmond: On the subject of notes, both the Secretary of State and myself, and any other hon. Member who occasionally slips in Scots words, will get notes from the Hansard reporters. The hon. Gentleman might claim to understand the words that we use, but the Hansard writers have some difficulty with them.

Mr. Grieve: I am bound to say that, very occasionally, perhaps due to an excess of legalese in English, one gets a note from the Hansard writer who is unable to understand some use, or misuse, of the English language.

Mr. Salmond: That is just the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Grieve: That may be so, but I have never considered that a serious problem. In these circumstances, I would leave that problem to the Scottish Parliament.

6.30 pm

Mr. McLeish: I must confess that I am not a Gaelic speaker. When I was a youngster, surviving in Fife and speaking English were major challenges, which I hope I tackled reasonably well.

The Scottish Office team can claim an historic first because nearly 33 per cent. of Ministers there now speak Gaelic. We shall need some simultaneous interpretation ourselves if there are further developments on that front.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 552

The proposed regional member system will give us seven new Members from the highlands and islands. Clearly, the prospect of having more Gaelic speakers in the Parliament will be enhanced by that.

We sympathise with the spirit and most of the substance of the points made by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). We already have in mind interpretation and translation facilities for occasions when a visiting foreign dignitary wishes to address the Parliament in his native tongue. That is important for the spirit of internationalism that we want to bring to the new politics in Scotland. We also recognise that some Members may wish to use Gaelic or Scots, and that translation facilities could be required in that context.

However, it would be best left to the Parliament, through the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, to decide the staffing requirements, and to decide whether we shall need permanent translators and interpreters, and to what extent they should be provided. Should the Parliament decide that, where appropriate, its proceedings could be in Gaelic and Scots, or that Members could use Gaelic and Scots, the Standing Orders could make the appropriate provision, and the SPCB could make the necessary arrangements.

The Scottish Office supports use of the Gaelic language and is trying to promote it through education and broadcasting. It is providing £2.2 million in specific grants to education authorities for Gaelic-medium education. More than 1,700 pupils in 50 primary schools in Scotland receive Gaelic-medium education. In addition, more than 200 children in secondary schools receive some Gaelic-medium education.

This is not the time to discuss that policy, but we are happy to take on board the suggestions that have been made. The consultative steering group, which I chair and which has representatives from all parties, would like an early opportunity to consider this issue. In that spirit, I should like the hon. Member for Moray to make a contribution to that steering group. Although we cannot accept the amendment, I hope that in the spirit of consensus and co-operation that is being offered, we can work together and take the matter forward. I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the amendment, in which case we shall be happy to enter into dialogue at an early stage.

Next Section

IndexHome Page