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Remaining Private Members' Bills


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 16 March.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 6 April.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 16 March.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [2 February], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 23 March.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 16 March.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 16 March.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 30 March.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28 February],

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Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'.--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

Hon. Members: Object.

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Foreign Language Teaching

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

2.32 pm

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): I am grateful for the chance to discuss the Nuffield report on the teaching of foreign languages in our schools. I think that it was Bismarck, who spoke many languages, including French, Italian, Russian and English, who said that speaking many tongues was something that head waiters should do. Charles V, the 16th-century emperor, said that he spoke Spanish to God, Latin to his confessor, Italian to his mistress, French to his men and German to his horse. I shall make a plea for a more modest aim: that we in Britain seek to improve our knowledge of foreign languages so that more of us can speak at least another language.

A monolingual Britain will not survive in the global economy. For the first time in our nation's existence, we have given up insisting that an effort should be made to speak other languages. England has lost an empire but still believes in the imperialism of English. That is a huge mistake because already more than half those accessing the internet are no longer doing so in English. In the United States, Spanish-speaking Hispanic citizens are poised to overtake African-Americans as the country's biggest minority group. Of course, as we know, President Bush campaigns in good Spanish.

There are more than 100 million German-speakers in Europe. As language follows money, the growing economic dominance in central and eastern Europe of Germany, Austria and Switzerland means that more and more German is spoken in that region. We know how far French reaches in Africa and Canada, and Spanish and Portuguese dominate in Latin America. In Asia, Chinese is increasingly becoming a second language.

English is the world's most popular choice for a second language, but as the rest of the world is now learning English or another second language, why are we so foolish and arrogant as to believe that we do not need to speak other tongues? It was not always thus. Throughout our history, our kings, queens and Prime Ministers have spoken and written European languages. Until recently, it would have been unthinkable for an "educated" man or woman not to have some knowledge of other languages.

That was not merely a question of elites; skilled workers would often finish an apprenticeship by working abroad, although, as we know, apprenticeships have gone. Young men would go off to become police inspectors in Hong Kong and learn fluent Cantonese. Army sergeants and corporals would give orders in different tongues to local troops in far-flung parts of the old British empire. Administrators and business people working in different parts of the world would master other languages.

It is a huge error to assume that English will suffice in 21st-century business. On every page of yesterday's "Appointments" supplement to The Times, in which executive jobs are advertised, appeared calls for "fluency in French, German or Spanish", "fluency in at least one foreign language essential" or "language skills--a plus". I cannot stand the awful term "UK plc" but our economic future as a nation will not be secured until we can speak in more than our own tongue.

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As a Kipling fan, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will recall that he wrote:

We will better understand our own nation, its needs, what it can offer and what it can do if we know other languages and cultures. Britain, despite the xenophobia of the current Leader of the Opposition, will not become a "foreign land", but we shall become less and less British and less and less able to contribute to the shaping of the modern world while we wallow in the pretence that we do not need to understand other languages.

We have a monarch and a Prime Minister who can make a speech in fluent French, but our great multinational nation is turning its back on the source of speaking a foreign language--namely, the teaching of languages in our schools. In 1992, 31,261 school students sat A-level French; last year, only 18,221 did so--a drop of more than one third. The number of A-level German students was 11,338 in 1992, but 8,692 last year. There has been a modest increase--500 or so--in the number of A-level Spanish students, but overall during the 1990s the picture was clear: we were turning our backs on learning the great languages of Europe.

Currently, nine out of 10 children stop learning languages at the age of 16, and more than 95 per cent. of all A-level students do not study a language at all. That, in turn, affects our universities and teacher training institutions. Today, there are barely 10 dozen men training as language teachers and sitting the education certificate in our teacher training colleges. In every university there is concern about the teaching of foreign languages, because students are not coming up from schools. I know that the Government want to improve language teaching in schools, but there are simply not enough teachers with the necessarily specialist training and knowledge.

Last year, the Nuffield report into the teaching of foreign languages was published; it provides a damning indictment of the indifference in Britain to the provision of adequate language teaching in our schools. Sir Trevor McDonald and Sir John Boyd and their team produced an excellent report, to which I want the Government to respond in a far more positive way than they have so far.

This year is the European year of languages. Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment--I pay tribute to Lady Blackstone--and at the Foreign Office, notably our excellent Minister for Europe, have gone out of their way to stress the new importance that the Government attach to foreign language training. I can reveal that Ministers have been told that they must learn a foreign language if they are to carry out work for the Government in Europe. Thanks to diligent homework, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary now speaks remarkably good French, and I understand that Linguaphone is ready to offer its excellent cassettes to enable Members of Parliament to learn a foreign language as we drive home to our constituencies. I believe that no official should be promoted to high office in the civil service without some experience of work overseas and proficiency in another language.

However, until we grasp the nettle of building language teaching into our core school curriculum, we shall continue to lag behind our competitors and partners. That must begin at primary school, when children are not as self-conscious as they are in secondary school. In our country, the road to successful language teaching begins--or should begin--before the age of 11.

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We have some interesting initiatives. In my constituency, the year 6 pupils--the 10 and 11-year-olds--at Coleridge primary school are taught Spanish for an hour a week by a teacher from Clifton comprehensive school, thanks to the special provisions of the mini education action zones that the Government have introduced. The head teacher, Mrs. Hall, tells me that her year 6 pupils enjoy their Spanish lessons, especially as the project is linked to a school visit to Spain later this year.

There are many other such language clubs in primary schools throughout the country. I understand from the Government that there is some language teaching in about a quarter of all primary schools, but none of it is formally built into the core curriculum. I have discussed that with head teachers, and the problem is that limited time is available for another compulsory primary school subject, given the obligation--wholly necessary, in my view--to teach the literacy and numeracy hours. However, it is my hon. Friend the Minister's task to find an answer to that problem, not to claim that it cannot be solved--we are a Labour, not a Conservative Government.

At least two primary schools in each constituency should offer a consistent, taught, foreign language. That needs to be followed up by secondary schools teaching foreign languages, and they should do so in the full sense, providing a knowledge of grammar, literature, culture and history--not simply a Berlitz guide, useful for tourist conversation. I very much hope that the move to specialist schools recently announced by the Government will facilitate such a development.

I recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment told my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)--alas, he is not in his seat today--that he hoped that Latin would return to the secondary school curriculum, and my hon. Friend recited, "Amo, amas, amat". That shows that our finest working class leaders had a grounding in Latin, to become effective socialists. So we need structure, grammar and precision, and Latin is not the worst way to prepare a 21st-century generation of young Britons for the programme of renewal that our nation needs.

Entrance to university should require some knowledge of a foreign language as a minimum requirement, as is common on mainland Europe, and business can play a leading part in that. In France, the quality of foreign language knowledge has increased enormously in the past 20 years, because the French Government mandated a training levy for all firms, and one of the best ways to spend that money was in teaching the languages in which French business earns more and more of its income.

Exhortation is not enough. A Minister from the Department for Education and Employment will reply in this debate, but action is required in other Departments to compel firms to provide adequate language training for their employees. The internet can help, but I should like the DFEE and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss with our European partners how education Ministries in France, Berlin, Rome or Madrid could provide e-mail or web tuition designed for individual students. The excellent French and German ambassadors in London, Mr. Bernard and Dr. von Ploetz, have formed a double act--a duet, speaking perfect English as they offer their countries' services to any institution in Britain that would like to improve French and German teaching.

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Learning languages is a lifelong business, but it must start in schools, and at an early age. Many school trips are to mainland Europe, but I fear that the children act as a crowd, giggling together in English. I wonder how much real knowledge of a foreign language they ingest. I should like the Minister to take on board my suggestion that the schools that apply for specialist status to teach foreign languages should be given priority over other applicants for specialist school status.

I will not act as a Solomon, declaring which languages should be taught. We have an immense wealth of languages in our country. In south Yorkshire, there are 70 or more languages among the boys and girls arriving in our schools. Many of my Kashmiri constituents and their children have a knowledge of Urdu. That is truly impressive. Can we not build on that cultural linguistic wealth? We are members of the European Union, which is soon to be enlarged to take in the great nations and languages of central and eastern Europe, but I make a plea that the dominant languages of Europe--French, German and Spanish--should be the priority.

As Goethe put it,

Shakespeare would never have been Shakespeare without his Latin and Italian. Gibbon could never have written "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" sitting in England and speaking only English. In a great speech just after the war, Winston Churchill said:

In doing so, he brought a message of Englishness that was all the more powerful because he paid his audience the compliment of delivering it in a foreign language.

If we want our country to grow again and attain the top ranks of nations--and remain there--we will have to speak more than English. I commend the recommendations of the Nuffield report to the House and I hope that the Government will be able to advance its proposals.

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