Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The good, detailed work done on the LCO in the National Assembly and here in Parliament by members of the Welsh Grand Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, especially its chairman, Dr Hywel Francis, has made this LCO much more readable and understandable. The process has been long, but it is now much more objective.

In summary, we owe a great debt to those who have gone before us-those of all parties in Wales and those of none. Wales is always at its best when it unites across party divides. As for my own Liberal party, just consider what Lloyd George did to disestablish the church. I think also of my more recent colleagues, Lord Geraint and my noble friend Lord Hooson, not to mention the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies-who, happily, is here today. He has done tremendous work on this. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has also taken a great interest. There are others whom we must not forget. The late Gwynfor Evans was a Plaid Cymru leader and a Welsh language campaigner who was prepared to go on hunger strike for a Welsh language television channel-a channel which has ultimately made a huge difference to people in Wales who can now access the language. I was recently talking to someone on the borders of Scotland, the secretary of a rugby club, and the only way he could see his local region play rugby was to watch S4C. Many English speakers who are fond of their national game can also access the Welsh language by this means. It has been a great uniting thing.

This instrument is passing through both Houses in a week when Wales's First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, a great supporter of the Welsh language, is retiring. I thank him, too, for all the work that he has done to promote the cause of Wales and, especially, the Welsh language.

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC100

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, like all other noble Lords, I welcome the draft order. I wholeheartedly agreed with the Minister when he said that if ever there was a devolvable responsibility-that is not how he put it, but that was the thrust of it-that should be transferred as generously as possible to Cardiff, this is it.

Indeed, I doubt whether there can be any challenge to that fundamental reality. There are 20 headings in Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act. Many of those, you might say, are almost exclusively Welsh, but in all those cases, there will be some cross-border effects, some knock-on effects that will not be totally confined to the land and nation of Wales. This is the exception. This is the 20th and this is exclusively a Welsh matter.

I want to disabuse anybody who subscribes to the idea that commitment to the Welsh language is in some way a sentimental or emotional matter. It may very well engender sentiment and emotion, but I would say that it is much more than that: it is a matter of truth and principle. The way that I would put the case would be this: I would say that every language is unique and priceless and part of the patrimony of humankind. That strange scholar, Dr Johnson, said that he was always saddened to hear of the death of any living language. When one thinks of it, every language in the world is a work of genius. Its nuances reflect the hopes, aspirations, fears, attitudes, mores and standards of those people who have spoken it and espoused it. It is as much a work of human genius as the best that has ever come from the hand of the artist, the sculptor or the architect.

It is in that light, I respectfully say, that one has to look at the responsibility of humankind in general for the Welsh language, as it has for every other language, and for the people of Britain in general, let alone the people of Wales. The generality of status is at the basis of our attitude to the language. The Welsh language is one of the oldest spoken languages in Europe. It has existed for about 1,500 years, and has a history that goes back, some say, to an origin as far back as the Himalayas. It is of Indo-European origin. It is a living language, spoken by 500,000 people. As the Minister rightly said, that is only one-fifth of the Welsh people; 80 per cent of them-2.5 million-do not speak it. In my case, it was a pure accident of birth and geography that I speak Welsh, as is indeed the case with one or two other Members of the Committee. I only hope that I would have had the courage and assiduity to learn it otherwise, but it was a fortuitous accident. It is still my main language when I am at home. It is the language in which I live practically the whole of my life when I am at home in Cardiganshire.

Nothing gives me a greater thrill than to hear people who are not Welsh-speaking, but who are members of the Welsh nation, refer to the Welsh language as "our language". That is the attitude that will gives the Welsh language a possibility of remaining a vibrant, living thing in British life. The language has enjoyed a renaissance over the past 20 to 30 years, but its life is far from safe. The pressures on it are very considerable and only our best efforts will safeguard it. So if one lays down any conditions that stultify that

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC101

possibility, one is doing the language a great disservice. There is a school of thought that says, "Well, you can make all the pious declarations you like in relation to the Welsh language. You can weep oceans of sentimental tears, but you shall not spend a penny of public money and you shall not place a single imposition on anyone. You shall not impose any burden that makes life even marginally more difficult for businessmen". Saying that effectively writes "finis" to the life of the Welsh language. I am not suggesting that such a case has been deployed in the Committee today, but it is essential to remember that if we want a priceless treasure of humankind to remain, we have to pay for it. One appreciates how difficult it is to preach a sermon like this in the strained financial circumstances that exist at the moment, but it is right to remember the central reality of the situation.

On the content of this legislative competence order, I appreciate that it is very much the product of a compromise, but so many things in politics and in life are. For myself, I would probably have wished for a somewhat more adventurous approach than this, but we have to achieve the fine balance referred to by the Minister and the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Roberts. It is very much a matter of balance. However, if on the one hand there is stodgy, unimaginative passivity, you will achieve nothing. You might as well say right now that we will let the Welsh language go. On the other hand, an overly aggressive and adventurous approach may create a wholly counter-productive situation.

No Act of Parliament or piece of delegated legislation can of itself save a language. All that statutory provision can do is create the conditions that make it possible for a language to thrive better than it would have done had one not resorted to the provision. It is on that basis that this matter takes the situation forward a little from the 1993 Act, which I regard as a very important milestone in the journey of the Welsh language through life. I appreciate that it gives quite substantial powers to the Assembly, which I am sure it will use sparingly and reasonably, bearing in mind all the time that goodwill will be the oxygen of life for Welsh in the years to come.

The one matter I would contend with is this. Nothing that we are doing today creates any legislation at all. If this order passes through the House of Lords without challenge, as I hope it will, all we will have done is peg out an area. It is for the Welsh Assembly to build a legislative edifice upon it. If the Assembly has no plans to start on that edifice soon, then this exercise will have been useless. However, I am sure that that is not the case and that the Assembly has plans that one trusts will be brought to fruition in the near future.

7.15 pm

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, I support this important draft order which has been requested by the Welsh Assembly, the highest political authority in Wales. However, I have one or two caveats-to which I will come-but I begin by paying tribute to the signal contribution of the teachers in the Welsh-medium schools, in particular, and the voluntary teachers in

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC102

the nursery schools. Their contribution has been invaluable. The status of the language has been strengthened immensely since the passing of the Welsh Courts Act 1942 and, subsequently, the Welsh Language Act 1967, which was presented by the late Lord Cledwyn. Then, of course, came the important Welsh Language Act 1993, which was the creation of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy.

When I look at the Welsh language scene in the round, three things stand out. First, more and more Welsh speakers in Wales are now demanding the right to live a full life through the medium of Welsh. This is fairly new. Indeed, I can recall how I avoided using the term "right" for many years because I thought it would be difficult to attain a consensus on that basis. However, I have come round to the view that there is a growing consensus in Wales that we ought to be constructing a framework of rights. Secondly, the Welsh language domains in north Wales and west Wales, which have been one of the most valuable assets of the Welsh language, but not the only one, are shrinking rapidly, with adverse consequences which we may not be able to assess fully. Thirdly, while the Welsh-medium schools-in south-east Wales in particular- are over-subscribed, with huge support from parents who are non-speakers but wish their children to have access to their linguistic heritage, it is an immensely difficult task to ensure that Welsh is a living language beyond the school yard. It is a daunting task which confronts us.

I am deeply appreciative of the time and resources given by the members of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee to the examination of the draft order. However, I must confess that I am confronted by a dilemma. I wonder whether the order has been over-scrutinised. On the other hand, I am bound to accept that its drafting has been improved as a result. In that difficulty, I content myself by saying that there is a special art to translating the language of politics into the language of Government and legislation, and it cannot be acquired overnight. The Welsh Assembly Government may wish to look at some of the difficulties-perhaps in their departments, perhaps in their legislative procedures-and if there are such difficulties, consider how to improve them.

I turn briefly to my two main caveats about the order. I regret-this will come as no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy-that the phrase "official status" is not included in the document. I am aware that it has been claimed since the passing of the 1993 Act that the principle of equality of the two languages embodied in that Act confers the status of official language on the Welsh language. If that is the case, why not enact the principle in a declaratory statement? I am pretty confident that this issue will not go away, but I am concerned that more of our young people may sacrifice their careers in order to achieve that objective.

My second caveat arises out of the appearance of the word "freedom" rather than "rights" in Matter 20.2. "Freedom" is a novel word in Welsh language legislation. It is not defined in the interpretation clause. Moreover, I understand from our human rights lawyer that the word is threadbare of meaning in the context

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC103

of this legislation. Interestingly, what the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Heritage said in evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee on 27 April suggested very strongly to me that he was not particularly enthusiastic about the terminology-references may be found in Questions 294 and 332 of the oral evidence. What is required is a carefully drawn framework of rights for the users of the Welsh language, rather than the vague concept of,

Notwithstanding the caveats that I and others have, this is an important order, which will facilitate the continued regeneration of the language upon the path which began in 1942.

Lord Jones: My Lords, in 1974 the special adviser to the Secretary of State for Wales, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, was the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. It might be said that his service to the Welsh language has been a life's work. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, rehearsed the difficulties, pitfalls and costs of the order. I acknowledge the distinguished role in the governance of Wales of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. He was right to emphasise the great consequences of Bishop Morgan's Bible. Certainly in the 16th and 17th centuries there were no referendums and no prolonged consultations. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said that the Welsh Not was a terrible thing, and he has an insight into our social and cultural history when he says that. I thank the Minister for his masterly opening. He trod carefully and had his brief at his side.

Here is history in the formal and simple words of the order: "Constitutional Law", "Devolution", "Wales" and "2009". Those words are in the context of the speeches that have been made before my own humble words. With regard to context, as a humble Minister in the Wilson and Callaghan Administrations from 1974 to 1979, I had responsibility for the Welsh language in what was the original Welsh Office formed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. When it was established in 1964, the Welsh Office was led by the first Secretary of State, the bilingual James Griffiths, who in the Attlee Government initiated the National Insurance Act. My reaction is to say that from little acorns do great oaks grow.

For a Minister 35 years ago, it was a difficult brief. The Government of the day, with no or very little majority, were harassed politically by Welsh nationalists and others, and the language and road signs were often in the front line of political skirmish and battle. Astonishingly, today in the 21st century the Welsh Assembly Government are a coalition of Labour and nationalists. I think that they are because today there is to be a new leader of the Welsh Assembly Government and, one anticipates, a new Government, perhaps with different personnel.

My summary is that one can only wish the order well and acknowledge that it is historic-the story of the language of our nation in modern times. Perhaps the Minister will write to me with a considered reply if he cannot give detailed responses today to my brief questions.

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC104

7.30 pm

First, what was in the Wales-wide consultations? What was the stance of the Wales CBI? Is there, according to the CBI, a consequence for the small and medium enterprises where the order is concerned? It looks to be positive in paragraph 7.15 of the Explanatory Memorandum. Secondly, as a consequence, will there be a further impact on our universities? I should declare my interest as a university chancellor.

Paragraph 7.1 is more than interesting. It states:

"The Welsh language is one of the defining characteristics of the UK's cultural heritage and an essential component of the everyday lives of",

580,000 Welsh speakers in Wales. That is very bold and very truthful. Paragraph 7.2 is equally interesting. It refers to ensuring,

Surely, it must be that. These are powerful statements. On reading paragraph 7.10, I conclude that in later years more legislation will be required. I wish to be brief, but I say again that I wish the order well.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, although there is a somewhat obvious diversity of contribution between the eloquence we would expect from those whose natural language is Welsh but who were speaking in English and some more prosaic questions to which I have to address myself. I pay tribute to not just the emotion but the love of language, and of the Welsh language, that has been expressed in this Committee. We all appreciate those who have spoken with such passion. Of course, my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies has done so much with regard to the language since he has been at Westminster. We very much appreciate that he is able to make his contribution today.

I shall address myself in a moment to the caveats, but, first, I pay tribute to the work that has been done and to others. In that context, the progenitor of the 1993 Act is here. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has seen the development of the legislation which he introduced and then piloted through, and we pay tribute to that.

As to the prosaic questions, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, will never let me get away with just rhetoric, so I shall address myself to his question. Let me emphasise that I do not think that costly bureaucracy will be set up by the Assembly of Wales, to which we devolved this issue. As was rightly said by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, this is an enabling measure. It is for the Assembly to decide what must be developed in law. I assure the Committee that it is for the Assembly to address itself to any attendant costs of the legislation that it puts forward, but I do not anticipate huge costs. It is already making plans and, if this measure goes through, knows what it wants to do. It knows that it wants the establishment of a commissioner and an enforcement regime to accompany any imposition of duties, but these do not need to be costly. There has to be some enforcement regime, not because we think that the development of the language will depend on

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC105

legal enforcement, but because there is no point at all in passing a law that regulates if one cannot enforce its prescriptions. There is an element of cost, but that is a matter for the Assembly to decide.

The other matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, expressed anxiety was the CBI. The CBI has expressed its enthusiasm and commitment to this measure. It clearly identified the obvious issues that the Assembly should not inhibit business, particularly in these circumstances where we want to encourage business in Wales. That would be the judgment of the Welsh Assembly with regard to the issue. Who better to make those judgments? All that I can testify to the Committee today is that the Welsh CBI has looked at the matter and welcomed it, knowing that the Assembly will ensure that the measure will not inhibit the development of business.

As to whether £400,000 was a figure pulled out of the hat, it is a figure that indicates that the organisations have to be in receipt of a significant amount of public money to come within the scope of the order. Otherwise, the great danger would be that we would be making regulations for organisations of the most modest kind. No, this is an issue for large and significant organisations. Public bodies come within its scope and bodies that receive £400,000 per annum. In a sense, any figure is drawn out of a hat, which I think is the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It is bound to be, but it is the question of judgment about the size of the organisation that needs to be considered. That is the basis of that figure.

Post offices are already subject to the Welsh language scheme under the 1993 Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, would remind us. If anybody considered the imposition of duties on them unreasonable or disproportionate they could certainly challenge that, including individual post offices or entire organisations. The whole Post Office could do the challenging. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, can rest assured on the particular point that he identified about those who take up their retirement serving in Welsh post offices. I thought that our greatest concern was the persistence and survival of Welsh post offices, rather than who ran them. However, he can accept reassurance on that.

On a general point, the Assembly must exercise its judgment on the impact of its legislation on private companies. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the Bank of England, which brought me up with a jolt as I had not briefed myself intensively on its role in this context. The Bank of England, like the Post Office, is subject to the Welsh language scheme under the 1993 Act. That is why we have to include it within the framework. I should have thought that the noble Lord would regard that as a source of rejoicing-that such an august institution has its role to play with regard to the Welsh language.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, in accurate terms-and who could be more accurate?-described the significance of the 1993 Act and developments subsequent to that. There is no doubt that this is an important order carrying on the work that the 1993 Act identified.

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC106

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, indicated just how fragile language can be through his own family history. We all know that if language is not passed down from one generation to the next, by definition it atrophies and dies. It might have been the case that at one stage, in very substantive parts of Wales, there was a great danger that the Welsh language was declining into insignificance. Perhaps his family history reflects that decline and the resurgence that is a reflection of the developments over the past three decades. We should rejoice in the changes since then to which noble Lords have subsequently paid such testimony. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for putting this order into context and for emphasising even more than I could the fact that it is for the Assembly to produce the necessary legislation if this enabling order goes through.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, made a most eloquent speech about the necessity of ensuring that the language flourishes and develops, given its extraordinarily long history. I am not prepared to accept that the concept of "official" matters a great deal. English is not an official language; there is not a law in England that defines English as official. But if Welsh is equal with English, we have achieved the status that surely guarantees Welsh always to be a very significant part of all public utterances and all bodies in Wales subject to the law. The noble Lord also raised the issue of a right rather than a freedom. It may be a little late in the day for me to get too involved in such philosophical and constitutional matters. The term freedom makes it clear that a person would be free to speak the language and should be able to do so without interference other than in particular circumstances or specific limitations. A right, however, would enable an individual to call on the state or any other specified body to do something to support his or her right to speak Welsh. When we are talking about a language, surely guaranteeing the freedom is the issue that we are seeking to achieve rather than seeing rights insisted on. After all, that would introduce an element of legalism into the issue, which may not be necessary with regard to the language.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, asked about the CBI. I hope that I have answered him on that. He asked whether I would write to him; well, I am not going to write to him-I am going to give him the answers now. I have already answered him on the CBI. He asked about education and the universities. Education is clearly in the scope of this legislation; the impact on the universities depends on the legislative Assembly and on the universities. After all, they enjoy considerable freedom in Wales as they do in England. It will be for those institutions to reach decisions, but if the Welsh Assembly does not have the interests of Welsh universities as a high priority, the Assembly would surely be neglectful of education in Wales beyond any conceivable measure.

This has been an inspiring debate, as I thought it would be, about an order which is not a modest order but has a wonderful logic to it, derivative from the 1993 position, the Act and the work that has gone on

9 Dec 2009 : Column GC107

ever since. Therefore, I am pleased to have been able to participate in such an inspiring debate and commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Health Professions (Hearing Aid Dispensers) Order 2009

Health Professions (Hearing Aid Dispensers) Order 2009
24 Report Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Considered in Grand Committee

7.45 pm

Moved By Baroness Thornton

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the order being debated today makes provision for the transfer of the register of hearing aid dispensers from the Hearing Aid Council to the Health Professions Council and makes provision connected with the abolition of the Hearing Aid Council after it has completed its affairs. The primary benefit of this legislation is to enhance public safety and we believe that it will bring real benefits to hearing-impaired people.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page