§ 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.
544 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 Gháidhlig," 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":Speeches must be made in English, but quotation in another language has been allowed on occasion, though a translation should be provided.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
The hon. Lady started with a good argument for providing support for people who wish to 545 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 and India—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 546 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.
§ 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.
§ 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.
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 152. 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:provision for facilitating the use of the Gaelic language, where appropriate, in the proceedings and the publications of the Parliament.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.
548 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. 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?
§ 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.
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?
§ 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?"—
§ 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, 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. 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.
§ 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—
§ Mr. Grieve
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. 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.
§ 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.
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.
§ Mrs. Ewing
In the light of the Minister's comments, I am willing to ensure that substantial submissions are made to the Procedure Committee. They will be made not just by me, but by many organisations with a more extensive knowledge of the issue than I have.
It was important to raise this issue and to reassure people that the door is not being closed on the possibility of having those facilities in our new Scottish Parliament. I was interested to note that 33 per cent. of the Scottish Office team claim to speak Gaelic. In the light of the very good comments made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), there is a Gaelic saying:Not all the mischief lies with Bute; some of it is in Cumbrae hardby.
§ I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.