Orders of the Day — Welsh Courts Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 14th October 1942.

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Photo of Sir Henry Morris-Jones Sir Henry Morris-Jones , Denbigh

I can say on behalf of all members of Parliament from Wales, of all parties and no party, that we welcome the Bill, we are very grateful to the Government for introducing it, and we are very thankful to the right hon. Gentleman and the Lord Chancellor for the sympathetic interest that they have taken in the matter and for their rapidity of action. It has been asked, Why introduce a Bill of this character in time of war? We are fighting this war amongst other things for the suppression of injustices. It is well therefore to have a clean slate at our own door. Wales has had a grievance in this matter for a very long time. I am very glad that the Government have recognised that there is a real, live Welsh language in this country. It is not long since we had in the House the President of the Board of Education who gave a very enlightened view as to the position that the Welsh language holds and should hold in Wales, and will hold in the future, and we are grateful for this further recognition. After all, the language is one of immense antiquity. George Borrow, who was an authority because he spoke nine or ten languages and had a very profound knowledge of them, said that Welsh was one of the most ancient languages in the world, one of the purest, and one with a richer vocabulary than almost any language, and was even the parent of the Greek language and purer than Greek. It was spoken in this Island hundreds, it may be thousands of years before the Normans and Saxons ever came here so that after all it is a very belated recognition that we are giving to-day in this Measure. We are only giving to Wales what is given to-day to the Gaelic language in Scotland. There is no comparison whatever between the hold which Gaelic and Welsh retain in their respective countries. When I came to the House 13 years ago, when I was more impressionable than I am now, I was amused at frequent paragraphs in the London Press which in referring to an hon. member—a right hon. member-stated that he was able to speak Gaelic. Such a paragraph about a Welsh Member in Wales would be meaningless. There might have been some meaning in it if it said that he did not know the Welsh language.

Out of 36 Members of Parliament for Wales 23 speak the Welsh tongue and not as a foreign language either. It is the language with which they have been brought up and the language in which they think. Many of my hon. Friends no doubt say their prayers in the Welsh language. I am glad that reference has been made by the Home Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I am sure that he would have been here to-day if he could, with the interest he takes in Wales after his distinguished record of half a century of service to the Principality. In the course of those years he has addressed hundreds of meetings entirely in the Welsh language. Some of the Members from Wales would not be here at all if they did not speak the Welsh language, for they could not have won their seats otherwise. Is there any constituency in Scotland or Ireland about which such a thing could be said? That is proof in itself of the extent to which the Welsh language is used. Wales is taking as full a share in the war as any other part of the British Isles. It knows it is fighting in this world war for world freedom, and the rights of small nationalities.

I am glad that Section 17 in the old Act of Henry VIII has been repealed. Many people say it is moribund already from desuetude. Let us then give it a final burial. We can regard this as its funeral to-day, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary seemed to enjoy himself a good deal in burying it. I had intended to make; the quotation which the Home Secretary read, and I will not repeat it except to emphasise that Henry VIII, in the first clause to his Caput 26, used words which to-day sound melancholy reading. This Welsh Tudor King says, after referring to his desire to "achieve concord and amity amongst his Welsh people," that he apparently intended to secure it by minding and intending to reduce them to the perfect order, notice and knowledge of the laws of his realm and utterly to extirp all and singular the sinister usages and customs differing from the same.