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 Lewis Jones Sir Lewis Jones , Swansea West

This is really a red letter day for Wales, and I wish to join with other hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Principality in thanking the Government not only for providing the Bill but for giving facilities for it to go through Parliament in the shortest possible time. I would say to the Home Secretary how very grateful the Welsh people are for all that he has done in this matter. I was particularly glad to hear his testimony, and that of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans), to the interest which the Lord Chancellor has shown in this Measure. I have had opportunities of discussing this problem with the Lord Chancellor on many occasions during the last few years, and I know how keen he has been to see this Measure introduced, and I am proud to think it was left to a Welsh Lord Chancellor to play his part in this connection. I should like to emphasise what the hon. Member for the University of Wales said a moment ago about the man who thinks in Welsh. I know that it can be argued that a Welshman has always had the opportunity, or could demand the right, to give evidence in Welsh in a court of law, but it has always been left to the presiding officer in the court to decide whether that Welshman had made out his case for giving his evidence in his native language. The great feature of this Bill is the provision which gives to the Welshman himself an inalienable right to choose the language in which he shall give his evidence. That is of vital importance.

I think of the case of my own father. He was a prolific reader. He read Welsh philosophy and Welsh theological books, and always had by his side a Welsh and English dictionary for translation purposes. He had a very fine English vocabulary, speaking the most perfect and grammatical English, but I think I can honestly say of my father that quite 98 per cent. of his speaking and writing was done in the Welsh language. His letters to me were in Welsh, he always talked to us in Welsh, his talks in his chapel and elsewhere were always in Welsh. If my father had gone into a court of law and had been asked questions in English by the judge my father would have been able to answer in perfect English, but I am confident that had he gone into the witness-box and been put under cross-examination he would have made a hopeless mess of things, for the simple reason that at all times he was thinking in Welsh. Therefore, when I think of men like my own father I want to thank the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor for the part they have played in making it possible now for Welsh people in Wales to give their evidence in a court of law in their own language. I think the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) mentioned this earlier, but I am told that so much enthusiasm has been created by the introduction of this Bill that it will give an impetus to the demand for the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales, and some of the Welsh Members who do not speak Welsh are already, I am told, hastening to study the Welsh language, because they rather fear that as a result of this Bill there may be a demand that Welsh Members should be bilingual.

I would utter one word of warning. I hope that my fellow countrymen will use this power that has been given to them wisely. I hope that it will not result in delays in the hearing of cases and in the administration of justice, and that Welsh people will show the British Parliament and the British people that we can make use of this new right to our considerable advantage and in the interests of justice. Somehow or other I feel that the Welsh people will be anxious to use this new power wisely in the hope of being able to get something more from Parliament later. So many Welsh Members of Parliament would like to say something about this Bill that I will not detain the House longer; I think we are setting a wise example in being as brief as possible, and I will conclude by joining with my colleagues in expressing our thanks for the facilities which have been given for passing the Bill.