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 Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

I congratulate and thank the Home Secretary and, through him, the Government, for bringing forward this Bill. This year will be a memorable one in the history of Wales, just as 1536 was also a memorable one in another sense. It would be almost ungracious of me if I were to express the wish that this Bill might have been introduced, not by the Home Secretary, but by a Secretary of State for Wales, a Bill in respect of which has been presented by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) and myself, but which, unfortunately, met the same fate as the other effort we made to get the present Bill passed before to-day. I suggest the, possibility also of this Bill having been introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister. The Preamble to the Statute of Wales took away from Wales the right to have its records kept in the Welsh language, but in that very Act Wales was described as a dominion. It might therefore have been possible for the Deputy Prime Minister to take advantage of his position and to introduce the Bill. However, we are grateful to the Government and in particular to the Home Secretary, who has been most understanding and sympathetic, I would pay a tribute also to the Lord Chancellor. So far as I am aware, he is the first Lord Chancellor since the days of Charles II to have a Welsh-speaking father. It may be that that is the reason why, for the first time, the occupant of the Woolsack has been sympathetic towards us.

I would refer to another matter. It has taken us from 1536 to 1942 to get this stigma removed from the Statute Book. I would remind those who are unfortunately monoglot that it took them almost as long to remove a similar stigma. It took longer to remove the requirement that the records should not be kept in English. It may not be known to the House that the records of the English courts had to be kept in Latin until 1731, when a Statute was passed through this House and the other place in the reign of George II. What is more, for some hundreds of years after 1066 the language of the courts, the pleadings and the evidence were all in French, and they so remained until 1362. When people think that some special privilege is being granted to us Welsh people they should remember that they themselves had to pass through a struggle somewhat similar to ours.

I do not want to go deeply into history. I want to emphasise, however, that the purpose of a court is to administer justice and that justice can be administered only after the proper ascertainment of the facts. In order to ascertain those facts, verbal evidence is taken, and in order therefore to ascertain the facts correctly and properly, that evidence should be given precisely. It is difficult for anyone to express a precise meaning in a language which is not natural to him. There are shades of meaning which it is difficult for a person to convey in a language which he has acquired, and that is the reason we have been so anxious that our proceedings should be conducted in the language understood by the witnesses and the parties concerned. Welsh is the language of the home and of everyday life among them but suddenly they may have to appear in a court, where they are asked to convey their thoughts in another language. For these reasons I join with my colleagues in welcoming the Bill, which will bring a high degree of satisfaction throughout the Principality.