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 James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

As a Member representing a Welsh constituency, I have been asked to speak for the party with which I am associated and to convey our tribute to the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary, as well as to the House of Commons, for permitting us to give this Bill a unanimous Second Reading, as I am sure we shall. There are two reasons why I welcome the Bill. It is of practical value. I would like to add a word or two from my own experience to show how valuable the Bill will be in the practice and administration of justice in the courts in Wales. I was privileged for 10 years to be a miners' agent in the most Welsh part of the Welsh coalfield, the anthracite coalfield, and part of my work was to handle disputes. I have negotiated almost as many settlements in Welsh as in English, and oftentimes it was easier to settle in Welsh than in English. We had occasion to go to the courts on compensation cases. I wish to pay tribute to the judges of the county courts in Wales. They always recognised very fully, and have sought at all times to ensure, that parties in the courts should get the fullest opportunity of testifying in Welsh. From my experience in those county courts I realise how very important it is that, say, a Welsh-speaking woman who, has to appear in a court in Wales, shall have the right to testify in the Welsh language.

Take cases connected with collieries. In the area from which I come, as well as from other areas, Welsh is not only the language of the home but the language of the work. It is the language of the pit and of the tinplate works. The technical terms are in Welsh. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, who is present, knows how very important it is in all cases connected with collieries to use everyday language to describe the work of the pit. In this area, all that is done in Welsh. Unless these men are allowed to testify in their own language I have always felt they could not do themselves justice. In the past the right to speak their own language has been denied them. It has been admitted in practice but denied as a right. Men are often reluctant to ask for something given as a favour whereas they will claim it if it becomes a right. I therefore welcome the Bill, because it has that practical use to large numbers of people. Hon. Members who do not sit for Welsh constituencies should realise that Welsh is not a museum language. It is the language of everyday life, of the home, the pit and the village. It is the language of the community, which thousands of people use every day. Therefore to deny its use in the courts means that those people cannot get the justice to which they are entitled.

There is a symbolic value about this proposal. It is the recognition of a nation. To recognise a nation is to recognise its language. If there is anything distinctive of a nation, it is its language. Therefore I accept and welcome the Bill because it recognises the Welsh nation and the right to use that language in its own country. In his very delightful historical survey, which we very much enjoyed and will be as much enjoyed in Wales as elsewhere, the Home Secretary referred to the Welsh Tudor Kings and to Henry VIII and his professed love for our nation—he had a very curious way of expressing that love, I must say. Anyhow, we have wiped out that stigma now. We are recognising the Welsh nation.

At the end of his speech the Home Secretary said very wise words which I hope we shall all ponder. There are two kinds of nationalism. As he said, we see one kind of nationalism in Europe to-day, a nationalism that becomes a hatred of others, and which embitters, corrodes, destroys. That is a nationalism we want to put down, but the way to prevent a nationalism of that kind arising is to recognise and to encourage the other kind of nationalism. Very often it is because the real, true, natural, instinctive national aspirations and needs are not recognised that the other kind of nationalism grows at all. I wish to say one word about Wales in this connection. The Welsh language is thriving to-day more than for generations back. There is a real, live, vital, living literature; more people write it and more books are read in Welsh. There is an extraordinarily thriving Welsh Book Club. The Welsh language has a bigger part in the life of Wales than it has had for several generations past. Arising from that and accompanying it are a feeling of national pride and consciousness of nation and the desire that it shall be recognised more.

I welcome this Bill because of its symbolic value, because it recognises the nationality of Wales by recognising its language. I am sure that in the days to come proposals will be made and other demands may be made upon the Government to recognise in other spheres and walks of life the needs and rights of Wales, I desire to see the nationalism of my country develop into the right kind of nationalism, a love of soil which does not become hatred of anyone else, a love of community which can co-operate with anyone else. I want my people through so developing to make their common contribution to the welfare of mankind. If they are to do that, I think we are doing wisely in recognising and giving a place to the language of Wales. I hope we shall give that recognition in other spheres of public life in Wales also and prevent nationalism from becoming embittered and soured, and so that it may be a nationalism that will enable Wales to contribute her best to the common store of mankind.