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 Ronw Hughes Mr Ronw Hughes , Carmarthen

I, also, would like in a few words to express my appreciation of the action of the Government in introducing this Bill and the gratitude of the Welsh people for whom I can speak at the fact that the House of Commons is prepared to welcome it. It is, indeed, a practical Measure. I will not refer to its need, particularly in the courts, but I would like to point out how live is the Welsh language to-day, not only in North Wales but in South Wales as well. In the course of the last General Election I did my best to deprive this House of the advantages of the services of the hon. Member for the County of Cardigan (Mr. Owen Evans). In the course of that election campaign in Cardiganshire I addressed 100 meetings. If there is anything a candidate wants to do, it is to please and convince those whom he addresses, and he seeks the best and most effective method of doing so. Out of that 100 meetings, 97 did not contain in my remarks a single word of English. It may be said, "That is not a great tribute to your Welsh advocacy, because you did not succeed in keeping the hon. Member for Cardigan away from this House." But perhaps in my justification for introducing this I might say that the votes of the party for whom I was contesting increased from over 5,000 to over 10,000.

I would like to refer to the historical aspect. I do not intend to go over the historical background which the Home Secretary gave to the House and which has been so well added to by one of the ablest historians of Wales we have to-day, namely, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), but I want to bring it up-to-date. How is it that, after many previous attempts by those who are now in this House and those who have gone, to get this obvious measure of justice for Wales, we should get it to-day? We have pushed the door often enough, but it has never opened until now. It might well be that there has been more energetic pushing and that through the petition, leadership and cohesion of the Welsh Parliamentary Party there has been a greater impetus against the door, but that in itself would not account for it. There are, I think, three factors, and the first is the greater readiness in an Imperial Government in these days when freedom is at stake to remove wherever it may well do so the hallmarks of conquest from those with whom it collaborates. I regard this Measure as being in the same category as the readiness of the British Government to discuss with China the abolition of extra-territorial rights. This part of the Tudor settlement, this endeavour to exterminate the Welsh language, was a hallmark of conquest, and an Imperial Government is more ready in these days to remove this hallmark.

The circumstances of war make it possible, but combined with that is the fact that we have, as has been pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), a Lord Chancellor with Welsh blood in his veins and one who is, therefore, more ready and willing to give ear to Welsh claims. But there is a third reason, and that is the sympathy and understanding of the Home Secretary. Why should it be so? Why should the present Home Secretary extend a more sympathetic ear than others who have preceded him in his high office? The fact is that this Section which we are now repealing did, to a considerable extent, succeed. Its endeavour was to stamp out the Welsh language. It did not succeed altogether, but it did succeed in the course of the last century in Anglicising a section of the community that one might describe for want of a better word as "gentry". In doing so, it deprived Wales of a leadership and a guidance in culture and the arts which would have been of great assistance to it, but it left the culture, traditions and the glorious inheritance of the Welsh people in the hands of the common people. I do not like the term "common people"; I know a better one, in the Welsh language—"y werin"—a term of more dignity. It left its culture and traditions in their charge, and it is in the charge of the common people that the culture and traditions of Wales have remained to this day.

We have had Home Secretaries who have been frankly antagonistic; some have been indifferent, some patronising, and at best we have had some who have been jocularly kind. This is the first time we have had a Home Secretary with a real understanding of the Welsh people and sympathy with them. That sympathy comes because the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary is himself a son of the common people and remains of the common people, and understands and sympathises with the claims of Wales. I am glad to pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Lord Chancellor for conceding at last to Wales a claim which Wales has long deserved and of which, I would like to assure the House, Wales will show its appreciation by using it without abusing it.