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 Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

I want to say a word or two about this Bill, because Monmouthshire is brought in, and I happen to be the senior Member for Monmouthshire, and indeed, for the whole of South Wales, and very nearly North Wales, if it were not for two others. I welcome the Bill. It is a common-sense thing that a man should be able to defend himself in his own country in his own language. I do not know that the provision will be very much wanted in Monmouthshire, because although there is in Monmouthshire a lot of Welsh spoken, it is chiefly English that is spoken. We have lived too near to Bristol and the Forest of Dean, and a large number of people have come over from those places. It used to be said that the first thing a Bristol baby said was: "Packet, mother," because they came over in the packet. There has been a large influx of those people into Monmouthshire, so that Welsh is not spoken there to the same extent as in other parts of the country. I was at one time check-weigher at the Nine-Mile Point colliery and local representative of the men. When the pit was first sunk, many people came to it from other parts, and I remember that some of the North Welshmen who came could not speak a word of English. When they came to see me about something or other, I could not follow their deep Welsh, and there had to be an interpreter between us. If those men did something wrong and had to go to the local courts, they were at a great disadvantage. It is for that sort of reason that I think this Bill does a very reasonable thing.

I know I shall be treading on delicate ground when I say that I am not sure that Welshmen have not paid too much attention to the language. In Wales it has been all language. In Scotland it has been nationhood—quite a different thing. When I was in Scotland at one time, I went for a motor ride, and when we were crossing a stream, I asked the Scotsman next to me what was the name of the stream. It was a dirty little stream and not half as beautiful as the streams in Wales. He said, "Gala water." I said, "Did not Robert Burns write something about it?" He said, "Yes." When I got home I looked up the little poem, and I have been interested in that little stream there because Robert Burns wrote about it If a Welshman had written about it, he would have written in the Welsh language, which is a closed book to half the people in Wales itself, and to the whole of England. Here I think the Scotsmen have beaten us, because although their dialect is a very strong one and they take a pride in it—my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) represents it very well—their poets have written sufficiently in English for us to grasp them, and this has made us interested in many things in Scotland that have been a closed bock to us in Wales because our people there insist on writing in the Welsh language. I do not know that any Welshman will agree with me in these remarks. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]