Government financial support for the Gaelic language has risen from £60,000 in 1979 to £11.1 million in the current year. Census figures, however, indicate that the number of people who could speak, read or write Gaelic fell from 80,000 in 1981, to 69,000 in 1991. Tha mi an duil ar planaichean air foghlam Gaidhlig fhoillseachadh a dh'aithghearr. As you may know, Madam Speaker, that means that I hope to announce our plans in Gaelic education shortly.
The most moving moment of last year was when a psalm was sung in Gaelic in an Edinburgh church. Was not that moment shared by everyone in the British Isles? Does not the Minister agree that Gaelic and all the other Celtic languages are a great heritage and living treasure and are not the exclusive property of any one single area, political party or religion? They are the property of all of us who live in the British Isles. They are to be cherished, protected, spoken and sung.
I was indeed at the service for the late John Smith and the rendering of Gaelic was singularly impressive on that occasion. Gaelic is one of the special features of Scotland's cultural heritage and the whole country benefits directly or indirectly from the richness provided by an additional indigenous language. We have a good record in that, with the extension, we have doubled the size of the structure of the Gaelic college on Skye. The college is very much a centre of excellence, benefiting the Gaels in north-west Scotland.
The Minister should be aware of Strathclyde regional council's excellent record in encouraging Gaelic education by providing special classes and extra resources. Does he agree that the foolish and vindictive abolition of that council puts at risk the development of Gaelic as an alternative language in Scotland?
No, I do not agree with that. Borders regional council is one of the smallest in Scotland, yet it has high standards in teaching. We are considering carefully the inspector's report on the north-west highlands, where Gaelic is spoken, because it has identified a need to increase the number of Gaelic teachers. Problems exist in small schools in remote areas of the north-west highlands.