Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:00 pm on 21st April 2005.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:00 pm, 21st April 2005

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2665, in the name of Peter Peacock, that the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 4:15 pm, 21st April 2005

It is my privilege to open this debate on what is, as John Farquhar Munro and others have said, an historic day for Gaelic and for Scotland as a whole. We have come a long way from the 1616 act that decreed that Gaelic should be "abolisheit and removeit" from Scotland. We have also come a long way from the first support that was given to An Comann Gaidhealach by the Government back in the 1960s, which was a grant of the princely sum of £500, and from the first Gaelic-medium education classes in the 1980s. Indeed, we have also come a long way since the Comunn na Gàidhlig working group began promoting secure status during the 1990s.

I am conscious, as I said during our consideration of the amendments, that we are building on the efforts of many groups and individuals down the years. I cannot hope to mention them all, but I would like to thank those who have contributed to the development of the bill. In particular, I thank John Alick Macpherson for the work that he did, and I thank Professor Donald Meek and all those involved in the ministerial advisory group on Gaelic, which was established by Alasdair Morrison, a distinguished former minister with responsibility for Gaelic, who did all the early work in preparation for the bill. The central recommendation of the ministerial advisory group was for the development of a Gaelic language act, and today we shall deliver on that recommendation.

I thank the 3,000 people who responded to the consultation on the draft bill and those who gave evidence to the Education Committee. I also acknowledge the work of the members of the Education Committee itself, and the work of Alex Neil and John Farquhar Munro, who, although not members of the committee, contributed to many of the committee debates. I thank the many people who gave evidence to the committee for the constructive consideration that they gave to the bill and to wider Gaelic issues. The bill is stronger as a result of parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and I think that it has been a particularly good example of the Executive and Parliament working constructively together.

I thank the committee clerks, who have ensured that events have progressed smoothly. I also sincerely thank my own bill team, who have worked hard on the bill and who have liaised not just with members of the committee and with the clerks but with many organisations beyond Parliament in constructing the bill. Finally, I thank the members and staff of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, who have provided a steady stream of helpful advice as the bill has developed over the past two years.

There has been a clear consensus that action should be taken to secure the status of Gaelic, and Parliament today has the opportunity to send a clear signal that it is serious about the survival of Gaelic. It is imperative that we act now. Gaelic is a precious asset for all of Scotland and it is our responsibility to provide the means by which the Gaelic language will not only survive but thrive into the future. Sorley MacLean said:

"if Gaelic dies, Scotland will lose something of inexpressible worth, and the Gaels will lose almost everything".

It is our duty to ensure that that does not happen, and the bill will make a significant contribution to ensuring that.

The bill creates a flexible framework to secure the future of the Gaelic language. It gives clear and official recognition to Gaelic. Gaelic is an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to English. The bill establishes a body in law with responsibility to develop Gaelic language and culture and to bring about a sustainable recovery by increasing the usage and acquisition of the language. It provides for the creation of a national Gaelic language plan by Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which will set out in an holistic way the development of Gaelic across Scotland. Because of today's events, that national plan will have a clear strategy at its heart for Gaelic education—the key to the future success of the language—and it will ensure that public bodies with education responsibilities, including the Executive, also have clear strategies. The bill provides for public bodies to play their part in future development and builds on the undoubted success of Gaelic-medium education and encourages its future development.

I have promoted and accepted a number of changes during the passage of the bill. I agreed to an amendment at stage 2 that makes it clear that the bill is about the potential for the development of Gaelic language into the future, and it is now absolutely clear that the bill is not about Gaelic as it stands but about its potential to move forward. I also agreed to an amendment at stage 2 that enhances the status of the Gaelic language by recognising that Gaelic and English command equal respect.

Parliament agreed today to an amendment that creates new links between the bill and the Gaelic-medium education provisions of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000. That will ensure that a strategic, joined-up approach can be taken to the development of Gaelic education.

Those changes and the other amendments to which Parliament agreed will ensure that the bill is an efficient and effective tool to secure the status of the Gaelic language.

I have listed the provisions of the bill and some of the important changes that we have made to strengthen it. It will have important effects that will go beyond its provisions. It makes an important statement that the Gaelic language and culture are very important aspects of Scottish life. It will add welcome momentum to other areas of Gaelic development and enterprise and I expect it to undermine any residual ill will towards Gaelic in Scotland and to encourage greater trust between Gaels and Government.

A clear message that came out of the consultation on the bill was the need to emphasise the Scottish Executive's responsibility for the well-being of Gaelic. Through the bill and other measures, Parliament acknowledges its obligations and seeks to discharge its duty in a manner that will ensure a sustainable future for Gaelic in Scotland.

It gives me great pleasure to move, That the Parliament agrees that the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Time is very tight in the debate.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 4:21 pm, 21st April 2005

I echo the sentiments that the minister expressed. This is a day on which the Gaelic language is going forward, not back—to coin a phrase. I congratulate the minister on the role that he has played in working with members of the committee and others, such as me, to take the bill forward. As a result of that co-operation, we have ended up with what will be a much better act than would have been achieved through the draft bill with which we started out.

I thank Robert Brown, the convener of the Education Committee, for allowing me to participate so actively in the committee's proceedings, even though I am not a member. I also mention Mike Russell, who introduced his Gaelic language bill, which was on similar lines to the bill that we are considering, during the first session of Parliament.

The bill represents not the end of the story but the end of the beginning of the story of the regeneration of Gaelic. During the bill's passage we have recognised a number of areas in relation to the promotion of the language that are not covered by the bill and remain to be addressed. For example, I think that we all agree that there needs to be a clear strategy for the future of Gaelic broadcasting, which will use new, digital technology to spread knowledge and uptake of the Gaelic language.

We still face a major challenge. It is estimated that there is a net loss of about 1,500 Gaelic speakers every year. We also have a dire shortage of Gaelic-speaking teachers. The passing of the bill will not address or solve those problems, but it will send a clear message about the serious intent of the Parliament to address all the problems that Gaelic faces, including the language's status and the need for public agencies to promote the language as part and parcel of their remit.

It is important that the bill acknowledges the role of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and I hope that the next report on the progress of the Gaelic language against the charter will be more complimentary than the last one was. Robert Brown said that we learned a great deal from the Welsh experience, but the Welsh language started from a much higher base than does Gaelic in Scotland, which faces much more widespread and severe challenges than were faced by Welsh.

Like our colleagues in other parties, we will take pride in the passing of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill. We are glad that we have been able to contribute to the bill's progress and we look forward to progress being made in broadcasting, in education, in the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and in the promotion of the language throughout Scotland. I hope that after we pass the bill at decision time at 5 o'clock, there will be coverage, not just in the northern parts of Scotland but throughout the land, of the fact that the Scottish Parliament has rectified decades, if not centuries, of neglect of a key part of Scotland's past and heritage.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 4:25 pm, 21st April 2005

I am very glad to share in the support for the bill on what is a landmark day for Gaelic. If Tony Blair were here, he would no doubt say that we feel the "hand of history" on our shoulders. If he did, he might—on this occasion—be entirely correct.

As I mentioned before, the Gaelic language and its culture have been subject to persecution in the past—especially after Culloden and during the clearances, which many of us regard as a dark period in our history. I have to mention an interest in what followed. My ancestor Selkirk of Red River—one of the less well-known figures of the Scottish enlightenment—chartered ships and went with nearly 1,000 struggling, Gaelic-speaking highlanders from Skye and Raasay to Prince Edward Island in Canada, where they started a new life. Gaelic still flourishes there, as do the descendants of those highlanders. He also inaugurated the settlement at Red River in Manitoba which, notwithstanding its trials and tribulations, was the beginning of Winnipeg.

We have no power to amend the wrongdoings of bygone centuries that led to emigration. We do not need to dwell "On the Other Side of Sorrow" but we can at the very least give strong support and encouragement to those who speak our country's largest indigenous language after English. We have a golden opportunity to demonstrate our good will and to develop the linguistic and cultural diversity of Scotland, which has contributed so much to enriching our way of life.

It would be of value if certain thoughts could be kept in mind. We wish the bòrd every success in co-operating with United Kingdom bodies, in developing a Gaelic language dictionary and in ensuring that there are sufficient Gaelic-medium teachers in local authorities.

We hope that the use of high technology will be harnessed, and we hope that the excellent counsel of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig—the Gaelic college on Skye—will be heeded. Going there was a great highlight for the Education Committee. The college is undoubtedly a centre of educational excellence. Its staff's views, experience, expertise and aspirations should be addressed with care and sympathy.

I end by saying that the bill will be a landmark for Gaels and their culture, which is a rich inheritance for Scotland. It has been a privilege for us to have taken part in the bill's progress.

There is a great deal to be said for the argument that history should be left to the historians. However, in this case, I rather fancy that, as Tony Blair might say, history will not judge us harshly.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 4:27 pm, 21st April 2005

Tha mise cuideachd toilichte a bhith ann an seo an-diugh, mar a thuirt mi, air latha mòr ann an eachdraidh nan Gaidheal. Bho chionn iomadach bliadhna a-nis, tha sinn air a bhith a' strì airson taic agus cuideachadh a chur ri Gàidhlig agus ri ceòl is cultar nan Gaidheal.

Air a' chiad trup a thàinig mi sìos dhan Phàrlamaid ùir, bha an deasbad ann an Dùn Èideann dìreach a' tòiseachadh an uair sin. Ron sin, bha gu leòr a' dol ann an Glaschu agus suas ann an Inbhir Nis is àiteachan eile air a' Ghaidhealtachd, ach cha robh sinn a' cluinntinn mòran a' tachairt ann an Dùn Èideann. Ach an-diugh, tha Bòrd na Gàidhlig gu bhith air a stèidheachadh fo bile ùr an seo an teis-mheadhan Dhùn Èideann ann am Pàrlamaid ùr na h-Alba. Mar a thuirt am Morair Seumas Dùbhghlas-Hamalton beagan mhionaidean air ais, tha còir againn a bhith gu math pròiseil an-diugh gu bheil cothrom againn taic agus cuideachadh a chur gu cànan is cultar nan Gaidheal.

Tha sinn air adhartas mòr a dhèanamh anns na bliadhnaichean a chaidh seachad. O chionn 30 bliadhna air ais, cha robh mòran a' tachairt ann an saoghal na Gàidhlig. Is dòcha gun robh beagan mhionaidean againn air rèidio, ach cha robh fiù 's telebhisean a' dol an uair sin agus cha robh cothrom againn a bhith a' faicinn dad sam bith de Ghàidhlig air a chraobh-sgaoileadh. An-diugh, bheir am bile taic dhan chànan is dhan chultar agus bheir e taic dha Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Tha ceumannan eile ri gabhail, ged a ghabh sinn ceumannan mòra mar-thà. Tha sinn a' coimhead air adhart ri seanail telebhisein airson cànan is cultar nan Gaidheal a phutadh a-mach. Bhiodh barrachd a' tachairt nan robh an cothrom againn a bhith a' faicinn Gàidhlig air a craobh-sgaoileadh air telebhisean a h-uile latha mar a tha sinn a' faicinn Beurla. Ach, le feadhainn a' bruidhinn timcheall air sin agus an argamaid a' faighinn taic, is dòcha gum bi cothrom againn sin a stèidheachadh ann an ùine nach bi uabhasach fada.

Ach air an latha mhòr seo an-diugh, tha mi toilichte a bhith ann a sheo. Tha mi a' toirt taing mhòr dhan mhinistear, a rinn obair mhòr thairis air dhà no trì bhliadhnaichean airson am bile a dhèanamh na lagh ann an dòigh a tha freagarrach agus comasach airson a' chànain. Tha mi cinnteach gu bheil a' Phàrlamaid agus muinntir na Gaidhealtachd a' coimhead dhan mhinistear agus a' toirt taic dha airson na h-obrach mòire a rinn e. Mòran taing.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

I am pleased to be here on this historic day for the Gaels. We have been struggling for many years to support the Gaelic language and the music and culture of the Gaels.

When I first came to the new Parliament, the debate had just started in Edinburgh. Before that, I am sure that plenty was happening in Glasgow and Inverness and in other places throughout the Highlands, but we did not hear much about what was happening in Edinburgh. However, today we are in the new Scottish Parliament building in the middle of Edinburgh considering a bill to establish Bòrd na Gàidhlig. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton suggested a couple of minutes ago, we should be extremely proud that we have an opportunity to support the language and culture of the Gaels.

When we look back over the past few years, we can see that we have made huge progress. Thirty years ago, nothing much was happening in the Gaelic world. We had some Gaelic broadcasting on radio, but we had no opportunity to see any Gaelic broadcasting on television. Now, the bill is supporting the language and culture and supporting Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

We have taken huge steps, but there are still more to be taken. We look forward to a Gaelic television channel. When we are able to see Gaelic programmes on television every day—as we can see English programmes—it will promote the language and culture of the Gaels. The argument for a Gaelic channel is receiving support in discussions that are under way on that subject. Perhaps we may have the opportunity to get the service established before too long.

Today is an historic day. I thank the minister for all the hard work that he has done over the past few years to get the bill established in a way that not only suits the language but will help it to develop. I am sure that the Parliament and particularly those in the Highlands who are looking on will want to support the minister. All of us want to thank him for the hard work that he has done.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

In order to get in as many members as possible, I ask members to keep their speeches to three minutes.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 4:30 pm, 21st April 2005

Tha mi toilichte dha-rìridh a bhith a' gabhail pàirt anns an deasbad crìochnachaidh seo. Bidh deagh chuimhne aig a' mhinistear—duine a tha air a bhith an sàs ann am poileataigs na Gaidhealtachd cha mhòr 25 bliadhna—air an adhartas a tha sinn air fhaicinn thairis air na bliadhnaichean, mar a dh'ainmich mo charaid Iain Fearchar Rothach.

An-diugh, ge-tà, tha sinn a' tighinn gu ceann-uidhe eachdraidheil—a' chiad achd cànain airson na Gàidhlig. Dh'fhaodadh sinn a ràdh gu bheil sinn a' coilionadh an-diugh na h-amasan a bha aig na land leaguers aig deireadh an 19mh linn agus toiseach na 20mh linn. Bha e sgrìobhte ann an suaicheantas aca: "An Tìr, an Canan, 'sna Daoine." An dèidh Achd Ath-Leasachaidh an Fhearainn (Alba) 2003—achd a tha a' dèanamh an t-uabhas feum—tha achd cànain gu bhith againn an dèidh an-diugh. Air latha eachdraidheil mar seo, bu chòir dhuinn a bhith foireil agus a bhith a' dèanamh uaill orrasan a bha, thairis air iomadach bliadhna, a' strì airson nan nithean sin. Gu dearbh, tha na briathran sin rim faicinn air bratach pàipear beag an Eilein Sgitheanaich, a tha chun an latha an-diugh, mar a tha e air a bhith a' dèanamh bhon a chaidh a stèidheachadh o chionn 30 bliadhna, gu dìleas a' seasamh chòirichean na cànain agus ath-leasachadh an fhearainn.

Bu toigh leam dhà no trì puingean a dhèanamh anns an ùine bheag a tha agam. Is ann mu Bhòrd na Gàidhlig a tha a' chiad tè. Nuair a chaidh am bòrd a stèidheachadh mar quango aig toiseach 2003, is iad prìomh dhleastanasan a' bhùird ùghdarras a ghabhail thairis airson sgaoileadh maoin Gàidhlig agus comhairle a thoirt do mhinistearan. Fon bhile an-diugh, bidh dleastanasan a' bhùird ag atharrachadh gu mòr. Tha mi toilichte da-rìribh gu bheil am ministear air èisteachd ri tagraidhean coimhearsnachd na Gàidhlig agus ris na puingean a rinn Comataidh an Fhoghlaim. Tha mi ag iarraidh gum bi barrachd ùghdarras agus smachd aig a' bhòrd agus gun tèid barrachd leasachaidhean a dhèanamh. Gu sònraichte, an coimhead am ministear air dhà no trì phuingean a thaobh maoineachadh airson innleachdan a' bhùird agus air an taic a thathar a' toirt do bhuill a' bhùird? Is dòcha gum faodadh e coimhead air leudachadh a dhèanamh air an t-seòrsa daoine agus buill a tha an sàs anns a' bhòrd an-dràsta.

Tha an dara puing agam—a nì mi gu sgiobalta, oir cha robh mi a' tuigsinn nach biodh ach trì mionaidean agam—mu dheidhinn taic airgid airson foillseachadh Gàidhlig agus am feum a thathar a' dèanamh leis an airgead a tha an Riaghaltas a' cleachdadh airson sanasachd. Thog mi a' phuing sin mar-thà; mar sin, tha mi a' coimhead air adhart ri freagairt a' mhinisteir.

Bu toigh leam taing a thoirt chan ann a-mhàin do Pheadar Peacock ach do Phatricia NicFhearghais, a tha an lùib chòmhraidhean le Riaghaltas Bhreatainn mu dheidhinn craoladh Gàidhlig. Thathar a' dèanamh adhartas an sin, agus chì sinn toradh na h-obrach sin a dh'aithghearr.

Aig toiseach na h-òraid agam, dh'ainmich mi am facail "eachdraidheil" agus rinn mi iomradh air strì nan Gaidheal. Tha strì an fhearainn agus strì airson a' chànain air a bhith air am fuigheall ri chèile thairis air na linntean. Tha dreach na dùthcha agus an dòigh anns am bheil am fearann ga riaghladh air atharrachadh gu mòr bho na làithean sin. An-diugh, bheir am bile Gàidhlig seo spionnadh as ùr dhan ghinealach agamsa agus do ghinealach mo chuid chloinne.

Mar a tha fhios againn, tha a' Ghàidhlig na neamhnaid luachmhòr ann an cridhe 's anam na h-Alba. Chan eil i air a cuingealachadh le crìochan teann. Tha Gàidhlig nàiseanta, Eòrpach agus eadar-nàiseanta. Tha i bunaiteach do dh'Alba. Chan eil i idir air an oir no air chùl-fraoin. An-diugh, tha suaicheantas nan land leaguers a' tighinn beò ann an linn eile. Tha an suaicheantas sin a cheart cho airidh ri bhith air a chleachdadh 's a bha e nuair a chaidh a chur ann a clò an toiseach, ged a tha an suidheachadh againn gu fortanach gu tur eadar-dhealaichte.

Tha mi a' moladh taic a thoirt do Bhile na Gàidhlig (Alba).

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

I am pleased to take part in the debate. As someone who was involved in Highland politics for over 25 years, the minister will remember the many developments that we have seen in that time. My colleague John Farquhar Munro also mentioned that.

We are coming to an historic conclusion: the Scottish Parliament's first Gaelic language act. When the act is passed, we will know that we have fulfilled the motto of the land leaguers of the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, which was "the land, the language and the people". The Parliament has passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which is being used to great effect, and today we pass a language act. This is an historic day, on which we should be particularly aware of and pay tribute to those who have struggled for many years for the land, the language and the people. Indeed, that motto has been on the masthead of the West Highland Free Press since the inception of the paper 30 years ago.

I turn to specific aspects of the bill, the first of which concerns Bòrd na Gàidhlig. At the beginning of 2003, the bòrd was established as a quango. Its main duties at that time related to the distribution of Gaelic funding and the provision of advice to ministers. Today, its responsibilities are greatly changed and, in that respect, I am pleased that the minister has listened to the appeals that came from the Gaelic community. I am pleased that the bòrd will have greater authority and legitimacy. I ask the minister to look at the issue of funding and also the issue of extending the membership of the bòrd so that more people can become involved in its work.

My second point relates to the Gaelic publishing sector and, in particular, to the Executive's advertising budget. I have raised the point before and I look forward to hearing the minister's response on the issue. I thank not only Peter Peacock but Patricia Ferguson, who is involved in the discussions with the UK Government on Gaelic broadcasting. Progress is being made on the issue and I believe that we will soon see the result of that work.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the language and the people who worked on the land were knitted together. Things have changed significantly since those days and the act will give a new and welcome impetus to my generation. The Gaelic language is a precious jewel in the heart and soul of Scotland. Gaelic should not be restricted by boundaries: it is national, it is European and it is international. Gaelic is not at the periphery but is fundamental to Scotland. Fortunately, our situation today is very different from that of the early 20th century, but the land leaguers' motto is as relevant and worthy today as it was in their day.

I support the passing of the bill.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 4:34 pm, 21st April 2005

The test of the first Gaelic language act, which is set to be passed by the Scottish Parliament today, will be how much confidence it promotes among those who speak the language and those who wish to learn it. The act will give the Parliament a raft of administrative means to explain what every public authority that is responsible to the Parliament will do to promote the first language of Scotland.

However, too many examples of hostility or lack of confidence are still expressed or muttered in areas that remain key to Gaelic's survival and expansion. It is bizarre that new road signs in Sutherland, Caithness and parts of Inverness will not be bilingual because of the small-minded and negative attitude of some councillors, who voted down the chance to show the Gaelic side of their cultural roots without any added cost to the public purse. As Brian Wilson wrote in The Guardian yesterday, signage can be

"a gesture of respect for a language that once covered most of Scotland".

In Wales in the 1970s, I was a witness to such blocking tactics from central Government and its local political allies as the struggle for the status of the Welsh language progressed. The only way forward is for the users of our ancient language to have the confidence to speak up and for Gaelic to have the full backing of official status. Welsh is in a far stronger position than Gaelic, as are Catalan and Basque. Those languages started from a higher baseline of speakers, so we need added impetus from strong measures that will eventually be added to the act. Ministers and Government supporters will praise their efforts as historic, but that can be judged only by history. Meanwhile, every effort must be made to give life to Gaelic. Cum Gàidhlig beò. Let Gaelic live.

The test of the act is whether it will spread the good will that is expressed in the Parliament into decisions that are taken elsewhere, from the smallest communities to the largest public bodies. As in Wales, the language has to become a normal part of the nation's life. As others have said, there are decisions to be made about broadcasting in future and I hope that the devolution settlement will be changed to include that.

Over the centuries, Gaelic has been pushed largely to the edge, to the outer isles, but the flight of the Gaels from those islands has scattered more than 10 per cent of their population to other areas. To some extent, that has weakened the solidarity of many to keep up their Gaelic speech. However, that will be turned round by the act. The confidence that is needed to promote living communities, whether in the isles or in towns, lies in the provision of challenging jobs and affordable homes—good reasons for families to live a life through Gaelic.

If there is to be justice and success for the language, we need economic, environmental and social justice for all Scots. The Scottish National Party fully supports that. The act should be a key milestone on the long road to justice.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green 4:37 pm, 21st April 2005

Tha mi toilichte gum bi sinn ag aontachadh ri Bile na Gàidhlig (Alba) an-diugh, agus tha mi a' creidsinn gu bheil seo na dheagh latha airson na Gàidhlig.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

Thank you, Presiding Office. I am pleased to support the Gaelic (Scotland) Bill today. This is a good day for Gaelic.

The member continued in English.

During the stage 1 debate, we thanked the people who responded to the consultation or gave evidence and we thanked the Executive for listening. I reiterate those thanks today because I believe that everyone involved has contributed to historic legislation that will, I hope, underpin a strong future for the Gaelic language.

One of the nice things about being a member of the cross-party group on Gaelic is that we are from time to time invited to meet visiting delegations who have expressed an interest in hearing about Gaelic. Usually they are from countries that have one or several minority languages. Recently, we met one such group from part of the former Yugoslavia, from a small country that has no less than six official languages, at least two of which are in simultaneous use in each town or district.

That visit made me realise what a monoglot society we have, although that is not the case at grass-roots level because many people in Scotland speak one of the versions of Scots, a significant minority speak as their language at home the language of their family's country of origin—perhaps from many generations ago—and, of course, tens of thousands speak Gaelic. I expect that number to continue increasing. However, dealings with officialdom, even the most minor dealings, and most business transactions tend to be done exclusively in English. That creates a two-tier system, which makes one feel as if there is only one official language in Scotland. I hope that the bill's enshrinement of Gaelic as an official language of Scotland will end that and I hope that the bill, which is soon to be enacted, will start the process of properly mainstreaming the Gaelic language.

One of the crucial sections of the bill is the section on education. I welcome the commitment that the Minister for Education and Young People has shown to Gaelic-medium education both in the bill and generally. During the stage 1 debate, the minister mentioned the establishment of a working group on teacher supply, which is one of the potential constraints on the development of Gaelic-medium education. I understand that that group is to report in May, but if the minister were able to give an advance report, that would be welcome, although I appreciate that he might not be in a position to do so.

I welcome the bill and pledge that my party will do whatever it can to support and promote the Gaelic language.

Mòran taing.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Independent 4:40 pm, 21st April 2005

Anyone listening to "Good Morning Scotland" today might have heard Allan Campbell, the chief executive of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, say that the bill was about the future of Gaelic, not its past. That is an eloquent answer to all those who say that the bill is unnecessary or that it is not a priority. I am glad that the bill has been considered as a priority: it fulfils a commitment in the Labour-Liberal Democrat programme for government and answers the criticisms that were levelled two years ago when the previous Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill was debated. The reasons for voting that bill down were positive, not negative; today's events show how positive the commitment was, and that it has been delivered.

If John Farquhar Munro says that it is an historic day for the Gaels, I will not argue and could not add much to that sentiment. I pay tribute to Peter Peacock for the work that he has done in guiding the bill to its conclusion. I take some pride in having been the minister to establish Bòrd na Gàidhlig on the basis of the report by the ministerial advisory group on Gaelic under the firm guidance of Professor Donald Meek. I remember attending the first meeting of Bòrd na Gàidhlig in January 2003 when Duncan Ferguson, the then chair, outlined the bòrd's plans. It has carried out many of those plans already and I pay tribute to it for its work. The bill sets Bòrd na Gàidhlig in statute, which is important because it will take Bòrd na Gàidhlig on to a higher level and enable it to increase the work that it does.

I find it surprising that places as diverse as Forfar, Kilmarnock and Condorrat have Gaelic-medium schools. That demand for Gaelic-medium education is growing is shown by the fact that Glasgow's Gaelic-medium school has outgrown its premises and has even had to consider turning away parents who want their children to be educated in Gaelic-medium education, although it has found larger premises that will provide an all-through service including nursery education and a cultural centre. I welcome the initiative that Glasgow City Council has shown in providing for that.

The key to Gaelic's future—and it has a future—is education. We need to provide as many teachers as possible at all levels so that we can ensure that demand for Gaelic-medium education can be met. I believe that that will happen and that the building blocks are in place to ensure that young people and others come through. There are many people in the later stages of their lives who now have the opportunity to become teachers in Gaelic-medium education; they should be encouraged to do so.

Parliament has proved today that one of its main functions is to legislate on matters on which Westminster did not have the time or the inclination to legislate. The bill would never have seen the light of day at Westminster. However, Westminster retains one major relevant responsibility, which is broadcasting, and I want Gaelic television to be expanded.

This is a proud day for the Scottish Parliament. The bill will echo down the years and the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and those who support it will provide an essential function for the future of Scotland's cultural heritage.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 4:43 pm, 21st April 2005

Many people in the Gaelic community have waited a long time indeed for the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill to become law; there is something of all of them in it.

As convener of the Education Committee, I have found the process of the bill to be one of the most productive in which I have been involved. I have had—as has the rest of the committee—the opportunity to visit and engage with interested people at the Gaelic primary school and Gaelic secondary unit in Glasgow, at open meetings that were organised by the Scottish Parliament outreach service in Partick library, at the royal national mòd in Perth, at an overnight committee visit in Skye and, of course, at the committee's oral evidence-taking sessions. Those have all added to the committee's and Parliament's perception of how things should be done.

It was particularly interesting to hear from our Welsh visitors—the Welsh Language Board—how language matters have been dealt with in Wales. Many of the people who handle such matters in Wales have matured from idealistic campaigning activists who had an interest in road signs—to allude to Rob Gibson's comments—to senior, still idealistic but practical administrators and drivers of the Welsh language revival that we have witnessed in recent years.

There is no doubt that Gaelic is in a more precarious state than Welsh was, but the overwhelming impression that I have taken away from the meetings and visits on the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill is one of hope and optimism.

I was particularly impressed with the dedication, talent and potential of some of the young Gaelic teachers whom I met in Glasgow and Skye, and with the enthusiasm of their young charges. The teachers, the schools, the broadcasting provision and the centres of excellence—some of which already exist, such as the Gaelic college in Skye, and some of which are promised, such as the all-through Glasgow Gaelic school—are the foundation blocks on which the language will revive and blossom.

I would like to thank the people who have contributed to the bill: the members of the committee; the committee clerks; the minister, who has displayed a supportive approach; and the Gaelic team in the Parliament, Alasdair MacCaluim and Sarah Gundry, who have not been mentioned so far but who have been extremely supportive of the bill and the committee's work—indeed, I might say that that they were partisan in their support. The wider Gaelic community owes them a lot, although it is only fair to say that they should take the blame for the few words of atrocious Geordie-accented Gaelic that I was prevailed upon to produce at the mòd and in Skye, but which I do not have the nerve to repeat today.

The phrase that has stuck in my mind is the one that expresses a desire for Gaelic to become the language of the playground. That seems to me to be an important and crucial aim. We must give attention to the teacher recruitment materials and the teacher support that we have talked about.

We are about to pass the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill. We should, as the minister has said, do so in a spirit of generosity and good will, but we should also do so in a spirit of recognition of the contribution that Gaelic can make not only to the Gaelic communities but to the wider spirit of Scotland. Without Gaelic language, culture and tradition, Scotland would be a poorer place. The bill is a major step towards securing and enhancing the future of Gaelic, so I have much pleasure in supporting in it—and in finishing exactly on three minutes.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 4:46 pm, 21st April 2005

Songs such as "Canan nan Gaidheal"—"The Tongue of the Gael"—which was written by Murdo MacFarlane, the poet from Melbost in Lewis, and some songs by Mairi Mhor nan Orain, from Skye, accuse the Sassenach of destroying the Gaelic language. The truth, however, is that the sad state of Gaelic has little to do with the English and everything to do with the Scots.

I have listened with interest to the debate. Of course, my colleagues and I will vote in favour of the bill. Frankly, it is all that we have. Attempts to revive Gaelic literally from its death bed, such as the attempt that is made in the bill, are commendable and well meaning. I am happy that the new Bòrd na Gàidhlig is to get powers to issue statutory guidance on Gaelic education to local authorities and I have no quarrel with the central tenets of the bill. The only problem is that, with Gaelic facing a wipeout, this well-meaning but ultimately impotent legislation is likely to be as successful as prescribing a throat lozenge to a pneumonia patient.

The point is not about removing ill will against Gaelic—we are well past that point. At stage 1 and again today, Peter Peacock has failed to say how he believes that it is possible to save Gaelic using the measures that are outlined in the bill. I have no problem with consolidating the excellent work that is already being done by sympathetic local authorities within and outwith the Gàidhealtachd. However, scarce resources should be directed where they will do most good.

Only two things will save Gaelic: education and broadcasting. I do not have time to go into the broadcasting aspects today, but I hope that I will be able to do so another time. However, on education, nothing that I have heard today changes my view that the Gaelic language will be saved only by using the methods that have been successfully implemented by educationists in Ireland, Wales, Catalunya and elsewhere—in other words, by using immersion education methods to teach Gaelic in its remaining heartlands in Skye, Lewis, Harris and the Uists. In my previous speech on the subject, I spelled out the figures that demonstrate the success of the Welsh, Irish and Catalan approach. There is no reason why, with immersion education, Scottish Gaelic could not be saved. If and when the language is revived in the heartlands, it could then be spread out from a position of strength and confidence to adjoining local authorities and, following that, to other council areas that might be sympathetic.

I began by mentioning the Melbost bard's song, "Canan nan Gaidheal". In one of the lines of that song, Murdo MacFarlane takes hope from the fact that

"In the isles of the west,

There it is still the first language of the people".

The Melbost bard died 23 years ago, in 1982. It is questionable whether Gaelic is still the first language of the people of the Western Isles today—it certainly will not be 23 years from now.

I hope sincerely that our children and grandchildren will not look back and say that the Scottish Parliament had a chance to save the language, but that it did a Marjory Kennedy-Fraser on it instead. I hope that Alex Neil is right and that the bill is just the first chapter in a developing story, but I see nothing in the bill to prevent Gaelic from becoming the linguistic equivalent of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser's four-part harmonies of òrain mhòra—big songs that are doomed in perpetuity to be mouthed phonetically by kilted lowlanders at mòds, with one of Europe's oldest languages ultimately being reduced to little more than a cultural and academic curiosity.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 4:50 pm, 21st April 2005

Tapadh leibh, Oifigeir-riaghlaidh. Tha Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba a' cur ar làn-thaic ri Bile na Gàidhlig an-diugh.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

Thank you, Presiding Officer. The SNP welcomes and gives its full support to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill.

The member continued in English.

I will quote.

The member continued in Gaelic:

"Mura tig 's ann theàrnas mi a Hallaig,

a dh'ionnsaigh sàbaid nam marbh,

far a bheil an sluagh a' tathaich,

gach aon ghinealach a dh'fhalbh.

Tha iad fhathast ann a Hallaig,

Clann Ghill-Eain 's Clann MhicLeòid,

na bh' ann ri linn Mhic Ghille Chaluim:

chunnacas na mairbh beò -"

Leanaidh mi orm sa Bheurla a-nis.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

"If it does not" come,

"I will go down to Hallaig,

to the sabbath of the dead,

where the people are frequenting,

every single generation gone.

They are still in Hallaig,

Macleans and Macleods,

All who were there in the time of Mac Gille Chaluim:

the dead have been seen alive -"

The member continued in English.

I apologise for my Gaelic. I quoted Sorley MacLean's poem "Hallaig" because it talks of the voices of the past; what we want to hear is the action of the present and the call from the future. I hope that the call from the future will be from the voices of young people, who will increase the Gaelic population and replenish the language.

In supporting the bill, I pay tribute to all those, including activists of the past, who campaigned for a Gaelic bill. The SNP has introduced three such bills and I pay tribute to Mike Russell, who presented a bill in the previous parliamentary session. Activists of no party and of many parties have pursued Gaelic, so we must pay tribute to them.

We are saddened to hear today of the death of Gwynfor Evans, the first Plaid Cymru member of Parliament, who was an inspiration to the Welsh nationalist movement and was a strong fighter for the Welsh language. When we hear John Farquhar Munro talk of a Gaelic television station and about the language, we must remember that Gwynfor Evans went on hunger strike for a Welsh television channel. In passing the bill, we should pay tribute to him and to all language activists throughout the world today and in the past.

The bill is just one part of a journey. Obtaining the legislation was a journey in the first place, but we are on a journey towards action. I disagree in many ways with Ted Brocklebank's comments. The challenge now is action and the bòrd and the act will be judged by that. There is a job of work to do. The bill is a landmark; it is an historic staging post, but it is a staging post. When we look to the future, we must ensure that the Gaelic language survives—that is essential. It must be put on a firm footing. If the bill has had one point, it has been the move to recognise the potential of the Gaelic language.

I pay tribute to the minister who is responsible for Gaelic, Peter Peacock, because he has co-operated exceptionally with the Education Committee. The bill has provided a good example of how legislation can progress. If we have had differences, they have been in trying to achieve the same policy end. We want rights for Gaelic speakers and for the Gaelic language in the future. The bill might not provide that, but this staging post is an important development and I have great pleasure in supporting the bill.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 4:54 pm, 21st April 2005

For the most part, I welcome members' speeches and the continuing constructive tone in this closing debate. I am constantly amazed at Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's ability to recount stories from his family's past, which seem to have no limit. I enjoyed his story today. I am particularly pleased to hear that he has become a devotee of Tony Blair, whom he quoted twice in positive terms.

I commend Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's point about Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the important part that it has played in Gaelic development generally for many years. That is one of the strongest points in Gaelic development and is one place from which we can derive hope for the future, not just because of what has been done there to develop and promote the language, but because of the economic effects on the whole south-east of Skye and that community. I know that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton played his part by contributing to that work when he was a minister and I pay tribute to him for that.

I was encouraged to hear Rob Gibson quote Brian Wilson, which I am sure he would not often do. The fact that he did so gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to Brian Wilson, who was also a minister who had responsibility for Gaelic. There is something about Gaelic that brings Brian Wilson to life in a way that other things do not manage to do. It is clear that he is at home in the Highlands with all matters Gaelic—not just the language, but the music, the dance, the song and the literature. As well as being a tireless campaigner on land reform issues and the connection that they have to Gaelic—to which Alasdair Morrison referred—he has striven to ensure that Gaelic will have a future and that it will be able to go from strength to strength.

I pay tribute to Mike Watson, who made some of the big decisions that have brought us to where we are today when he was the minister responsible for Gaelic and whose work followed that of Alasdair Morrison. Mike Watson appointed the members of the first bòrd and made all the relevant provisions for that in the early years of his period of office.

I want to address some of the points that Alasdair Morrison made, one of which was about publishing. He has spoken to me about the idea of allocating 1 per cent of the Executive's advertising budget to Gaelic publishing. That is an interesting idea and one that I will ensure that the Executive addresses. We will consider how we might make a contribution to Gaelic publishing as part of our language plan. That said, we should recognise that the Executive is already doing a lot to promote publishing. In previous years, we have provided substantial sums through Stòrlann Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig and this year we have increased the sums that are available. Through Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the Gaelic newspaper, we have promoted writing in Gaelic and the commissioning of writing in Gaelic, as Alasdair Morrison is aware.

Alasdair Morrison made an important point about the functions of the bòrd. In Mike Watson's time, it was not thought that the bòrd would become statutory, but we have progressed to a position in which it is statutory. It has substantial new powers that we did not envisage its having even at the beginning of the bill's passage. If the bòrd is to deliver, it will need resources and we have committed the Executive to providing those resources through the spending review.

Alasdair Morrison asked about appointments to strengthen the bòrd; we intend to consider how we can strengthen the bòrd over the coming months. In view of the changing nature of the bòrd's responsibilities, I must ensure that it is seen to have the authority to deliver its new functions. It is important that there is no doubt about the fact that it is legitimate for the bòrd to carry out its functions in the future, so I am considering how we can ensure that we achieve that.

A number of members, including Alex Neil, John Farquhar Munro, Alasdair Morrison, Mike Watson and Ted Brocklebank mentioned broadcasting. We do not have legislative competence as regards broadcasting, but it remains important to the development of the language. The Executive is committed to doing what it can to ensure that progress is made towards the establishment of a digital television channel.

I can tell Parliament that, in recent weeks, a series of discussions has been initiated. Alasdair Morrison led a delegation from the Gaelic Media Service to meet three ministers—the Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport and me—to talk about what further steps we could take in that regard. In recent weeks, all the relevant interests have made significant movement on the issue and I hope that we are close to reaching agreement on a positive way forward.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

Can the minister confirm that although, as part of its contribution to Gaelic broadcasting, the Executive is talking about index-linking the original £8 million that the Tories put in, all that it will get from Tessa Jowell's Department for Culture, Media and Sport is about £0.25 million per annum? That does not compare favourably with the £100 million that Welsh broadcasting gets.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I can confirm that we are making significant progress and that all the relevant interests have made significant movement. Members will appreciate that the fact that we are in the midst of an election campaign means that I cannot go beyond a certain point because of the restrictions that are in place; if I did, I might produce a negative reaction. Other members are similarly restricted. We are making progress and I am hopeful that we will soon be able to reach agreement on a way forward.

Members such as Mike Watson and Eleanor Scott asked about teaching and education. It is true that we need to do more in that regard and I believe that the bill will enable us to do so. I do not want to introduce a negative tone, but I was disappointed by some of Ted Brocklebank's remarks. I am under no illusions; one cannot legislate for survival of a language and expect it to happen just like that. I have always recognised that education is vital, which is why I have backed Gaelic-medium education throughout my political career. In Alasdair Morrison's constituency, 30 per cent of the young people are being taught through the medium of Gaelic. That is the future hope for the language. That number is growing and we intend to grow it further. I want us to move forward in a positive vein.

Iain Crichton Smith said:

"he who loses his language loses his world."

Today we can play our part in trying to ensure that we never lose Gaelic—a precious part of our heritage and, I hope, an ever-present part of our future.

The report of the Macpherson task force that was appointed by the Executive summarised the history of Gaelic by saying that it has been

"a chronicle of dereliction, official negligence, malicious intent, deliberate denial and ... benign neglect."

Neil Gunn said that Highlanders were

"made to despise their language and traditions."

Today we can be proud that we are doing our bit to end that historical neglect once and for all, to turn malicious intent into a generosity of spirit toward the language and to encourage Gaelic speakers to be proud of their language and traditions and to plan for Gaelic's future.

The Executive promised legislation to give Gaelic a better future. Today we in this Parliament have a chance to deliver just that. In the words of the song "Suas Leis a' Ghàidhlig":

"It is still the language of youth, it is still the language of great age ... it is not overcome by adversity."

Let us move forward to pass the bill and turn adversity into opportunity for Gaelic. I commend the bill to Parliament.