‘Preserving quirks of medieval English aristocracy’ more important to Westminster than Welsh rights says MP
A Welsh MP has said that “preserving the quirks of medieval England’s aristocracy” is more important to Westminster than the rights of Welsh people.
Dwynfor-Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts was responding to the fact that the Welsh language could not be used at Westminster while Norman French is part of the official working of the institution.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, in March told off the Plaid Cymru MP for speaking too much Welsh, because it was against the rules of the Parliament.
Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg later called Welsh a “foreign language” and compared it to Latin.
Liz Saville-Roberts said that despite becoming a “depoliticised feature of Welsh public life”, at Westminster the Welsh language was “treated as an aberration – a quirk that can only be tolerated under exceptional circumstances”.
“The Norman conquest changed the face of England, its society and political systems forever – it is apt for that history to be reflected in England’s parliament,” she wrote in Politics Home.
“But as a parliament that proclaims to represent the peoples of the whole of the United Kingdom, the use of living, breathing languages such as Welsh, Irish, Gaelic and Cornish must surely be given higher status.”
She compared the treatment of British languages with the European Union where documents are translated into all official languages of member states, and interpretation is offered in the speaking chamber.
“If the United Kingdom was truly a union of equals, all the official languages of its constituent parts would be treated with due respect,” she said.
“As parliamentary leader of Plaid Cymru, my aim is to build an independent nation that respects all languages, that guarantees full legal equality between our two national languages. But until that moment, Westminster has a duty to uphold the rights of Welsh speakers at all institutional levels.
“Allowing increased use of Welsh by MPs in Westminster could be a powerful sign to the people of the whole United Kingdom that their voices matter, regardless of their background.
“A failure to do so will confirm that preserving the quirks of medieval England’s aristocracy is more important to the Westminster system than upholding the rights of the people of Wales today.”
Norman French – the language of the higher social elite in medieval England following the invasion of 1066 – is a language used in Parliament in some of the formal exchanges between the two Houses as Bills pass through.
It is also used at Royal Assent, which is necessary for an Act to become law. This is because these procedures have barely changed since they began, hundreds of years ago, at a time when Norman French was the official language of Government.
The Welsh language is generally not allowed in speeches in the Chamber and in committees, but there are certain exemptions.
This is in contrast to the Senedd, where Welsh is an official language of the parliament.
When a Bill has passed for what is known as its third reading in the House of Commons, it is written down in a book and formally transferred to the House of Lords for their consideration with the following text at the start: “Soit baillé aux Seigneurs” which means “Let it be sent to the Lords.”
When the Lords have considered the Bill, it is then returned to the Commons with the following added: “A ceste bille [avecque des amendmens] les Seigneurs sont assentus” which means “To this bill [with amendments] the Lords have assented”.
When the Commons accepts it, the following is added: “A ces amendmens [avecque une amendment] les Communes sont assentus” which means “To these amendments [with an amendment] the Commons have assented”.
The Bill then goes for the Royal Assent, which used to be given by the monarch in person, but is no longer the case. The last time that happened was in 1854 when Queen Victoria was on the British throne.
However, there is also a more formal ceremony which was originated by Henry VIII, and nowadays is only performed once at the end of each Parliament, to give Royal Assent to all outstanding Bills and prorogue Parliament itself.
After some more formalities, the Clerk of the Crown then reads out the title of the Bill (or Bills; normally several are handled at a time) and the Clerk of the Parliament responds with the traditional formula in Norman French.
For finance bills it is “La Reyne, remerciant Ses bons Subjects, accepte leur Benevolence, et ainsi le veult” which means “The Queen, thanking her good subjects, accepts their benevolence, and so wills it”.
For other public bills it is “La Reyne le veult” which means “The Queen wills it”, while for private bills it is “Soit fait come il est desire” which means “Let it be done as it is desired.”
Royal consent has not been refused since 1708, but the words for that were “La Reyne s’avisera” which means “The Queen will think about it”.
The Welsh language has a different status within Parliament, and on the issue, its rule book, Erskine May states: “Subject to the exceptions below relating to the use of Welsh in committees, speeches in the Chamber and in other proceedings must be made in English.
“Use of languages other than English. Paragraph 21.3 Subject to the exceptions below relating to the use of Welsh in committees, speeches in the Chamber and in other proceedings must be made in English; quotation in another language has been allowed on occasion, though a translation should be provided.
“Since 1996, increasing freedom to use the Welsh language in committees has been allowed.
“The resolution of the House of 1 March 2017 provides that, ‘whilst English is and should remain the language of this House, the use of Welsh be permitted in parliamentary proceedings of Select Committees and of the Welsh Grand Committee held in Wales and at Westminster’, with the Official Report recording both the Welsh language contributions and an English translation, subject to reasonable notice being given of the proposed use of Welsh and to a power of the Chair to require points of order to be in English.”