Wednesday 7th February was a special and historic day in the House of Commons. It was the occasion on which MPs could make speeches in the Welsh Language for the first time. It was nothing to do with allowing a witness to speak Welsh where it was thought the witness would be more comfortable. I think that’s happened before. There was no reason beyond MPs being permitted to speak in the Language of Heaven if they so wanted. A recognition of the importance of the Language to Wales. It was a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, which meets infrequently and irregularly. The ‘Welsh Grand’ consists of all 40 Welsh MPs and a few others - sort of adopted as Welsh for the day! It’s a four and a half hour debate, and there’s a fair bit of freedom to speak about whatever, though the formal position is consideration of the impact on Wales of the Budget.
It was a big day for me personally. I emanate from Welsh speaking ancestors. In fact, I don’t have any ancestors who were other than first Language Welsh. I don’t have any who weren’t born in Montgomeryshire either. My parents were first Language Welsh. But when they married, they moved to Castle Caereinion, an English speaking part of Montgomeryshire. And importantly, at that time the Welsh Language was considered to be a language of failure (Iaith o Feddiant). I never heard my parents speak in Welsh. So my 5 sisters and I grew up without any knowledge of Welsh. For most of my life I cared not about this. Things are so different today.
In my late 50s, after being elected to the National Assembly for Wales, and being surrounded by Welsh being widely spoken, and having to use translation earphones, I felt quite ashamed. I decided to learn. Over the last 15 years, I have become what I think of as an adaquate Welsh speaker.
But yesterday’s debate was special, historic and I wanted to make it memorably challenging. So I decided to write notes for a speech in English only, but speak in Welsh only. It was quite challenging but I did feel rather pleased with myself. It’s not an occasion I’ll forget. Other MPs also spoke in Welsh, some highly proficient, some at varying levels of adaquacy, and some using just a few words. I thought it was a very good day for Wales in Westminster.