Thursday 26 July 2012, 14:40
There have been many important acts of parliament relating to Wales over the years but none was more significant than the 1967 Welsh Language Act - not so much because of what it said, more for what it symbolised. The act was passed and became law 45 years ago on 27 July 1967, a significant and vitally important date in Welsh history.
The 1967 act was, effectively, the beginning of a process and the smashing away of old, out of date legislation that dated back to the time of the Tudors. It gave rights, albeit limited, that allowed people to use the Welsh language in legal proceedings in Wales - something that had been denied to them for centuries.
The act also allowed the appropriate and relevant government ministers to authorise Welsh versions or translations of any documents required by the act. And, importantly, the fourth section of the act repealed part of the Wales and Berwick Act of 1746, a section that stated the term English should be used, apply to and include Wales as well as England.
Hughes Parry Report
The 1967 act was based upon part of the Hughes Parry Report (1965), although it did not include all of the report's recommendations. The report had advocated equal importance and significance, in both writing and speech, for Welsh and English in the court system.
The significance of the 1967 Welsh Language Act lay in the fact that English - and only English - had, since the Acts of Union in 1536, been used in the law courts, totally ignoring the fact that most people in Wales in the 16th and 17th centuries spoke Welsh. Very few had any real understanding of English.
Obviously things changed with the industrialisation of the country. It did not hide the basic iniquity of a system that effectively prevented Welsh men and women using their natural and native tongue. Now, however, the new act put Welsh and English on equal terms in public life.
Welsh Courts Act 1942
There had been some slackening of legislation in 1942 when the Welsh Courts Act allowed defendants and plaintiffs appearing in court to use Welsh if they were being disadvantaged by having to speak English. Such a disadvantage had, of course, to be proved and then there was the problem of finding a judge or magistrate who understood the Welsh language. The 1967 act, however, was a much more robust and useful piece of legislation.
It had been passed only after extensive campaigning by members of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Language Society; the latter organisation came into existence following Saunders Lewis' seminal 1962 radio broadcast Tynged yr Iaith ("the fate of the language").
The act did not please everyone, particularly the more militant language campaigners who saw it as toothless. They continued to campaign and in 1982 the Welsh Language Society published their manifesto. An aggressive and virulent campaign of protest began, including a series of cottage burnings and the painting out of English language signs.
Eventually, in 1993, a new Welsh Language Act was passed, giving far more importance to the Welsh language. Significantly, however, it could never have been passed had it not been for the revolutionary 1967 act - something that tends to be forgotten today.
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