UK Politics

Peer apologises for using term 'welching' in Lords debate

Baroness Williams of Trafford
Image caption The peer said she did not mean to use a "derogatory" term

A government minister has apologised after inadvertently insulting Welsh members of the House of Lords by using the term "welching".

Lady Williams was answering a question about tackling rogue landlords, when she suggested a need to stop some "welching" on their obligations.

Labour peer, Lord Morris of Aberavon, challenged her on the use of the term, describing it as "inappropriate".

The origins of the term are disputed. It can be spelled 'welsh' or 'welch'.

The exchange took place during a short debate on protection of tenants in the private rented sector.

Lord Morris, a former attorney general who represented the Welsh town of Aberavon as its MP for 42 years until 2001, said: "If I heard the term correctly, the minister used the inappropriate term welching. Would she define it please?"

Image caption Lord Morris asked for clarification of the minister's language
Image caption The term is said to originate in a dispute over a horse racing wager

In response, Baroness William of Trafford said: "I did not mean it as a derogatory term to the Welsh... There is a term to welsh on an agreement... It is not an insult... I simply meant to not meet their obligations."

The Conservative local government minister later clarified that she "did not realise in using the term 'welch' it was an insult to anybody, and I do apologise if any bad feeling was felt by that term".

Baroness Williams is not the first government minister to apologise to the House for using the term "welch".

In 2012, the then education secretary Michael Gove apologised for his use of the word, and assured the Commons that he did not want to be accused of "Cymryphobia".

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term's first recorded usage was in the 1860s in relation to a dispute over a horse racing bet, being understood to mean to "renege on payment of money owed as winnings".

In subsequent use, the OED says it has come to be defined as to "renege on a promise or agreement with someone", to "cheat or dupe" or to "fail to honour a debt or obligation".

It notes that the phrase is "sometimes considered offensive in view of the conjectured connection with Welsh people".

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