IS IT unusual for a Conservative Secretary of State for Wales to be unable to sing "Hen Wlad fy Nhadau" ("Land of My Fathers") in Welsh? The answer, it seems, is that half of them can and half of them can not.

According to Lord Elis-Thomas, the chairman of the Welsh Language Board, two out of Mr Redwood's three predecessors since 1979 could. Nicholas Edwards (1979-87) and David Hunt (1990-92) are both Welsh-born, although Mr Hunt left Wales at the age of five or six. In consequence they spoke some Welsh and were able to sing along. The exception was Peter Walker, who held the post from 1987 to 1990 and, like Mr Redwood, is an Englishman.

Lord Elis-Thomas should know. As Plaid Cymru MP for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy from 1974 to 1992 he attended numerous public events in the principality with Welsh Secretaries over the years and observed them during the anthem. Whoever gets the job next should make the effort to learn the words, he believes. Welsh or not, "I think it is important for public figures to be able to join in singing the anthem of any country where they are serving. I believe it is a matter of cultural courtesy."

Last week we rang Peter Walker - now Lord Walker and no longer active in politics - to check, and we asked if he would recite the lines of the Welsh anthem. He described this as an impertinence, said "Goodnight" and hung up. By Tony Heath