27 September 2017
This article is in two parts, with the first part setting the context and providing an overview of the Welsh Government’s main proposals for a Welsh Language Bill. The second part, to be published this afternoon, will provide more detail on the Government’s proposals.
On the 9th of August 2017, following a call for evidence from organisations who are subject to Welsh language Standards and other key stakeholders, the Welsh Government published its White Paper – Striking the right balance: proposals for a Welsh Language Bill (PDF, 870KB).
The White Paper presents the Welsh Government’s proposals for a new Bill that will amend the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. The White Paper should be read side by side with the Welsh Government’s Cymraeg 2050: Welsh language strategy (PDF, 2.79MB), published in August 2017. The vision set out in the Strategy is for a Wales ‘where the Welsh language is an integral element of all aspects of everyday life’. The key aim of the Strategy is to almost double the current number of Welsh speakers.
The White Paper focuses on the legislative and structural elements associated with achieving the vision set out in the Strategy. Alun Davies in his Ministerial foreword states:
My intention is to give new energy to our efforts to promote the language through establishing a Welsh Language Commission, whilst preserving rights, simplifying bureaucracy and establishing new arrangements for language planning across public services.
In its proposals for new legislation, the Welsh Government note the following objectives:
- striking the right balance between promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language and regulating Welsh language duties;
- reducing bureaucracy in the system; and
- ensuring value for money.
A summary of key proposals can be found in paragraph 48 of the White Paper. Some of the most significant proposals include:
- Abolishing the Welsh Language Commissioner.
- Establishing a single main body – The Welsh Language Commission to promote the language.
- The Welsh Government retains responsibility for national policy and strategy, along with the funding of some bodies of national significance.
- Budget and resources for other specified promotion work currently undertaken by Welsh Government transferred to the new Commission.
- Concept of Welsh Language Standards to remain, but should only apply to services.
- The Welsh Government should be responsible for making and imposing Standards, the newly formed Commission should monitor and enforce compliance of the Standards.
- Only serious complaints should be investigated by the Welsh Language Commission.
Welsh Language Promotion
At present, the work of promoting the language is the responsibility of the Welsh Government, although the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 makes provision for the Welsh Language Commissioner to do anything that he or she thinks appropriate to promote the use of the Welsh language.
The Welsh Government is responsible for publishing a national strategy for the language, and promoting the language through campaigns, such as the ‘Pethau Bychain’ campaign which sought to encourage people to increase the use of Welsh in their daily lives.
The Welsh Government also supports organisations such as the Mentrau Iaith, Young Farmers Movement and the Urdd among others, providing both core and specific project funding. The budget allocated for promotion work for 2017-18 is in the region of £4.7 million, with an additional £3.1 million allocated to the Welsh Language Commissioner.
The Welsh Government is also responsible for national policies that are significant in the promotion and development of the Welsh language in areas such as education, health and social care.
The Welsh Government proposes four options in relation to promoting the language:
- No change
- Establish a Welsh Government Executive Agency
- Establish a new body separate from Welsh Government
- Establish a single body responsible for language promotion and for monitoring and enforcing compliance with Standards.
Option 4 is favoured by the Welsh Government, providing a ‘single body the wide range of powers, significant resources and a focal point for language development in Wales’.
However, there has been some objection to the Welsh Government’s proposals for a new Welsh Language Bill, that some have stated may weaken Welsh speakers’ rights. The Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, Heledd Gwyndaf said the proposals are a backward step:
Between abolishing the Welsh Language Commissioner, restricting the public’s ability to complain effectively and weakening powers to enforce the Standards, this would be a big step backwards.
Emyr Lewis, a prominent solicitor and a founder member of Dyfodol i’r Iaith said in a recent Golwg article (17 August 2017) that moving responsibilities for promoting the language to the Welsh Government had been a “strategic mistake”. However, he is of the view that responsibilities for promoting the language and regulating language duties should be kept separate:
I believe there is a need to separate these functions. It is better that they are separated into regulatory functions and promotion functions, for the reason that promotion work has a very different nature and purpose. (Translation from Welsh)
The consultation on the White Paper comes to an end on 31 October 2017. On 03/10/2017, Assembly Members will have an opportunity to debate in Plenary the main proposals in the White Paper.
Article written by Osian Bowyer, National Assembly for Wales Research Service