Little need for new Welsh language law, but Welsh Language Standards “could be streamlined”

(Title Image: Daily Post)

Culture Committee
Supporting and Promoting the Welsh Language (pdf)
Published: 9th July 2019

“As a Committee, we would like to see the Welsh Government….ensuring all Government policies align and create the conditions to support the aims of Cymraeg 2050 (million Welsh-speakers by 2050). An adequately resourced cohesive plan would have more oversight over government policies and activity relating to education, planning, economic development and rural development for instance.”
– Committee Chair, Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West)

1. The Welsh Language Measure 2011 is “good, but not perfect”

Welsh and English became official languages for the first time via the passing of the Welsh Language measure during the Third Assembly. It also established the position of Welsh Language Commissioner, abolished the Welsh Language Board and set out the gradual introduction of Welsh Language Standards for public services.

There was broad agreement amongst witnesses that the Measure has had a positive impact on the rights of Welsh-speakers, though some witnesses felt it was too focused on the Welsh language itself, not its use.

While the Measure was seen as imperfect, there was an overall conclusion that there didn’t need to be a new Welsh language law – a proposal which was eventually dropped by the Welsh Government. The then Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, didn’t believe there was a need either as the Measure itself wasn’t particularly restrictive.

There were criticisms of the complaints system by local authorities, who suggested that complaints relating to Welsh language services should first go through an internal council complaints procedure, instead of being a stand-alone system; though Cymdeithas yr Iaith said complaining directly to the Commissioner was easier.

2. Welsh Language Standards are complex and bureaucratic; consideration should be given to streamlining them

Under the Welsh Language Act 1993, public bodies in Wales had to prepare and publish Welsh language schemes. Following the 2011 Measure, this changed to being subject to nationally-consistent Welsh Language Standards.

A number of witnesses said the standards system presented significant administrative burdens on public bodies; Colegau Cymru described it as a “long, drawn-out, laborious process”, while the Welsh Government announced a pause on new standards being introduced from June 2018.

However, the system was defended by the former Welsh Language Commissioner because the Standards set out very clearly what was expected of public bodies so there could be no ambiguity.

There was broad agreement that it was too early to determine whether the whole system needs to be revised, though the Committee recommended that existing standards could be reviewed and streamlined when applied in future to bodies currently not subject to any standards – like housing associations, utilities and transport.

3. The Welsh Language Commissioner’s ability to promote the language has been limited

The 2011 Measure grants the Welsh Language Commissioner powers to do anything they believe is necessary to promote the use of Welsh. There was some criticism that the Commissioner’s office has focused too much on regulation and not enough on promotion – including criticism from the Welsh Government – however, the Committee concluded this criticism was unjustified.

The former Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, shared that view. He believed the Welsh Government should be responsible for promotion – which was his understanding when a Minister. This view was also supported by Cymdeithas yr Iaith, though they accepted there was nothing to prevent the Commissioner from promoting the language in principle. The Welsh Language Standards themselves were considered to be a “soft” form of promotion.

A number of witnesses, including Cymdeithas yr Iaith, Dyfodol i’r Iaith and the Welsh-medium teaching union UCAC, supported calls for an arms-length agency to promote the language for different reasons. However, the Minister for International Affairs & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales), said the situation was already difficult for people to understand and a third agency would “muddy the waters further”.

The Committee recommended the Welsh Government’s Language Unit be strengthened and that appropriate use of academic research – particularly within an international context of minority languages in Europe (i.e. Basque Country) – should be used to identify gaps in knowledge.

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