UK: Tories in bid to give Welsh language equal status with English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Dec 20 15:01:49 UTC 2006

Tories in bid to give Welsh language equal status with English

Dec 19 2006
Tomos Livingstone, Western Mail

The Tories will today announce a new policy aim to give the Welsh language
official status on an equal footing with English. The move is part of a
package of measures which will also see the party endorse the idea of an
independent language commissioner to act as a watchdog for Welsh. Nick
Bourne, the party's leader in the Assembly and culture spokeswoman Lisa
Francis have drawn up the proposals after a series of meetings with the
Language Commissioner in the Republic of Ireland and with pressure group
Cymdeithas yr Iaith.

Both Mr Bourne and Tory leader David Cameron are keen for the party to
shed any remaining suspicion that they are an 'English' party, and giving
a prominent billing to a radical-sounding language policy is part of the
strategy. Although Tories are keen to point out that it was John Major's
Government that introduced the 1993 Welsh Language Act, they now concede
there are flaws in the legislation, which does not give Welsh official
status and does not cover the private sector. The party says there is no
prospect of a Tory-led administration in the Assembly forcing private
firms to adopt Welsh-language schemes.

Over recent months there has been renewed controversy over language
policy, with the Assembly Government intending to scrap the Welsh Language
Board - given official status under the 1993 Act - and introduce a
Dyfarnydd to be an arbiter in disputes over whether various bodies are
following the law and doing enough to promote the language. These changes
would be ditched if the Tories win power in next May's elections, the
party confirmed last night, with a streamlined Welsh Language Board
operating alongside the commissioner, who would also offer advice to
Government. The 1993 Welsh Language Act refers to Welsh and English being
treated 'equally' but only under limited circumstances such as in public
business and in the courts as long as it is 'appropriate under the
circumstances and reasonably practicable'.

But Labour last night questioned the practicality of giving the language
'official' status claiming it was little more than a gimmick and 'soft
nationalist posturing'. Ms Francis, who represents Mid and West Wales in
the Assembly, said, 'As it stands English is the de facto official
language of Wales.  Conservatives want to give Welsh that same status,
enshrined in law. 'If we are seeking to review existing legislation, then
giving Welsh official language status would be the starting point for
strengthening both the law and future of the language. 'At present, the
status of Welsh in the eyes of the law remains vague and limited.

'The way to get the Welsh language to thrive is through 75% education and
25% legislation. 'Reviewing and revising existing legislation effectively
amounts to a new Welsh Language Act. Current legislation does not give
clear information to the public about what language choices they have.'
New legislation was 'just one part of the jigsaw', she said. The
commitment to a new Welsh Language Act will be seen as a measure of how
far the party - and political debate - has moved in recent years. The call
for a new Act has been pushed for many years by Cymdeithas yr Iaith, who
until a few years ago had never held any meetings with Tory elected
representatives. Both Plaid and the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the
idea of scrapping the Welsh Language Board, and there is a growing
expectation that a new Welsh Language Act, in some form, will be one of
the first measures introduced under the Assembly's new powers after May -
regardless of who wins the election.

A Whitehall source told the Western Mail last night that the Tory idea
could run into difficulty as the term 'official status' has 'no precise
legal meaning'.


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