UK: MP 'positive' over proposed Welsh language law changes

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Mar 20 16:47:21 UTC 2009

MP 'positive' over proposed Welsh language law changes

Mar 20 2009 by Tomos Livingstone, Western Mail

MOST people have already been “reassured” that a shake-up in Welsh
language legislation will not have a negative effect, the MP in charge
of scrutinising the plans said yesterday. The Welsh Affairs Select
Committee begins its inquiry into whether the Assembly should take
over language policy on Monday, taking evidence from the CBI and
Cymdeithas yr Iaith. Hywel Francis, the Aberavon MP who chairs the
committee, said the predicted disagreements had yet to materialise. “I
feel that the more people know about it, the more reassured they are,”
he told the Western Mail.

“The percentage of businesses affected is so small. It will be very
interesting to see what the responses of the CBI are, their evidence
has been clear and straightforward and the big debate is around this
contentious issue of whether it’s compulsory or voluntary. “I’ve not
heard any antipathy, other than from the usual quarters. I feel quite
positive.” Under the proposals, any updated version of the 1993 Welsh
Language Act would be drawn up in Cardiff Bay, not Westminster.

The Assembly Government would have the power to require providers of
basic services such as electricity and gas to operate in Welsh and
English, and insist that organisations which receive more than
£200,000 in public funding run bilingual operations. Although there
have been some objections, there has been little in the way of
organised opposition. “I think the people who are against it have been
surprised that they haven’t had much backing,” said one senior
Assembly figure. Monday’s scrutiny session comes at a delicate time
for the new system of devolving powers to the Assembly bit-by-bit,
known in political jargon as LCOs (Legislative Competence Orders).

A bid to devolve housing powers is mired in a row over whether the
final wording of the LCO – with a contentious Whitehall veto over more
radical policies – is legal. The necessary votes in the Commons and
Lords have now been postponed and the process may have to be
re-started. Legal advice seen by the Western Mail suggests that if the
housing LCO survives, it may make it easier for UK Government
ministers to insert similar vetoes into future LCOs. Dr Francis said
there was little prospect of the housing LCO row spilling over into
the language LCO discussions.

He said: “I would like to think people would treat each LCO on its
merits. We’re not, as a Select Committee, into political compromises
or deals or whatever. We’re just there to do a job of work, to
scrutinise what’s before us. “I can’t really see any connection
between the two. They’re all different but we treat them all the same,
in that we treat them seriously.” Debate over the language LCO is
likely to centre on the unusual provision relating to organisations
receiving £200,000 or more in public funds.

Some figures in Plaid Cymru privately think the clause is unnecessary.
“We should just be saying, hand over powers to update the 1993 Act,
that’s that,” said one. “We don’t need to be getting into this sort of
detail at this stage.” Cymdeithas yr Iaith say the £200,000 threshold
should be removed, while the CBI want it clarified to explain exactly
who would be affected. In their written submission to the Welsh
Affairs Select Committee Cymdeithas said it was “nonsense” to suggest
large firms would close branches in Wales if they were required to
provide bilingual services.

“If an obligation were to be placed on them to provide Welsh language
leaflets, posters, shop staff, telephone staff etc for customers in
Wales, they would be more likely to set up a department in Wales to
deal with these issues, which would mean more work in Wales,” the memo

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