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Select Committee on Procedure First Report



FIRST REPORT

The Procedure Committee has agreed to the following Report:—

USE OF THE WELSH LANGUAGE BY SELECT COMMITTEE WITNESSES

1. In 1996 our predecessor Committee inquired into the use of the Welsh language in parliamentary proceedings in Wales. Its ensuing report[8] noted that the Welsh Affairs Committee had, as long ago as 1981, agreed guidelines to govern the taking of evidence in Welsh at public oral evidence sessions in Wales. Our predecessors endorsed those guidelines, in an amended form, as a basis for any future select committee proceedings in Wales at which Welsh might be used.[9] They further recommended that members of the Welsh Grand Committee should be entitled to address the Committee in Welsh at any meeting of the Committee in Wales; and that simultaneous translation facilities be provided where necessary both for the Welsh Grand and for select committees.[10] These recommendations were approved by the House on 5th June 1996, in the following terms:

    That, whilst English is and should remain the language of this House, the use of Welsh be permitted in parliamentary proceedings held in Wales, subject to the conditions set out in the Third Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1995-96 (House of Commons Paper No. 387).

2. In February 1998 we produced a short report which recommended a variation in the conditions approved by the House, to allow Members to change languages in the course of a speech.[11] This report was approved by the House on 20 March 1998.

3. Hitherto the use of Welsh has only been permitted in parliamentary proceedings within Wales. The Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Mr Martyn Jones MP, has written to us urging that the rules be changed to permit witnesses to speak Welsh in committee meetings at Westminster also, with simultaneous translation.[12] Mr Jones did not consider that his committee would seek to make extensive use of this facility, but he felt it important that first-language Welsh-speakers should be able to use Welsh if they choose either because they feel more comfortable speaking in that language or simply out of pride in the language. He noted that "the current Welsh Language Act was enacted in 1993, and the advent of devolution has given considerable impetus to bilingualism in public affairs even where the provision of Welsh is not a strict legal requirement".

4. We have given careful consideration to this matter, and believe that Mr Jones has advanced a sensible and modest proposal which should be adopted. We note the following arguments in favour of doing so:—

    (a)  it would remove the incongruity whereby the Welsh Affairs Committee can operate in Wales in a way that it is not allowed to do at Westminster (something that is difficult to explain to witnesses);

    (b)  it would acknowledge the special status enjoyed by the Welsh language not only as a medium of communication but as a symbol of cultural inheritance—a status which is recognised in law (the Welsh Language Act 1993) in a way which is not the case with any other non-English language spoken in the UK; and

    (c)  it would remove a perverse incentive to spend public money (because under the existing rules the Committee can take evidence as it wishes by choosing to meet in Wales rather than London, with the concomitant travel and subsistence costs).

5. We sought advice from the Clerk of Committees on the likely costs of providing simultaneous translation at Westminster. This information is given in a note appended to this report.[13] We consider that these are costs which could reasonably be borne by the House in the same way that it bears the costs of other support services for select committees. We also note the point made by the Clerk of Committees, that since the opening of Portcullis House, the House now has dedicated facilities for simultaneous translation which were lacking before.

6. For these reasons we recommend that the House should approve the use of Welsh by select committee witnesses at Westminster, subject to the same conditions as those previously approved by the House in relation to proceedings in Wales.

7. When our successors in the next Parliament review the subject of the procedural consequences of devolution (following up our report made last year[14]), we believe that it would be valuable for them to investigate how the fully bilingual policy adopted by the National Assembly for Wales has worked in practice, and whether there are any implications or lessons for practice at Westminster.


8   Procedure Committee, Third Report of 1995-96, Use of the Welsh Language in Parliamentary Proceedings in Wales (HC 387). Back

9   Ibid., para 12. Back

10   Ibid., para 13. Back

11   Procedure Committee, First Report of 1997-98, Use of the Welsh Language in Parliamentary Proceedings in Wales (HC 461). Back

12   Mr Jones's letter is printed below as Appendix 1. Back

13   Appendix 2. Back

14   Procedure Committee, Fourth Report of 1998-99, The Procedural Consequences of Devolution (HC 185). Back


 
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