Select Committee on Procedure First Report


Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee

As part of our inquiry into Social Exclusion in Wales we intend to hold an informal meeting with a representative group of young people who are suffering social exclusion. The meeting is to be organised in conjunction with the Wales Youth Agency.

Our original intention was to invite the participants to come to Westminster. Because some of them will be first-language Welsh-speakers, we asked the Clerk of the House, as Accounting Officer, whether it would be possible - exceptionally - to provide simultaneous translation into Welsh on this occasion. He replied that he could not authorise such expenditure, since the recommendation of the Procedure Committee in its Third Report of Session 1995-96 (The Use of the Welsh Language in Parliamentary Proceedings in Wales) which was agreed to by the House related only to meetings held in Wales. Obviously, the views of the Accounting Officer on the matter are conclusive and we have therefore decided to hold the meeting in Wales.

We should appreciate it, however, if your Committee could look again at this matter. 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. Moreover, if we were to invite a Welsh-speaking Assembly Member to give evidence to us in Westminster he or she would think it odd not to be able to use Welsh as a matter of course. That said, if given the facility for witnesses to speak Welsh in Committee meetings at Westminster we would not expect to call on it very often, given that we have only used the facility on four occasions since the beginning of the present Parliament (although we are going to do so again on Monday 22 May). I should also emphasise that what we seek is a facility for witnesses: there is no question in my mind of Committee Members themselves being able to use Welsh with English-speaking witnesses or when deliberating, since in this case the normal rules of debate in the Chamber should apply.

Mr Martyn Jones

17 May 2000

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