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Nick Ainger: This has been a good debate, and the fact that it is now 8.11 pm and we have all this time to debate this issue proves what an excellent programme motion we tabled. Most of the issues were discussed in Committee, and I know that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) is seeking some reassurance on them. I hope that I shall be able to help him. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr.   Gummer) also made some points on the amendments, and I hope to be able to reassure him as well.

Amendment No. 17 would alter the obligation on the Assembly to treat English and Welsh equally in the conduct of its proceedings so that, rather than using
 
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the   formulation in the Government of Wales Act 1998 that everyone accepts has worked well, the Assembly would have to do so

The Bill provides minimum legal requirements with which the Assembly must comply. The new legislature should have some limited discretion to decide on its own procedures in this respect, which is what clause 35 proposes. We are not in a position now to say what will not be "reasonably possible" in relation to treating the Welsh and English languages on a basis of equality, but that is what the amendment suggests, by including the condition relating to "exceptional cases". The hon. Member for Caernarfon tried to come up with an example of an exceptional case, and he suggested that a document that was about to be superseded by a new one would present just such a case. However, that would not be exceptional at all; it happens quite regularly. It is actually quite difficult to provide examples of cases that would be considered exceptional.

It has been suggested that the amendment would enhance moves towards full equality of the two languages in the Assembly, but good and continuing progress is already being made under the existing provision. Last year, for example, the Assembly began producing part-bilingual verbatim transcripts of its Committee proceedings on a routine basis. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

The hon. Gentleman sought reassurance that issues relating to the Welsh language would be taken forward, and that there was a commitment to bilingualism in the Assembly. I can give him that assurance. Clause 61 already gives Welsh Ministers the power to do anything that they consider "appropriate" to support the Welsh language. Together with the Welsh Ministers' functions under the Welsh Language Act 1993, this provides a broad basis for promoting the Welsh language.

The hon. Gentleman spoke at some length to new clause 10. We believe that the new clause is unnecessary because legislative competence for the Assembly on matters relating to the Welsh language could be sought under the Order in Council process in part 3 of the Bill. Immediately after the part 3 powers come into effect, following Royal Assent, in May 2007, it will be possible for an Assembly Minister or a Committee of the Assembly to ask for powers relating to the Welsh language to address any of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, including those relating to speech therapists.

Hywel Williams: Will the Minister confirm that that relates only to devolved matters, and that some Welsh language matters are retained here at Westminster?

Nick Ainger: I believe that the only retained function relates to the use of Welsh in courts; that is virtually all that is left. I accept that there might be problems in regard to a particular Government Department producing bilingual forms, and we are all aware of what happened with the Licensing Act 2003. Clearly, such problems need to be addressed, but they can be
 
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addressed directly by an Assembly Minister making representations to his counterpart here in London. Many of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised will be able to be addressed immediately after May 2007, through the part 3 procedures. One of my concerns about new clause 10 is that it would provide a move towards giving primary powers without a referendum, whereas everywhere else in the Bill, such a move requires a referendum.

Mr. Gummer: I have great sympathy with that argument, but does the Minister accept that the fact that it took a year for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to produce a Welsh form, when it ought to have been automatic—it really should never have got to that stage—undermines the confidence of the House in the ability of Ministers here and in the Welsh Assembly to get the simple things done? It would be helpful if he could promise that these things will not happen in future, and that such documents will be produced automatically.

Nick Ainger: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the production of the licensing forms. I believe that the Department responsible has apologised for not getting that right when it would not have been too difficult to get it right. The powers to address such issues are in part 3 of the Bill. We want a streamlined system because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it can often take too long to sort these problems out. The Order-in-Council procedure will enable the Assembly to take powers in regard to any Welsh language responsibilities that it wants to change or enhance. Use of the part 3 procedures will get rid of the logjam that we now face whenever we want to make significant changes to the Welsh Language Act 1993.

Mr. Llwyd: I want to underline the point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and I met the Minister to talk about the Welsh language forms required under the Licensing Act 2003, and we warned him in the kindest and most respectful way about the issue six months before the cut-off date. That was in the November, but the problem carried on for almost a year. That is not good enough. Had the competence for these matters been in Cardiff, they would have been able to move a darned sight more quickly.

Nick Ainger: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. As I said, I think that the Department has apologised for that. For the production of something that was not particularly difficult, the process was far too long.

I want to reassure the House, and particularly the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, about the commitment of the Welsh Assembly Government, and this Government, to the language. Perhaps I can draw his attention to the report produced by the Welsh Assembly Government on Iaith Pawb, its policy to promote Wales as a bilingual country. It builds Welsh language considerations into all policy developments. There is lots of evidence that, certainly since the Assembly's inception, the language is taking its place in
 
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the hearts of the Welsh people and in the administration of government at all levels in Wales. We have made significant strides and continue to do so.

I hope that I have been able to give the hon. Member for Caernarfon the reassurances that he was seeking.

Hywel Williams: It would be useful if the Minister could respond to my point about "proceedings" and "business".

Nick Ainger: I am glad that the name of Hugh Rawlings has featured in our debates, because he has been an important member of the Bill team. That team has worked hard over many months to get to where we are today. I want to put on the record my gratitude to Mr. Rawlings and all the other members of the Bill team for their excellent work in supporting me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

The reason why we changed from "business" to "proceedings" is that "business" was used to cover the existing Assembly when it was acting as both a legislature and an Executive. The change reflects the separation. When the Assembly acts as a legislature, the term "proceedings" will be used, as in Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. "Business" will now equal "proceedings" plus the Executive functions. I hope that that explains the change, which is basically due to the separation of the Executive from the legislature. We will now use the same sort of terms as we use here.

Mr. Gummer: Will the Minister assure the House that nothing that the word "business" would have comprehended will be left out because of the use of the word "proceedings"? Does "proceedings" cover everything that was covered by "business"?

Nick Ainger: Yes.

Having reassured the hon. Member for Caernarfon, I hope that he will now withdraw the amendment, so that some of us can have something to eat tonight.

Hywel Williams: I am happy to withdraw the amendment. This has been a positive debate, and I thank Members who have contributed and the Minister for his response. These issues will not go away, and my colleagues in the Assembly will be looking to use the   part 3 powers as early as possible to address the language issues there. I still have concerns about the matters retained here, and we will return to those issues in future. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.


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