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Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab):
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this debate. I, too, wish to send my heartfelt sympathies to Carwyn Jones on the loss of his mother. At the end of an extraordinary
few weeks in the history of Wales, I also offer a tribute to the retiring First Minister, who has had an extraordinary 10 years. To stand down at the end of 10 years from the most important job in Wales and to be garlanded with such popularity-by 65 to 75 per cent. of the nation-is phenomenal. It does not happen very often. A member of my party who witnessed the tributes to this great giant of the nation was surprised to see that 10 minutes later he was queuing in the cafeteria for a cup of tea with Rhodri Morgan standing next to him. It does not happen that way in Westminster-it seems to be the Welsh way-but it might explain why Rhodri was so important.
At the moment, we have rare, if not unique, unity in Wales on so many issues. We have had a year of a stable and strong coalition Government, who have not been quarrelling constantly. That has been beneficial to Wales. We have seen in the debate tonight this extraordinary unity. We all know that in the past there have been divisions between us. I served with great pride on Gwent county council with my right hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), although we were not unanimous then.
I would like to pay tribute to the Welsh language and what it has meant to my life. It has enriched it extraordinarily. I remember living with my family and having to be told that I lived in Wales. My mother explained to me that, although everyone to whom we spoke had Irish accents, we were in fact Welsh because we were born in Wales. We were just Welsh-not proper Welsh, like the people in north Wales, or real Welsh, like the people who speak with Welsh accents, but we were certainly Welsh.
I had the great luck that few had at the time of having an inspiring Welsh teacher who taught me the glorious, majestic poetry of Robert Williams Parry and T. Gwynn Jones. I remember that to this day. All my life, the language has been a source of great pleasure, right up to today, when I drive up the motorway to the sounds of Heather Jones singing "Mae Hiraeth yn fy Nghalon". There are many other great facets to modern Welsh, a language that in 1962 we all feared would not last until the end of the century, after the famous speech by Saunders Lewis, "Tynged yr Iaith". He said that the language was in such a steep decline that it could not survive to the year 2000. Welsh is now flourishing in a way that none of us believed possible.
I was involved in union work, but I came into politics because of the decision by the school teaching my eight-year-old daughter that the first Welsh song that she would ever learn would be the Welsh national anthem, but taught in English, which seems an affront too far. I got involved with the movement for Welsh-language schools in Gwent, which have survived and prospered magnificently. Every one of them has been a huge success. What a joy it is now to go into every school in my constituency, where, when I was young, people would have been uncertain whether they were in England or Wales. The county's motto was "Faithful to both", which meant faithful towards England and Wales. Now it means faithful to both north Wales and south Wales, which is an entirely different meaning altogether.
It is a matter of some rejoicing for us as a nation that we have reached this point, where we have this treasure of the language, which has come to us down the centuries.
It is a language that existed with sophisticated literature long before the English language existed, and it continues to prosper. Last week we had a saturnalia in Caerleon in my constituency-we go back a bit further than the Christian tradition-to celebrate the Roman Christmas. It is fascinating to recall that if one was attending a saturnalia in Caerleon 2,000 years ago, the children would have been speaking two languages: Welsh and Latin. Welsh is the language that survives on the lips of the children today-we do not hear a lot of people speaking Latin these days. That is a matter of great pride for us as a nation.
This evening's debate is a historical turning point, in that we are going forward in harmony as a nation, united and at peace with ourselves, to build a much stronger Wales and see our own Parliament on the soil of our country-something that we have not had in any reasonable form for centuries-strong, stable and certain to have a great future as an independent Parliament.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): It is clear from the contributions of hon. Members from all parts of the House that there is an immense fund of good will towards the Welsh language, and so should there be. As my noble Friend Lord Roberts of Conwy observed in another place, the language is a highly valued part not only of Welsh heritage, but of British heritage, and it should be cherished as such. Indeed, the fondness of Welsh people toward their language was clearly expressed just now by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn).
While mentioning my noble Friend Lord Roberts, I feel it appropriate again to pay tribute to the efforts that he, probably more than any other living individual, has made to help secure the status of Welsh as a vibrant modern language, spoken by increasing numbers of people-and particularly young people-in the Principality, as the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) and for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) said. It was Lord Roberts who piloted the Welsh Language Act 1993 through Parliament. He has steadfastly championed the cause of the language at every available opportunity. All of us in the House owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
The wisdom that Lord Roberts showed in 1993 is just as relevant today. If people are to be encouraged to use the Welsh language, it should be done, so far as possible, on a voluntary basis. This is, as the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) pointed out, a highly sensitive issue. We cannot take a broad-brush approach. We have to take account of different sensitivities and the different traditions of various parts of Wales.
I agree with the right hon. and hon. Members who have said that compulsion should be avoided at all costs. However, our concern is that the order envisages an element of compulsion. The hon. Member for Caernarfon not only recognised that but-I am sad to say this, because he is a nice man-appeared to rejoice in it. I have to warn the House that nothing is more likely to breed resentment than compulsion in Welsh language legislation. That is one step away from the politicisation of the language, and I am sure that almost everyone in this Chamber would wish to avoid that.
The order in its current form is, however, a significant improvement on the original draft, most particularly in its introduction of a reasonableness and proportionality
test. This is to the credit of the work of the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis). It was not an easy task to achieve consensus, but achieve it we did, and the draft LCO is all the better for that.
"It is the Welsh Assembly Government's policy that subsequent Measures should not impose duties on organisations unless there is a clear public benefit in doing so. It is not the intention to place disproportionate obligations on any organisation."
However, we are concerned that Measures might be introduced by the Welsh Assembly Government that set up an unwieldy bureaucracy to oversee the language and to establish appeals and enforcement procedures, all of which will cost money at a difficult economic time, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) pointed out. More importantly, such Measures might militate against the unselfconscious use of both Welsh and English that we all want to see.
We still have reservations about the order, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to them. We do not know where the seemingly arbitrary figure of £400,000 has come from. We are concerned that professional supervisory bodies, many of whom may have limited resources or few members in Wales, could be subject to a requirement to produce a Welsh language scheme. We are utterly mystified as to why the Bank of England is included in the ambit of the order. I hope that the Minister can offer an explanation for that point, if for no other. We are concerned that royal chartered bodies are still arbitrarily included, although the number of categories of such bodies has, thankfully, been reduced. We are particularly troubled that post office services are still included, as that could act as a deterrent to prospective purchasers of sub-post offices in Wales. We are also concerned that niche market telecommunications, gas, electricity and water suppliers could be deterred from entering the Welsh market, which could have adverse consequences for Welsh consumers.
In summary, we are worried that, unless the powers conferred by this LCO are used judiciously and sensitively by the Welsh Assembly Government, they will have the potential to undo all the good that has been done by the Welsh Language Act 1993. They could create non-tariff barriers to companies wishing to establish themselves in Wales, and disadvantage Walsh consumers. They could be perceived as heavy-handed and bureaucratic. If the powers are not judiciously applied, they might be resented.
We must rely on the good will and good sense of the Welsh Assembly Government in this regard. We will not oppose the making of this order, but we will be looking very carefully at what the Assembly Government do with the powers conferred upon them. We urge them to proceed cautiously and sensitively. Indeed, in the medium term, they could do a lot worse than leave the current arrangements undisturbed.
We have had a good debate tonight on the Welsh language and on this Welsh language competence order. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who as Secretary of State for Wales began the process of consultation that has taken us in a very constructive way to where we are today. I believe that the consultation he began has led to the creation of a genuine consensus on the best way forward for promoting and enhancing the Welsh language. That consensus extends, I believe, not only to both Houses of Parliament, but to the Welsh Assembly and the people of Wales. One of the lessons of recent history is that if we are actively and positively to promote the Welsh language we must have a consensual approach, so that all the people of Wales are taken with us. The Welsh language is the language of all the people of Wales-English speakers as well as Welsh speakers.
In common with other Members, I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), and to the excellent work that the Committee has done. The stipulations of reasonableness and proportionality are extremely important in respect of this LCO. I believe that the inclusion of those two tests makes this LCO that much the stronger.
A number of Members have greatly praised the process as it has been conducted and have warmly supported the provisions in the LCO. A number of reservations have, however, been expressed-rather too strongly for my liking. It is rather unfortunate that the reservations were expressed in the way they were, but some legitimate questions have been raised. Let me briefly refer to some of them.
The future of the Welsh Language Board was raised, and I believe that is very much a question for the Welsh Assembly Government. It will be for them to decide on its future, as they are empowered to decide.
A number of Members, particularly the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), raised the issue of the potential burden on business, which was echoed by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). One of the most important facets of this process has been the very positive engagement with the business community. Understandably, concerns have been expressed, but many of them have been sufficiently addressed and allayed. It is very significant that the CBI, for example, has warmly welcomed the introduction of reasonableness and proportionality in the LCO. That is important in itself, but it is also indicative of wider support and an acceptance that what we have before us is the best way forward for the Welsh language.
That does not imply, of course, that a voluntary approach towards enhancing the Welsh language is to be put to one side-quite the opposite. This legislative framework before us will provide a powerful stimulus to an increasing voluntary acceptance of the Welsh language in Wales. My right hon. Friends the Members for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and for Torfaen made the valid point that the education system in Wales is in many ways still the key to promoting the Welsh language, ensuring that it is a language for young people and in tune with the needs of modern Wales.
Issues were raised about the appeals process, which is again very much in the hands of the Welsh Assembly Government, whose responsibility it will be, of course,
to fund any appeals mechanism that requires funding. I also stress that a regulatory impact assessment will be made of any Measures introduced by the Welsh Assembly Government as a consequence of this LCO. That is firmly embedded in the order, and it was fully recognised as well as warmly welcomed in the debates and the constructive discussions that we had with the Welsh Assembly Government.
Let me refer briefly to two other points. First, there is a stipulation threshold of £400,000, so that certain large organisations such as the National Botanic Garden of Wales, are brought within the ambit of the LCO. The Bank of England is mentioned specifically because of the reference in the 1993 Act to the need for a Welsh language scheme involving it. Lord Roberts of Conwy-Wyn Roberts-is to be congratulated on having the foresight to introduce that stipulation in the Act.
That the draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Welsh Language) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 10 November, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Anthony Hugh Burton Hobman as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 19 January 2010 for the period ending on 31 December 2013. - (Mark Tami.)
That, in respect of the Video Recordings Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time. - ( Mark Tami .)
(1) Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely:
In paragraph (4) the word 'eight' shall be substituted for the word 'thirteen' in line 42 and in paragraph (5) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'eighth' in line 44;
(2) Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) shall have effect for this Session with the following modification, namely:
In paragraph (2) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'eighth' in line 21; and
(3) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 29 January; 5 and 26 February; 5 and 12 March; 23 and 30 April; and 7 May. - ( Mark Tami.)
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I wish to present a petition whose terms are probably fairly well known to the House by now, as they have been read out a number of times. It concerns the Badman report. I am indebted to my constituent Kate Charlesworth and several of her colleagues who came to see me some weeks ago to discuss the concern that they felt, as home educators, about what was proposed, and exchanged information with me. They collected the signatures on the petition from people in my constituency. There are also a few signatures from people in the neighbouring Wansdyke constituency.
The Petition of persons resident in the Somerton and Frome parliamentary constituency,
Declares that they are concerned about the recommendations of the Badman Report, which suggests closer monitoring of home educators, including a compulsory annual registration scheme and right of access to people's homes for local authority officials; further declares that the Petitioners believe the recommendations are based on a review that was extremely rushed, failed to give due consideration to the evidence, failed to ensure that the data it collected were sufficiently robust, and failed to take proper account of the existing legislative framework.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families either not to bring forward, or to withdraw, proposed legislative measures providing for tighter registration and monitoring of children educated at home in the absence of a thorough independent inquiry into the condition and future of elective home education in England; but instead to take the steps necessary to ensure that the existing Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities are properly implemented, learning from current best practice, in all local authorities in England.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
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