The Procedure Committee published its Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, Use of the Welsh language in the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster, HC 816, on 20 December 2016. The Government response to the Report was received on 21 February 2017, and is published as an appendix to this Report.
The Government welcomes the Committee’s work to assess both the technical feasibility and the desirability of conducting proceedings in the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster in Welsh.
The House has made a number of small but significant changes to the rules relating to the use of the Welsh language in the House of Commons since the passing of the Welsh Language Act 1993. We believe that these changes have reflected the spirit of that Act in recognising the importance of the Welsh language as well as acknowledging the contribution that the Welsh language makes to the cultural diversity of the United Kingdom as a whole.
1.Based on the information provided to us by the Clerk of the House and others, we conclude that there is no insurmountable technical bar to the English and Welsh languages both being used at sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster. (Paragraph 19)
The Government agrees with the Committee’s assessment that there is no insurmountable technical bar to the English and Welsh languages both being used at sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster.
2.The additional cost to the House of a bilingual sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster will not be negligible. Even if as many costs as possible are absorbed by existing staff budgets, and simultaneous interpretation is provided as cheaply as possible, it is unlikely that the additional outturn cost of such a sitting will be less than £1,000. The cost of bilingual sittings away from Westminster can, however, be relatively high, even when no additional staff cost is entailed. (Paragraph 21)
We note the Committee’s finding that there will be increased costs associated with holding meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster in both English and Welsh. These costs should be subsumed under existing House of Commons resources.
3.We restate unequivocally the principle that English is the language of proceedings in the House of Commons. We recognise and support the rationale for the limited derogation which successive Houses have afforded to the use of the Welsh language in parliamentary proceedings since 1996. The Welsh language has a unique statutory status, granted by an Act of the UK Parliament. There is no pressing case for an overall change to the derogation. We detect no calls for the use of other minority languages in parliamentary proceedings. (Paragraph 29)
It is the Government’s view that English is, and should remain, the language of the House of Commons. It is vital to the transparency and accountability of our democracy that proceedings in the House are easily intelligible by people from across the United Kingdom.
As a result, the record of any proceedings in the Welsh Grand Committee conducted in Welsh should be produced in English and the broadcast of those proceedings should always be primarily in English. Therefore where there are technological constraints which prevent broadcasting simultaneously in English and Welsh, such as those the Clerk of the House highlighted in his note to the Committee, English should always take precedence.
The status provided by the Welsh Language Act 1993 is unique within the United Kingdom. It is this status that forms the basis of the derogation for the use of the Welsh language in particular circumstances in the House of Commons. As there are no other languages with a similar status in statute, we do not perceive there to be a case for a similar derogation to apply to other languages.
4.We consider that it is time for the House to revisit the issue of the use of Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee. The House may remain content with the current position, under which the Welsh language may only be used in the Welsh Grand Committee when it sits in Wales. Alternatively, given the unique statutory protection provided for the Welsh language in the UK, the House may consent to the use of the Welsh language in the Welsh Grand Committee when it sits at Westminster. (Paragraph 33)
5.We consider that it would be appropriate for the House to take a decision on the matter by considering a motion to modify the existing derogation as expressed in the Resolution of 5 June 1996, as amended. Time for such a debate could be allocated by the Backbench Business Committee, on the application of a Member or Members. (Paragraph 34)
We will respond to points four and five together. The Government agrees with the recommendation for the House to revisit the issue of the use of Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster. We therefore intend to bring forward a debate in Government time with a motion to modify the existing derogation as expressed in the Resolution of 5 June 1996, as amended, which would have the effect of allowing proceedings in the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster to be conducted in both English and Welsh, with simultaneous interpretation.
The Government intends to support the motion as we believe that this very limited change, applying only to the Welsh Grand Committee, will enhance the perception of the House of Commons among Welsh speakers as well as enabling them to better engage with its proceedings.
22 February 2017