The Procedure Committee has considered a request from Susan Elan Jones MP that the Welsh language be used in the Welsh Grand Committee when that Committee meets at Westminster.
The Committee has considered this request in the context of the provision made by the House in 1996 for the use of the Welsh language in the Welsh Grand Committee and by other committees of the House when meeting in Wales. This followed a Procedure Committee report which recommended a very limited derogation, in this circumstance, from the rule that the language of proceedings in the UK Parliament is English.
Subsequent Procedure Committee reports, endorsed by the House, have authorised the use of the Welsh language at meetings of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee at Westminster and its use in joint meetings between the Welsh Affairs Committee and committees of the National Assembly for Wales.
The Committee has assessed the feasibility of providing for bilingual meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster. It finds that there is no insurmountable technical bar to the use of both English and Welsh at sittings of the Committee, though additional equipment would have to be hired to allow such a sitting to take place in a Committee room. In addition to the cost of providing a simultaneous interpretation system and interpreters for each meeting, the staff cost to the House would depend on the number of staff in the Official Report team able to work in Welsh to the level required. The Committee finds that the additional outturn cost to the House of such a sitting is unlikely to be less than £1,000, but notes that the cost to the House of the most recent sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee in Wales (in October 2011) was estimated at £7,600. Additional one-off costs may also be incurred in work to enable the sound system in operation at Westminster to broadcast over two channels simultaneously.
The Welsh Affairs Committee strongly supports a modification of the 1996 regime to allow the use of Welsh in the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster. Members of the Panel of Chairs, from which the chairs of the Welsh Grand Committee are drawn, are divided in their views, with more of those responding opposed to the proposal than those in favour. Against the arguments for the desirability of the use of Welsh in Grand Committee are arguments about the general accessibility of Parliamentary proceedings to all, and the desirability of debate between Members in conditions where all, including the Chair and clerk, can immediately and directly understand each other.
The Committee notes the unique status of the Welsh language in the United Kingdom. The arrangements made in 1996 reflect the provision made by the Welsh Language Act 1993 for the use of Welsh in the conduct of public business in Wales. The Committee detects no demand for the use of languages other than English or Welsh in Parliamentary proceedings at Westminster or elsewhere.
The Committee considers that the matter is one which it is proper to put to the House for a decision, on the basis of the information in the Committee’s report. The House may decide that it is content to retain the present arrangements for use of the Welsh language. Alternatively it may wish to authorise a limited extension to present arrangements to allow the use of the Welsh language in the Welsh Grand Committee. Such a decision could be taken on the basis of a motion brought forward for debate in backbench time.
19 December 2016