Use of the Welsh language in the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster Contents

3Use of the Welsh language in Grand Committee proceedings at Westminster

Patterns of Westminster sittings

10.The Welsh Grand Committee has sat once in the present Parliament to date.22 In the last Parliament it sat thirteen times: twelve times at Westminster and once in Wales.23

Practical feasibility

11.The memorandums from the Clerk of the House and from the Editor of the Official Report made a number of points regarding the feasibility of arrangements for bilingual sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster, which we set out in turn below.

Staffing

12.The Clerk of the House indicated that, at the time of writing, one Clerk at payband A2 happened to have the relevant procedural expertise and linguistic fluency to advise the Chair of a Grand Committee (whether fluent or not in Welsh) instantly on any issue which might arise from a speech made in the Welsh language.24 The Editor of the Official Report told us that Hansard employs three Welsh-speaking staff.25 The Clerk of the House further stated that it was by no means assured that such staff would always be available to clerk or to record bilingual sittings at Westminster, and that the default expectation of the House Service was that staff would rely on simultaneous interpretation, and that points of order and other procedural points would arise in English.

Recording and transcription of proceedings

13.The Editor of the Official Report told us that if Welsh were to be allowed in proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster, Hansard would report each contribution in Welsh as delivered, with a separate translation appended after the contribution.26 This would represent extra work, because each such contribution would be reported twice. Hansard would nevertheless guarantee to publish the report of proceedings within 72 hours of the sitting and would, subject to the demands of business, aim to publish earlier.27 Production could be speeded if relevant expertise were available in house, on loan from the Welsh Assembly Service or from specialist staff, and the cost (if any) of such assistance could be absorbed within the normal staff budget.

14.If Hansard had no Welsh-speaking staff, external suppliers would have to be contracted: given the likelihood of a Committee being convened at relatively short notice, the range of likely suppliers of services is limited. The Editor has obtained two quotes for the cost of transcription of a four-hour meeting in which half the proceedings (estimated at 9,000 words) would be in Welsh. Including attendance fees, transcription and translation, the estimated additional cost of a report of the contributions made in Welsh is either £1,621 (from a supplier guaranteeing a report in 72 hours) or £2,380 (from a supplier guaranteeing a report within 48 hours).28

Venue and simultaneous interpretation

15.The Clerk of the House indicates that, while the House now has, in the Attlee Suite, soundproof booths and equipment for simultaneous interpretation, this meeting room is often booked up well in advance under arrangements overseen by the Administration Committee.29 That room is in any case not generally used for House proceedings, and the inconvenience caused by disrupting existing bookings in order to schedule a meeting of a grand committee would be considerable.

16.Equipment for simultaneous interpretation would therefore be required in another room—presumably a room on the main Committee Corridor set up for meetings of general committees.30 Bowtie, the House’s broadcasting partner, has indicated that while the cost of the equipment and expertise required for simultaneous interpretation of such a meeting could only be assessed on the basis of a request for a specific quotation, costs generally vary from between £1,200 to £3,000.31 Variable factors affecting the cost are:

17.The Clerk, in his paper, assumes that the only requirement for interpretation will be from Welsh to English, and that there will be no demand for interpretation from English to Welsh.

Audiovisual output for recording and broadcast

18.The Clerk notes that the audio infrastructure in the Palace of Westminster is mono audio, which restricts the audio recording and output from a committee room to one channel (either Welsh or English). This means that, without additional engineering and equipment, the output would either be entirely in English (original and interpretation from Welsh) or in English alternating with Welsh.32 He stresses the importance of the broadcast record being both comprehensible and authoritative. He also notes that the digital audiovisual record (provided through webcasting over parliamentlive.tv) cannot readily cater for the broadcast of simultaneous interpretation over two channels.33

Conclusion

19.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.

20. We appreciate that there will be an additional cost to the House arising from provision for bilingual working. Depending on the availability of appropriately-trained Welsh-speaking staff in the House Service and the complexity of requirements for simultaneous interpretation equipment, these costs could range from £1,200 to £5,500 for a four-hour sitting at Westminster. The estimated outturn of the Committee sitting in Wrexham in October 2011 was £7,600, of which roughly £4,200 was attributable to the supply of simultaneous interpretation equipment and services to the venue.

21.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.

Principle and desirability

22.As the Clerk of the House notes, the recommendation of our predecessors in 1996 to authorise the use of the Welsh language in certain parliamentary proceedings represented a highly specific and limited derogation, in closely defined circumstances, to the long-standing practice and rule that the language of parliamentary proceedings is English.

23.It is immediately apparent from the report of 1996 that our predecessors were very wary of any derogation from the general rule being interpreted as authority for further derogations:

If there were any suggestion that permitting a small derogation from the broad principle that English was the language of parliamentary proceedings would open the floodgates to further derogations, we would not contemplate recommending to the House any change to current practice.34

That Committee was nevertheless confident that a clear distinction could and had to be drawn between a minority language which

enjoys—as does the Welsh language in Wales—a special statutory status and those [languages] which, however widely spoken in particular areas or otherwise supported, do not.35

24.The Committee was persuaded, given the statutory provision for the use of the Welsh language in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales, the views expressed in an earlier debate on an expanded role for the Welsh Grand Committee and evidence given to the Committee, that the case could be made for the “narrow and constrained derogation”, and recommended accordingly.

25.The Clerk of the House observed that there has subsequently been an incremental and slow move to the position where the use of Welsh is permitted in closely defined circumstances, those circumstances being

(1)respect for the spirit of the Welsh Language Act 1993, in allowing the use of Welsh in proceedings in Wales; and

(2)the convenience of those other than Members to be able to communicate in Welsh as their preferred language when participating in select committee proceedings at Westminster.36

26.The Clerk has offered some further observations on underlying issues of principle and practice in parliamentary proceedings:

27.We consulted the Panel of Chairs and the Welsh Affairs Committee on the matter. David T. C. Davies MP, Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, indicated the Committee’s strong support for the present limited bilingual regime, which the Committee in this Parliament has used extensively in oral evidence sessions in public both in Wales and at Westminster.38 The Welsh Affairs Committee, noting the absence of an insuperable technical bar to the use of the Welsh language at Westminster, is therefore in favour of allowing the use of Welsh at sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster.

28.The Chairman of Ways and Means, reporting the views of members of the Panel of Chairs, indicated that there was no unanimous view, and that, of those who had responded to an invitation to comment, more were opposed to the proposal than in favour.39 Those opposed to the proposal raised the following concerns:

Those in favour argued that:


22 Stg Co Deb, Welsh Grand Committee, 3 February 2016

23 Appendix 2, annex 2

24 Appendix 2, para 10

25 Appendix 3, para 4

26 Appendix 3, para 3

27 Appendix 3, para 4

28 Appendix 3, paragraph 6

29 Appendix 2, paragraph 12

30 The Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall is in theory available, though in heavy use for sittings of the House in Westminster Hall.

31 Note provided to the Clerk of the Committee (not printed).

32 Appendix 2, para 12

33 Appendix 2, para 8d

34 HC (1995–96) 387, para 2

35 Ibid.

36 Appendix 2, para 8

37 Appendix 2, para 9

38 Appendix 5

39 Appendix 4




19 December 2016