Use of the Welsh language in the Welsh Grand Committee sitting at Westminster
Thank you for your letter of 26 May. I have, as you requested, sought the views of the Panel on the use of the Welsh language in Welsh Grand Committees at Westminster. I think it would be fair to say that there is no unanimous view among Panel members. The majority of Members who responded to my request were against the proposal. However, a smaller group of Members were in favour.
The objections to the use of Welsh in Welsh Grand Committees held at Westminster were on the grounds of principle and practicalities. Members commented that the House had agreed that its language was English and this principle should be observed. They noted that this differentiated Welsh Grand Committees held in the UK Parliament from those held in Wales, where a bi-lingual approach had been agreed. It was argued that the use of Welsh in Welsh Grand Committees at Westminster would set an unwelcome precedent and open the House up to the use of other languages, or to the use of Welsh in other circumstances (for examples Welsh Questions on the Floor of the House). The feeling among those Members who were against the proposal was that the cost and complexity of the practical arrangements would be difficult to justify, although it was noted that further information about costs and workload would be required in order to make a fully informed decision on this point. One Member noted that the proposal would require the use not only of simultaneous translation in the room for Members, staff and the public, but subtitles or translation for any broadcast version of the meeting. The challenge presented to Hansard was also cited. The practicalities of chairing a debate taking place in Welsh or partly in Welsh were also discussed. While it was noted that translation could assist this, it was also observed that there could be delays and that translation was not the same as understanding directly what was being said.
The smaller group of Members who viewed the proposal favourably noted that Welsh can already be used in the Welsh Affairs Committee at Westminster and that simultaneous translation is provided in these circumstances without any issues occurring. One Member noted that the request was quite specific: for Welsh to be used in the Welsh Grand Committee. This Member argued that if there were comparable requests for the Scottish or Northern Ireland Grand Committees, they could be judged on their own merit. The same Member commented that the issue was about the use of UK languages in the UK Parliament on separate national Grand Committees only and that EVEL had “reduced the role of these nations’ MPs in law-making terms” so the proposal would go “some way in understanding and balancing the differences that EVEL has highlighted”.
You also asked about my personal view. While I have sympathy with colleagues who wish to use Welsh, I have to reflect the views of the Panel, as it is they who chair the Committees, rather than myself.
I hope this summary is useful, but please do let me know if you have further specific questions or I can be of any further assistance to your inquiry.
Rt Hon. Lindsay Hoyle
Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker
14 June 2016
19 December 2016