|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I hope I have answered the questions that the Committee raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised broader issues. I need to put them into context. The risk-based approach that we are taking and the environmental principles we have used to determine that operations should or should not be exempt now and in the future have received overwhelming support. I have indicated how narrowly focused these changes are. We believe that the changes to waste exemptions will benefit the industry and regulators and will encourage genuinely low-risk waste recycling and recovery operations. Those who will benefit include a wide range of businesses, particularly the smaller enterprises to which the noble Baroness referred. Our estimate is that these measures will lead to savings of around £255 million over 10 years, which is not a negligible amount. The overwhelming majority of those that are currently exempt from the need for a permit will continue to be exempt, and many others, including some of the sectors mentioned today, will benefit from a new, low-risk exemption that will be free to register.
The noble Baroness raised metal recycling. We are aware of the metal recycling industry's concerns that the revised exemption will be onerous for those who will no longer benefit from it and will need a permit. I am aware of the great contribution made by the metals sector and support it wholeheartedly. We have given a commitment to take measures to encourage legitimate
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC92
Reference has also been made to composting. We have significantly reduced the size, scale and scope of the composting exemption. Unfortunately, many composting sites merit much greater assessment and inspection than is provided under the current exemption. This will rightly lead to commercial-scale operations having to provide some of the same infrastructure and pollution-control measures that other waste treatments are required to meet and reduce the high level of concern surrounding some operations. It will be appreciated that a balance has to be struck between the interests of those who are seeking to increase composting-we all see the value of that-and the fact that there are dangers in local environments from composting that is not regulated, which is why we have put things in a framework.
This has been an intensive debate. I am not sure that I was fully equipped to deal with quite the degree of precision with which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, addressed the regulations, and I congratulate him on the intensity of his scrutiny, but I hope I have done enough to allay his concerns-and, even more, to allay the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Welsh Language) Order 2009.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, this order has already been approved by the National Assembly for Wales.
I begin by putting on the record this Government's strong commitment to the Welsh language. It plays an essential role in Welsh society, and is of course the language of choice for many people in Wales. This LCO is therefore of unique importance, and I am pleased to see a number of noble Lords eager to
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC93
The Government's approach is informed by four principles: first, that the National Assembly for Wales is the natural home to legislate in relation to the language. It is logical and appropriate for the nation's legislature to be able to pass laws on the Welsh language.
Secondly, the order builds on existing statute in relation to the language and in particular on the Welsh Language Act 1993, with which I know a number of noble Lords here today are more than a little familiar. The Act provided a firm basis for the language to develop, ensuring that organisations providing services of a public nature implemented schemes to carry out some or all of their business in Welsh. These provisions now need updating to better fit with current times, but the order retains the focus of the 1993 Act on key public services provided by public authorities or by private companies.
The third principle, which I believe is crucially important, is that we strike the right balance in going forward between the interests of those whose first language is Welsh, and who wish to conduct their daily lives in that language, and the large majority of people in Wales who do not speak Welsh. That figure, as all Members of this Committee will know, is 80 per cent-a significant number whose interests also need to be considered.
The final principle is that any duties should be applied reasonably and proportionately. The Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place agreed this principle in its excellent scrutiny report. The principle is particularly important in the context of securing the support of business and enterprise in Wales for these proposals. No one would want to see the private sector discouraged from investing in Wales because of burdensome Welsh language duties being inappropriately imposed on business. What is right in respect of a large public authority need not necessarily be right for a smaller private sector company and, recognising the levels of unemployment in Wales, we all know that the Welsh economy needs to encourage as many of those small businesses as it can in those circumstances. What is more, what is right in Meirionnydd may not be right for Gwent, so we have to take those issues into account.
This order is based on clear principles and a common-sense approach to developing the language. Its drafting reflects the real concerns of some about its scope, but at the same time meets the pressures for change. I believe that the order strikes the right balance between the complex and sometimes competing interests which the Welsh language engages. It has ensured a broad consensus on how best to proceed and works in the best interests of everyone in Wales.
The order would allow the National Assembly to legislate to promote or facilitate the use of the Welsh language, and allow the treatment of the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality. That is based on wording from the Welsh Language Act 1993.
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC94
The order includes a crucial safeguard enabling bodies in those categories to challenge the imposition of Welsh language duties on grounds of reasonableness and proportionality. This is a robust safeguard against any inappropriate imposition of such duties. It ensures that the reasonableness of duties will be a key consideration in developing Assembly measures, and provides an important reassurance against disproportionate obligations being imposed on any body, especially smaller organisations, whether they are charities or companies in business sectors such as mobile telephony or energy.
I believe that this order puts in place a framework for the devolution of powers over the Welsh language to the Assembly which is robust and which provides for a strong and healthy future for the language, building on the achievements since 1993 in a common-sense, evolutionary way to make the language a source of pride for everyone in Wales, whether or not they actually speak Welsh. It provides a firm foundation on which the Assembly Government can build in developing their proposals for an Assembly measure to take forward the language. I hope noble Lords will appreciate the safeguards which are there regarding the proposal and that this, almost above all, ought to be a matter for the Welsh Assembly rather than the UK Parliament to decide, and accordingly I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble Lord for having presented this statutory instrument as well and as clearly as he has. The Welsh language is a very emotional business, as is the Irish language. I come from Ireland, as most people here will probably know, and I love the Irish language-in the same way as I am sure all Welsh people love the Welsh language. Long may they both live. That is my personal and, I think, my party's stance.
I urge some caution, because this issue has difficulties, pitfalls and costs. I also suggest that, as far as possible, we look at it in a voluntary way. It is absolutely right that the Assembly has the power to do what it will with the language. As the Minister said, there can be no other place to run and manage the Welsh language than the Welsh Assembly. That has to be central to all our thinking.
The Conservative Party has a proud record on the Welsh language. The Welsh Language Act, piloted through Parliament by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, has done much to generate good will for the language, with the consequence that increasing numbers are using it today.
Although we should not second-guess what the Assembly Government will do with the competence transferred to them, it is clear from the list of bodies that could potentially be subject to the legislation that they intend to extend compliance with Welsh language schemes to bodies other than public bodies. These include gas, water and electricity suppliers, telecommunications companies, bus and railway companies and post offices. It would be a concern if, by imposing duties on such a wide list of bodies, the Assembly Government were to do anything to damage the good will that has developed towards the Welsh language since 1993.
The draft LCO also provides that no duties may be imposed on any person under any legislation that might be brought forward by the Assembly Government under the provisions of the LCO unless there is a means to challenge those duties on grounds of reasonableness and proportionality. That is all very well, but it appears that the LCO contemplates the setting up of a significantly large bureaucracy to administer the Welsh language legislation.
One must also have regard to the current adverse economic climate. Complying with a Welsh language scheme will undoubtedly cost a lot of money. Consequently, the Welsh Assembly Government should be very careful about imposing duties on bodies not currently subject to compliance with Welsh language legislation if to do so would potentially prejudice the viability of an otherwise successful organisation. This is where clear and positive thinking has to be divided from emotion, desire and passion.
The LCO also provides that duties may be imposed on persons providing services to the public who receive public money amounting to £400,000 or more in a financial year. It is unclear how the figure of £400,000 has been arrived at. The figure of £200,000 in the original draft order appears to have been plucked out of the air, and the new figure is clearly simply that previous figure doubled. I am afraid that the Minister is having a busy time with numbers this afternoon but perhaps he can advise us how that figure has been arrived at.
The legislative competence extends also to imposing duties to comply with Welsh language schemes on persons engaged in central banking. Given that there is only one central bank in this country-namely, the Bank of England-it is hard to see why competence should be sought in respect of that body. Perhaps the Minister could explain the reason for including the Bank of England within the ambit of the order.
There is also a significant concern with regard to post offices. Most post offices in Wales are run by sole proprietors or, frequently, husband and wife teams. They are frequently not Welsh-speaking; indeed, traditionally, running a sub-post office has been regarded as a semi-retirement job for people from across the border. It would be unfortunate if the imposition of compliance with a Welsh language scheme were to
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC96
To summarise, the Welsh Assembly Government should think carefully as to whether, and when, they should impose new duties in respect of compliance with Welsh language provisions. The current legislation has approval and public support. It has made the Welsh language a vibrant part of Welsh national life. The Assembly Government should think carefully before doing anything at all which would damage the good will that the language currently enjoys and which might ultimately prove counterproductive.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, this is one of the most extensively considered orders ever to come before your Lordships, as we can see from the excellent Explanatory Memorandum. It has been subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny in the National Assembly and in the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee and it has been debated in the Welsh Grand Committee. It has had a very full breakfast of consultation and there is probably more to come as Assembly measures based on the order take shape.
All that is entirely appropriate, given that the order will transfer more powers relating to the Welsh language-our most precious possession-from this Parliament to the National Assembly. As a humble promoter of the last Welsh Language Act to pass through this Parliament-the Act of 1993-I am glad that the principles of that historic Act, which has served Wales and the language well for the past 15 years, are to be preserved.
We sometimes forget, under the baleful shadow of the so-called Tudor Acts of Union which discouraged the use of Welsh, just how much this Parliament has contributed positively to the preservation and promotion of the language. It was an Act of 1563, promoted by Humphrey Llwyd of Denbighshire in the Commons and Richard Davies, Bishop of St Davids, in the House of Lords that secured William Salesbury's translation of the New Testament and Davies's own translation of the Book of Common Prayer for use in Welsh churches by 1567. We had to wait a few more years until 1588 for a complete translation of the Bible, by William Morgan, but it stemmed from the same inspirational source. Richard Davies came from the Conwy valley, as did William Salesbury and William Morgan. All were patronised by the Wynn family of Gwydir-no relation to me.
The Welsh language is part of British as well as Welsh heritage and has been highly valued as such. In spite of all the consideration that has been given to this order, there are still some potentially controversial issues, as my noble friend Lord Glentoran said, and some could become sore points. But I remind myself
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC97
I understand that the Minister most closely concerned at Assembly level, Alun Ffred Jones, is to hold meetings in different parts of Wales to test people's feelings and to elicit their views and wishes. I shall content myself with uttering a few caveats, because language is a highly sensitive issue and it is easier to offend and antagonise people than it is to please them. Without popular good will and support, progress is impossible. So far, we have been able to nurture and grow that support in Wales and to benefit from it.
Mention is made in the memorandum of a desire to describe Welsh as an "official" language. The matter was debated in your Lordships' House and the other place in 1993 and occasioned Divisions both here and in the Commons. The Government defeated the amendment by a majority of 39 here and 44 in the other place because no one knew what the implications of such a statutory declaration might be. English is not declared to be an official language anywhere in our law, I am told. I would advise those who may be considering reopening that debate to read the parliamentary proceedings in both Houses and to re-examine the arguments for themselves before they step into that minefield.
I am glad that the order is very specific as to the persons who may be affected by having duties laid on them and that there is a right of appeal, with tests of reasonableness and proportionality being relevant. We have to thank the Welsh Affairs Committee for those improvements. The last thing we want in this context is a clutter of objections to requests for language schemes and the whole paraphernalia and bureaucracy of a seemingly endless appeals procedure that is too much in demand and may result in enforcement. The mechanisms of appeal and enforcement have still to be established. Personally, I believe that enforcement is counterproductive and that the language stands to lose more than it has to gain if enforcement becomes the order of the day. Popular support for the language may be seriously eroded and, if that were to happen, it might be difficult to restore the spirit of good will that the language has enjoyed.
The proposed language commissioner will inevitably feature in this sphere, but we know little about his office and functions as yet. I hope that the commissioner will have a constructive role and that people's worst fears will not be realised. The cost of new measures is another factor that will need to be taken into account, especially in the wake of the recession and the cutbacks in spending that will inevitably follow the Government's pledge to halve the deficit. I understand that the Welsh Language Board has a staff of 70 at present. Are increases anticipated? The more persons included in the list, the more civil servants will be needed to supervise them and the greater the direct costs to those having duties imposed on them, their clients and customers. The costs will eventually be loaded on to the public.
I have one final point to make, which concerns translations. Almost all the schemes and duties involve
9 Dec 2009 : Column GC98
I reiterate that the language is a sensitive and potentially controversial issue. So, too, is legislation in this field. The 1993 Act was voted against at Third Reading in the other place by none other than Plaid Cymru; the Labour Party abstained. Now, 15 years later, I think that both parties would agree that the Act has done a great deal of good, raised the profile of the language and improved its status. There is enthusiasm for it, too.
The language lobby has traditionally been critical of central government, whichever major party was in power. Now its target will be the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff, as responsibility for the language has passed to them. However demanding that lobby is, I hope that the Welsh Assembly Government will never forget that you cannot force a language on people and that any progress made in the extension of its use must be because people really want it and regard it as a highly desirable asset for themselves and their children.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, it is very important that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, spoke early in the debate because clearly his detailed knowledge of the Welsh Language Act 1993 and-I think I am right in saying, his 13-year tenure as a Minister in the Welsh Office before devolution-
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Correction. Fifteen and a half years is a tremendous service to Wales. Clearly, the noble Lord has outlined a great number of details from his own knowledge and his acute observations on this legislative competence order. The order comes via the Government of Wales Act 2006, which gave the Assembly the power to create legal measures, which in this case promote the use of the Welsh language throughout Wales.
We are considering this LCO and what will occur later with measures concerning the language. I especially welcome it, even though, as we have heard, the process has taken far too long. The order is now on its passage through this House and has been scrutinised in considerable detail, not least by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place. The Explanatory Memorandum states that:
I have written beside that: "Big deal!". In Wales, we will be able to legislate much more on the language. To be fair, however, it also says that it will concern the existing functions of Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Language Board, which, as we know, started in 1993.
The world has moved on a lot since 1993, particularly in the educational sector. Many more young people in Wales now speak Welsh. All my grandparents spoke Welsh but, as my family was in proximity to Merthyr Tydfil, much of that language skill was lost for two generations. I can speak some Welsh, and I can understand practically all of it, but I am very pleased to say that all three of my children speak Welsh fluently. That pattern has been repeated across Wales, particularly with the advent of ysgolion meithrin, which enable young children to learn the language at a very early age in preschool, which is when they absorb it like blotting paper.
The Welsh Not in the 19th century was a terrible thing, but the language survived. It has survived because of the activities of many people. In the 1980s, the 1970s, and even the late 1960s, there was the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society. It was very unpopular in some places. However, it undoubtedly brought the language to the fore.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|