Public Bodies Bill [Lords]
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South, Labour)
I wish to speak up for our one Welsh language television channel, S4C. I call for the provisions that affect it to be totally removed from the Bill. How did they come to be included? Was the plan for S4C’s future the result of meticulous thought, planning and consultation? No. It was a backdoor deal between Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who declared that they had never actually seen the channel, but had a liking for Fireman Sam, and the BBC on the eve of the comprehensive spending review. The BBC offered up S4C as a concession—an appetiser in the face of Government threats of much deeper cuts. This deal was the result.
The Government announced that they would slash direct funding by 94% and shoehorn S4C into a so-called “partnership” deal with the BBC, which would pick up some of the shortfall. The BBC has agreed to top up funding to 75% of previous levels until 2015; after that, S4C will have to pitch for funds and the BBC will be free to do what it wants, even though its own funding is guaranteed for much longer.
The Government have had to throw S4C into the Public Bodies Bill to get their plan through because S4C’s funding is currently protected by law. S4C’s status and funding were set in law in recognition of the crucial role that it plays in protecting and promoting a language classified as “vulnerable” by no less august a body than UNESCO—a language that has steadily disappeared from communities over the last 100 years and is now spoken by just over 20% of Welsh people, down from 60% at the dawn of the 20th century.
Welsh does have a future, however. Its use is now rising for the first time in living memory—precisely because of hard-fought initiatives like S4C. The cross-party Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I am a member under the august chairmanship of David T. C. Davies—I hope he will be a right hon. Member one day—stated in the plainest possible terms in its recent report that S4C has played a
“key part… in bolstering the everyday use of the Welsh language”,
and concluded that S4C
“brought the Welsh language into many homes where it may not have been heard previously.”