Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 9:00 pm, 7th November 2016

My Lords, Amendment 42 relates to the Welsh community in Patagonia, which is located entirely within the Argentinian state of Chubut. I declare an interest in that I was president of the 150th anniversary celebration committee which last year stimulated a programme of events to mark the occasion, and in particular to create a legacy which will help stimulate and sustain Welsh language and culture in Chubut.

Over the past 50 years, there has been a growing interest in matters relating to Welsh culture in Chubut, and there are today about 7,000 Welsh speakers there, of whom about 1,100 are learners of the language. Over the past 20 years, practical help and support has been given by way of helping teachers from Wales to work for two or three years in Patagonia to assist with the teaching of Welsh. The Welsh language school Coleg Camwy has been teaching Welsh in Gaiman, the most Welsh of the towns in Chubut. There are schemes to expand this school currently under consideration. A new Welsh school, Ysgol yr Hendre, was opened in Trelew, the largest city in Chubut, some 10 years ago, and this year a new Welsh school has been opened in Trefelin in the Andes. Welsh language and culture is also taught in dedicated classes in the town of Esquel.

This is relevant to the Wales Bill because since the opening of the National Assembly, the teacher scheme, which was originally established by Welsh Office Ministers back in the 1990s, has been taken over by the Assembly. Indeed, two First Ministers have visited Chubut—first Rhodri Morgan and last year Carwyn Jones—and other links between the National Assembly and the Welsh community in Patagonia have been established. These activities and links are associated with the National Assembly’s responsibility for Welsh language and culture. Although the Assembly and the Welsh Government have no direct responsibility for overseas activities and relationships, it has been recognised that such overseas links can be accepted as being within their competence because they are ancillary to safeguarding the broader interests of the Welsh language and culture.

However, with the new, tighter approach which seems to be taken by the UK Government in the context of this Bill, with “silent issues” being seen as reserved matters, words along the lines proposed in this amendment are needed to ensure beyond all doubt that these powers continue to be available to the Assembly and that nothing in this Bill should be seen as undermining such activity. I suspect I can carry the whole House with me in these aspirations. If the Minister can assure the House beyond peradventure that these powers will continue to be exercisable by the Welsh Government, the amendment may be unnecessary, but if there is any doubt whatever, such words should be added to the Bill. I hope the Minister can respond positively on this matter. I beg to move.