Private Parking Companies

1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language – in the Senedd at on 5 June 2024.

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Photo of Siân Gwenllian Siân Gwenllian Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement about what is required of private parking companies regarding the use of the Welsh language? OQ61198

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour 1:30, 5 June 2024

(Translated)

Companies that operate private car parks do not come under any legal duties in terms of using the Welsh language.

Photo of Siân Gwenllian Siân Gwenllian Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Elysteg Llwyd Thomas and Toni Schiavone have been brought before the courts as part of a pan-Wales campaign to require private parking companies to respect the Welsh language. You decided not to proceed with using powers that would have placed duties on private parking companies, and you have refused to instruct the Welsh Language Commissioner's office. You said at the time that you would instead respond to the UK Government's consultation so that they would include guidance on the use of the Welsh language by parking firms in the British parking code of practice. But we've now received confirmation that the UK Government— the current UK Government certainly—has no intention of including Welsh language requirements within the parking code of practice. Can I ask if you, as Minister, responded to the consultation on the code and what will be your next steps now to ensure that private parking companies do make use of the Welsh language?

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour 1:31, 5 June 2024

(Translated)

I thank Siân Gwenllian for that important question. As she knows, there has been an agreement between us and Plaid Cymru on a programme of reform in terms of the standards, which is a comprehensive programme, and, even though the agreement has come to an end, it's still our intention to continue to realise those commitments—they do extend the standards very significantly from where they are today—but legislating in relation to car parks is not part of the programme of work for this Senedd term. We are considering which sectors we should prioritise after this Senedd term, and we're working with the commissioner's office on that to ensure that we do receive advice from them as well. 

If we do decide to priortise extending these standards to private parking companies—as the Member knows, many of those who do provide public car parks already come under these standards, but if we decide to prioritise extending that to private companies, we will need to amend the Welsh language Measure. 

Just on a point that the Member made in terms of the correspondence that I had with the previous commissioner about 18 months ago, there was a specific reason why we didn't use the powers that the commissioner recommended—they were partly technical reasons; they didn't work in the way that we'd want them to work in order to meet those needs. So, we will need to legislate to extend those duties.

In terms of the consultation, there has been no consultation published by the UK Government at present, so we'll consider this as part of a broader work programme. I'll just say, in keeping a watching brief on what was said in court in the case of Toni Schiavone specifically, I do agree with the judge's comments that he made an ethical case and an honest case, and we saw the company spending thousands on legal costs rather than the tens of pounds that it would have cost to translate the notice. So, there's a broader message in that, one would hope.

Photo of Samuel Kurtz Samuel Kurtz Conservative 1:34, 5 June 2024

(Translated)

Cabinet Secretary, the use of the Welsh language by private companies has been discussed in this Chamber recently, and quite appropriately. I think we all share our disappointment with the way that HSBC has scrapped its Welsh language helpline, and how OVO Energy also scrapped Welsh language bills. Some people choose to use the Welsh language at different times in different scenarios, but I do think that you should always have that choice. Given the development of AI and real-time translation, does the Welsh Government see this as a possible solution to the issues that we have faced?

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour

(Translated)

I agree with the Member. I was disappointed, as we've already discussed in the Chamber, to hear about the decisions made by HSBC and OVO specifically to terminate their Welsh-language services. I've mentioned our viewpoint in terms of what we can do as a Government in that context. But in terms of the role of technology, I do think that AI, and other technologies, do offer solutions that I'd hope would be much easier solutions, perhaps, than these companies anticipate, which would allow people to receive a bilingual service, or a service in the language of their choice. So, it's important that we continue to work, as we already are doing, with some of these companies, and with our universities, who are innovating in this area, to ensure that that technology is available in Welsh as well as in English, and that that provides opportunities then for commercial companies to provide Welsh language services.