Welsh Language Act 1993

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:59 pm on 23rd May 2006.

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Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development) 12:59 pm, 23rd May 2006

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I do not wish to labour the matter, because the First Minister in Cardiff said at the time that he would ensure in future that we had a proper Welsh language Act.

The private sector was excluded under the 1993 Act. That sector includes not only British Gas but the other former public utilities and large private sector businesses—unless they have entered into a voluntary agreement with the Welsh Language Board. I hardly need say that voluntary means just that. British Gas concludes its most recent letter with this statement:

"It may be the case that further legislation compelling energy suppliers to provide a fully bilingual service to business customers is necessary to reverse this decision."

That plainly says that British Gas will act if forced to. Let us be clear: it will provide a Welsh service only if the law compels it to do so. That is the stance of the self-proclaimed No. 1 supplier of energy to the commercial sector in Britain, so it will affect a large number of people.

I said that I would not tease British Gas any further, but its attitude is perfectly explicable given the current Act. The Welsh language may count for something to its private customers, but it has no place in the real world of business, as in the Act—or apparently so. However, many businesses in my constituency and throughout Wales now operate through the medium of Welsh. How could they access business services if every other company took the same view as British Gas?