Welsh Language Act 1993

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:17 pm on 23rd May 2006.

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Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales 1:17 pm, 23rd May 2006

That is one of the issues that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will discuss with British Gas. As the hon. Gentleman said in his contribution, a significant number of companies are in exactly the same position as British Gas but continue to provide that service, and I hope that British Gas will seriously reconsider its decision. It is not justified, and we shall make our view clear.

There are several other examples not raised by the hon. Gentleman; for example, the Football Association of Wales. It is worth putting it on record that Alun Pugh, the Minister who has responsibility in this area, has urged it seriously to reconsider its policy.

The decision of British Gas, which is extremely disappointing, is an example of the challenges that we face. However, such cases do not necessarily justify or demand sweeping new legislation that compels organisations to provide services in Welsh. They demand greater co-operation, understanding and determination on behalf of us all to promote the use of the language. The Welsh Assembly Government have set out clearly their desire to create a fully bilingual Wales in which use of the Welsh language sits comfortably with the day-to-day functions of life.

The Welsh Assembly Government have outlined their policies in "Iaith Pawb", their national action plan for a bilingual Wales. It sets out how the Welsh Assembly Government will set about raising awareness of the language and encouraging more and more people to speak, learn and use it. The scheme will also ensure that Welsh language considerations are mainstreamed into other Welsh Assembly Government policies. That is a welcome move that I am sure will bring considerable benefits to the language.

Iaith Pawb has set a target of increasing the number of people able to speak Welsh by five percentage points by 2011. That will be an increase on the 2001 census figures, from 20.8 to 25.8 per cent. That is ambitious, but underpins the determination of the Welsh Assembly Government to secure the future of the Welsh language. Fforwm Iaith, which is a programme of public meetings and consultations taking place throughout Wales, has demonstrated further the desire to create a language policy that has the buy-in of all the people of Wales. It is no good having the ideas but not backing them up with resources. The Welsh Assembly Government have put their money where their mouth is and invested more than £28 million extra in the Welsh language since 2003.

It is not just in large-scale programmes of work such as Iaith Pawb that the Welsh Assembly Government are making progress, however. The UK Government are determined to promote the language. Nine Departments now have Welsh language schemes: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Transport, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office, the Office for National Statistics, the Ministry of Defence and the Wales Office. Another three Departments—the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs—are in the process of preparing those schemes in consultation with the Welsh Language Board.

We have announced that Welsh will appear for the first time on UK passports from this year. The Home Office has also demonstrated its commitment by introducing Welsh into the swearing of oaths and affirmations in citizenship ceremonies. Some of those commitments vary in size, but they are all significant.

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising such an important issue. He has raised genuine concerns and again demonstrated his commitment to the Welsh language. I hope that I have done that as well. Although we might not agree on the need for new legislation, it is clear that we have the best interests of the language as our primary objective.

Wales is a special place and our language is to be treasured. It is an old language, with a rich history. It has been used to write some of the most magical and compelling literature and songs. Both the UK and the Welsh Assembly Governments are committed to the preservation and promotion of the Welsh language. We will continue to strive towards that through the initiatives that I have described. I am sure that we will do so by working with the hon. Gentleman, other elected representatives and the people of Wales.