The Welsh language became an official language of Wales, following a landmark vote at the national assembly in Caerdydd/Cardiff, yesterday (7th December 2010).
The measure, which is set to become law in the New Year, is the longest and most complex piece of legislation the national assembly has ever voted on. The flagship legislation was unanimously voted for by the assembly, which included a clause confirming the official status of the welsh language and is the most important law passed in this area since the Welsh Language Act 1993. Even though the new law will not affect much of the private sector in wales, it will nevertheless compel larger companies that provide a service to the public, like utility companies and telephone companies, including mobile phone operators, to use the Welsh language in a “reasonable and proportionate way”. In addition, a Language Commissioner position will be created who will act as a champion for the welsh language, a Welsh Language Tribunal and a Welsh Language Partnership Council will be set up to strengthen the position of the language among users.
However the Act falls short of enabling welsh speakers from using the language as part of their everyday life, because not all private companies fall under its scope and the vague “reasonable an proportionate” statement could mean that welsh language provision could differ from one organisation to another. Additionally, there is no unequivocal statement built into the Act to say that the language is official. Bethan Jenkins AM for Plaid Cymru tabled a motion in an attempt to strengthen the Bill at the last moment. The amendment read:
“Everyone has the right to use the Welsh language in Wales as far as that is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.”
Unfortunately the motion was rejected, but as Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) said, if passed, this would have made a real difference in people’s lives. Cymdeithas said that the legislation “fails to guarantee better services because provision will depend on the whim of future ministers instead of a clear principle enshrined in the new law.”
Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones, who is also a Plaid member, said that the amendment from Bethan Jenkins would have placed too much power in the hands of the courts in interpreting the law. Minister Jones said about the new law:
“I firmly believe, and more so than ever, that this far-reaching measure represents strong and practical legislation which will make a real difference to the lives of Welsh speakers.”
This article prepared for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League. For follow-up comment or clarification contact:
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