Monday, February 02, 2009

The Wrong Debate

Been very disappointed by today's discussion about, and coverage of, the Welsh Language Legislative Compensation Order (LCO). There seems not to be a clear understanding of the difference between an LCO and a 'measure' (new law). The current debate is not about what new linguistic requirements that may or may not be placed on the private sector. That debate would come later, if and when a majority of Assembly Members decided that's what they wanted to do. The current debate is about where the responsibility for taking decisions about Welsh Language legislation should lie. Should it be a matter for the UK Parliament at Westminster, or should it be a matter for the National Assembly in Cardiff.

As it happens, I would be very reluctant to put any extra costs on businesses in Wales at present - and for the foreseeable future. And I would expect a majority of Assembly Members to agree. I don't know what my party's approach to the Welsh Language LCO will be, but personally, I can see no reason to oppose it. There may well be changes needed to the LCO, but in principle, I welcome the idea of the National Assembly of Wales deciding on the status of the Welsh Language. It will be interesting to see whether my colleagues agree with me.

If the LCO is passed, a 'measure' to change Welsh Language legislation may be proposed at some future date. If we do reach that stage while this blog is still alive, I will be making two points. Firstly, it would be madness to impose additional significant costs on private businesses in Wales - particularly at a time when businesses are under pressure and jobs are being lost. And the second point I'd make is that the' big stick' of legislation is not the route to success. The key to the future of the Welsh Language is using it. Ask yourself. How many people do you think learned to speak Welsh as a consequence of some bureaucratic Welsh Language Scheme. The answer I suspect is 'none'. Its early years education that delivers our bilingual nation. And using it whenever possible. If I'm in the company of someone I know to be a Welsh speaker, I use it. And so often I see fully bilingual Welsh speakers in the Assembly delivering a speech in English. I accept that the media 'soundbites' need to be in English, but not the rest. So much easier to brandish the 'big stick' than to take personal responsibility.


Anonymous said...

I live in Farmer Williams patch - sent him a note in "yr hen iaith" with my views- on the biligual issue and business - got a fast reply ..but in English!!

My wife attened a Confernce in Gwynedd last week on behalf of her Charity and heard another Tory (English) AM address the meeting in Welsh!!

I am confused as to our party message Glyn .. can you help me?

Penderyn said...

Excellent Comment Glyn. The debate should be about whether the Assembly has the power to legislate in relation to the Welsh language rather than the UK parliament, and I'd like to see anyone seriously argue that Welsh is better served in the UK parliament. Any new Welsh language legislation in the Assembly would need a majority of members to support it and therefore Conservative and Labour members would also have a major role in framing what would and would not be included in any legislation.

Anonymous said...

I think my old argument still stands that if the Welsh Assembly wants to right to legislate on all internal issues in Wales, it can only be done if England has its own parliament (not just a two tier MP in Westminster but a whole separate legislature). Why should we in Wales have an extra layer of paid politicians but England not? Once the whole of the UK has this provincial structure, each part with tax raising powers - THEN the WAG can do away with a Welsh Minister in London. Not before..

Then, on the second later argument, although I am a Welshman, I don't see adding costs of Welsh businesses to have dual language in its business dealings - even when not dealing with Welsh customers, is a 'luxury' that our economy cannot afford! If WAG want to encourage Welsh speaking, provide grants and training courses to firms wanting to embrace the language - but on a voluntary basis. Forced Welsh will win our ancient language no friends!

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Its more a matter for individuals than party. I too would reply in English to a letter in Welsh (unless specifically asked to or no more than a few words were required - because I can't do it competently. But if I were to be an AM now, I would use much more Welsh than I did when I was an AM - because I'm much more comfortable speaking it now. My experience has been that the Conservative Party has been very supportive of the Language, and Lord Roberts is regarded by even Plaid Cymru members as havibg had a decisive influence on reversing its decline.

Penderyn - I do not believe many polititions would want to enact a law or measure that would damage the economy or jobs at this time. It would attract great antipathy towards the Language.

Roman - My opinion has been (since the Assembly was established) that where an issue is devolved, so to should the power to make the laws. Many people equate this with the position in Scotland, which is incorrect. Most of the work in the Scottish Parliament concerns criminal justice - which is not devolved to Wales. I do think there is a particularly strong case for the power to legislate on Welsh Language matters to be transferred to the Assembly.

I would not argue strongly against an English Parliament, but it seems to be a better idea that all English MPs should sit an as an 'English' parliament for one day a week.
I have much sympathy with your second point.

Jeff Jones said...

The problem with the whole debate is that that the consequences of devolution were never thought through before 1997.Most voters either didn't take part or were not that interested in the concept or potential consequences of devolution during the 1997 referendum. I have no doubt that without the 18 years of Conservative government the vote in 1997 would have been lost as decisively as in 1979. In the county of Bridgend the 'yes' vote won by about 7000 votes which is about equal to the yes majority in the whole of Wales. But this vote hides what really happened in the area. I was at the count as the boxes from the Bridgend constituency came in first. The vote was about 5/6 to 1 for a no vote. The yes campaign had completely failed to convince voters in the Bridgend constituency. It was clear to all of us that the no vote was winning hands down. Then dramatically the votes started to come in from Ogmore. There the change was 5/6 to 1 for yes. Why the change? Basically we had campaigned in Ogmore not on the merits of devolution in a Labour stronghold but on the theme that it must be right because the Tories were against it!Recently BBC have asked me to write an on line piece on what I believe will be the reaction of local government to any future referendum. I asked a good friend who is still actively involved in local government in Wales at a very senior level for his comments. He agreed with much of my analysis but argued that I hadn't gone far enough. In his view if given the chance many in local government would want the Assembly abolished. Of course given the Assembly powers to legislate for the Welsh language is completely logical in the context of the theory of devolution. The real worry however is the practice and what could an Assembly do with such powers given the fact that at least 20 of its members can only be removed from the Assembly by the electorate with great difficulty. It is for this reason that I will not be supporting extra powers until there is a complete reform of the voting system to ensure that who sits in the Assembly is completely in the hands of the electorate. It cannot be right that you lost your seat because the Conservatives gained seats on the first past the post method. Similarly if Labour regain Llanelli and Prescelli then its two list members will be removed no matter how well they might have performed in the previous 4 years. I am worried at the way the debate on devolution is becoming polarised. I am not a nationalist. I supported devolution for the whole of the UK because I believe thta it leads to better governance. In fact my preferred solution would have been two regional assemblies for North and South Wales. I am profoundly disturbed as a Labour Party member since 1968 by speeches by Carwyn Jones and others which pander to nationalism. In economic terms I have now come to the conclusion that the key to econmic revival of the area I live in could be the development of a powerful city region based on Cardiff led by an elected mayor and able to really argue the case for the valleys on a world stage. Reading R R Davies's the Age Of Conquest is further convincing me that in reality Wales has always been and still is for many of its inhabitants a geographical expression. On a more personal note . I really enjoy reading your blog and although we might disagree over political issues I believe that you will make a first class MP for Montgomeryshire. A long post which you can blame on the snow and my failure to to reach Cardiff for a meeting! If only we had a European light railway system as suggested by Mid and South Glamorgan Councty Councils over 20 years ago

Greg said...

Glyn, this proposal is dynamite. It will give Plaid disproportionate power in Wales. The Tories must be very careful how they deal with it.

Glyn Davies said...

Jeff - I'm a pragmatic politician, and work with reality (unless its a blue skies session). We have an Assembly, and we have a PR system of election. I do not think they are going to be changed. In passing,the ban on dual candidacy greatly reduced the connection between the electors and the elected. My opinion is different from yours. I believe that if a matter is devolved, it should be wholly devolved. Otherwise there si no accountability. Also in passing, there was a similar position is the Referendum count in Powys. Radnor voted no 4-1 I reckoN - as did East Montgomeryshire. West Montg voted yes but not that many people live there. It was when the Ystradgynlais boxes were counted that the Yes vote was winning big time - probably for the same reasons as Bridgend.

Greg - Plaid Cymru have 15 (out of 60) Assembly Mmebers. They cannot do anything without the support of either Labour or the Weslh Conservatives.