Hywel in Parliament - Debates

Debate on Constitutional Law

15th December 2009

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): I add my condolences on behalf of the Welsh Affairs Committee to Mr. Carwyn Jones following his bereavement today.

I am pleased to speak in support of the order, which is important for the people of Wales. I speak from the perspective of being Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which produced a unanimous cross-party report supporting the principles underpinning the order. The Welsh Affairs Committee has an important role in carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny of proposed LCOs and ensuring that the final versions are fit for purpose. Both my Committee and the Assembly's scrutiny committee recommended changes to the original proposed order to establish reasonable, proportionate and cost-effective language legislation. I am pleased that our key recommendations have been reflected in the draft order presented by the Secretary of State for approval today. I thank him for his kind words of support for the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee, with which, of course, I agree.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I compliment the hon. Gentleman and his Committee on their work. Given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, introducing reasonableness and proportionality into the LCO was probably a good thing, but it is strange that that has to be in the order and that we cannot trust the Assembly to be reasonable and proportionate when it brings forward Measures.

Dr. Francis: It is not strange at all; it is perfectly straightforward. As it happens, that was the way in which we achieved unanimity in the Committee.

It is also a significant achievement that an order that was originally perceived as controversial has, in its revised form, secured cross-party support. I feel that that was achieved as a consequence of listening carefully to all sectors of Welsh society. The support was unanimous, which no one could have predicted.

The Committee made the important point that while language legislation is a fundamental part of ensuring that the Welsh language continues to thrive, it is far from the whole picture. That was demonstrated by the evidence that we took during our inquiry including, crucially, from the Catalan Government, who have a long experience of language law. The Catalan witnesses clearly felt that legal sanctions were secondary to the development of a positive culture of acceptance of and support for the language-we are now at that point in Wales. Compulsion and enforcement need to be secondary to a continuation of a consensual progress and should be used only as a last resort. Clarity of expectation, as reflected in legislation, should be the primary route for further progress, and I believe that the order fulfils that aim well.

Hon. Members representing all the major parties and rural, urban and valley constituencies listened and responded to the concerns, aspirations and, most of all, the united pride in our language expressed by Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers. That was the key to our success, and the success of the LCO is that it has not proved to be divisive but has unified Wales and the Welsh people in its support.

Only today, I received an email from the senior public affairs executive of E.ON UK plc, in which she said:

"We welcome the changes to the LCO following debate in both Westminster and Cardiff. We believe that removing energy generators from the scope of the LCO was appropriate, given that generators provide no direct service to customers. We also welcome the introduction of the 'reasonableness and proportionality' clause."

Against that background of unity, I would simply say to the House tonight, "Rrhowch eich cefnogaeth i'r Iaith Gymraeg heno."

I urge the House therefore, as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, to give this legislative competence order, its full support tonight. As the Abercraf miners' banner proclaims, in the colours of the African National Congress,

"mewn undeb mae nerth a heddwch"- in unity there is strength and peace.


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