Activities outside Parliament

Wales Labour Party Conference

3rd March 2001

Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language Debate -The Unity of Welsh and English speakers

The new context

The recent controversy over the Welsh language highlights three key factors relating to the future of the Welsh Language

Firstly the importance of the economy in Welsh speaking areas

Secondly the importance of good will towards the language

And thirdly the very great strides made by the Labour Government since 1997 and the Assembly since 1998 in progressing the cause of the Welsh language in a cross party non partisan way.

Back in 1980s most sensible people in Wales – as they do today – recognised the Welsh language Society's slogan 'Heb Gwaith, Dim Iaith'.( Without work there is no Welsh language")

Unless there is work especially sustainable employment in rural, valley and urban areas, then the language will be in terminal decline.

And no amount of scape-goating, anti-English nonsense – whether it is rebuilding Offa's Dyke or closing the Severn Bridges – will change that.

That's why the Assembly's rural diversification and e-commerce strategies are so vitally important – 'Heb Gwaith, Dim Iaith'

And remember that other slogan of the mid 1980s

'Cae Pwll, lladd Cymuned' - 'Close a Pit, Kill a Community'

Remember too it was Bill Clinton who allegedly said to a Plaid Cymru councillor,

'It's the economy, stupid!'


And secondly there is the question of good will

The Welsh Language Act talks of strategies that are "reasonable and practicable" for good reason. 80% of us do not speak Welsh. The sea change towards a more positive attitude towards Welsh, especially in the very anglicised South East of Wales has been nurtured by Labour Local Authorities.

Thirty years ago a child being educated in Ton Pentre in the Rhondda might find that he or she were totally alone in being able to speak Welsh.

Today one in three is being educated through the medium of Welsh in Rhondda Cynon Taf – and that is a Labour achievement in partnership of course with all those of good will in all parties who love and respect the Language and seek to use and nurture it.

And all this has been on the basis of goodwill – ewyllys da – not some strident, fatalistic, apocalyptic, quasi-racist nonsense which has no place in modern multi-cultural Wales, the Wales that Dr Mashuq Ally, Commissioner for Racial Equality calls the 'Commonwealth of Communities'

The tolerant cosmopolitan Wales that the late Gwyn Thomas described: He wrote

'……you hear the high soft speech of a hundred tongues from Africa and the East, or perhaps from the lips of a child born into the docks, an enchanting mixture of Somerset, Madagascar and Pontllanffraith.'

Labour Progress

And finally Labour's record on the Welsh language is a fine one, past and present. Remember it was Llew Heycock's Labour Glamorgan that brought us those excellent pioneering schools of Rhyfelen and Ystalyfera.

It was the late Cledwyn Hughes who brought us the first Welsh Language Act.

And it was the South Wales Miners Union which helped sustain the Welsh language in valley communities through their bilingual Eisteddfod.

And more recently, through the Labour Welsh Office and now the Labour – led Assembly we see progress on many fronts:

Signing the European Charter on lesser used language

The Assembly's Better is the clearest and strongest commitment ever made by any Government to the Welsh Language.

There are now community-based language initiatives – Mentrau Iaith in virtually every locality in Wales with funding increasing from £200,000 in 1997 to £600,000 today.

There's been an increase in the funding of Mudiad Ysgol Meithrin – the Welsh pre-school playgroup Movement.

Endorsement of the European Year of Language and witnessing that Scotland and Ireland (north and South) will look officially to Wales for leadership with the Irish Government seeking guidance from Wales on their new language legislation.

And of course the recognition by the Assembly of Ysgol Gymraeg Llundain – the London Welsh School.

After all this recent progress there should be more optimism than pessimism. 'Mae'r iaith yma o Hyd!'(The Welsh language is still with us!).


Today and in the future, we do not need any more precious sectarian, elitist, nihilist talk of the fate of the Language – Tynged yr Iaith.

What we need is a recognition that the Language belongs to all of us - it's the people's language, as is English. They are both Welsh languages. 'Iaith a ieithoedd y Werin!' Both languages belong to Welsh and non-Welsh speakers.

And without that vital unity, we will drown in a pessimistic tide of fatalism.

Conference should welcome Labour's positive strategies on the Welsh Language and adopt the old enduring slogan of the Abercrave miners' banner – in the green, gold and black of the African National Congress – Cyngres Cenedlaethol Affrica,

'Mewn Undeb Mae Nerth a Heddwch' - 'In Unity there is Strength and Peace'

That's my Wales, that's our Wales.

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