Byline: By MARTIN SHIPTON Western Mail
A massive row has broken out over an astonishing proposal at the National Assembly to stop translating speeches made in English into Welsh. Plaid Cymru AM Lord Elis-Thomas, the presiding officer, wants the money saved to be diverted into translating the increased volume of legal documents that will arise when the Assembly's powers grow next May.
But Deputy Presiding Officer John Marek and Welsh language groups are strongly critical of the plan, saying it would amount to a betrayal of the Assembly's bilingual principles.
We can reveal that the issue is under consideration following discussions in the Assembly's House Committee, which meets in private. Last Thursday the committee was given details of a budget for next year that includes unspecified cuts of pounds 800,000.
More than pounds 200,000 a year is spent ensuring that the record of Assembly plenary sessions is published on the Assembly's website within 24 hours of the twice weekly meetings.
Lord Elis-Thomas, whose wife Mair heads the Assembly's translation unit, said, 'From next year a new body called the Assembly Commission will be responsible for the legislative part of the Assembly. With new law-making powers coming in, we need to look very carefully at how we operate.
'My personal proposal is that we should give priority to ensuring that proposed Assembly legislation should be published in both languages. We will be having plenary sessions three days a week, and I do not believe we should continue to translate into Welsh all the speeches that are made in English.
'There is a serious capacity problem, which is being looked at over the summer. I do not believe there are enough translators available to maintain the current high standards if we continue to translate all the plenary speeches.
'My view is that it is far more important to translate laws, which will have lasting significance, rather than endless debates.'
Lord Elis-Thomas stressed this was a personal proposal and that no decision had been reached.
Dr Marek said, 'So far as I am concerned this proposal is completely wrong. It is simply not acceptable to start rowing backwards from a policy of doing things bilingually, where if people want to access plenary debates through the language they prefer they are able to do so.
'In the early days of the Assembly, we used to have plenary speeches made in Welsh translated into English within a day, while it took several days to translate English speeches into Welsh. Now we have everything translated within 24 hours and it is actually less expensive than it was before.
'I think the Presiding Officer is wrong again when he talks about spending translation money on the new legislative measures instead. …