Language Choices for All; as the Assembly Government Seeks Greater Powers from Westminster over the Welsh Language, Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones Outlines Why This Week's Historic Move Is So Vital to the Nation

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Byline: Alun Ffred Jones

THE final sentence in the chorus of our national anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, is sung on the terraces of our stadiums by Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike, proud that it represents our aspirations to ensure that we are truly a bilingual nation: O bydded i'r heniaith barhau (O may the old language endure).

We have started the process this week of applying for the responsibility to legislate over the Welsh language to transfer from Westminster to the Assembly Government.

Legislation alone can't ensure the health and vitality of the Welsh language, but it is one tool at our disposal. But as it stands, the National Assembly has only limited legislative competence on Welsh, the native language of Wales.

That is why the Assembly Government is making a bid for powers to legislate over the Welsh language to be transferred from Westminster to our National Assembly.

All political parties in Wales acknowledge that it makes sense for the Assembly to be responsible for passing laws on the Welsh language rather than London.

The National Assembly already has powers in areas such as the health service, transport, education and housing, and we are using these powers to deliver policies that suit the needs of the public in Wales. But before legislating in any other areas, we have to make a bid to Westminster for the powers to be devolved on a case by case basis.

I believe that it would be difficult to sustain an argument against transferring competence over the Welsh language from Westminster to Wales.

The UK Parliament introduced Welsh language legislation only three times during the last century.

It is even less likely to do so now, given the option for this to happen in the National Assembly.

As a Government, we want to ensure that laws on the Welsh language are relevant for 21st century Wales. Welsh ministers intend building on the approach adopted by successive UK and Assembly Governments to promote and encourage the use of the language across the full range of everyday life in Wales.

The Assembly Government's aim is to create a truly bilingual Wales. That's not about forcing the language upon people but giving people a real choice in terms of the language they want to use in their day-to-day lives.

Young people represent the future of the language. In 2001 one fifth of the population said they could speak Welsh but this proportion rose to 40.8% among children aged five to 15. And we hope that more children will have the opportunity to be bilingual as a result of our future Welsh Language Education strategy.

The Assembly Government wants to work to ensure that more people, young and old, can learn Welsh and to speak and use the language in their day-to-day lives. …