WALES: Give Us Control of Our Own Language; Struggle for Law-Making Powers Hits Opposition

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Byline: By TOM BODDEN

A BID to wrest power over the Welsh language by the Assembly Government from Westminster faced a bumpy ride yesterday.

Worried business leaders questioned the scope of how proposed new laws would affect parts of the private sector.

M inisters in Wales began the process of seeking the transfer from Westminster of the right to legislate on the language.

But some sceptical MPs, who will also scrutinise the bid in the Commons, predicted opposition for a vehicle for the Assembly to pass laws, which themselves would be the subject of more consultation and investigation.

Meanwhile, campaigners in Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg warned that the published legislative competence order (LCO) did not go far enough and was 'an obstacle on the road to full linguistic rights'.

The aim of the Labour/Plaid Cymru Assembly Government is to deliver on its promises to confirm 'official status' on both the Welsh and English languages, secure linguistic rights in the provision of public services and establish the office of a Language Commissioner by 2011.

Plaid heritage minister Alun Ffred Jones, AM for Arfon, said: "The people of our nation are proud of our two languages which are essential and enduring components in the history, culture and social fabric of Wales."

The scope of the LCO would still cover public bodies which already have an obligation to provide services in Welsh following the 1993 Welsh Language Act.

In addition, laws could be extended to those bodies entirely funded by public money or amounting to pounds 200,000 a year, such as the Wales Millennium Centre or National Botanic Garden.

Other sectors covered could be social landlords, utilities, postal services, telecommunications, career guidance, railways, or educational qualifications.

Communications company BT already provides Welsh language services on a voluntary basis but the numbers using them was decreasing.

BT Wales director Ann Beynon said: "We do not believe it would be helpful to enforce requirements on businesses by way of legislation.

"For companies like BT to continue, and possibly increase the services they provide in Welsh, it is important that more Welsh speakers use those services."

David Rosser, director of employers' organisation CBI Wales, said: "The real issue here is that people aren't using the Welsh language services already available.

It would be more effective to work on that demand and see what people really want, the legislation won't cover any of that."

Menna Machreth, chairman of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (Welsh Language Society) complained that the rights on offer in the LCO would not extend into large areas of the private sector.

Hinting at a fresh round of protests, Ms Machreth said: "The Welsh Assembly Government has erected large 'No Entry' signs preventing access to large areas of the private sector. …