Examination of Witnesses(Questions 40-59)|
TUESDAY 15 OCTOBER 2002
MP, ALISON JACKSON
40. The Secretary of State has mentioned and
we know from past discussions in this House that problems in the
past, such as the delay in introducing a fully bilingual website,
have been ascribed to pressure on the Assembly's translation service.
Are you now confident however that you have the translation resources
to meet the commitments that you set out in the draft scheme?
(Ms Jackson) We are still going first of all to the
Assembly's translation service but we now have back-up in that
we are in touch with Welsh language translators in London who
will do the work if the Assembly is unable to do it for us. The
Assembly, as the Secretary of State said, are indeed very helpful
but the pressures on them are getting very tough and so we are
doing more with external translators.
41. Sticking with the Welsh language, Secretary
of State, the Departmental Report lists as an achievement the
"special status" given to the Welsh language in the
Immigration and Asylum White Paper, Secure Borders, Save Haven.
I am advised that there are only two references to the Welsh language
in the White Paper: one is to a provision in the British Nationality
Act 1981 and the other is a reference to the provision of educational
materials in English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. Are these two
references the sum total of the special status given to the Welsh
language in the White Paper?
(Mr Murphy) As you know, the White Paper now forms
the Nationality and Immigration Bill and as such is in its final
stages with the Lords Report Stage which commenced I think on
9 October. Since the publication of the Departmental Report the
reference to any specific language in the White Paper has been
removed. In order to gain British nationality knowledge of a language
for the purpose of naturalisation is required. This language is
in the majority of cases English but knowledge of Welsh or, for
that matter, Gaelic, is permissible. The final draft of the Nationality
and Immigration Bill does not specify either the English or the
Welsh language. For all public sector purposes in Wales the Welsh
language enjoys statutory equal status with English. Although
I would expect to see few, if any, applicants for British nationality
claiming to qualify through the knowledge of Welsh rather than
English, we needed to ensure this was an option because of the
status of Welsh. We are keen to ensure that wherever a migrant
lives in the United Kingdom he or she will have access to language
tuition of a uniform standard which meets the aim of providing
awareness of what it means to be an active citizen. In some parts
of Wales the ability to have knowledge of the Welsh language is
of course very important. The Bill is now more flexible and allows
immigrants to qualify for naturalisation via an appropriate language
because that was a hugely important thing to be able to put through
in the legislation so that the status of Welsh is recognised,
even though not many people take it up in the nature of this Bill,
and also the importance within education. That was the purpose.
42. In the Departmental Report you thought special
status for the Welsh language was a significant enough achievement
that you actually recorded it.
(Mr Murphy) Yes.
43. Do you feel now, when you say that it is
not specifically mentioned in the Bill, that the special status
is still properly protected?
(Mr Murphy) Yes, I think it is. I believe it to be
absolutely the case that because it was in the White Paper the
Bill is predicated on the basis of Welsh and English having that
44. What involvement has the Wales Office had
informally with the Government's new telecommunications policy?
(Mr Murphy) As you know, I have no executive functions
with regard to broadband related issues in Wales. That is the
responsibility of the Assembly and the DTI. As a member of the
Cabinet I am consulted on proposed Government policies which may
impact on the rollout of broadband facilities to areas of Wales
where there is currently insufficient access to those facilities,
for example, policies which affect the regulatory and pricing
framework for broadband provision ro financial or fiscal incentives
for investment. Broadband is crucial, as I know you believe, to
the success of our economy in Wales and public services as well
as raising people's skills and knowledge. I think it is so very
important for those areas in rural Wales but also those areas
which have been affected, for example, the ones we have just described
in terms of lost jobs, where broadband, the new technology, I
believe can mean more jobs to people in Wales as well as greater
interest. My officials are in constant contact with Assembly officials
to ensure that I can give informed consideration to any proposed
initiatives which this Government puts forward. DTI officials
also maintain very close and regular contact with Assembly officials
and I make sure that those are smooth relationships. All of us
welcomed Andrew Davies's announcement of £100 million investment
which will bring this latest technology to 310,000 extra homes
and 67,000 extra businesses. Lastly, Don Touhig visited the Radiocommunications
Agency in Cardiff to be briefed on the role of the agency and
future developments, so there is very keen interest, making sure
that lines of communication are open between the Assembly and
the DTI and the Government are fully supported.
45. Alison Jackson is the Wales Office's "e-Champion".
Can you explain to us what the work of the e-Champion involves?
(Mr Murphy) No. Alison will explain that one because
she is the Champion.
(Ms Jackson) As far as the e-Champion in the Wales
Office is concerned, I think that my two main concerns are that
the public should be able to deal with us electronically if they
wish and that is certainly possible. As you know, we do not deliver
services to the public but any communication that we have with
the public can be done electronically just in the same way that
it can be done by letter or by telephone and we have targets for
responding to people's e-mails which we mostly meet. There are
one or two that slip but in general we meet those targets. As
far as internal procedures are concerned, I am anxious particularly
with our two sites in London and in Cardiff that we should do
as much business as possible electronically, so, for example,
we have a document management system where the 250-300 letters
a week that the Secretary of State was speaking about are scanned
on the day they arrive on to our document management system so
that they are instantly accessible to the people who have to brief
on them in Cardiff as well as in London, and they are available
to anybody who needs to consider them. We also, in formulating
advice for the Secretary of State, extensively use electronic
systems so that we can make amendments to each other's documents
and make sure that we get the right thing. We are also logged
on to the Government knowledge network so that we have access
to all the briefing information that is on that. As far as the
more general work of e-Champions in Government is concerned and
in developing the policy, we do not procure our own IT. That is
partly because we are too small but also because it makes good
business sense for us to be connected to the Assembly's system,
again to have access to all the information that is available
from the Assembly. As far as that is concerned I certainly see
the papers that go round to the e-Champions but the work of integrating
the Assembly and therefore the Wales Office system into the Government's
e-policy is done by the Assembly e-Champion. I do get consulted
on various policy developments. For example, I had some input
into the Merlin project which is the re-tendering of the Assembly
IT to make sure that the specification meets our needs as well
as everyone else's.
46. Do you expect the percentage of correspondence
replied to within 15 working days to go up from 80% in the future
because of the amount of e-mailing?
(Ms Jackson) As far as correspondence replied to by
e-mail is concerned, that has not been part of our record, has
(Mr Kilner) No.
(Ms Jackson) We have met the targets on that one.
As far as correspondence generally is concerned, at the moment
over the last three months we have achieved 100 per cent. We have
by various means brought ourselves up to what we ought to be doing.
(Mr Murphy) Not bad, is it? It was 50% in the last
Departmental Report, now up to 80 and we hope for 100%.
47. What about e-mails going astray? Do you
have any of those?
(Mr Murphy) If we had we would not tell you.
(Ms Jackson) Everybody occasionally clicks on the
wrong name in an address book but the Assembly global address
book now has separated out the Welsh Assembly Government, us,
the Presiding Officer and Members so it is quite difficult for
e-mails to go seriously astray.
(Mr Murphy) Stick to letters.
48. The question arose because we have suffered
from e-mails sort of going astray ourselves, although not from
(Ms Jackson) It happened to us quite seriously in
our first year but since then people have been extremely careful.
(Mr Murphy) Stick to letters and telephone calls.
49. Do I take it that you undertook a training
programme to become an e-Champion and, if that was the case, does
that include some system of monitoring e-mails for their accuracy?
(Ms Jackson) No. The e-Champions within departments
are senior members of staff whose responsibility is to ensure
that the department operates electronically within the Government
guidelines and continues to make progress towards that. My responsibility
is making sure that the Wales Office has that general policy.
When it comes to the detail and the technicalities we rely, as
I say, on the IT provisions in the Assembly under our service
level agreement and it is they who get specific training.
50. What about the second part of my question?
Are e-mails monitored for their accuracy? It is not a mysterious
question. Letters are monitored. How do you monitor e-mails?
(Ms Jackson) Again, in the same way as letters are
copied to people before they are sent for them to be checked,
e-mails, if they are responding to members of the public, are
not sent until they have been checked by somebody. Internal e-mails
are never sent to just one person. There is always somebody else
copied on the copy list who will read the e-mail and check it
as it goes.
51. I take it that there are now the same number
of errors or not at all compared with hard copies, or would you
not know that?
(Ms Jackson) As far as letters which go out to members
of the public are concerned, and if Members of Parliament wish
to communicate with us by e-mail, those e-mails will be accurate;
they will be checked carefully. The e-mails that go between members
of staff, by the time anything is issued that will go to ministers
or go out in public, accuracy will have been guaranteed.
52. Can we take it then that that procedure
as you have described would be something that would be across
the whole of the United Kingdom in the devolved bodies? Is that
something worth noting?
(Ms Jackson) I think that most departments have an
e-mail policy which would ensure that anything that goes outside
the department is accurate.
53. Do you think that your proposal for increasing
the staff by seven will be sufficient to do the work adequately,
seeing that the review did suggest that there should be 13?
(Mr Murphy) As you know, Chairman, the independent
review which I announced to the House last year and to this Committee
to look at the staffing arrangements of the Department recommended
between nine and 13. I came to the conclusion, as we were up to
cover on numbers in the office, that seven would do the work that
would be required to ensure that we had a smooth operation. Most
of those people will be dealing with the parliamentary committee
and other work. One of them will strengthen office management
and therefore enable other staff better to do their own jobs.
I think it will be sufficient; I hope it will. As I said earlier
on, the nature of this Office, like the nature of all the territorial
departments, to say the least in Northern Ireland, is that we
see a changing world. We do not know from year to year exactly
how many bills we are going to have to deal with until the Queen's
Speech is finally announced; we do not know what crises will emerge,
for example, when we had the problem with Corus which Dr Francis
referred to earlier, but we hope that this will do the trick and
that the advice that ministers get, and indeed the advice that
Members of Parliament get, from the Office will be the best they
can possibly have.
54. Of these 13 posts now down to seven, how
many of these are special advisers?
(Mr Murphy) None.
55. On this question, I did not understand from
your first response, Secretary of State, why you decided not to
accept the recommendations of your consultants when they said
the increase of nine staff translates into a 90% increase in staff
resources which they believe is the minimum increase that is required
in order to enable the Wales Office to adequately undertake its
current role. Seven is something that your consultants would say
will allow you adequately to undertake your role.
(Mr Murphy) We have never been at complement in the
three years we have been in existence and I would like to see
first of all what the situation would be if we were at complement
and with the seven extra, and then obviously I will come back
to this Committee and explain the situation to you when I see
how we go. I just think it is sensible at this stage to see whether
going a good way towards the nine that they were asking for is
sufficient and then, if we feel we still have a difficulty, obviously
it is an issue. I just think that at the moment we should have
a very careful look at the structures within the Department and
I have spent many hours with Alison and with her colleagues on
this to make sure we get this right. We came to the conclusion
that we think we can get it right by employing the seven but clearly
time will tell. As I said earlier to Ms Morgan, the situation
changes from time to time, does it not, in terms of what faces
us as departments and we just have to take it as it goes.
56. You have not told us how much work there
would be for a translator but perhaps one of these you have not
decided upon could be a full time translator.
(Mr Murphy) It is worth examining but we would have
to balance it out with the cost of employing somebody full time
compared with the costs that we now incur with regard to translation
and weigh that up.
(Ms Jackson) I do not think we have enough work for
a full time translator, Mrs Williams. We get very few letters
from the public in Welsh. The main document we translate is our
Departmental Report and although there is the website we do not
put enough on that for there to be enough work for a full time
(Mr Murphy) In other words with the cost element we
would probably still be better off at the moment by going out
to get things translated for us.
57. Secretary of State, we have questioned you
about disabled access to Gwydyr House in previous meetings and
I think there is a great deal of concern but not a lot of progress
has been made on independent wheelchair access to Gwydyr House.
I was concerned about the comment in the annual report that says
that wheelchair users could readily visit ministers in Cardiff
almost as if that was an alternative to visiting in Gwydyr House.
I think it is perhaps the way it is worded which means it comes
over like that.
(Mr Murphy) That is an alternative.
58. We think it is very important that there
is independent wheelchair access to Gwydyr House. I am also concerned
about the fact that in the written responses you talk about temporary
arrangements that are being made but the independent wheelchair
access is still under consideration, which we think is rather
slow in reaching a decision about this. You also say that we need
to look at the demand for such access and I think we would think
that the demand is established.
(Mr Murphy) I would not disagree with anything you
have said. First of all, it certainly is not the case that anybody
who is disabled we say should go to Cardiff. That is not the case
at all. The reality is that most of my meetings regarding representation
from people in Wales are actually held in Cardiff as it happens
because if I meet Welsh organisations and Welsh groups then clearly
it is going to be easier for them to meet me in Wales than it
is up here. That does not mean to say that we do not need similar
access in Gwydyr House. What have we done since we met last? We
have had a lot of help from Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick who visited Gwydyr
House and although he is not an access expert he gave us a lot
of important advice on how to tackle those issues. Dr Francis
knows how significant a person he is in Wales on disabled issues.
Secondly, we had a look at how best we could alter the front of
the building, which is the proper way into the building. Wheelchair
users could independently arrive at the same door as is used by
able-bodied visitors and staff. I am pleased to say that from
our most recent meetings with English Heritage, which is the problem,
of course, because it is a Grade II listed building and you cannot
easily alter what is a very difficult and rather small entrance,
the result is the possibility, if you have seen the building works
associated with the Ministry of Defence and the car park outside
of it, of using that side, but we would prefer the front. It would
be possible to do that. In the meantime we still accept that until
that decision is taken we have a responsibility to wheelchair
users, and so we have made available something called a Stairmate
which we purchased as an interim measure, which is a wheelchair,
and we have trained four of our staff to use it. It cost us just
over £4,000. The Committee will be able to look at that afterwards.
This is a specially devised wheelchair which is used in circumstances
like this where access is very difficult. We do not see this as
a permanent solution to the issue but one that we can look at
in the interim. We have done that; we have got four people who
can use the chair who have actually used it; disabled people have
used this. We are now going to go on further with our discussions
with English Heritage. You should also bear in mind of course
that wheelchair access is important but it is not the only aspect
of the services for the disabled. We are looking at ways in which
we can make it easier for visually impaired people to come in
to the building. We cannot paint the steps white because of the
nature of the building but we can have white strips put on them
so that, for example, it is easier for visually impaired people
to come in. We are also conscious of those who cannot hear properly.
We are looking at all the different areas and think there has
been considerable progress since last year, but it is not finished
yet. However, it is delicate because of the nature of the building.
(Ms Jackson) One of the problems we have as well as
the English Heritage issue is that the platform in front of the
door, which probably Members do know, is not wide enough for it
to be safe for somebody to come out of the lift which raises you
to that level to go on into the building, in that there are an
extra two steps into the building and if you were to bring those
two steps out forward then the platform is not wide enough for
there to be safe egress from the lift, so there are practical
problems as well as heritage problems.
59. It sounds very encouraging that English
Heritage are likely to have access from the front because I think
we all feel that wheelchair users should be able to go in the
same entrance as we all go in.
(Mr Murphy) Yes.