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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, we welcome the Government's new clause, which fills a considerable gap that became glaringly obvious in Committee,
 
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when the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, introduced his new clause upon which the Government have closely modelled their own. The noble Lord is to be warmly congratulated.

The new clause compensates for the inexplicable loss of Section 47 of the 1998 Act from this Bill, and the deplorable inadequacy of Clause 35 which replaced it. If the Bill, prior to the introduction of the new clause, provides an indication of the way the Assembly Government were going to treat the Welsh language after the emasculation of the Welsh Language Board and its merger with the Government, then all those protesters who have feared the worst were right to do so. The Government may have seen the light in the nick of time because the protests were mounting, and involving not just Cymdeithas yr Iaith—the Welsh Language Society—but the normally peaceful body Merched y Wawr, the Welsh women's movement. All are deeply suspicious of the Government's intentions.

The new clause seeks to remedy the twin omissions noted by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in Committee, when he said:

Both requirements were enshrined in our Conservative Welsh Language Act 1993, which has served successive Governments, and the country, well over the years.

As far as I can see, the only significant part of the clause of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the Government have not incorporated into theirs is his requirement that there should be an annual assessment of the effectiveness of the Government's measures. I understand the Government's view that the annual report should provide an adequate indication of progress, or lack of it. Lack of progress would require an in-depth assessment of the measures taken.

My personal concern about the new clause centres on subsection (5) and Welsh Ministers consulting,

before adopting or revising a strategy or scheme as described in the clause. I would like them to have to consult a statutory body of advisers with some expertise and experience in language matters.

The only reason that I have not tabled an amendment to this effect is that I am told that the future of the Welsh Language Board is shrouded in a mist of uncertainty. Or is it?

so reads the opening sentence of the culture and language Minister's foreword to his consultative document of March this year on the future of the board and other related matters. He goes on to say:


 
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It is difficult to see the Assembly Government resiling from that position—it is possible but unlikely. In its response to the consultative document in May, the Welsh Language Board seems to have given up the ghost, although I may be unfair to it in saying so.

As I understand the consultative document, entitled Making the Connections, it is intended to retain the residual body that remains after the dissolution of the board in an advisory role under the chairmanship of the Minister until an independent regulator or judge adjudicator, sometimes referred to as "Y Dyfarnydd" is appointed in due course. It is not a very satisfactory proposition.

Bearing in mind the short shrift given to the board and the totally unsatisfactory provision for the Welsh language in the Bill before the inclusion of the new clause, it is vital that we have a firm commitment from the Government to the substance of the new clause and the policy foundation that underlies it. That means that there should be statutory independent advisers to ensure it. The Assembly Government's own consultative document makes frequent reference to the need for "expert external advice" on Welsh language issues. This is their opportunity to show that they mean it.

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, for my part, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Evans and to the Government for tabling this amendment. I am very happy to accept the amendment and the Welsh Language Board is also satisfied. I believe that it satisfies all the objectives of the amendment which I have been pursuing with the Government for some weeks. In particular, in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, I point out that in subsection (8)(a) there is a provision for Welsh Ministers to publish an annual report on the effectiveness of their implementation of a strategy to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language. The Welsh language is in a vulnerable state and there is no doubt at all in my mind that this is an important amendment.

It is a late hour and I do not want to delay the House, but I thank everyone who supported the original amendment in Grand Committee. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, for his generous words. There has been wholehearted support for the amendment from the Welsh Language Board, from the Gorsedd and from many individuals throughout Wales who care deeply for the language and who have written to Ministers in support. I also place on record my appreciation of the interest and vital support of the First Minister of the National Assembly, Mr Rhodri Morgan. I look forward to this amendment being part of the law of the land.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, briefly but very sincerely, I also tender my congratulations to the Minister, to the Government and to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, on what I believe is a very significant step forward. I do not think that it was entirely worthy of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, to suggest that there was bad faith on the part of Her Majesty's Government, least of all any
 
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suggestion of sinister motives. However, it would have been easy for Her Majesty's Government to have said, "Well, by and large, this is what we have been doing for many years, this is the policy set out in publications such as Iaith Pawb"—that is the language of everyone. I believe that giving statutory sinew to the policies and practices of the Assembly is extremely significant. On the future of the Welsh language, the psychology is all important. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, says that its position is fragile. I am sorry to say that I completely agree with him. This House will have heard on many occasions the famous words of Edmund Burke:

For the Welsh language to remain in jeopardy, it is only necessary for those who wish it well to be utterly passive about its future.

I am very glad to see the word "must" included. It occurs in Clauses 72 to 78 inclusive. Normally the mandatory provision in a statute is brought about by the use of the word "shall", but "must" makes it more mandatory still.

I am very proud indeed to be in the House tonight to see a measure that I am convinced is of considerable significance as regards the future of the ancient language of Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, briefly but sincerely I express the thanks of those on these Benches for the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. Sometimes we say, "Cymal Gwilym Prys-Davies". We shall possibly look at today and say "The Prys-Davies clause that led to so many other things". It opens doors and opportunities in the Assembly. There is now virtually a blank cheque for the Assembly to support the Welsh language, even as the Cymdeithas yr Iaith—the Welsh Language Society—requests the appointment of a language commissioner. They must discuss this and make the most of the opportunity that is presented to them today.

There is a continuing move forward for the language. We thank the Government for accepting this amendment and, of course, as I have said already, we thank the noble Lord who originated it. Diolch yn fawr—that means "Thank you very much".

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I cannot let this pass without saying a few words. First, I thank the Minister for his involvement in the amendment and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for his role. He has had considerable success. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy and I have battled together for more than 30 years on behalf of the Welsh language and have introduced a number of important measures in its support. Over the years, no one has deserved more credit for the support of the Welsh language than my
 
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noble friend. For the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, to accuse him of sinister motives seems to me to be a great pity. I shall not give way at this moment.


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