What happy coincidence – on the very same day I write an article about the Welsh language, a great announcement is made by the Welsh Assembly. Yesterday it was announced that a new piece of legislation which strengthens Welsh’s status as an official language has been unanimously passed, and will become law in 2011. This is the first law of its type to be passed since the Welsh Language Act in 1993.
The new law contains a clear statement that English and Welsh are both official languages in Wales, and gives Welsh speakers the right to receive certain services in Welsh. A Welsh language commissioner will replace the current Welsh Language Board and the introduction of a Welsh Language Tribunal will mean that it will be possible to appeal against decisions made with regard to these new rights. Not all companies will be required to provide services in Welsh; the key phrase in the legislation is that organisations covered by the law should have “reasonable and proportionate” arrangements in place for Welsh speakers.
The move is a crucial part of the power-sharing agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru, but has provoked some controversy, in particular concerning the clause describing Welsh as an official language. Some feel that the statement should be unqualified, particularly Welsh language campaigners, who feel that the gesture does not go far enough. However the government believes that the clause legally clarifies the position of Welsh in the country and that an unqualified statement would leave the position of Welsh open to interpretation by courts.
Given that the majority of people in Wales speak English, this represents monumental progress in the promotion of the language. The law is the most complex to be passed [...]