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A bi-lingual society?

Former Heritage Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas was in yesterday’s Western Mail protesting at the decision taken by the Assembly Commission to stop translating politicians’ speeches in Plenary from English into Welsh. His view is that the decision undermines the position of National Assembly as a bilingual institution.

Putting aside Rhodri Glyn Thomas’ own record on the Welsh language and his failure whilst a Minister to even get a Welsh Language Legislative Competence Order published, his protest goes to the heart of the debate about what bilingualism means and how it should be implemented. Are we in the business of reproducing every single word ever written or spoken in the Assembly in both languages and if so how does that advance the cause of Welsh as a living language, or are we seeking to promote organic growth in which we utilise scarce resources to foster and encourage the use of Welsh in all situations? Are the two mutually exclusive?

I have already had one e-mail complaining that the decision is contrary to the Welsh Language Act. That is not the case. The Act does not actually impose a duty on public bodies to be bilingual, it requires them to produce a scheme in which they will indicate the most appropriate way to use Welsh in the pursuit of their business. The decison to no longer produce a fully bilingual record of proceedings is not a breach of the Commission’s own Welsh Language scheme.

I think it is also worth pointing out that the Commission itself is an all-party body and that there is no record in the minutes that the decision, which Rhodri Glyn Thomas protests against, was opposed by any member. This is not therefore a party matter nor is it the case of some AMs being more ‘Anglo-centric’ than others.

It should also be recorded that the decision to change the way that the Record of Proceedings is produced is not without precedent. The Assembly has been producing a verbatim record of committtee meetings for many years now which has not been bilingual. Instead the record just provides a translation of words spoken in Welsh. There has not been a word of protest about this decision from Rhodri Glyn Thomas or any other Assembly Member as far as I am aware.

Rhodri argues that full bilingualism is necessary because Plenary is the core meeting of “Wales’ parliamentary body” and the record is “looked at by people from many walks of life”. He argues that if “there is not a full record of plenary sessions in Welsh as well as English, it will discourage people from reading the Welsh at all. The language will be reduced to second class status.” Despite this he acknowledges that “a lot of documents produced in Welsh don’t need to be, because nobody reads them” thus conceding the issue of utility and of relevance.

If a language is to survive and flourish then it must be used as part of daily life and business. It follows therefore that in a body such as the National Assembly we should be using our resources to enable our business to be conducted blingually rather than producing what is effectively a retrospective record that adds nothing to that aim. For Rhodri Glyn Thomas and others it appears the bilingual record of proceedings is symbolic rather than functional. At £250,000 a year that is a very expensive symbol.

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