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Written Statement - Welsh Language Standards

Alun Davies, Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language

I would like to update Members on the process of preparing regulations to make Welsh Language Standards. The fourth Assembly approved 4 regulations to make standards specifically applicable to a total of 80 bodies. All of these bodies are now either complying with Welsh language standards, or the commissioner has consulted with them about their draft compliance notices. I am pleased to see this progress and look forward to seeing the compliance with the standards being effectively enforced, thereby leading to a greater confidence amongst Welsh speakers to use Welsh language services.

What the standards do in essence is to build on Welsh Language Schemes. The measure provides a legal basis to enforce compliance with Welsh language duties. We are about to commence a public consultation on draft Regulations to make standards specifically applicable to bodies within the health sector. This is in response to the commissioner’s investigation report into the sector, which recommended looking at how standards could be applied within primary care. We want the focus of this discussion to be about improving the provision of Welsh language services. The provision of services within the health service is unavoidably an emotive issue, and we want to engage in an open and meaningful discussion with the sector to improve Welsh language services.

Like many Assembly Members, I was disappointed when the Welsh Language Standards (No.3) Regulations 2016 dealing with educational bodies were rejected in March 2016. I accept that we must now revisit those regulations and consider the reasons why Assembly Members did not feel able to give the Regulations their support. I am committed to including educational bodies within the new standards system and aim to reintroduce these regulations before the Assembly by the end of this year.

My priority is to develop regulations for the remaining bodies that have been subject to a standards investigation by the Welsh Language Commissioner. Policy work is being undertaken to look at how standards can be developed to impose reasonable and proportionate duties on housing sector bodies, and some voluntary sector organisations. We have also started the process of developing standards for private sector bodies for the first time, namely water and sewerage undertakers that are active in Wales, and the Royal Mail.

I accept that there have been mixed views surrounding the implementation of standards; their introduction has provoked a healthy debate around the Welsh Language. I hope that this government’s commitment to seek to amend the current Welsh Language Measure will provide confidence and support as we move forward. The success of any initiative is in its delivery. We therefore need to look at simplifying and clarifying the process of imposing Welsh language duties.