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Written Statement - Welsh Language Commissioner

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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

I wish to update Members on progress in relation to the appointment of the Welsh Language Commissioner (“Commissioner”).

On 1 June, I laid before the Assembly the Welsh Language Commissioner (Appointment) Regulations 2011 which set out the detail of the process for appointing the Commissioner. Bilingual copies of the regulations and accompanying Explanatory Memorandum are attached to this statement.

The regulations make provision about the membership of the selection panel which will be responsible for interviewing candidates and making recommendations to the First Minister in relation to the appointment.

During Assembly scrutiny of the Welsh Language Measure (Wales) Measure 2011 (“the Measure”), Assembly Members expressed a wish to be involved in the appointment process. Accordingly, the regulations provide that the selection panel will include: an Assembly Member nominated by a committee of the Assembly; a member of staff of the Welsh Government; an independent assessor; and a person with experience of promoting the use of Welsh and/or another language.

The selection process will be based on long-established principles of openness and impartiality, with appointment based on merit. The regulations impose a duty upon the First Minister, in appointing the Commissioner, to follow the principles of Ministerial responsibility; merit; independent scrutiny; equal opportunities; probity; openness and transparency; and proportionality, taking into account the description of those principles set out in the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies.

Given the context within which the Commissioner will be working and the cause which he or she will be championing, it is important that the Commissioner has the necessary language skills to effectively carry out his or her duties. Before making an appointment, the First Minister is required under these regulations to be satisfied that the person has sufficient knowledge of, and proficiency in, the Welsh language to exercise the functions of the Commissioner. To this end, the regulations require the selection panel to assess each candidate’s knowledge of and proficiency in the Welsh language and include the assessment in its recommendations to the First Minister.  This assessment will help provide the First Minister with the assurance he will require to be satisfied that the successful candidate is able to exercise his or her functions effectively.

I can announce that we aim to advertise the post of Commissioner in July, with a view to making an announcement regarding the successful candidate in the autumn. I wish to appoint the Commissioner as soon as possible, so that he or she can have an early input into the important work that lies ahead – including the need to ensure a speedy transition from the current system of language schemes under the Welsh Language Act 1993 to the new system of language standards provided for under the Measure. An early appointment will also enable the Commissioner to have an input into the process of establishing his or her office, for which preparations are already being made through discussions between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Language Board.

There will be an opportunity to debate these regulations in Plenary, scheduled for 28 June. In the meantime, I look forward to working with Assembly Members to appoint, as soon as possible, a Welsh Language Commissioner, and to support the Commissioner as he or she undertakes this vital role with regard to ensuring that the Welsh language continues to thrive, which is itself a key objective for the Welsh Government.