Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
I have today laid before the National Assembly for Wales the Welsh Government’s Welsh Language Annual Report for 2010 / 11. It sets out the work undertaken by the Welsh Government to implement its Welsh language scheme; to promote and facilitate the use of the language - and to work towards the goal of creating a truly bilingual Wales - which was the aim outlined in Iaith Pawb, the National Action Plan for the language, published in 2003.
The report provides details about the wide range of activities undertaken by the Welsh Government, and it partners, in support of the language. It shows how the language is being mainstreamed into more and more of our activities, from providing services to the public to developing new policies that benefit communities across Wales.
The work undertaken in recent years sets the scene for an even stronger focus by the Government in future. The need for a stronger focus reflects the fact that the language remains in a fragile state, notwithstanding the encouraging increase in the number of Welsh speakers reported in the 2001 Census.
Living alongside one of the world’s strongest languages is a constant challenge, as is the pace of technological change and its impact on all minority languages. In addition, migration processes continue to change the linguistic character of Welsh-speaking communities in many parts of Wales. History has shown us that the use of the language within a community can decline with alarming speed - and this decline can be seen today in many parts of Wales.
The Government’s support for the language also reflects the fact that it is an essential part of the cultural identity and character of Wales. It helps define who we are as a nation - in our communities, in our relationships with friends and families and as individuals. With many other languages, it forms part of the rich diversity that shapes the social landscape of this country, the UK and Europe.
There can be no question, therefore, about this Government’s commitment to the Language. During 2010/11 the One Wales coalition partners worked closely and positively together to ensure that the Government’s commitments with regard to the language were delivered successfully.
Significant progress was made during 2010/11, including:
- in April 2010, the Government’s first ever Welsh-medium Education Strategy was published. The strategy will develop effective Welsh-medium provision from nursery through to further and higher education, whilst building on the foundations laid by Iaith Pawb.
- in February 2011, Royal Assent was given to the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, which will change the legislative framework surrounding the Welsh language. The Measure establishes the post of Welsh Language Commissioner who will promote the use of the language and enforce the rights of Welsh speakers.
- in March 2011, the Welsh Language Board approved the Welsh Government’s new Welsh language scheme, which has a renewed focus on mainstreaming the language into everything that we do.
In addition, the Government is developing a new Welsh language strategy, to replace Iaith Pawb. The strategy will reflect the new legislative framework provided by the Welsh Language Measure and will have a strong focus on increasing the use of Welsh and safeguarding its use in communities across Wales. It will also complement and support the vision set out in our new Welsh-medium education strategy.
The Measure, the Welsh-medium Education Strategy, the Government's new Welsh language scheme and the forthcoming Welsh language strategy will provide us with a formidable set of tools with which to tackle the challenges faced by the language - and to help ensure that it can grow from strength to strength.
As we look to the future, we must ensure that parents and families better understand how the language can benefit their children, to enable them to make informed decisions with regard to their upbringing and education. We need to ensure that Welsh-medium education is planned and provided in accordance with parents’ wishes. We need to provide more and more opportunities for children and young people to enjoy using the language beyond the school gates – and we need to encourage Welsh speaking parents to use the language with their children.
I am determined to make progress as quickly and effectively as possible to deal with the challenges that lay ahead.
As of December, local authorities will report back to the Welsh Government on how they are progressing against targets to improve the number of young people learning and studying for qualifications through the medium of Welsh.
In addition, the Government announced on 5 October that Meri Huws would serve as the first Welsh Language Commissioner, to lead the Commissioner’s office from 1 April 2012. She will be a robust and active champion for the language – and will work with organisations to increase the number of services available in Welsh, providing more opportunities for people to use the language in their day-to-day lives.
The Commissioner will operate new Welsh language standards, in order to impose duties on a wide range of organisations: to provide services in Welsh; to mainstream the language into policy development - and to develop strategies with regard to increasing the use of Welsh at work.
Welsh language promotion standards will impose duties on the Welsh Government and local authorities across Wales, to promote the use of Welsh more widely and to support and encourage its use within the communities they serve. Again, I am determined to make progress as quickly as possible in order to introduce the new standards – and the Government will work closely with the Commissioner to ensure that this can be done.
Through the system of standards, we have an opportunity to focus on the delivery of services that can make a real difference as far as the language is concerned. We need to ensure that services and activities for children and young people are available in Welsh. We need more face-to-face services in Welsh. We need to ensure that more and more funding decisions are taken with the need to provide Welsh language services in mind. We need to move from thinking of Welsh as a translation issue - to Welsh as a normal part of day-to-day life in Wales.
For its part, the Welsh Government will inherit from the Welsh Language Board a central and highly significant role with regard to promoting the use of Welsh. I will want to work closely with key stakeholders who can contribute to this task, including the Urdd, the Mentrau Iaith, local authorities and others. Together, we need to breathe new life into the language – whilst working hard to ensure that the work we support and deliver is as effective as possible.
I have sent a letter to all organisations with Welsh language schemes approved by the Welsh Language Board, reminding them of their continued responsibilities with regard to complying with these schemes.
Following the appointment of Meri Huws as the Welsh Language Commissioner, it is important that we ensure all such organisations are aware that Welsh language schemes will remain in force until the new Welsh language standards are introduced.
I enclose a copy of my letter at Annex A, which has been issued to over 375 organisations, and to every relevant UK Minister.
We need to make the language as attractive and as relevant as possible. To this end, a key area we need to consider is the role and place of Welsh in the field of information technology. Developments in that field move at a blazing pace, but we need to ensure that the language can embrace these new technologies and use them to support and facilitate its use by Welsh speakers of all ages. This will be a huge challenge, given the limited resources available to us, and without the economies of scale that majority languages enjoy. Unless we face these challenges, however, we risk falling behind – and the language risks being sidelined from an increasingly important aspect of our lives.
We need to ensure a modern and relevant image for the language, to ensure that we can offer high quality Welsh language options across a wide range of services and activities, especially activities of interest to the young – and including activities linked to leisure and free time. We also need to increase awareness of the value of the language.
We all have a part to play in promoting the language. I am determined, therefore, to work in partnership to increase the use of Welsh, whilst ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy using it.