5th UK REPORT ON THE APPLICATION OF THE EU CHARTER FOR REGIONAL OR MINORITY LANGUAGES

Dyfodol i’r Iaith was recently invited to contribute comments on the UK’s 5th report on the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages to a meeting of Experts of the ECRM. Here is our written submission

 Policy Context

Dyfodol i’r Iaith believes that if the Welsh language is to thrive within Wales, more emphasis should be given to its promotion, and to creating opportunities for its increased usage in the home, the community and the workplace. We believe that it is time to expand the scope of Welsh language policy beyond a regulation-based approach, and to embrace a more ambitious and holistic vision that actively seeks growth in terms of the number of Welsh speakers and the opportunities available to speak it.  In this context, the new legislative provisions which the National Assembly has passed, requiring matters relating to the Welsh language to be considered in the context of town and country planning are welcome, but the Welsh Government’s Technical Advice Note on the matter appears to steer away from the clear language of the legislation.

We welcome the principles of the Welsh Government’s document, Cymraeg 2050, as a first step towards striking an appropriate balance between regulation and promotion. Central to the success of this strategy, we believe, is the creation of an arms’-length body to promote, advise and coordinate policy and practice in relation to Welsh language, based upon the acknowledged principles of language planning. This body would be fully compatible with the provision made within the Charter (Article 7 para. 4), that; (Parties) ‘are encouraged to establish bodies, if necessary, for the purpose of advising the authorities on all matters pertaining to regional or minority languages.’ (our italics).

Education

We recognise the seriousness of purpose with which the Welsh Government is addressing the areas of Welsh-medium education at all levels as reported in the UK’s latest periodical report.  In the case of education, however, we consider that there remains a need for a statutory right to Welsh medium education at primary and secondary level, since the increasing demand continues not to be met, and certain local education authorities are dragging their feet.  Given the high level of ratification which the UK has chosen for Welsh medium education under the Charter, this is not an unreasonable request, in order to ensure compliance with the Article 8 undertakings.

Health and Social Care

In respect of health and social services, while there appears to have been a welcome increase in awareness of the significance of language as an element of treatment and service delivery, we remain concerned at the shortage of front-line staff able to deal with patients and clients in Welsh in some areas, including in some of the traditional heartlands of the language.

Media

In relation to media, we welcome the creation of a second Welsh-language BBC radio station, but have concerns about the severe cut in government funding for S4C.  While we acknowledge that the new Royal Charter arrangements for the BBC mean that S4C is likely to superficially be reasonably well-funded, it will nevertheless face substantial challenges in meeting the diverse needs of the Welsh-speaking population in a media environment which is changing daily, on what will, at the end of the day, be a reduced budget.

Additional Comments

The Report makes no reference to a disturbing post-Brexit tendency towards increased attacks on minority languages (be they Welsh, Scots Gaelic or Irish). These attacks have been observed within the context of social interaction and social media, and alarmingly, within the mainstream and national media. The task of challenging such threats is all too often left to individuals, or organisations, such as ours.

While, in the case of Welsh, the complaints procedures of the Welsh Language Commissioner are available in relation to attempts to prevent people from exercising their freedom to use the language, they have proved to be cumbersome and lengthy, and simply inappropriate in relation to many of these instances. What is needed to challenge such attacks on minority languages is an unequivocal message of equality and respect.

Provision for this is, of course, outlined in Article 7 para. 3 of the Charter; that ‘The Parties undertake to promote, by appropriate measures, mutual understanding between all linguistic groups of the country, and in particular the inclusion of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to regional or minority languages among the objectives of education and training provided within their countries and encouragement of the mass media to pursue the same objectives.’

We would therefore reiterate our call for an arms’-length body, with an all-encompassing remit to promote the Welsh language, and for it to be tasked, in the first instance, with formulating a wide-reaching national language awareness campaign.

The problem of attacking and stigmatising minority languages is not however one that can be dealt with on a Wales-only basis.  The encouragement of tolerance and respect is one that needs to permeate UK society.  It is regrettable that the latest UK periodical report appears (other than the section on Cornish) to contain very little if any content which derives from the UK Government.  It appears to consist only of presentations from the devolved administrations of Wales and Scotland and the Manx Government about the position of the regional and minority languages associated with those territories.  We understand Article 7.3 to be directed towards promoting mutual understanding among all linguistic groups throughout the State Party, not merely within the territories where regional and minority languages are traditionally used, and that the undertaking to include ‘respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to regional or minority languages among the objectives of education and training provided within their countries and encouragement of the mass media to pursue the same objectives’ also apply on a State Party-wide basis.  We would respectfully ask the Committee of Experts’ working party to ask the UK authorities what steps they are taking to fulfil their undertakings under Article 7(3), whether they are aware of this problem we have described, and what they are intending to do about it.

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