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Senedd rejects calls for legally binding language standards for banks

31 Jan 2024 4 minute read
HSBC bank. Lucy North/PA Wire

Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

The Senedd narrowly rejected calls for banks to be subject to legally binding language standards after HSBC’s “disgraceful” decision to scrap its Welsh phone line.

Heledd Fychan called for banks to be subject to statutory language standards during a debate on the Welsh language commissioner’s 2022-23 annual report.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister for the language warned that Welsh speakers could see more and more services cut if the standards are not expanded.

The South Wales Central MS raised recommendation four of Efa Gruffudd Jones’ report which lists banks as among the priority areas for increasing the use of Welsh.

“Disgraceful”

Ms Fychan told the Senedd: “Hopefully, all parties in this chamber agree on HSBC’s decision, that it’s disgraceful, and that all parties understand the importance of having those services through the medium of Welsh.

“It also demonstrates why the standards are so very important, that we can see, with companies that have been so committed and positive in the past, how quickly those services can deteriorate and disappear.

“And all that rubbish we heard in terms of there being no use of the service, well we have to promote these services and make it easy for people to choose to use the Welsh language.”

“Lack of respect”

Samuel Kurtz, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, broadly agreed, saying his party would support Plaid Cymru’s amendment.

He said: “The attitude of HSBC in announcing that they were to cease to provide a Welsh language helpline was disgraceful.

“For me, it showed a lack of respect towards Welsh-speaking customers and the language itself and was damaging to the reputation of the company here in Wales.

“The commissioner and her predecessors have worked hard to encourage the use of the Welsh language through non-statutory means.

“Perhaps now is the time for banks to be subject to Welsh language standards.”

Mr Kurtz, who represents Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, urged ministers to embrace technology and redouble efforts to increase the number of Welsh speakers.

He raised the commissioner’s concerns about courts and tribunals failing to offer a remote alternative to face-to-face cases through the medium of Welsh.

‘Appalling’

Siân Gwenllian, the Plaid Cymru MS for Arfon, said the appalling attitude of HSBC shows why Wales cannot depend on goodwill to respect the rights of Welsh speakers.

She said Midland Bank, now HSBC, was once an example of best bilingual practice.

Ms Gwenllian told MSs: “From now on, customers who want to engage through the Welsh language will have to wait over three days to do that.

“Overnight, the service was destroyed – a service that led the way for a time.”

She drew a comparison to the “insulting” response to Tony Schiavone’s campaign to receive a Welsh-language ticket from One Parking Solution.

Ms Gwenllian said: “Why does a Welsh speaker have to continue to campaign to demand to have services through the medium of Welsh?

“It’s about time that the fundamental rights of Welsh speakers should be respected on a statutory footing in all aspects of life.”

‘Contemptuous’

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh language minister, described HSBC’s attitude as contemptuous, lamenting the loss of the inclusive and respectful example set in the Midland Bank days.

He told the chamber he has written to the heads of all the major banks.

However, the would-be first minister stopped short of supporting Plaid Cymru’s amendment.

Mr Miles told the meeting on January 30: “The reason we won’t be supporting the amendment is that it’s not part of the government’s legislative programme.

“Of course, we have agreed a programme of activity with Plaid Cymru that prioritised those issues that we feel jointly will make the most difference to most people.

“So, that’s why we won’t be supporting the amendment.”

Plaid Cymru’s amendment fell, 26-27. The Conservatives and Jane Dodds, the Lib Dem, backed the amendment but ministers and Labour backbenchers voted against.


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Riki
Riki
27 days ago

See, Protecting the language is all for show! This country will never see a million speakers as everything the government does is the opposite of what you need to be doing.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
27 days ago
Reply to  Riki

Spot on! Just smoke and mirrors to give the impression of doing something.

robin campbell
robin campbell
27 days ago

Which Labour AMs voted for it?

Rhys Mihangel Rhisiart
Rhys Mihangel Rhisiart
26 days ago
Reply to  robin campbell

None of them, unfortunately.

G Williams
G Williams
27 days ago

Re. Welsh Labour’s attitude towards Welsh language matters, Jeremy Miles is probably the best of a bad lot. Yet Labour’s stance and vote on the Plaid amendment was utterly deplorable. Even the Welsh Conservatives are more trustworthy than Labour on core language issues.

Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
27 days ago

Banks are there to make a profit not provide a service which is not sufficiently used. That’s why so many branches are closing down. We the public would rather they stay open but don’t use them enough, it is the same as the service in Cymraeg.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
27 days ago
Reply to  Iago Traferth

Not as simple as that. My local HSBC in Blaenau Ffestiniog had a policy of not accepting new customers, and not opening new accounts. They then closed saying ‘we don’t have enough customers’. Likewise the Welsh langue line – once it was very good, then in a period of a few months it was almost impossible either to get an answer or a Welsh speaker, then they say ‘we don’t have enough users.’ So it’s a deliberate policy of managed decline. The real question though is why don’t we have our own national bank. And why don’t the Welsh Government… Read more »

NOT Grayham Jones
NOT Grayham Jones
27 days ago

People switch banks regularly these days- long gone are the days someone stayed with one bank all their lives. If you are not happy re HSBC then switch its very easy. I am sure the Senedd has better things to do.

Welbru
Welbru
26 days ago

Older people who don’t want to bank online have limited options.

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