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Speaker tells off Plaid Cymru MP for ‘speaking too much Welsh’

17 Mar 2021 5 minute read
Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP and Liz Saville Roberts. Pictures by Richard Townshend (CC BY 3.0).

The Speaker of the House of Commons has told off a Plaid Cymru MP for speaking too much Welsh.

Lindsay Hoyle told Liz Saville Roberts to “just stop” and that “extending the sentence in Welsh” was against the rules of the chamber.

In response the MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd told the Speaker that “the first was in Irish and the second was in Welsh” and explained that she was wishing everyone happy St Patrick’s Day.

He interjected before she was able to ask a question about the closure of Penally camp in Pembrokeshire, which has been used to house asylum seekers.

According to Saville Roberts, the episode demonstrates “Westminster’s disdain for minority languages”, but added that this was not a “criticism of the Speaker, who only enforces the rules”.

She said: “Beannachtái na Féile Pádrqig oraibh inniu / Pob bendith arnoch chi heddiw ar Ddydd Gŵyl Padrig (Every blessing to you today on St Patrick’s Day).”

The Speaker said: “Can I just say to the honourable lady, let’s just stop. I don’t mind the beginning, but to now start extending the sentence in Welsh does go against the rules of the House.

After Liz Saville Roberts explained what she said, he added: “Can I say that I have no arguments with it whatsoever, but unfortunately the House make the rules. I’m only here to make sure the rules are kept.”

Following the exchange the House of Commons, the Plaid Cymru MP said: “Today I wished the House of Commons a Happy St Patrick’s Day in Cymraeg and Gaeilge – unwittingly committing an act of dissent. Westminster’s disdain for minority languages knows no bounds.

“This is not a criticism of the Speaker, who only enforces the rules. But those rules were specifically designed to exclude the speakers of languages other than English. It’s high time they are amended to reflect the reality of our modern society.

“Even better would be for Wales to follow the example of our Celtic cousins in Ireland and build an independent nation that gives full respect to our native language.”

‘Must be made in English’

On the issue, the rule book for the parliament, Erskine May states: “Subject to the exceptions below relating to the use of Welsh in committees, speeches in the Chamber and in other proceedings must be made in English.”

“Use of languages other than English. Paragraph 21.3 Subject to the exceptions below relating to the use of Welsh in committees, speeches in the Chamber and in other proceedings must be made in English; quotation in another language has been allowed on occasion, though a translation should be provided.

“Since 1996, increasing freedom to use the Welsh language in committees has been allowed.

“The resolution of the House of 1 March 2017 provides that, ‘whilst English is and should remain the language of this House, the use of Welsh be permitted in parliamentary proceedings of Select Committees and of the Welsh Grand Committee held in Wales and at Westminster’, with the Official Report recording both the Welsh language contributions and an English translation, subject to reasonable notice being given of the proposed use of Welsh and to a power of the Chair to require points of order to be in English.”

Liz Saville Roberts went on to ask the Welsh Secretary Simon Hart about the closure of Penally asylum camp in Pembrokeshire.

She said: “Thank you. Diolch yn fawr. Asylum seekers will leave the squalid Penally camp this weekend thanks to months of campaigning by Plaid Cymru Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn and others.

“The camp is in the Secretary of State’s constituency. But he only became aware of the Home Office plans on the 12th of September last year, days before people moved in.

“Despite months of resistance from his own government, he now scrabbles to change the narrative and I’m afraid to say he recently dismissed the Welsh Government’s ‘little status’ in his own words.

“Given the little status of the Wales Office, how does he continue to justify its existence?”

The Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart replied: “As brass neck goes that’s quite an exceptional example of it as far as Penally is concerned.

“It seems that Plaid’s commitment to a nation of sanctuary only extends as long as it’s not in their patch, as we’ve discovered by the reaction of some of her own colleagues in the party.

“The fact of the matter is that this has been a difficult situation for a number of people involved. It is being resolved amicably thanks to a collaborative effort between the Home Office and the Wales Office demonstrating the value of both.”

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