Sian Gwenllian, Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the Welsh language
The Welsh language belongs to everyone in Wales, whether you speak it or not. This living language is as much of a part of our daily lives as it is our heritage and is one of the many things that makes Wales such a unique and wonderful country.
It’s something we are very proud of in Wales and want to protect and strengthen.
That means, of course, making sure that everyone in Wales has the opportunity to learn and use the language and that everyone has the right to speak it in their day to day life if they want to, or because that is just the normal thing to do because it’s their mother tongue.
The Labour Welsh Government have a strategy to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050. Which sounds great and in principle it really is. But the reality is different.
The reality is that when it comes to the Welsh language, Labour can offer only empty words and grandstanding. The reality is that Labour lacks the political will to deliver any real and tangible way to achieve this strategy. The reality is, they just don’t care.
Take, for example, the case of an elderly Welsh-speaking man from Anglesey who’s living with dementia. His health board was considering moving him and his care to England.
The fact that a health board operating under Welsh language standards could even consider moving a dementia patient who is Welsh speaking to England where there won’t be Welsh medium care available, is undoubted proof that Welsh language standards in health are entirely deficient.
Under Labour’s own standards as they stand, the situation facing this gentleman from Anglesey is entirely legal and there is no legal safeguard for patients.
Surely it should be an expectation on a health board to provide a service for vulnerable patients, such as dementia patients, in their first language, and it shouldn’t fall to families, politicians and pressure groups to safeguard the human right of Welsh speakers to a service through the medium of their own language.
Plaid Cymru have argued from the very outset that the health standards are far too weak.
The irony is that even the minister herself agrees.
An e-mail that she sent to officials asking questions before passing the health standards shows that she was entirely aware of the deficiencies of the health standards.
Writing to her staff, she said: “So, I want to be clear, if a little 90-year-old lady from Gwynedd who speaks poor English goes to hospital and is about to have a complicated operation, she cannot legally ask for someone to explain to her in Welsh what is happening, and that what we are offering is that the health board makes plans so that they can set out to what extent they will be able to carry out clinical consultations in Welsh five years from now, which presumably could mean they still won’t be able to.”
And went on to say: “I think this is quite a tough sell. Any ideas?”
Yes, Ms Morgan. It’s a tough sell. And the truth of the matter is that the Labour Government’s policy can’t guarantee Welsh language services—even basic Welsh language services—for vulnerable patients today. That is a scandal and a sign of a government that does not have the well-being of its citizens as its priority.
What this case and others like it clearly demonstrates is that the Welsh language is seen as something that is peripheral or desirable in terms of care rather than being a central part of that care in terms of the quality of life and safety of those individuals involved.
There is a lack of understanding of the importance of Welsh-medium health and social care. It should be rooted in our health and care regime in Wales. To do that, we must introduce new standards that are firm and robust, and to do so as a matter of urgency. We also need a coherent plan to develop a workforce that can deliver a bilingual service of care.
And that’s not all.
Earlier this week, Transport for Wales came under significant embarrassment after it came to light that it had broken Welsh language rules six times.
According to the Welsh Language Commissioner’s draft report, the Welsh Government quango failed to provide some services in Welsh and treated the language less favourably than English.
The report said the company was found to be in breach of standards by failing to provide announcements and correspondence bilingually; having its website automatically set to English and not fully functioning in Welsh; the Transport for Wales app being only available in English; that self-service machines automatically set to English and were not fully functioning in Welsh, and train tickets were only being printed in English.
It’s just not good enough.
Worryingly, the Welsh language could also be subject to cuts in the 2020-21 budget.
But we don’t know, because the Labour ministers aren’t being honest about it.
When my colleague Llyr Gruffydd challenged the Labour Welsh Government’s Welsh Language Minister Eluned Morgan on whether there would be an “inflationary increase” in the Welsh language budget or a cut in “real-terms” she failed to give an honest answer. In fact, she failed to give any coherent answer at all.
The Finance Minister Rebecca Evans had said during the debate on the draft budget that the Welsh language budget would not be cut however during a committee session the following day, Eluned Morgan suggested she may be required to cut the Welsh for Adults budget in order to direct some of the funding to mitigating the impacts of Brexit.
But when challenged later, the Labour Minister failed to confirm nor deny if Welsh for Adults could be subject to cuts. She also failed to say which other elements of her budget would be cut.
The truth is, this Labour Welsh Government have utterly failed to be clear about the levels of funding the Welsh language will receive during the next budget.
This level of incompetence suggests that they aren’t capable of governing Wales to the standards that the people of Wales deserve.
And with renewed calls to legislate to protect and retain historic Welsh place names, let us not forget that it was the Labour Welsh Government who refused to back my colleague Dr Dai Lloyd’s Bill to protect Welsh names in law.
This woeful record speaks volumes and paints a painful picture of a Labour government in Wales with a lack of credibility, a lack of honesty and a lack of will to do anything to strengthen the Welsh language.
We can’t trust them to see through their pledge of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up or despair. It means we should work harder to elect a Plaid Cymru government next year.
A Plaid Cymru government that would ensure that our country’s most vulnerable patients can speak their own language when receiving health or social care. That it isn’t treated with disdain or as an embarrassing afterthought. That we allocate enough money to ensure that everyone in Wales gets the chance to learn it and to use it.
Because we’re proud – proud of our country and proud that the Welsh language belongs to everyone in Wales, whether you speak it or not.