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Welsh-speaking Workers

Volume 462: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2007

5. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial and Assembly colleagues on measures to safeguard the rights of Welsh-speaking workers. (146376)

I can confirm that my predecessor had regular discussions with colleagues in both the UK and the Welsh Assembly Governments on a wide range of issues, including the Welsh language, and I intend to continue such discussions.

I am grateful for that answer. Thomas Cook is the latest in a long line of companies to blunder into bad personnel decisions and public relations disasters on the language issue. As the company states in a letter to me, it never intended to ban the use of Welsh, but at the same time it says that the preferred language in some cases is English. The private sector is clearly confused about the matter. Does the Minister agree that the Welsh Language Act 1993 needs to be reviewed and reformed, if only for the benefit of the private sector?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the First Minister announced a legislative programme on 6 June and also announced that there would be an Order in Council on the Welsh language in the autumn. In the Wales Office we are closely monitoring the situation with Thomas Cook, and we know that the Welsh Assembly Government Minister responsible has requested a meeting with the company. I also know, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, that Thomas Cook has entered discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Welsh Language Board in relation to its Welsh language policy. All hon. Members will welcome that approach.

Mr. Speaker, I apologise for any misunderstanding with the Chair.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on keeping not one but two jobs in the Cabinet, and say diolch yn fawr to the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) for his courtesy to me during his time in office. May I also say half a goodbye to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), and extend a warm welcome on behalf of the official Opposition to the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) to their new positions on the Front Bench for Wales.

Does the Minister acknowledge the importance of the Welsh Language Act, which has done so much to protect and enhance the position of the Welsh language, and also acknowledge the main advocate and architect of that Act, my right hon. Friend Wyn Roberts, the noble Lord Roberts of Conwy? Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the dedication that Lord Roberts has shown to Wales throughout his long and distinguished public service career, and wish him a long and happy retirement?

I add my sentiments to those of the hon. Lady and welcome her back to her position. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would echo the sentiments as well. Yes, there has been a great deal of cross-party support for the Welsh language. It is worth remembering the successes, which include the fact that since 1993 Government Departments and public bodies have introduced 423 statutory and 53 voluntary Welsh language schemes. Over 37 per cent. of children between the ages of three and 15 speak Welsh, and there is an 80,000 increase in the number of people in Wales who can speak Welsh. That is to be applauded.