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Access to Justice

Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2015

It was of course a Conservative Government who introduced the Welsh Language Act 1993, which provided for the use of the Welsh language in the courts system. We are committed to remodelling our courts to make them more cost-effective and efficient, and these changes will give due consideration to the needs of Welsh speakers.

I take this opportunity to extend our sympathies to every nation that has suffered at the hands of IS in recent days, and to express concern at the news of the explosion in south Wales.

I understand that the Ministry of Justice has closed its consultation on the court and tribunal estate in England and Wales, which proposes the closure of 11 courts in Wales, including Dolgellau in my constituency, and that is without undertaking a Welsh language impact assessment, as required by law and under the Welsh language scheme. Will the Secretary of State ensure that a Wales-wide assessment is undertaken and that its recommendations are implemented before any decisions are reached on court closures?

I am happy to confirm to the hon. Lady that a full Welsh language impact assessment will be included in the Government’s response to the consultation. We are determined to protect the interests of Welsh language speakers, as demonstrated by the Department’s Welsh language scheme.

Over many decades, Conservative Governments have a strong record of supporting the Welsh language. Does my hon. Friend agree that every Department at Westminster, including the Ministry of Justice, should be committed to supporting the Welsh language and the modernisation of Government services, enabling us to give even more support to the language that we in Wales call the language of heaven?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Protecting and preserving our heritage is a core Conservative principle, and this Government, like previous Conservative Governments, have done a lot to secure that, as he rightly mentioned. The Government’s digital agenda provides an opportunity to bring about innovations to enhance the opportunities to use the Welsh language in the courts system and in other Government services.

Access to justice in both Welsh and English is important to my constituents in north-west Wales, but following court closures alternatives such as audio-visual facilities and paying fines over mobiles would not be possible in such areas, in English or in Welsh, because we simply do not have the infrastructure. Can we put court closures on hold until we get that infrastructure?

Estate reform of the Courts Service must continue, but that is allied to the digital transformation that the Government are bringing about. A total of £69 million has been invested in broadband services in Wales, in addition to European aid and Welsh Government money. We have also announced a consultation on a minimum service requirement for broadband distribution, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.