I was delighted that, on St David’s day, the House resolved that the use of Welsh be permitted in parliamentary proceedings of Select Committees and of the Welsh Grand Committee held in both Wales and here at Westminster. That is just one example of the work that we are doing to promote the Welsh language throughout the UK.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It was highlighted to me at a recent reception in the Wales Office that since the partnership between S4C and the BBC has seen S4C programmes being available on the iPlayer, the largest area of S4C viewing figure growth has been in England—a 25% rise over the last year alone. This must be welcomed by everybody who cares about the Welsh language and culture.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the commitment was that the funding for S4C would be frozen until after the delivery of a review of S4C, and I am quite certain that there will be an announcement that the funding will be frozen until after the review has taken place.
I proudly served on the Bill Committee that considered the Welsh Language Act 1993, during the John Major Government, so I am fully in favour of the use of the Welsh language, but may we have some consistency in Wales on road signs? In some areas Welsh is first followed by English; in other areas it is vice versa—that does make life complicated.
I think that the whole House is aware of my hon. Friend’s commitment to and support for Wales—and certainly his support for Welsh questions. He makes an interesting point, but with road signs in Wales it is very much a case of localism—this is a devolved issue. If a local authority wants Welsh first, Welsh is first, but if an authority, because of the linguistic nature of the area, prefers to have English first, it can choose to do so.
May I press the Minister a bit further? He says that he is “quite certain” that a positive announcement will be made, but can he guarantee that the freeze will be carried on until the review of S4C is concluded? S4C does marvellous work not only in Wales but across the world, and it needs the reassurance that its funding will be frozen again.
The hon. Gentleman is well known for his support for S4C and the Welsh language, but I have stated very clearly that this Department is committed to ensuring that that manifesto commitment is delivered. More importantly, we need a long-term agreement on the future of S4C, and the whole point of this review is to ensure that S4C not only has a decent financial situation for this year, but is on a strong footing for the future.
This institution has spent four centuries disrespecting the Welsh language, which existed and was a sophisticated literary language for 1,000 years before English existed, so we pay tribute to the late Wyn Roberts and my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) for this step forward now: “O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau.”
The hon. Gentleman finished his comments by saying, “Long may the language live,” and I subscribe to that viewpoint. I am very grateful to him for highlighting the work of my predecessor Lord Roberts of Conwy in relation to the Welsh Language Act 1993 and Welsh language education. The fact of the matter is that the Welsh language is no longer a political football, and it should never be a political football again. We need to support it in all parties across Wales.
All in the Scottish National party support the Welsh language and Sianel Pedwar Cymru—S4C. Will the Minister use his good offices to reciprocate the good wishes of the SNP and urge the BBC to fund BBC Alba to the same levels as Sianel Pedwar Cymru so that we have the same support for Welsh and Gaelic across the UK, as they rightfully should have?
I have a very fond recollection of a holiday on the isle of Barra when I was 10 years old where I heard Scots-Gaelic being spoken in the streets. I understand that an increase of £1 million for BBC Alba has been announced, which is to be welcomed, and I would say that people in Scotland want to support that language in Scotland in the same way as people in Wales want to support the Welsh language.