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Angels and pinheads

Betsan Powys | 17:31 UK time, Wednesday, 2 September 2009

char_sirhumphrey.gifFirst there was this - the Presiding Officer suggesting back in 2000 that the Welsh-language version of the assembly's proceedings should be scrapped.

Back then the Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board, John Walter Jones, was reported as having some sympathy with Dafydd Elis-Thomas. He accepted the argument that translating some documents into Welsh could be regarded as tokenism and that the money would be better spent on translating documents "that people actually read". Symbolism is ok unless it costs, seemed to be the message.

Not for him, then, the argument that if the National Assembly can be seen to take bilingualism or leave it, what sort of example does that set everyone else?

In 2009 the Assembly Commission, under the guidance of Dafydd Elis-Thomas, has indeed decided not to translate English speeches made in plenary into Welsh in future.

And this time the Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board seems to have taken an entirely different view.

Meirion Prys Jones has written to the Assembly Commission to raise the possibility of an investigation into the decision. He's not alone in suggesting that, given it seems to go against its very own Welsh language scheme, the National Assembly is in danger of breaking the law here. The Welsh Language Board clearly think it's a possibility or they wouldn't be talking in terms of potentially embarrassing investigations.

Try and set to one side whether the decision is the right one or not. Isn't the uncomfortable truth for the Assembly's Commissioners that the words 'statutory' is usually pretty binding?

Getting out of that one turns out to the be job of Clare Clancy, the Assembly Comission's Chief Executive.

Binding, she says? Pah!

Ms Clancy has written a reply to Mr Jones of which Sir Humphrey would be proud. It denies the Welsh Language Board has any authority to undertake an investigation at all. Why? Because the language scheme (with she accepts is guilty of 'ambiguity') is the National Assembly for Wales's and not the Assembly Commission's and guess what, the Assembly, as opposed to the Assembly Commission, isn't subject to the Welsh Language Act.

Now the Commission's job is to make sure that services are provided for the Assembly. On this occasion wouldn't Assembly Members be forgiven for thinking its job seems to be have been making them believe they'd voted for a proper, water-tight Welsh language scheme when it's now argued, they haven't?

There is not much doubt, is there, that the will of the Assembly was to have a language scheme that was statutory, binding, that meant something in law? That is not, says Clare Clancy in her letter, what they've got.

If you look at that letter long and hard enough, you just might catch a glimpse of a host of angels dancing on a civil servant's pinhead.

If you listen hard enough I gather you'll hear a letter landing on the Assembly Commission's doorstep, one from the Culture Minister 'conveying concerns'. He's suggested that "individuals who would like to express their opinions about this decision can contact the Assembly Commission directly, or contact the Welsh Language Board, which is responsible for monitoring the Commission's Welsh language scheme."

Hang on. I thought the Commission didn't have a Welsh language scheme ...

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