Welsh language: Meri Huws 'not undermined by standards rejection'

  • 6 March 2013
  • From the section Wales
Meri Huws
Image caption Meri Huws says there is room to develop the relationship with the Welsh government

The Welsh language commissioner has denied her position has been undermined by the rejection of plans for a certain standard of Welsh in public bodies.

Leighton Andrews, the Welsh government minister responsible for the language, turned down the proposals by Meri Huws last month.

She said she was unaware her plans would be rejected, but respected the decision.

A language lobby group says Ms Huws must consider her position.

Heini Gruffydd, chair of Dyfodol ir Iaith, said the fact that the Welsh government rejected the plans undermined the commissioner.

He said the group may consider dealing directly with Mr Andrews' office in future.

The standards are at the heart of 2011 legislation to promote the language.

In February, Mr Andrews decided the 37 proposals submitted by the commissioner were too complex.

He said they would not provide Welsh speakers with clear rights and many were unreasonable.

The standards would have placed binding duties on the public sector and some private companies, such as phone and water firms, so people can use Welsh while receiving services.

They were the centrepiece of the Welsh language measure which was designed to strengthen the language when it was passed by the assembly in 2011.

Ms Huws published 37 draft standards in November after holding a non-statutory consultation over the summer.

She denied the decision not to go ahead with the plans undermined her role as commissioner, but admitted there was room to develop the relationship between her office and the government.

"Leighton Andrews as minister ultimately has the responsibility and we were fully aware of that as a body which has been in existence for 10 months, one of the first challenges as we came into existence last April was what do standards look like," she said.

Media captionMeri Huws rejects criticism that she is "too academic" and insists she is talking to "all people" about Welsh

"What would be the impact of standards on people's lives and there haven't been any draft standards put in place, so we took it upon ourselves.

"It was a statutory requirement but we decided to draft a set of standards and go through a process which we called non-statutory consultation to conduct a whole series of public meetings, to talk to Welsh language officers, to talk to chief executives, a wide range of people.

"Ultimately that was the minister's decision. We respect that decision."

She said she hoped the minister would take into account evidence collected to strengthen the standards which would ultimately be produced.

"I'm not saying that it's a blow. It's a step along this journey that we're following. We are implementing new legislation," she added.

'Diversity of opinions'

"Of course there will be a diversity of opinions. We all need to feed into this debate to make sure that they are as strong as reasonable and as practicable as they can be."

Explaining his decision at the time, Mr Andrews found some of the standards were contradictory and many appeared to be "unreasonable or disproportionate".

He told BBC Wales: "It wasn't about utility companies or any other group, it was question of standards that would be reasonable and could be held to be reasonable in court, whether they were applying to private companies, the public sector or indeed the third sector."

The 2011 measure to promote the Welsh language saw the former Welsh Language Board wound up and the office of commissioner role created.

Ms Huws, the first commissioner, was previously chair of the board.

John Walter Jones, chief executive of the Welsh Language Board until 2003, questioned the need for the role of language commissioner at the time of the rejection of the standards.

Responding to criticisms about the role of commissioner, Ms Huws said that the commissioner had not created the role, and that was a question for the Welsh government.

She emphasised it was the Welsh government's duty to put standards in place and her role to regulate them.

Speaking about her relationship with the Welsh government, Ms Huws added: "Since we started the job we've been holding regular meetings with the Welsh government - officers and politicians.

"This is a new body, this is a new relationship and part of the responsibility is sorting out how we and the government will be working together to ensure the language benefits."

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