Cymru am byth: Welsh and Translation at the UK Parliament

The UK Parliament has one working language: English, with speeches in other languages prohibited (except when giving quotations). Unlike the EU Parliament, there is no official translation service provided for speeches and debates. However, the UK is not (and never has been) a monolingual nation, being home to such native languages as Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Scots (a language closely related to English, sharing the same Anglo-Saxon roots).

Although Scottish Gaelic and Irish have come close to dying out in the UK, the same cannot be said for the Welsh language. According to the 2013-2014 Welsh Language Use Survey, Welsh spoken fluently by over 300,000 people (with about twice as many being able to speak the language to some degree). This is in large part thanks to language policies that encourage bilingualism, including Welsh-medium schools. Welsh can be spoken and is translated at the National Assembly for Wales, which is currently introducing a measure requiring all staff to have a basic knowledge of the language.

Previously, MPs at Westminster were only permitted to speak Welsh when the Welsh Affairs Select Committee was taking evidence. However, in February 2017, MPs will be able to use Welsh during sessions of the Welsh Grand Committee. This will be the first time in the UK Parliament that Welsh is used for debates, legislative scrutiny and posing questions to ministers.  The committee meets from time to time to discuss issues relevant to Wales and includes Wales’ 40 MPs. Its members have used Welsh in the past, when the committee has met in Wales, but not at the Houses of Parliament.

This move comes after a campaign by the Labour MP for Clywd South (a constituency in North Wales), Susan Elan Jones. Chris Bryant MP had previously requested this right be given, but were refused by Chris Grayling MP (then Leader of the House of Commons), citing budgetary issues. However, the UK Government has now stated that providing interpreters and headsets for the committee will be absorbed into Parliament’s existing budgets, meaning no increase in public spending. However, English remains the sole language of the House of Commons for the vast majority of its business. It seems that, for the foreseeable future, the UK Parliament will remain monolingual.


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