Commentary on Sections
Section 1 - Amendment to section 35 of the Act (Equality of treatment)
12.This section replaces section 35(1) of the 2006 Act with five new subsections.
13.The new subsection (1) contains a clear, simple statement that the English and Welsh languages are the official languages of the National Assembly.
14.Subsection (1A) re-states, in a modified form, the principle previously contained in section 35(1). The change in the way in which the duty is expressed, which refers simply to a duty to treat the languages “on a basis of equality”, reflects a parallel change made by the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 (see section 1(3) (a) “enactments which require the Welsh and English languages to be treated on the basis of equality in the conduct of the proceedings of the National Assembly for Wales”).
15.Subsection (1B) again reflects the practice of bilingual legislatures elsewhere of placing the right to use both languages clearly on the face of the governing legislation. The subsection also makes it clear that the right to use either English or Welsh extends not only to Assembly Members but also to others who participate in proceedings, e.g. witnesses giving evidence to committees (this accords with current practice but is not explicitly stated in legislation.)
16.Subsection (1C) requires reports of proceedings of the National Assembly as defined in section 1(5)(a) of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (proceedings of the Assembly as a whole i.e. in plenary) to be fully bilingual. This means not only a full record of what was said in the language in which it was said, but also a full translation into the other official language. It therefore enshrines in statute the Assembly’s current practice.
17.The National Assembly can only comply with the duties in subsections (1A) to (1C) insofar as the Assembly Commission provides the National Assembly with the staff and other facilities to enable it to do so. Subsection (1D) is a pointer to Schedule 2, paragraph 8, which contains the related duties on the part of the Assembly Commission.
Section 2 - Amendment to Schedule 2 to the Act (Assembly Commission)
18.This section replaces subparagraph 8(3) of Schedule 2 to the 2006 Act with ten new subparagraphs containing detailed provisions defining the Assembly Commission’s duties in relation to use of the English and Welsh languages, including support by the Commission to enable the National Assembly to carry out its duties under section 35(1)-(1C) of the 2006 Act (as amended).
19.The new subparagraph (3) firstly requires the Assembly Commission to treat the two languages on a basis of equality. This restates, in modified form, the duty in the previous subparagraph (3) of Schedule 2. However, in addition, the new subparagraph requires the Assembly Commission to make arrangements for enabling the National Assembly to fulfil its duties under section 35 (as amended).
20.The remaining new subparagraphs supplement the duties under subparagraph (3) by providing machinery for ensuring effective compliance with those duties.
21.The vehicle for doing so is to be an Official Languages Scheme specifying the measures which the Assembly Commission proposes to take in order to comply with its duties under subparagraph (3). Subparagraphs (4), (10) and (11) deal with the process for preparing, adopting and reviewing the Scheme. A draft of the Scheme will have to be published and laid before the National Assembly and consulted upon. The Assembly Commission will need to consider representations made about it by those whom it has consulted and by the National Assembly (for example the report of any Assembly committee that has considered the draft Scheme). The Scheme (as amended in the light of this consultation process) will then need to be approved by the National Assembly.
22.These provisions will make it clear that accountability for the Assembly Commission’s bilingual services will be directly to the National Assembly (and therefore to the public) rather than to the Welsh Language Commissioner and Welsh Ministers as in the case of bodies on whom standards will be imposed under the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011.
23.Subparagraph (11) makes it clear that it will be open to the Assembly Commission to adopt a Scheme which has been prepared in compliance with the requirements of this Act even if the necessary steps were taken before the Act comes into force.
24.Subparagraphs (5), (6) and (7) deal with some (but not all) of the issues that the Scheme will need to address. In subparagraph (5) the following are specified:
the publication of documents bilingually;
public engagement ;
measures to foster and improve freedom of choice of official language;
the setting of targets and timescales for implementing the Scheme;
the allocation of responsibilities for that implementation;
objective means of measuring the progress of that implementation; and
a language skills strategy for staff.
25.Subparagraph (6) includes a specific requirement for the Scheme to include provisions regarding the receipt, investigation and consideration of complaints of any failures to give effect to the Scheme.
26.Subparagraph (7) requires the Scheme to identify services to be provided in the official languages and to explain how they are to be provided consistently with subparagraph (5).
27.Subparagraph (8) introduces a duty on the Assembly Commission to prepare an annual report on the operation of the Scheme, which will be laid before the National Assembly. Subparagraph (9) specifies matters that must be included in that report.
28.Subparagraph (10) requires the Commission to review the Scheme as soon as possible after each ordinary general election of Assembly Members. Subparagraph (11) sets out the consultation requirements referred to in paragraph 21 above. The same arrangements will apply after each extraordinary general election that (by virtue of section 5(5) of the Government of Wales Act 2006) results in the following ordinary general election not being held because the extraordinary election takes place less than six months before the date on which the ordinary election would otherwise have been held.
29.Subparagraph (12) makes it clear that, once the Scheme has been formally adopted, the Assembly Commission is under a duty to give effect to it.
Section 3 - Short title and commencement
30.This contains the title of the legislation and provides for the legislation to come into force the day after the Bill receives Royal Assent.