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7. United Kingdom Independence Party Debate: Welsh-medium Schools

March 29, 2017

55 speeches by…

  • Ann Jones
  • Neil Hamilton
  • Jeremy Miles
  • Elin Jones
  • Alun Davies
  • Darren Millar
  • Rhun ap Iowerth
  • Simon Thomas
  • Lee Waters
  • Leanne Wood
  • Gareth Bennett
  • Dai Lloyd
  • Unknown Member
…and 3 more speakers

Ann Jones

We move on to item 7, which is the United Kingdom Independence Party’s debate on Welsh-medium schools. I call on Neil Hamilton to move to motion. Neil.

Neil Hamilton

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I beg to move the motion standing in my name. I hope this is going to be a constructive debate this afternoon—that’s certainly the spirit in which we put this motion down. As it makes clear in the very first clause, we support the Welsh Government’s objective of having 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, and will support all reasonable measures to achieve that. As our national anthem proclaims, ‘O bydded i’r heniaith barhau’, and The old language of the Welsh is as alive as ever. That’s one of the essences of being Welsh, I think: to support the native language of our land. I certainly want to see it succeed, but the best way of achieving the Government’s objective is to do so with the grain of public opinion by persuasion and evangelism, if you like. It certainly won’t be achieved in the face of opposition, which is created by what is perceived as a policy of coercion. The Education Act 1996 says that pupils should be educated in accordance with parents’ wishes, and that the Secretary of State should have regard to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. That legislation has, of course, been overtaken since devolution, but the principle behind it, I think, should be pretty non-controversial. I presume that is why there was a consultation process, which was conducted by Carmarthenshire County Council in the case of Llangennech school and the proposals that they have to merge the two existing schools into one Welsh-medium-only school. But if the purpose of a consultation is to seek public opinion, particularly of those most closely affected by the decision, who are, of course, the parents of the children whose lives are going to be most deeply affected by the education that they are to receive, this is one that has not succeeded. The consultation has been a lengthy one. In January 2016, there was an initial consultation on the proposals and there were 154 responses that were in favour, 102 against. There was one anonymous response in favour, and 32 anonymous results against, but there was a petition with 505 names on it that was counted as one vote. If you take individual voices as an indication of public opinion, which is the obvious thing to do, then I’m afraid that Llangennech voted heavily against the proposal of the county council. There was another consultation, or extension of the consultation, when the statutory notice was published later in the year, and the results then were 1,418 responses altogether, of which 698 were in favour of what the county council proposed and 720 were against. But only 44 per cent of those responses can be positively identified as being from people who live in and around the village—25 per cent came from outside and 31 per cent were respondees who gave no address or postcode, or any other means of identifying where they were from. There was a petition, which, this time, had 757 names on it from Llangennech, but that, similarly, counts as one vote only in this process. Now, the county council quite rightly says in the document that summarised all these results that, ‘The decision on whether or not to proceed with the proposal must, by virtue of the law, be made on the grounds of the best interests of learners. It is therefore, the educational merits that must be the determining factor in decision making, rather than the number of responses received in favour or against the proposal.’ And I agree with that, that actual arithmetical numbers shouldn’t necessarily be the sole determinant of the decision that is made, but, ultimately, I do think that we should respect the views of parents unless a compelling case to the contrary can be made, and I don’t think, in this particular instance, that it has. Of course, there is a massive cultural value to having children learning to speak Welsh, as well as English, and I’m in favour of bilingualism. But, unfortunately, one of the developments in recent—

Jeremy Miles

I note he’s keen to present himself as a friend of the Welsh language. Will he take this opportunity to condemn comments by Gareth Bennett, who described Welsh language campaigners as ‘loonies’, which was offensive on several levels?

Neil Hamilton

Well, I started my remarks this afternoon, Llywydd, by saying I hoped that this would be a constructive debate, and we shouldn’t seek to make petty political points of that kind, and I will continue in that spirit—[Interruption.] Well, we can have a yah-boo debate if you like, but I don’t think that the public at large are going to be terribly impressed by the attitude of Plaid Cymru on that. I’d like to make a little progress, please. And so, all I’m suggesting is that, in this particular instance, the views of the parents and those most closely affected by the county council’s decision have been comprehensively ignored by the county council. The strategic plan that Carmarthenshire County Council has produced has been accepted, broadly speaking, by everybody, as far as I’m aware, except in this one instance. I think that it is a mistake to make the best the enemy of the good, from the point of view of those who want to see more Welsh-medium-only schools. Clearly, if there is massive local opposition to this particular proposal, that should cause us to stay our hand. Let’s try persuasion. Let’s move a little more slowly in this one particular instance. It’s 2017; we don’t have to have every single school that was in the strategic plan as a Welsh-medium school by 2017 if it is going to cause massive disruption in the locality. All I’m suggesting is that if we, as we all do, apparently, want to see the Government succeed in its objective, then we must carry the people with us. It doesn’t help, therefore, to refer to the genuine worries of parents, whether they be justified or not, as contributing to a toxic atmosphere in Llangennech, as the leader of Plaid Cymru has done. [Interruption.] As the First Minister said in questions the other day, that was not a positive and constructive contribution to the debate. It’s not helpful, of course, if a co-ordinator for parents of Welsh-medium education says, ‘If those parents don’t like the Welsh language, can I suggest that the border is over there, and they can cross the border?’ Nor is it helpful for an S4C presenter on Twitter to say, I hate England in my soul yesterday, today, and forever. So, if Plaid Cymru want to condemn bigotry, perhaps they’ll condemn Morgan Jones, the person concerned in that tweet. [Interruption.] Jonathan Edwards, the Member of Parliament for Carmarthen East—[Interruption.]

Neil Hamilton

[Continues.]—by the intolerant members of Plaid Cymru opposite; not that all members of Plaid Cymru are intolerant, but some of them clearly are. Jonathan Edwards’s contribution to the debate has been to attack the Labour Party, saying that the Labour Party in Llanelli has run a nasty, divisive campaign against the plans of the local Plaid Cymru-led council. The institutional anti-Welsh prejudice of Labour locally is why working-class politicians like him, apparently, find their natural home now in Plaid Cymru. Of course, I won’t delay the Assembly any further with those kinds of remarks, not least the ones that are abusive towards UKIP. But I’d like to commend Nia Griffith, who is the Labour MP for Llanelli, for the approach that she has brought to this debate, because in her response to the county council’s consultation, she has said—I’ve got her contribution here somewhere—that, ‘Every child in Wales should have the opportunity to access school education through the medium of Welsh, and pupils in Llangennech currently have that opportunity through attending the Welsh stream. It would be counter-productive to the aim of increasing the number of pupils who can use the Welsh language if pupils then chose to attend English-medium schools because of this change.’ So, if the result of the intransigence of the county council’s policy is that you’re driving children out of dual-stream schools into an English-medium-only education, then that actually sets us back. It doesn’t actually take us forward. So, what I’m trying to do in the course of this debate today is to point the way forward that, yes, we will make enormous progress by the policy of the Government being implemented, and where WESPs are able to do that, but if we have a fight in Llangennech today, that’s nothing to the fight you will have when you want to try to introduce Welsh-medium education into areas that are far less Welsh speaking than Carmarthenshire. I want to avoid that consequence. [Interruption.] I want to avoid that consequence, which is why I support the principles that are expressed in the motion. I see that Lee Waters is here to make his own speech, I hope, but I also approve of what he has said previously in this respect, that we need to take great care in the way that we deal with this. He was talking of the Minister when he said, ‘He and I share the ambition to ensure that all 16 year-olds are able to speak Welsh by the time they leave school, and continue to use it in everyday life. And we both want to maintain the goodwill that there has been towards the Welsh language.’ It will be a tragedy, and indeed a disaster, for the policy of achieving 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050 if we adopt the steamroller approach, and I commend our motion to the Assembly.

Elin Jones

I have selected the eight amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendments 2 and 3 will be deselected. If amendment 2 is agreed, amendment 3 will be deselected. I call on the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language to move formally amendment 1, tabled in the name of Jane Hutt.

Elin Jones

I call on Darren Millar to move amendments 2, 4 and 5, tabled in the name of Paul Davies.

Darren Millar

Diolch, Llywydd. I want to move amendments 4 and 5 on the order paper, but I will not be moving amendment 2, as we intend to withdraw that amendment, with your permission, Presiding Officer, because we will be supporting amendment 1 on the order paper. I have to say I’m a little bit disappointed that this debate is being used to home in on one particular issue in one part of Wales. I think it’s really important that we, as a National Assembly that has supported the Welsh language on a cross-party basis over the duration of many different administrations, stick together in order to advance the cause of Welsh-medium education. We, for our party’s sake, will be supporting that tremendous ambition that has been set out by the Welsh Government to create 1 million Welsh language speakers by 2050. That’s an ambition that we support and we want to help the Government to achieve. We know that Welsh-medium education is going to be absolutely critical if we are going to reach that target and hit it, and that’s why we’ve got to do what we can in every single corner of Wales, no matter whether those corners of Wales are areas where the Welsh language is widely spoken or not. It doesn’t matter whether this is north-east Wales or the borders close to England. At the end of the day, we should be promoting the Welsh language in every corner of our country and doing what we can to maximise the opportunities for young people to go and enjoy their schooling experience through the medium of Welsh. I’ll happily take an intervention.

Rhun ap Iowerth

Can I welcome those words? Would the Member agree that support has to be at all times more than just words? I think what you’re saying also is that words must be matched with action, and that we must accept that there will be opposition in places, and that, where there is opposition, we must work with those people to explain to them, which is why I believe there is a duty on all of us here to channel our energies to persuade people about why it is that we’re taking these steps on introducing and widening access to Welsh-medium education.

Darren Millar

I fully concur with those views. We’ve got to promote and we’ve got to persuade because there are some people who need more persuading than we’ve done to date. It’s not just in our schools; it’s our pre-school system as well here in Wales that needs to have the opportunity to grow the number of places and its capacity. It’s our further education sector in particular that isn’t particularly well geared to providing Welsh-medium education opportunities, either. That’s why we’ve been supportive of the Welsh Government’s decision to review the Welsh in education strategic plans, to bring in Aled Roberts, as a trusted colleague of many AMs in this Chamber, in order to do that piece of work. But it’s really important that that piece of work is completed as swiftly as possible and that those WESPs are kicked into shape properly so that we can actually set out a clear path to reaching this ambition of having 1 million Welsh language speakers by 2050. Those weaknesses in the system at the moment, where we don’t have sufficient capacity in our pre-school arrangements, and where we don’t have sufficient numbers of Welsh-medium teachers coming into the profession, must be addressed. In addition to that, it is a concern, as we’ve mentioned in one of our amendments, that Welsh-medium schools seem to have been affected disproportionately by closures over the past few years. About 41 per cent of all school closures since 1999 have been in Welsh-medium schools, and yet they account for just a quarter of all schools in Wales. So, it’s been pretty disproportionate. The other thing that we are particularly keen that the Government does as well is look very carefully at the twenty-first century schools programme, to see whether there may be a way to promote extra capacity in terms of investing in our schools to create more Welsh-medium schools and more investment in Welsh-medium schools. The programme, as it sits at the moment, doesn’t appear to be emphasising the need to create more Welsh-medium school places. So, we want you to look at that, if you would, Minister, because we do believe, on this side of the house, that this is a very important part of what this Assembly should be here to do. At the end of the day, when we were established—we’re here to promote Wales. We’re here to promote our culture. We’re here to promote our language, and what better place to do that than through the education system and having a far greater emphasis on creating more places. We know that demand for Welsh-medium school places outstrips the capacity across Wales. It’s not right that people and parents and learners are not having the choice to have their children educated through the medium of Welsh, and, unless we work together on all sides of this Chamber to achieve this ambition, we’re never quite going to get there. So, we will be supporting the amendment that has been tabled by the Government, and we look forward to working with you, Minister, in order to deliver the ambitious approach that you have set out, and working with you also to make sure that those WESPs are ambitious, that the local authorities recognise their important responsibility to promote the Welsh language and to promote those extra places that we need to have secured and created in our Welsh-medium schools.

Elin Jones

I call on Simon Thomas to move amendments 3, 6, 7 and 8, tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Simon Thomas

Thank you, Llywydd. I follow Darren Millar and endorse what he said, and welcome his contribution to this debate, which has been very positive, if I may say so. We’ve heard this afternoon just how positive the leader of UKIP can be to our debates here. During the course of a 10-minute speech, he didn’t mention a single policy that would lead to an increase in the number of Welsh speakers—not a single policy. He only opposed, and despite his warm words he was only trying to stir things up once again in one particular community in Carmarthenshire. Let’s state clearly that being bilingual provides many cognitive, educational, economic and social benefits. There is evidence in all parts of the world demonstrating this. It doesn’t matter which two languages you have—the benefits extend across the curriculum when you have bilingual skills. The same is true in Spain, Canada, parts of France, and it’s certainly true here in Wales. So, the educational benefits of bilingualism are clear. The Government is working not only for the Welsh language in promoting this policy, but for higher standards in education. The only concern I have here is that we haven’t seen from the Welsh Government what we were promised when we discussed the WESPs the first time round, namely a campaign to promote the benefits of bilingual education. There’s been some work from Government, but it wasn’t the type of campaign that we’d hoped to see. I hope, in responding to the debate, that the Minister can give us more details as to how the Government is going to promote bilingual education in terms of educational standards, as well as pure linguistic standards. Let’s be clear, because this has been said a number of times and there’s an opportunity here to put on record, about the specific steps that were taken in the case of Llangennech school. This all emerges from the approval by Carmarthenshire County Council, which at the time was Labour-led, when they approved the WESP back in 2014. Included in that WESP was a reference and a commitment by the county council, which read as follows: ‘That the County Council works closely with the staff and Governing Bodies of Carmarthenshire’s dual stream schools in order for them to become Welsh schools’. Now, there were three such schools at the time in Carmarthenshire, and Llangennech was one of them. So, the county council has agreed to work closely with staff and governing bodies. If they hadn’t followed those steps, I would have some sympathy with the burden of today’s debate. But, these are the steps taken by Carmarthenshire County Council under Labour and then under Plaid Cymru, and those steps were approved through a vote. The cabinet agreed—the democratic body established under legislation—to do this. Llangennech Community Council voted in favour of the proposal in September 2016. On 21 November 2015, the scheme was supported by the education scrutiny committee. So, the cabinet has agreed and the council’s education scrutiny committee has agreed, as has the community council involved. There was support from the governing body within the school also. Then, in the plenary meeting of the council on 22 December 2016, the cabinet voted in favour of the proposal and then, in January, the full council voted in favour—this was the specific proposal on Llangennech. So, the WESP was approved by the cabinet, it was approved by the governing body, the community council and the staff had approved this—the vast majority of staff. It then went back for approval by the scrutiny committee. It went back to cabinet, and then went back to the full council. I venture to say that this decision has had more documentation and more democratic decision than the decision to leave the European Union. [Laughter.] That’s the truth of the decision in the case of Llangennech. It was decided—I know that UKIP wasn’t part of the Assembly when the legislation was passed, but this body passed legislation that put the right to make this decision in the hands of the local authority, because we believe that these are local decisions to be taken by the local council according to the specific steps outlined. So, there is no room to question the decision. We can work with the community locally, of course, far more than, perhaps, has happened on occasion in this case, but we must respect and take hold of the spirit of this decision and ensure that we learn lessons from this—that the Minister learns lessons, that the Government learns lessons and that all councils learn lessons—in order to ensure that no mistakes are made in future, but, more importantly, to ensure that we do treat the Welsh language as something that respects education standards and raises us all above political argument, and ensures that we debate the Welsh language in this place, which needs to be done now and again, in a way that respects the language and in a way that shows that the language belongs to all of us.

Lee Waters

I rise in support of the Government amendment and in support of the ambition of the policy of creating a million Welsh speakers. I applaud the ambition, in particular, of the Welsh Government’s policy, and we should be under no illusion about what a radical policy this is. We’ve had a decline in the Welsh language for a century or more, and we are proposing, within the next 30 years, not only to stop that decline but to reverse it—to double the number of Welsh speakers within the context of international trends that make this extremely tricky. So, let us be under no illusions about how difficult this is. The members of the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communities Committee have been carefully looking at the evidence, now, for a number of months, and the challenges before us are stark. One piece of evidence—we don’t have official Government figures on this yet—we did receive suggests that we need to create an additional 9,000 Welsh speakers every year between now and 2050 to meet this commitment—9,000 additional Welsh speakers. This is a significant challenge when you bear in mind that only about 30 per cent— Leanne Wood, I’d be happy to take an intervention, but I’m afraid I can’t hear you.

Leanne Wood

I think that it’s going to be made even more difficult when you’ve got opposition at a local level to the tiny steps that are being made towards achieving a million Welsh speakers. So, why have you been so oppositional to it?

Lee Waters

Give me a chance to develop my argument and I’ll happily address that, but I simply don’t accept the idea that people who are concerned about the way that this policy is being implemented in Carmarthenshire are opposed to this policy. One of the things I deeply resented in the debate over the last couple of months is that people who are raising genuine concerns about the practical challenges we face are howled down as being anti-Welsh. I must say to you, Leanne Wood, as somebody I’ve got great respect for, I was deeply disappointed about the way that the cybermob was unleashed upon me on Twitter when you decided to enter this debate, on top of Neil Hamilton entering this debate in a most unfortunate, unhelpful and incendiary way, I must say. I’ve spent, over the last year or so, a great deal of patient effort to try to take the heat out of this debate, and I found Neil Hamilton—.

Lee Waters

Well, I challenge Leanne Wood to give me an example of what I’ve done to intensify this debate. I did find it really unhelpful of Neil Hamilton to turn up and join a picket line in Llangennech, which I found to be deeply disrespectful to the village, the school, the teachers and the pupils of that village. There’s been— No, I’d like to make some progress, if I can—there are lots of points I want to cover in a short period of time. There are some genuine concerns in the village of Llangennech about the way this has been implemented. For Simon Thomas to say that there’s no room to question the decision I think is wrong headed. The process he set out is an incomplete one, because the one thing we’re missing from here is that there was genuine concern among parents, who have put generations of their children through a dual-stream school in the village and are deeply committed to the future of the Welsh language, who felt that the decision was being done to them. Although, yes, it had gone through the formal structures of the council, to the community it had not been openly discussed. I can give you—. You say that the community council discussed it—yes it did, as a political body. I can give you a personal experience of having gone to the school of Llangennech as a prospective parent some 18 months ago to have a look around and not once—not once—was it mentioned to me by the teachers of that school that there was a plan to turn Llangennech into a Welsh-medium school. So, this was not done in the most open and transparent way and I think we should learn the lesson from that, because I genuinely do want us to achieve this policy and I genuinely do want to remove any rancour and tension from the debate, because I do not think it is helpful.

Elin Jones

Can the Member please continue and I’m sure the leader of Plaid Cymru will seek to intervene if she wants to, but she’s not—

Lee Waters

I’d be happy to take an intervention from Leanne Wood, because I thought that comment was unworthy of her. If she wants to make an intervention I’ll happily give her one, because I found her contribution so far to be incendiary.

Leanne Wood

I don’t think you would have made this contribution today if you were serious about what you were saying. You’ve joined forces with the leader of UKIP to oppose this development, which is a policy by your own Government. I think you’ve behaved irresponsibly and, for the comments that you’ve received on social media—when you take positions like that, you have to be prepared to take scrutiny and that’s what’s happened to you here.

Lee Waters

I think the mask has slipped, Llywydd, this afternoon. I think you’ve shown your true colours there, Leanne Wood, who’s trying to weaponise this debate for unhelpful reasons. I’ve tried very hard to take the heat out of this debate and I don’t think it’s helpful to demonise parents with legitimate concerns. I had hoped to—[Interruption.]

Elin Jones

Allow the Member to continue, please, Plaid Cymru. You’ve had your say. Lee Waters.

Lee Waters

And this is typical of the debate that we’ve been having, I’m afraid, that the genuine, sincere concerns of somebody who wants this policy to succeed is being heckled and shouted down by people impugning my motives towards the language, and I resent it and this Assembly needs to do better than that. And if we’re going to take the people of Wales with us, take the people of my constituency with us, we need to do better than this. I’m deeply disappointed by the comments of Plaid Cymru and, I must say, I had thought better of them. I’d hoped to roam far wider into some of the issues that have been raised this afternoon, Llywydd, but in order to try—[Interruption.]

Lee Waters

This is what I’ve been having to put up with, Llywydd, and I don’t think it’s helpful. I genuinely want to work on a cross-party basis to bring the community with us to achieve this policy and I’m afraid that Leanne Wood, for all her comments to the contrary, has achieved the opposite.

Gareth Bennett

I thank Lee Waters for what I thought was a very good contribution to today’s debate. I think today’s debate is an important one as I believe it touches on the tension that is sometimes generated when two separate political objectives come into conflict with one another. One of the objectives is the Welsh Government’s aim of achieving 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, in which education will play a crucial part, as Darren Millar articulated. The second objective, or perhaps I should say principle, is the principle of parental choice. Now, in the Welsh Government’s education policy generally, there is a certain amount of commitment to parental choice and it would certainly be a strange Government that openly opposed this principle. But, in Llangennech, we seem to see that principle of parental choice coming up against the drive for more Welsh-medium education. My belief is that much of the community of Llangennech is opposed to this drive for Welsh-medium education in the form that it is proposed, that is, turning the dual-stream primary school into a Welsh-medium one. By trying to push the change through by force, I believe Carmarthenshire County Council may actually be working against the target of 1 million Welsh speakers. This was recognised by the local Labour MP Nia Griffith, whose contribution to the consultation was outlined earlier today by Neil Hamilton, so I won’t repeat the quote. But what Nia Griffith was expressing was her fear that, if the school were to go over to being Welsh-medium, then many parents might simply switch their pupils to an English-medium school, even if it meant moving home. This would tend to defeat the purpose of Carmarthenshire council’s—[Interruption.] This would tend to defeat the purpose of Carmarthenshire council’s aim of increasing participation in Welsh. The Welsh Government’s Welsh language policies have, to some extent, been driven by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, which is a highly successful pressure group. One of Cymdeithas’s stated aims is ‘addysg Gymraeg i bawb’, meaning, I believe, ‘Welsh learning for all’. This is fine as long as it does not mean force-feeding Welsh-medium-education to those who don’t want it. That will simply be counterproductive. To conclude, we have to move away from compulsion, which is what we seem to be moving towards in Llangennech, and return to the concept of parental choice.

Dai Lloyd

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and I was going to pursue—[Interruption.] Thank you very much, Lee.

Dai Lloyd

Thank you very much. I’m pleased to have an intervention before I open my mouth, but I was going to outline the historical context of the Welsh language, while supporting entirely the intention of the Government here to have a million Welsh speakers by halfway through this century. To go back in history in order to set the context, because some are new to the history of Wales and its language, the writings of Aneurin and Taliesin from the sixth century, that’s the oldest Welsh language available, showing how alive the Welsh language was 1,500 years ago—Welsh, the original language of the islands of Britain. Amazingly, 562,000 people in Wales can still speak Welsh today, with nearly another 600,000 with some grasp of the language. So, 19 per cent of the population therefore speak Welsh, which is quite a significant minority. We take pride in those figures, given what’s happening to other minority languages in small nations cheek to jowl with a large nation. It is even more miraculous in light of our history as a nation. Because the history of my people is bathed in blood. In 1136, Gwenllian was killed. She was beheaded in front of her son having lost the battle in Kidwelly. She suffered because she was a Welsh woman. In 1282, Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf suffered a similar fate, along with many of his followers. From 1400 onwards, the brave battle of Owain Glyndŵr for independence led to the killing of thousands and they lost their blood for freedom, as our anthem says. In 1536, we saw the Act of Union between Wales and England, with the Welsh language banned from public life until 1993; 1558 gave some hope to the language with the translation of the Bible into Welsh. Yet, 1847 saw the treachery of the Blue Books as it was called, as the authorities insulted and vilified the Welsh language, causing persistent humiliation and shame for generations to come. That’s what we’ve got to still, partially, be answerable to these days. The education Act brought primary school education in the medium of English to all. The Welsh Not was hung around Welsh-speaking children’s necks and, if you still had it around your neck at the end of the day, you were caned. It’s over a century ago that that happened to my grandfather in Llanegryn in sir Feirionydd. It is the depth of hurt that each generation has felt down the centuries that has generated the absolute determination that Welsh will survive and will be passed on to each succeeding generation and that the mountains and Valleys will forever resonate to the lilting tones of Welsh. Yes, 19 per cent of the population Welsh speaking: remarkable. I applaud rights-based policies as applied to disabilities, gender issues, sexuality, faith and race—all are written into legislation today. Such rights truly are enshrined regardless of any supposed goodwill of the majority of the population towards the minority, regardless of cost, regardless of the numbers using a particular service, and regardless of whether it is the public or private sector that’s involved. The individual’s right is sovereign, but we do not have that for the users of Welsh at the moment. Certain plants have legal protection, whereas Welsh historic place names have no such protection. The history and historic hurt remain. I know that many other nations have endured horrendous hurt and bloodthirsty histories and we are guilty in our frustrations, as Welsh speakers, of not putting our case over at all well at times. We can all ignore this history on occasion as well, and belittle past events, but we can certainly put up with ridicule, scorn and abuse, because, as a nation, we have survived a concerted attempt over centuries to obliterate our language and culture from the face of the earth. But, ‘Hey’, people say when I go on like this, ‘Lighten up, Dai; forget that history’. But, you know, it’s the history of the victor that still holds sway today. That’s why, during the last century, Penyberth bombing school was built in Welsh-speaking Llŷn—because they could. The Mynydd Epynt clearance of Welsh-speaking farmers by the Ministry of Defence during the last war—because they could. The drowning of Tryweryn—because they could. And, yes, elements in the Llangennech debate—because they could. The latest attempt to rub our noses in it, as a conquered nation. The villages and towns of my youth that once resonated to the lilting tones of Welsh now speak in English. But this Cymraeg, this derided Welsh language, is not ours to give up. Europe’s oldest living language is the treasure trove of future generations and merits respect from all who choose to live and work in Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

Alun Davies

Thank you very much, Llywydd. I’m pleased that I can agree with at least the final sentence of Dai’s contribution. [Interruption.] But may I say this? But may I say this in responding on behalf of the Government? When we discuss the Welsh language in this Chamber, we usually hear the kinds of speeches that we heard from Darren Millar and Simon Thomas, and I think they’re the kind of contributions that we want to hear in the future. Those are the kinds of contributions that will unite our nation, unite politicians, unite communities and will unite us as a nation. The kind of shouting and heckling that we see does create division. We don’t want that, and everyone has to take responsibility for that. [Interruption.] May I—?

Alun Davies

Thank you, Llywydd. Thank you for safeguarding my right to speak—[Interruption.] Thank you for safeguarding my right to speak in our national Parliament. May I say this? I also agree with some speakers this afternoon who have said that I wouldn’t have wanted a motion discussing one school in one community in one part of Wales. I would prefer to have a debate on how we provide education to our children wherever they are. When we do choose to have a depressing debate such as the one we’ve had this afternoon, then we choose to ignore the real challenge of creating Welsh speakers who take pride in the Welsh language, and take pride in the efforts across Wales to safeguard the future of the Welsh language. Our ambition as a Government is to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050. There is no doubt that this is a challenging ambition, but the message that I want to convey this afternoon is that we have chosen to do that because we want to challenge Wales, we want to challenge ourselves and I want to challenge us as a nation to ensure that the kind of ambition that I hope and I believe is shared across the Chamber, for the most part at least, is one that can inspire people across Wales. Rydw i eisiau gweld trafodaeth ddifyr. Rydw i eisiau gweld trafodaeth bositif amboutu sut rŷm ni’n gallu ehangu addysg drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Rydw i eisiau gweld trafodaeth amboutu sut rŷm ni’n gofyn i rieni a phlant ymfalchïo yn ein hiaith a dysgu’r iaith er mwyn gallu siarad a defnyddio yr iaith Gymraeg. Nid ydw i’n credu bod, ambell waith, y math o drafodaeth rŷm ni’n cael y prynhawn yma yn mynd i helpu hynny. Nid ydw i’n credu bod hynny’n mynd i fod o gymorth i ni. ‘In fact’, rydw i’n meddwl ei fod yn mynd i’n rhwystro ni rhag gwneud hynny, mae’n mynd i’n dal ni nôl rhag gwneud hynny. Pan fyddaf i’n clywed pobl sy’n dweud eu bod nhw’n credu yn nyfodol yr iaith Gymraeg, ond yn gweiddi ar bobl sydd efallai ddim yn rhannu yr un fath o ‘enthusiasm’ ag y maen nhw, beth rydw i’n gweld yw pobl nad ydynt yn practeisio’r fath o ‘tolerance’ sydd angen arnom ni yn y wlad yma. Mae angen i ni ddal dychymyg pobl, ond hefyd estyn mas i bobl: estyn mas i deuluoedd sydd ddim yn siarad Cymraeg ar hyn o bryd, estyn mas i bobl sydd efallai ddim yn hyderus amboutu addysg Gymraeg, estyn mas i bobl i sicrhau ein bod ni’n gallu trosglwyddo’r iaith Gymraeg i gymunedau ble mae e wedi cael ei golli, estyn mas i bobl sydd efallai ddim yn gweld y manteision o siarad a defnyddio’r iaith Gymraeg—estyn mas i bobl, a pheidio â'u gweiddi nhw i lawr. Dyna’r siom rydw i’n ei theimlo ambell waith pan fyddaf i’n gweld y fath o drafodaeth rydym ni wedi'i gweld yn Llangennech a mannau eraill. Rydw i am ddilyn y fath o ddadl y prynhawn yma, wrth ymateb i’r drafodaeth rydw i wedi clywed gan Darren a Simon, achos rydw i yn meddwl bod yn rhaid i ni edrych ar sut rydym ni yn gallu cryfhau’r cynllunio sy’n digwydd mewn awdurdodau lleol. Roeddwn i’n falch iawn bod Aled Roberts wedi cytuno i’m cynnig i i adolygu’r WESPs sydd gennym ni, ac mae Darren yn gwbl iawn yn ei ddadansoddiad; mae’n rhaid inni symud ymlaen gyda hynny yn brydlon. Nid oes rhaid inni oedi ar hynny, ac rydw i’n gwybod bod Llyr Gruffydd wedi gwneud yr un pwynt sawl tro, ac rydw i’n cytuno â chi pan fyddwch chi’n gwneud y pwyntiau yna. Mae’n rhaid inni symud ymlaen gyda hynny. Rydw i’n mawr obeithio y gall Aled adrodd nôl inni ddechrau’r haf, ac, unwaith rydym ni’n gwneud hynny, rydw i’n mawr obeithio ein bod ni’n gallu, wedi hynny, sicrhau ein bod ni’n gallu symud ymlaen i sicrhau bod gyda ni gynlluniau rydym ni’n gallu eu gweithredu. I was pleased to hear that Darren Millar was withdrawing his amendment and was to support the Government amendment. The Government amendment to this debate aims to be positive, to unite people with that aim of supporting the Welsh language and creating a million Welsh speakers. We do oppose the fourth amendment in the name of Paul Davies, but we don’t oppose the spirit underpinning that amendment. I agree with many aspects, but we are opposing it this afternoon. However, it is a debate that I think we need to continue to have, and I am happy to continue that discussion with Darren Millar or Paul himself. Our priority over the next five years will be to create a workforce that has the appropriate skills to educate and provide services through the medium of Welsh. This will require planning to support the work of training teachers and teaching assistants, to expand sabbatical programmes for the current workforce and to increase the number of workers in the early years and the care sector. We understand all of that, and we will do that. We also oppose the fifth amendment in the name of Paul Davies. The school code is clear that any case for a school closure must be strong—and that there will be education provision in the area concerned. Proposers must consider what else can be done rather than closing a school. They should consider the likely impact on a community by holding a community impact assessment. We will agree with amendment 6 in terms of the benefits of bilingualism. I think I have said a number of times that the Government understands the benefits of bilingualism, and Simon Thomas made a very strong point when it comes to promoting Welsh-medium education. I think in the past that Governments have been a little reticent in doing that. I will be making a statement later this week on how we are going to promote the Welsh language, and I very much hope that some of this will be reflected—maybe not this week, but when we do come to the Welsh language strategy later this year. But may I turn to the eighth amendment? I do understand that the Welsh in education strategic plan for Carmarthenshire wishes to see Welsh-medium provision expanded, but there is no specific reference to the proposal to close Llangennech school. But may I say this? The school organisation code does note the process for school organisation, and this shouldn’t be confused with rules for introducing the WESPs. Proposals for Llangennech were entirely consistent with that aspiration and with the Welsh-medium strategy of the Welsh Government. The work has already commenced, and we are engaging with partners and stakeholders to gather evidence in order to draw up a White Paper to consult on these issues over the summer. Llywydd, may I bring my comments to a conclusion with these words? We have had a difficult debate this afternoon, and we haven’t seen enough light during the debate. That has been a disappointment to me. May I say this? I believe that we do need to unite. I do think that there is agreement on where we want to get to in future. I think there is agreement on the plan and the vision, and this isn’t just the Welsh Government’s vision. It’s not just the Welsh Government’s vision—it’s a vision for Wales as a nation and for communities across Wales. It’s not Ministers or politicians here or anywhere else who are going to save the Welsh language; it’s people using and speaking and choosing to speak the Welsh language that will secure a future for the language and for our culture. And if we are to achieve that, then each and every one of us, wherever we sit in this place, has a duty to ensure that we do have a positive debate in order to promote the Welsh language.

Neil Hamilton

Diolch, Llywydd. Well, I approve of everything that the Minister has said in his speech this afternoon, and the note on which he ended is exactly right; that we have to get people to choose to use the Welsh language. They can’t be forced to use it if they don’t want to. And the kind of attitudes that we’ve seen from across the floor today are not likely to lead to that objective— I will give way.

Rhun ap Iowerth

Would you see that the very core issue at the heart of this debate is that, if we are to give people the choice over whether to use the Welsh language in their adult lives, we have to give them the ability to speak that language, and that education is the key way to ensure that they have those skills?

Neil Hamilton

Yes, of course I accept that. I support the Government’s policy. All I’m saying is that in the implementation of that policy we should be sensitive to local opinion, in particular the opinion of those who are more intimately affected by educational decisions. What is happening in Llangennech is the opposite. Simon Thomas, in the course of his speech, referred to the school governors being in support of this proposal, but the school governors had a parents evening last year at which 70 people were present, and 68 voted against the proposals and two voted in favour of them. The chairman of the school governors, Tim Davies, who chaired the meeting, was asked as the parents’ advocate whether he would take the result of that meeting to Carmarthenshire County Council and support it, and he said ‘no’. He was asked a second time, and he replied confirming even if the vote was unanimous he would still say ‘no’ as he personally wants the school to change to Welsh medium. That is not representing the interests of the parents that he’s supposed to represent as the chairman. Now, of course I understand the frustration of Plaid Cymru and those who want to see Welsh as a living language and a preponderant language in Wales—I’m sure we all found Dai Lloyd’s philippic very moving, and I agreed with the broad sentiments that he expressed about the past and the present. We all in this Chamber want to see the Welsh language succeed as the national language of Wales, and impugning people’s motives and hurling abuse at them is not the way to achieve that objective. I’m sorry—I realise it’s not PC to say anything that is remotely complimentary, or even neutral, about UKIP in progressive circles, but I have not sought to introduce any incendiary notes into this debate, still less in Llangennech. The reason I got involved in Llangennech was because the parents got in touch with me and asked me to visit the school with them, and that’s how I got involved in this in the first place. They are constituents of mine, as they’re constituents of his, and constituents of Simon Thomas and others in this Chamber. The attitude of Plaid Cymru, as represented by the leader of Plaid Cymru, that somehow we’re an illegitimate party in this Assembly is part of the problem.The blinkered, provincial prejudice that she displays in this debate is—

Neil Hamilton

[Continues.]—of rational debate in this Chamber, ignore that comment. All I’m saying is that if Plaid Cymru were to see where the best interests of the policy that they claim to support lies, they would try to be emollient and understanding about the fears of the parents. They may be wholly unmerited. I agree absolutely with what Simon Thomas said about the merits of bilingualism. I have in the course of my educational career studied French, German and Russian; nobody needs to convince me of the merits of being able to speak more than one language. My regret is that when I was in school I had to make a choice between Welsh and German, and I opted for German because that was the ethic of the time. It was before we had a Government with as vision such as we have today. It was a different world 50 or 60 years ago, and so I am delighted that the Welsh Government has adopted the policy that it has, and I’ve brought my party along with it. I would have thought that Plaid Cymru would wish to welcome that and not seek to undermine the policy by attacking and abusing us, because what we’re trying to do here is achieve a common objective. The debate today is directed to the one single issue of public opinion and its massive importance in achieving the Welsh Government’s objective.

Elin Jones

The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I will defer voting under this item until voting time. Unless three Members wish for the bell to be rung, I will proceed directly to voting time.