Thursday, August 25, 2005

Column, July 19, 2005

IS having a form in Welsh the biggest issue to face our country?
Well, I suppose some might say it depends on what’s on the form. I rather think it does not matter a jot what’s on the form unless you are simply paying, if you’ll pardon the pun, lip service to us being bilingual.
Elfyn Llwyd thinks it matters and asked Tony Blair why pub landlords in Wales had not been given the opportunity to have new licensing forms in Welsh.
Blair replied that urgent discussions were going on between the secretary of state for Wales and the culture secretary on that very matter.
One imagines that the discussion might have gone something along the lines of:
Welsh sec: “What do you bloomin’ well mean you didn’t know we spoke a different language here – get typing.”
You can perhaps, just about, forgive tourists venturing here for the first time and who are initially thrown by bi-lingual road signs. But for a whole ministry to forget we speak a different language is beyond the pale.
One person who, apparently, did not think it so important was Chris Bryant, MP for the Rhondda valley.
You can I suppose, understand, if not forgive him not being that bothered about the lack of a Welsh language form. There would not be that many votes in it in the Rhondda where the closes they get to the language is to correctly pronounce the double-d.
“Was the availability of a Welsh language form the biggest issue in Wales?” he asked, having jeered at Mr Llwyd while he was asking his question of the PM.
Perhaps it isn’t.
I’m fairly certain that Wales will get up tomorrow and get on with the business of being Wales, unhindered by the absence of a Welsh language form for licensees.
But it’s just another little chip away at our identity, another inconvenience to be overcome by those who choose to use the language of their birth.
This is how languages die.
No one, not even Chris Bryant, is going to introduce the Welsh Language (Kill It Stone Dead) Bill to parliament. But what they do, which is just as bad, is ignore it, forget it, fail to take account of the fact that people want to speak it.
The days of the Welsh Not are, thankfully, so far behind us now that I’ve met many English people who seriously doubt it ever existed. But if the pub licensing forms are allowed to stand then the Welsh Not is replaced with the Welsh Can’t. Instead of being punished for speaking Welsh it is just made more and more invonvenient.
To protect the language against death by a thousand cuts like this it needs guardians more vigilant than Labour’s Chris Bryant.
But to return to his question – is this the biggest issue in Wales at the moment? Perhaps not.
Are we to take it then that Mr Bryant spends his Parliamentary time dealing with matters more weighty than this?
Well, he is very busy voting that’s for sure and he’s only disagreed with the Government nine times in 1,007 votes thus far, giving us an altogether new definition of lobby fodder some might say.
But he’s full of bright ideas and came up with an Early Day Motion on a very important matter only a month ago.
His EDM read: “That this House commends the Registrar-General, Len Cook, on his recommendation to relax the rules governing the list of readings, songs or music that contain reference to a god or deity in civil wedding ceremonies; and looks forward to the Government bringing forward new guidelines as soon as possible.”
Now, of the availability of Welsh on licensing forms is a pressing issue, then I’m surprised that what you can and can’t sing at a civil wedding has not been the subject of a Panorama special.
Superb. Worth £1,000 – the usual cost of an EDM – of anyone’s money. Only this time it wasn’t anyone’s money it was the taxpayers’ wasn’t it?
But nice to know what a New Labour loyalist views as important in Wales. The language – not very, but what you can sing at a civil wedding – that’s important enough to waste taxpayers’ money and parliamentary resources on.
If I were Elfyn Llwyd, in the face of such mighty intellects, I would rather be jeered than cheered.

IN the aftermath of the London bombing London’s commuters continued with life as normal as they could.
Our stout allies in the war on terror – the US air force, was told to stay out of London, but hey, they’ve got a track record of hanging about on the fringes of things before getting stuck in haven’t they?
But quite a few people were wary of going back on the Tube, and in the wake of the atrocity they were less than keen to get on a bus either.
Cars are expensive and you get hit with the congestion charge and taxis are exorbitant.
So what did they do in their droves? Went out and bought bikes.
Cycle shops reported huge increases in sales in the days after the London bombing as those scared of going underground sought other ways of getting into work.
The cycle shops – unlike London’s hotels who profiteered their way through the bombing by shoving up room prices for one day only – sold bikes at massive discounts so they were not profiting from the atrocity.
But did no-one whisper in the ear of these new cyclists one little statistic.
Last year in the UK 134 cyclists were killed in accidents on the road. The toll of the London bombs stands at 55. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who is the biggest threat to you.
It’s not terrorist atrocities, it’s the driver behind you who’s taken his eye of the road.

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