Will the Minister publish the correspondence between the Government and the Welsh Language Commissioner in connection with a case in the civil court in Caernarfon that was heard in June this year regarding the lack of a Welsh-language parking ticket?
The Welsh Language Commissioner wrote to me on 26 October 2022 seeking information relating to a court case in Caernarfon County Court between an individual and a private parking company. The Commissioner also asked me to consider a recommendation that the Welsh Ministers should use powers under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to prescribe the wording used on signs and notices in car parks on private land; the form and content of evidence used in conjunction with notices of parking charges sent by owners of car parks on private land; and the wording of notices of parking charges, so as to ensure that they are bilingual.
On 28 November 2022 I issued the following response to the Commissioner:
Thank you for your letter of 26 October 2022 regarding the use of Welsh by private car parks, and the case before Caernarfon County Court.
To answer your question in the second page of your letter, I can confirm that the Welsh Ministers have not made regulations under Schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. I note that the court hearing has now been delayed until 4 January 2023, so I hope that receiving confirmation of that is helpful to you.
I also note that you have concluded that the Welsh Ministers have the power under Schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to create secondary legislation that would specify the form and content of signs in private car parks, the form or content of the evidence to accompany notices, as well as the content of the notices themselves. You recommend that Ministers use those powers (together with the power in section 26 of the Welsh Language Act 1993 if necessary) to order that they must be bilingual.
We will consider your recommendation and discuss the conclusion with you in due course.
After considering the Commissioner’s recommendation, I issued further correspondence on 5 May 2023:
The Deputy Commissioner wrote to me on 26 October 2022 regarding the use of Welsh by companies operating private car parks. The letter asked me to consider a recommendation that the Welsh Ministers use powers under Schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to order that signs in private car parks, as well as notices and evidence to accompany notices, must be bilingual. I have now considered that recommendation.
I have decided not to proceed with using powers under the Schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to prepare duties in relation to private car parks. That is due to policy reasons, but also because of the impact doing so would have on the Government's legislative programme.
In order to legislate effectively in this area I have concluded that Ministers would need to determine the exact wording to be used in English and Welsh on signs, notices, and related documents. Because the documents in question have legal implications on the public to pay fines, legislating to place a general duty on companies operating private car parks to display bilingual signs and issue bilingual documents would carry a risk of legal challenges over which form of words (Welsh or English) is correct.
Welsh Ministers have not previously used the powers under Schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to introduce secondary legislation, and I have concluded that doing so would take significant policy and legal resources. I have previously indicated that my priorities for legislating in the Welsh language policy area during the term of this Senedd is to introduce a Welsh Language Education Bill, and to extend the Welsh language standards system to include new bodies.
Those priorities are confirmed in the co-operation agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. The introduction of secondary legislation in private car parks would intrude on the Government's plans to deliver the Welsh Education Bill, and introduce more standards regulations. Having considered which policy interventions should be prioritised based on what would have the most positive impact on increasing the use of Welsh, I am satisfied that the Welsh Education Bill and standards regulations should continue to be prioritised. That means there will be no resources available during the term of this Senedd to prepare secondary legislation under Schedule 4 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
While I do not intend to legislate in line with your recommendation, I recognise that it would be beneficial to improve the use of Welsh by private car park companies. I am aware that the UK Government's Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities intends to consult shortly on a draft version of the Parking Code of Practice. This Code will be published under the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019. It is my intention to respond to that consultation when it is published, asking the UK Government to include guidance on the use of Welsh in the final Code.
You may also want to respond to that consultation when it is published, therefore officers will keep you updated. Should the UK Government decide to include guidance in the Code on the use of Welsh that could open the door to working with companies in the field to increase their use of Welsh.
Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention.