Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 17:22 UK

Language law threshold to double

Translation of the word Welsh
The order is key to the Labour-Plaid assembly government coalition deal

Details of the final version of the assembly government's bid for more powers to make laws on the Welsh language have been announced.

The law would apply to various organisations, including those receiving £400,000 or more of public money per year, up from £200,000.

The aim is to minimise the chances of small bodies coming under the rules simply because they get public funding.

Welsh ministers said the changes would allow them to deliver key commitments.

MPs will debate the assembly government's bid, or Legislative Competence Order (LCO), next week and will vote on it before Christmas, so the Welsh assembly could acquire the power to pass laws before the general election next year.

Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones said he was "very confident that the amended LCO will give us the powers to do what we intended to do all along, which is to legislate in the field on the Welsh language, in order to promote issues in Wales".

It is not clear how many organisations would now come under the laws, but a news release from the UK government said a "long list" of bodies would be excluded, including the Girl Guides and Royal British Legion.

Alun Ffred Jones
I am happy that in the main the private sector is not included for very good reasons and we will continue to work with them on a voluntary basis
Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones

Organisations receiving only one-off grants from public bodies would also be exempt.

Other changes include the introduction of an appeals scheme so that any organisation which feels it has been wrongly included by a future measure - or Welsh law - could ask to be excluded on the grounds of reasonableness and proportionality.

The Labour-Plaid Cymru assembly government said the changes would still allow it to meet key agreement commitments in its One Wales coalition deal, including the appointment of a language commissioner, providing linguistic rights and official status for the language.

Among the organisations falling under the revised LCO would be bus services.

However shops, electricity and gas distribution companies, and training providers which do not receive any public money, will not be covered.

But utilities, such as Swalec and British Gas, dealing directly with the public would be included.

Mr Jones said some suggestions in reports by AMs and MPs had been accepted and some rejected.

"But in the main the shape of the LCO is the same," he said. "I am confident that that will gain support both in Westminster and here in the assembly.

"I am happy that in the main the private sector is not included for very good reasons and we will continue to work with them on a voluntary basis."

The chairman of the Welsh affairs committee, Hywel Francis, said he was pleased the key principles in the MP's report had been accepted and they would be debated further on 14 October.

"I look forward to hearing colleagues' views and feel it would be inappropriate to add further comment until these debates in Parliament have taken place," he said.

'Important safeguard'

Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain said he believed the revised LCO struck the right balance between the interests of Welsh speakers and the majority of people in Wales who do not speak Welsh.

"The new challenge mechanism gives strong reassurance to organisations that duties cannot be applied to them unreasonably or disproportionately," he said.

"This is an especially important safeguard for smaller organisations and charities."

Meanwhile, a row has erupted between Mr Jones and the Wales Office over the release of details about the law to journalists before AMs.

Mr Jones has accused the Wales Office of breaking protocol that AMs must be told of significant developments, such as the publication of legislation, before the press and public.

He said the Wales Office, headed by Mr Hain, had briefed journalists about its contents on Monday night without his knowledge.

The Wales Office said it would not be responding to Mr Jones's comments.

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