Welsh language activist removed from Parliament by police

By staff writers
15 Sep 2011

The chair of the Welsh Language Society was removed from Parliament by police this afternoon (15 September). Bethan Williams was protesting against a decision to cut funding for Welsh language television and hand over responsibility for running it to the BBC.

There was frustration amongst a number of Welsh MPs when the Public Bodies Bill Committee voted by a majority of one to reject an amendment that would halt the government's plans for cuts to Sianel Pedair Cymru (Channel Four Wales, or S4C). The majority of MP s on the committee are not from Wales.

The UK government is planning to cut its grant to S4C by 94 per cent over four years. The Public Bodies Bill will hand over responsibility for running the channel to the BBC and ask them to contribute towards its funding.

The plans are opposed by the leaders of all four parties in the Welsh Assembly and the Anglican Archbishop of Wales. Earlier this year, 24 organisations, including the Writers' Guild and the National Union of Journalists, wrote to politicians asking them to take S4C out of the bill.

Following the committee's vote, there was particular annoyance with two Welsh Conservative MP s, Glyn Davies and Stephen Crabb, who went along with the UK government's proposals.

They voted against an amendment, backed by Plaid Cymru's Hywel Williams, Labour's Susan Elan Jones and Liberal Democrat Mark Williams, which would have removed S4C from the bill.

As the result of the vote was announced, Bethan Williams shouted from the public gallery, “Mae hyn yn sarhad ar bobl Cymru!”, meaning “This is an insult to the people of Wales!”.

In a statement after the vote, the Welsh Language Society, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymaeg, said that a wide consensus in Wales had been overridden by the votes of English MP s.

The Society, which uses nonviolent direct action to promote the Welsh language and the rights of Welsh speakers, has been promoting a boycott of the licence fee in protest at the plans. Plaid Cymru voted at their conference last week to support people who choose to undertake the boycott.

"The reason for the stern opposition is because we are not talking about just any television channel, but the world's only Welsh language channel,” explained David Donovan of the trade union BECTU.

He pointed out the sacrifices that had been made in the campaign to secure a Welsh language channel thirty years ago. “Dozens of people were imprisoned, over a thousand people refused to pay their TV licence, and one individual was ready to fast until death,” he said, “Channel 4 has been removed from the Public Bodies Bill, so why not S4C?"

"When S4C was first established, it was protected by legislation from political interference,” said the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, prior to the vote, “With the passing of the Public Bodies Bill, it will have lost that protection”.

[Ekk/1]

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