Government considers Wales as ID card guinea pigs

By Hywel Trewyn

CALLS to put Welsh on new ID cards are at last to be considered by the Government.

The U-turn follows pressure from language campaigners who say it would be an insult if English-only cards were issued in Wales.

The Welsh Language Board yesterday welcomed an announcement that UK Border Agency officials will at least review the idea of producing bilingual cards available for Wales.

It is a reversal on policy from earlier this year, when the Home Office said it had “no intention to include Welsh on identity cards”, arguing the language “was not an official language of the EU.”

But the WLB has always argued including Welsh on cards issued in Wales was essential — the same as for driving licences and passports.

And they are sending a clear message to the Government that Welsh people would see it as an insult if a Welsh option was excluded from the cards, which will eventually be distributed to every British citizen.

WLB chair Meri Huws said: “If the Welsh language does not appear on Identity Cards, I don’t believe they will reflect the true identity of the people of Wales, and their linguistic identity in particular.

“Therefore it is essential that all ID cards issued in Wales are fully bilingual, as is the case with driving licences.

“I welcome the fact that the Home Office is now considering how to include the language on cards issued in the future, and look forward to hearing a statement on this issue soon.”

And the WLB stance was supported by Caernarfon Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams: “The first drafts of the proposed ID cards had the Union Jack on them. This would have been wholly unacceptable to people living in Wales. I understand now there’s not going to be the Union flag.”

Mr Williams has tabled a number of questions asking the Government what steps have they taken to provide bilingual ID cards in Wales and the rest of the UK and for Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy about which steps he has taken to guarantee that Welsh will be on the cards.

Now, following a consultation period, it seems there is a glimmer of hope that they will be bilingual.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: “There will be no Welsh headings on the first wave of identity cards to be issued to workers in critical locations in Manchester and London City airports. International Civil Aviation Organisation rules state that travel documents must have headings written in English and French.

“As we roll out ID cards across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we will review the inclusion of Welsh on the cards.”

A previous linguistic battle was won after the census was forced to include a Welsh tick box for Welsh people.

The first identity cards were distributed to foreign residents living in the UK last month and will then be distributed to the general population of the UK in stages, dependent upon status, over the next three years.

People working in “sensitive” jobs like at airport employees will be given the cards first, then young people who want them from 2010 and from 2011 they will be available to everyone.