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Banks won’t be required to provide services in Welsh after Senedd rejects call

THE SENEDD narrowly rejected calls for banks to be subject to legally binding language standards after HSBC’s “disgraceful” decision to scrap its Welsh phone line.

Heledd Fychan called for banks to be subject to statutory language standards during a debate on the Welsh language commissioner’s 2022-23 annual report.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister for the language warned that Welsh speakers could see more and more services cut if the standards are not expanded.

The South Wales Central MS raised recommendation four of Efa Gruffudd Jones’ report which lists banks as among the priority areas for increasing the use of Welsh.

Ms Fychan told the Senedd: “Hopefully, all parties in this chamber agree on HSBC’s decision, that it’s disgraceful, and that all parties understand the importance of having those services through the medium of Welsh.

“It also demonstrates why the standards are so very important, that we can see, with companies that have been so committed and positive in the past, how quickly those services can deteriorate and disappear.”

Samuel Kurtz, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, broadly agreed, saying his party would support Plaid Cymru’s amendment.

He said: “The attitude of HSBC in announcing that they were to cease to provide a Welsh language helpline was disgraceful.

“For me, it showed a lack of respect towards Welsh-speaking customers and the language itself and was damaging to the reputation of the company here in Wales.”

Siân Gwenllian, the Plaid Cymru MS for Arfon, said the attitude of HSBC shows why Wales cannot depend on goodwill to respect the rights of Welsh speakers.

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She said Midland Bank, now HSBC, was once an example of best bilingual practice.

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh language minister, described HSBC’s attitude as contemptuous.

He told the chamber he has written to the heads of all the major banks.

However, the would-be first minister stopped short of supporting Plaid Cymru’s amendment.

Mr Miles told the meeting on January 30: “The reason we won’t be supporting the amendment is that it’s not part of the government’s legislative programme.

“Of course, we have agreed a programme of activity with Plaid Cymru that prioritised those issues that we feel jointly will make the most difference to most people.

“So, that’s why we won’t be supporting the amendment.”

Plaid Cymru’s amendment fell, 26-27. The Conservatives and Jane Dodds, the Lib Dem, backed the amendment but ministers and Labour backbenchers voted against.