Hywel Williams – 2020 Speech on the Census

Below is the text of the speech made by Hywel Williams, the Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon, in the House of Commons on 6 May 2020.

First, I want to congratulate those in Wales, including my Plaid Cymru colleagues, who have campaigned hard for the right of Welsh people to identify as Asian Welsh or black Welsh in the ethic question if they so desire. That reflects the reality in Wales today, and I am glad that the Welsh Government and the ONS have responded. I am, however, concerned that the census order does not reflect that change in the tick box options. Will the Minister therefore assure us that the census regulations, when they are laid before Parliament and in the Senedd, will reflect that change?

This will be the first predominantly digital census, which I welcome. However, I am concerned about the robustness of the process where there is poor internet or no internet at all, as is the case in much of rural Wales. Will the Minister therefore update us on the arrangements with community organisations to support people to access the census, and give us the number of those who will need digital support or may want a paper copy instead?

There are good census datasets, from the 19th century onwards, on the number, percentage, location and so on of Welsh speakers, but we have no information about Welsh speakers in other parts of the UK. In the 2001 census, some respondents in England were intrigued by question 17, which was marked “intentionally left blank”. That was because question 17 in Wales asked about the Welsh language ability of respondents—something that was not deemed to be required in England. However, the 2011 census showed that 507,000 people in England were Welsh-born. If 20% of those people speak Welsh, that is another 100,000 Welsh speakers on top of the 600,000 in Wales. That was a missed opportunity, because we have a target in Wales of increasing the number of Welsh speakers to 1 million. Will the Minister, even at this late stage, consider including a question on the Welsh language in the census in England?

Finally, I would like to add my voice and those of my Plaid Cymru colleagues to the call for a Cornish identity tick box, for which Cornish Members rightly make a strong case, as we have just heard. In 2001, as we heard, there was no option for a Welsh tick box, so handy little stickers the size of the tick box were produced by a person or persons unknown, allowing people to tick that box, even though it was not part of the official form. There was also a write-in option, and 14% of Welsh people wrote “Welsh” in the “Other” box. Does that mean that only 14% of people at the time in Wales identified themselves as Welsh? No, it was a fault with the question. In the following census, there was a tick box, and the percentage of self-identifying Welsh people shot up to 67%.

Enabling Cornish people to assert their national identity will not only allow them to feel represented, but give us a correct result as to the Cornish identity in 2021. Let me therefore conclude by saying meur ras, or diolch yn fawr in Welsh.