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.
“And all that rubbish we heard in terms of there being no use of the service, well we have to promote these services and make it easy for people to choose to use the Welsh language.”
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.
“The commissioner and her predecessors have worked hard to encourage the use of the Welsh language through non-statutory means.
“Perhaps now is the time for banks to be subject to Welsh language standards.”
Mr Kurtz, who represents Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, urged ministers to embrace technology and redouble efforts to increase the number of Welsh speakers.
He raised the commissioner’s concerns about courts and tribunals failing to offer a remote alternative to face-to-face cases through the medium of Welsh.
Siân Gwenllian, the Plaid Cymru MS for Arfon, said the appalling attitude of HSBC shows why Wales cannot depend on goodwill to respect the rights of Welsh speakers.
She said Midland Bank, now HSBC, was once an example of best bilingual practice.
Ms Gwenllian told MSs: “From now on, customers who want to engage through the Welsh language will have to wait over three days to do that.
“Overnight, the service was destroyed – a service that led the way for a time.”
She drew a comparison to the “insulting” response to Tony Schiavone’s campaign to receive a Welsh-language ticket from One Parking Solution.
Ms Gwenllian said: “Why does a Welsh speaker have to continue to campaign to demand to have services through the medium of Welsh?
“It's about time that the fundamental rights of Welsh speakers should be respected on a statutory footing in all aspects of life.”
Jeremy Miles, the Welsh language minister, described HSBC’s attitude as contemptuous, lamenting the loss of the inclusive and respectful example set in the Midland Bank days.
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.