Address to the Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council
31st July 2001
I would like to thank Taha Idris and the Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council for your kind invitation to address the AGM. I have been very conscious of the good work of this REC in recent years through my contacts with Les Rees of Port Talbot and Naz Malik of Swansea. And in recent times I was involved in arranging for the Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP, the Secretary of State for Wales, to visit you in January last year.
I was also involved with many of your members and some of your communities in the educational work around the exhibition 'Let Paul Robeson Sing!' in Swansea and I will return to that a little later.
More recently I suppose I have been conscious of your work in my meetings with the black and ethnic minority communities of Aberavon during my campaign and my election as Member of Parliament for the Constituency.
I was honoured to be a guest of the Port Talbot Bangladeshi Youth Group in the celebration of Bangladesh Independence Day and to have discussions with the Port Talbot Muslim Welfare Association about its aspirations to achieve a cultural, educational and religious centre in the locality: I am very pleased to know that good progress has been made on that front and in particular educational provision via Swansea University will be delivered at the centre next Autumn and the local college will also hopefully enter into the partnership.
I made a pledge before the Election that I would serve all communities within the constituency. My manifesto was a commitment to
'Campaign for the return of a Labour Government committed to socialist policies – power, wealth and opportunity for all, not for the few – to achieve a tolerant multi-cultural and socially just Britain.'
I reaffirm that commitment to you tonight and I look forward to working with you to achieve a celebration of Wales as ' a commonwealth of communities'.
New Policy Initiatives: Think Global, Act Local
In examining the detail of the SBREC's invaluable work through its staff and its volunteers within the Aberavon Constituency I was struck how you are blazing a trail, often alongside sometimes ahead of Government thinking and policy development. I am especially impressed with your liaising with local authorities and local police. Your work is as vital as the new legal, quasi-legal and constitutional frameworks being shaped at all levels from local to international and particularly in Wales through the National Assembly.
In a briefing I received earlier this month from David Blunkett, it is clear that the Home Office is very conscious of the need to put citizenship and active communities very high amongst its priorities: but as the Welsh Mirror very pointedly said in its editorial yesterday: this must be a citizenship based on mutual tolerance and mutual respect. Put more pointedly this must not be located in the era of slavery, of some kind of latter day narrow white Anglo-saxon protestant culture or a narrow white Welsh linguistic protestant culture.
In speaking at a seminar entitled 'Beyond Rhetoric' also earlier this month, the First Minister of the Assembly, Rhodri Morgan, reminded everyone that promoting equality and achieving social inclusion are two of the key themes that underline all of the work of the Assembly. He went on to quote the McPherson Report, '…if racism is to be the eliminated from our society there must be a co-ordinated effort to prevent its growth….. it is incumbent upon every institution to examine their policies to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities.'
That is as good a policy starting point as you could get. The new Race Relations Amendment Act now gives the CRE the power to issue statutory Codes of Practice which will provide practical guidance on how to fulfil the general and the specific duties to promote race quality: for the first time there is a positive duty to promote racial equality.
I know, thanks to the inter-action of bodies like the CRE, SBREC and the Assembly significant progress has been made in recent years. The Resource Directory of Black Voluntary Organisations in South Wales produced by the adult learners body NIACE is one indication of the range of that progress in the new era of democratic devolution.
The work of one of our Assembly Members, Mrs Edwina Hart, the Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communities, in driving forward with real political commitment has begun to transform the situation in Wales.
Whether dealing with the rise in racist crime, the plight of asylum seekers or refugees, or the insidious influence of the BNP or helping to create new enabling structures and bodies like AWEMA, the Minister has driven forward an Assembly agenda which all progressive people would and should endorse.
I would particularly commend her speech, 'Tackling Institutional Racism in Wales' at the PCS Conference on 4th October in which she reported that her Equality Opportunity Committee had set up an educational working party to drive forward best practice in combating racism in schools in the context of the McPherson Report.
Much done, more to do
But we must all agree, much more work needs to be done. Before the problems in the North of England, the Assembly, the Home Office and the DCMS had agreed to fund in 2000 – 2001 the story of the Black American singer and civil rights activist through the major exhibition, 'Let Paul Robeson Sing!'. The purpose of the exhibition was to highlight in a Welsh context the need for educational programmes to explain our own cultural diversity, our internationalism and relationships with Paul Robeson.
The new Paul Robeson Wales Trust has recently received substantial funding from the Assembly, thanks in particular to the support of Edwina Hart and the Culture Minister, Jenny Randerson, to tour the exhibition throughout Wales, beginning appropriately next January here in Swansea.
Redefining Wales: Citizenship from Toussant L'Ouverture to the Bengali Community.
There has been some debate recently about redefining Welshness. This is to be welcomed. Too much has been made over the last hundred years of a narrow artificial and wholly inaccurate definition of Welshness based solely on one language and one religion. That was not an accurate description of Wales even in the late nineteenth century, far less today.
What we now need is a modern definition based on citizenship, that is multi-cultural, multi-faith, rooted fundamentally in equality for all, choice for all and opportunity for all: a Wales that looks outwards to the world and a Wales that values and welcomes everyone who wishes to live in Wales.
I am proud to say that over the centuries my constituency of Aberavon has welcomed many immigrants, economic and political asylum seekers and refugees. We have of course a large Catholic Irish population with its origins in the nineteenth century. Emma Goldman, the Russian-American Revolutionary often came to Briton Ferry as did CLR James, the Afro-Caribbean writer whose masterpiece Black Jacobins celebrated the slave rising in the 1790s in Haiti led by Toussant L'Ouverture.
And I was brought up with the knowledge that Cheddi Jagan, the first Prime Minister of British Guyana and Krishna Menon, India's first Foreign Secretary, spoke of their anti-colonial struggles in my home village in the Dulais Valley in the 1940's.
But to what extent is this the reality of today?
Recent research by Charlotte Williams and Paul Chaney of Bangor University in a forthcoming book entitled, New Governence, New Democracy (Chaney P. et al, UWP 2001) shows that whilst progress has been made in Wales in terms of race equality, especially since democratic devolution, much needs to be done. At the most fundamental level this is evident in the non-existent presence of black or ethnic minority representation in the Assembly and at Parliamentary level from Wales and very little at local government level. In their chapter, 'Inclusive Government for Excluded Groups: Ethnic Minorities' Williams and Chaney conclude:
'…progress is unlikely to be achieved without a persistent and ongoing struggle against what are deep seated ideological, cultural, political and organisational assumptions that represent very real barriers to political participation and restrict the capacities of minorities to get involved. Without significant steps being taken to bolster the inclinations and the capacity of ethnic minority communities and individuals to engage in active citizenship, without real efforts to demonstrate positive outcomes for them and without real and significant shifts in power in Wales, inclusiveness will remain an illusive goal.'
That's the challenge for the SBREC, and indeed for all of us. We need a mature debate about an inclusive citizenship for all Welsh people, beyond rhetoric and beyond language.
I know the newly formed Bevan Foundation Think Tank would be happy to help facilitate such a debate so as to achieve the 'illusive goal' identified by Charlotte Williams and Paul Chaney.
I look forward, as one of your Members of Parliament, to working with you individually and collectively with the Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council in reaching that 'illusive goal'.