Debate; Tackling Racism and Race Inequality

I was pleased to take part in the debate on Tackling Racism and Race Inequality in the Senedd this week in my role as Deputy Minister and Chief Whip. The transcripts of my speeches are below;

Opening Speech:
2020 has been one of the most challenging and difficult years in memory, particularly for black, Asian and minority ethnic people. COVID-19 has exposed deep inequalities in our society. The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the violent death of George Floyd, shows why this annual debate on tackling racism and race inequality is more important than ever. This motion does focus on the events of this year, but it also reaffirms the commitments we made last year in our race debate—cross-party commitments. In that debate we supported, as we do today in our motion, the fundamental importance of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Llywydd, as the coronavirus took hold earlier this year, we began to learn of its impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic people. The First Minister immediately established a COVID-19 BAME advisory group, under the leadership of Judge Ray Singh. Two sub-groups were established, led by professors Keshav Singhal and Emmanuel Ogbonna. These groups delivered at remarkable pace, providing tangible and practical advice and tools that set Wales ahead in terms of our response. The development of the Welsh workforce risk assessment tool, the first of its kind in the UK, now in widespread use in the NHS and social care in Wales, but rolled out in other workplace settings, is helping to safeguard people’s health and well-being.

The Welsh Government also chose to address the contribution of the socioeconomic factors to the virus head on, responding to Emmanuel Ogbonna’s report and his group—an acknowledgement that medical data could not explain the disproportionate impact on BAME people alone. A report of the socioeconomic group set out the entrenched inequalities experienced by black, Asian and minority ethnic people, which COVID-19 has highlighted in the most tragic way. It should remind us that the rights enshrined over 50 years ago in article 5 of the convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination are yet to be fully embedded in society. I’d like to put on record my thanks to the advisory groups for the work they’ve done, for their continuing leadership, together with the sharing of insights and expertise, which has been invaluable to us all. 

This is not work that can wait. The First Minister published our response to the socioeconomic report on 24 September. We’d already implemented a number of recommendations, with more under way. During the pandemic, we produced ‘keep Wales safe’ communications in 36 different languages, to make health messages accessible to everyone living in Wales. Test, trace and protect services have been expanded to establish black, Asian and minority ethnic outreach workers within communities. And those in employment have also been affected by lockdown. We funded the ethnic minorities and youth support team, with partners, to deliver a BAME multilingual helpline for people to access advice and support on many issues, including employment and income. Work is under way to ensure that anti-racism training programmes are undertaken across the public sector. Llywydd, in February we launched a public appointment strategy to tackle the under-representation of BAME and disabled people in public appointments. This is under way, developing a leadership training programme for black, Asian and minority ethnic and disabled people, as recommended in the Ogbonna report.

Renewing our commitment to eliminate racism and discrimination across our nation includes education, and the communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum working group, chaired by Professor Charlotte Williams, is in place. Our goal is to embed the teaching of themes relating to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum.

I’ve been engaged with BAME fora and events right across Wales, including Black Lives Matter events, as well as through our Wales race forum, and, during the height of the pandemic, I was grateful for the frequent advice and counsel. We met very often to learn and share information, to act together to address emerging needs, and this dialogue is vital as we develop a race equality action plan to be delivered by the end of this Senedd term. And our plan will be achieved through extensive engagement and will be co-constructed with BAME communities, community groups and organisation, with Professor Ogbonna co-chairing the steering group with the Permanent Secretary. This plan must provide the foundation for bringing about systemic and sustainable change for Wales.

We know there are many issues to tackle across the Welsh Government, including health inequalities, employment for young people, education, access to housing, everyday experience of racism, structural and systemic racism, representation and visibility. We recognise the need for fundamental change in our society. We cannot and will not do this on our own. We’re committed to working with black, Asian and minority ethnic people, hearing their testimonies and acting on that evidence. We’ll address the interests of specific communities and issues raised by intersectionality. It will be informed by research and data, official inquiries and reports that have already taken place. It will be backed up by clear, concise actions and recommendations, including the development of a race disparity unit in the Welsh Government.

But I want to maker this clear: this is not my plan; it’s owned by the whole of the Welsh Government, and we want to see a culture change across the Senedd, in public services and in Welsh society, because Wales is a multicultural nation with a shared history and a shared contribution to its success. Migrants to Wales were a major part of this country developing as an economic powerhouse prior to the first world war, and migrants have continued to be an integral part of our nation that has developed as a nation of sanctuary, which is what we strive to be. We celebrate our BAME communities and acknowledge that we must all reflect on our positions to ensure that all of our citizens are able to reach their potential.

Today, I call on leaders in Wales at all levels to drive racism and race inequality out of our country. I ask everyone to take a stand against inequality wherever and whenever they see it or experience it, to seek out racial inequalities, racist and race disparities and take action to address them. We have to look carefully and honestly at the structures and systems in society, and consider where and how we can bring about real change for the lives of people of colour in Wales. We have an opportunity, a responsibility and a means to do this. Let’s show that unity of purpose here in the Senedd today. Diolch yn fawr. 

Closing Speech

Diolch, Llywydd. This has been the most significant debate on race that has been held in this Senedd, in a year when we’ve seen the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on people of colour in Wales, the UK and across the world. I thank all of those who have contributed positively and constructively to this debate. As speakers have said, this is the time for action if we are to call ourselves a humane society, a country that seeks to be a nation of sanctuary, fair play and equality. We must bring all our efforts to bear across this Welsh Government and with our partners to combat the racism and racial inequalities that have been exposed in the past year.

But the key to this is to recognise that we’ve got to tackle racism in ourselves, in our communities and our institutions if we’re going to stand up and be counted in support of this motion. At a meeting of Black Lives Matter I attended earlier this year, after the killing of George Floyd, I drew attention to the words of Baroness Valerie Amos, who said

‘We have had report after report, which shows the depth…of racism in Britain…. We need to stop writing reports and actually start tackling it at the root’.

So, this is the message from this Welsh Government motion that I’ve moved today, and I’m glad it’s supported by Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives. It sends a strong message to our diverse communities that we will take responsibility, led by this Government. 

It is appropriate to be debating this today, as Joyce Watson, our equalities Commissioner said, as we commence Black History Month 2020. At the launch last week, I was able to welcome the move from Black History Month to Black History Cymru 365, with funding from the Welsh Government to support the team at Race Council Cymru to work throughout the year and hear the voices of Windrush elders, Black History Wales patrons, and, as we heard last week, Professor Charlotte Williams and Gaynor Legall, who are leading the work on our curriculum and our audit of monuments and place names. I can confirm that Professor Williams will be reporting on her interim recommendations later this year.

But, like Joyce, I want to also dedicate the motion today, and this debate, to the memory of Patti Flynn, that celebrated jazz singer who died recently after a battle with cancer, known to many of us here in the Senedd. Tributes were given at the Black History Month launch last week, and they were led by Humie Webb. She recalled that Patti lived to see her campaign delivered in her lifetime after a long struggle for recognition, and that campaign resulted in, last November, a plaque in honour of BAME soldiers, servicemen and women finally unveiled at the Welsh National War Memorial, in memory of the BAME servicemen and women who served and gave their lives in conflict and war. Patti herself lost her father and two brothers in world war two.

Last week many of us also took part in the launch of the Race Alliance Wales manifesto. We had speakers from all main parties welcoming the call to ‘move from rhetoric to reality for an anti-racist Wales’, and that sums up where we want to go and where the people who have spoken today, in support of this motion, want to go. The messages from the steering group from Wales Race Alliance were very powerful, very clear, as Mymuna Soleman has reminded us so often in these months, when we learn more from her Privilege Cafe and from the Black Lives Matter movement that we should use our privilege for good. The Wales race equality panel will take this commitment forward.

And to those Members who’ve spoken against this motion, I would urge you to go to the Privilege Cafe. I would urge you to listen to the young people, both black and white, in Black Lives Matter across the whole of Wales—from north to south, east to west, we have groups of people, particularly young people, who are committed to the Black Lives Matter movement and committed to making and urging us to make change. But I would also say to those people who speak against this motion: respect the views of those who have the lived experience of being black, Asian, minority ethnic people in Wales, and that’s where we will learn and where we will take our commitment.

So, today, finally, we are recommitting this Welsh Government and this Senedd to stand against racism in Wales. And as Professor Raj Bhopal, as the Black Lives Matter leader spoke to us, said;

‘Enough is enough. Be the leaders that this country, this world needs. And that must be our resolve today. Diolch yn fawr.

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