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Racism (Welsh Politics)

1.30 pm

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): May I say in advance that I will not accept interventions from any party because I am already sharing time with one of my hon. Friends?

In a recent debate on the Government of Wales Act 1998, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) angrily intervened on my contribution, accused me of ranting and wanted the Deputy Speaker to call me to order. I assumed that the hon. Gentleman and his fellow nationalists were not happy about me trying to iron out some of the contradictions that are obvious in their policies. In retrospect, I have to admit that I was probably wrong, and that deep down the nationalists, and the hon. Gentleman, appreciate all the good work that I am doing in trying to resolve those contradictions. Their support for my good work has been recognised during the past few days when I received a letter from their party headquarters inviting me to the leaving party for their chief executive, Karl Davies. I am sure that that was not a computer error, or the result of someone pressing the wrong button, but a genuine attempt on behalf of the nationalists to show their appreciation and thank me for all my good work in recent months in highlighting their policies. I hope that the nationalists who attend the bash will give my apologies and appreciate the necessity for me to be here in Parliament to continue all of the good work.

My father and his family were born in England in the early part of the last century and they came to Wales. My father proceeded, from the grand old age of 13, to work in the local colliery as a face worker. He died not just with cancer, but like many of his generation in that employment, with pneumoconiosis as well. His brother, at a very young age, died as a result of a tragic accident in the same local colliery. Although my dad was English, he did not feel, as nationalists have described them, that he was part of an

Like other people who came to Wales from England, my dad built many of the good things that we are proud of in communities such as those in south Wales. He never learned the Welsh language, but that did not make him any less a part of Wales. Contrary to what nationalists such as Saunders Lewis argue, he did not

Indeed, he and his generation helped to build on many things in that tradition, which we are justifiably proud of in working-class communities. If he had a criticism of Wales, which I share, it was that we lost too many times on the football field. He often made the plea for the occasional victory, which he thought would be much appreciated.

The nationalists have always seen conspiracies everywhere to destroy the Welsh tradition and nation, and almost invariably they are the fault of the English. I well remember reading an account of the decision of Neath town council in the 1930s to invite the Bath and

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West Southern Counties show to the town. The nationalists protested at the time, claiming that the invitation was


That attitude to the English can also be seen in their opposition to English children coming to Wales during the second world war to avoid the Nazi bombing of their homes. For the nationalists, that movement of population was one of the most horrible threats to the continuation and life of the Welsh nation in history. How could anyone have such a warped sense of priorities, seeing as the enemy not Nazi Germany, which was bombing the homes of people in London, but English children, who were coming to Wales as evacuees?

Angus Robertson (Moray): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Llew Smith : No.

It was not just the Bath and West Southern Counties show and English children coming to Wales that caused concern. The Welsh nationalist party at the time described the building of the Severn bridge as a suicidal policy; I have never heard any retractions from modern-day nationalists. I assume that their main interest was breaking all links with England, and that that was far more important than creating jobs.

Some hon. Members may argue that those examples are from some years ago and that Welsh nationalists have seen the light and learned to love the English. Sadly, that is not so. Gwilym ap Ioan referred to the English in Wales as an alien culture within the nation.

Angus Robertson : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Win Griffiths (in the Chair): Order. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) has said that he is not giving way.

Llew Smith : Gwilym ap Ioan said that Wales would soon be so full of foreigners that the Welsh voice would be drowned out, and Simeon Glyn referred to retired people moving to Wales as a drain on the resources. Time does not allow me to quote the many other examples of similar expressions put forward by leading nationalists. When is the leader of the Welsh nationalist party, Ieuan Wyn Jones, going to insist that such people be kicked out of the party if they continue to make racist demands?

Not only nationalist members but fellow travellers such as John Elfed Jones use the race card. He compared the effect of English migration to foot and mouth disease. Who made the greater contribution to Wales, my English father and his generation, or John Elfed Jones, who made a killing on the backs of Welsh workers and consumers, among others, through the privatisation of Welsh Water?

The BBC has joined in. It was recently found guilty in the courts of sacking one of its senior journalists because his accent was not Welsh enough. The Arts Council of Wales continues to subsidise Barn, although it says that

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it will review the output. However, anyone who knows anything about the Arts Council of Wales knows that very little will happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) referred in the Welsh Grand Committee to a visit by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) to north Wales. In referring to his lecture, my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy said that he recalled that,

My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy said:

Today, John Humphreys of the Welsh Independence party calls for a national act of defiance to halt the influx of incomers to the Welsh heartlands. He states:

which, he goes on to say,

I do not want to give the impression that the Welsh nationalist party hates the English to the extent of taking a principled stand against taking English taxpayers' money. Hardly a day goes by without their demanding a change to the Barnett formula so that Wales can have a bigger slice of the cake. When cash is concerned, the principles of the nationalists go out of the window. It is not surprising that English Members of Parliament are increasingly demanding to know why the nationalists and their sympathisers, who demand independence, are not willing to accept the financial responsibility that goes with it. The nationalists are willing to take money from the enemy, the English, although they took a somewhat different and, in some ways, more principled position in the 1930s when they argued for refusing the blood money from the English, whom they so despised.

That is sad. It is damaging when nationalists and their fellow travellers judge others not by their character but by their nationality. We are a tiny island and if we cannot live together as brothers and sisters, there is little hope for us. Linked to that, there is little hope for the Welsh language if nationalists use it as a political philosophy and a measuring rod of Welshness. I say that as someone who spent a considerable part of 15 years developing the Welsh language in Gwent.

Nationalists in Wales demand that we dump the geography that we share with the rest of the United Kingdom, our common struggles and the philosophy of international socialism, replacing those with a narrow nationalism based on bigotry and prejudice, in which the problem lies with the so-called English or London government, not with the economic system. Is that the kind of philosophy that we want our children to inherit? I suspect not. That is why we are having this debate.

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1.40 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) on his forthright contribution. The strong strand of racism and xenophobia in Plaid Cymru's history is well tabulated. We have only to look at some of the writings of Saunders Lewis, the founder of Plaid Cymru, to recognise the truth of that. He believed that he could embrace the corporatist ideas of Mussolini, with whom he was enamoured. He certainly had plenty of time for the racist remarks of various fascist elements arising in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Let me make it clear that he was an anti-Semite. We can see that time and again in his writings—it runs through them from start to finish.

Saunders Lewis had sympathies for Mussolini, Franco and Hitler. Other elements in Plaid Cymru had sympathies—[Interruption.] Opposition Members should not betray some of their pedigree by interrupting in the way in which they are. If they stopped to listen for a moment, they might learn something. That goes for Scottish as well as Welsh nationalists.

Angus Robertson : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. David : My time is short and I have a number of points to make. I will not give way.

It was not only Saunders Lewis who was enamoured with fascist elements in Europe. On one occasion in the 1930s, when Welsh miners were going to Spain to fight for liberty and democracy, Welsh nationalist academics stood up in Cardiff university and toasted Franco as an honourable Christian gentleman. That is in the nationalists' history, and they cannot get away from it, even if they do not like it.

More recently, we have seen spasmodic examples of intolerance coming to the fore from the Welsh nationalist party, such as the comments of Simeon Glyn.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. David : My time is short, and I must continue.

We have seen the racist remarks of Simeon Glyn and the comments of Simon Brooks. What unites their views is an intolerance of English people and those who speak the English language. There was a report in The Western Mail yesterday about a new play written by a Welsh playwright by the name of Dic Edwards, about Welsh extremism and the Free Wales Army. Two of his performances have been disrupted by Welsh nationalist elements. He spoke forthrightly and sadly to The Western Mail, which reported:

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. David : The report quoted Mr. Edwards:

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That is extremely sad. I want the Welsh language saved and I want it to flourish. I call upon the Welsh nationalist party today to unite the communities of Wales—to unite the Welsh speakers and the English speakers, so that we have one Welsh nation.

Mr. Simon Thomas : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. David : I call upon the leadership of Plaid Cymru, once and for all, to renounce unequivocally the racism and xenophobia inherent in the party. Now, here is a chance for Plaid Cymru to renounce those elements. Let it do so.

1.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig) : My hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) and for Caerphilly (Mr. David) have made some serious points in their usual trenchant way, and have given examples of when, in our history in Wales, race has been used as a political weapon. Words are as powerful as any weapon, particularly if spoken by those who hold political responsibility, as we do. Words can be used to inspire great actions, but they can also be used to inspire base actions. All of us who hold political office in Wales have a responsibility to choose our words carefully. They must not give offence in a racial way.

Angus Robertson : Does the Minister agree that it is important that one should not take a partisan approach to such a serious issue? He says that words are important, but will he put on record his opposition to Ministers using words such as "swamping" and to Back-Bench Labour Members using words such as "floodgates" when talking about asylum seekers and their children? Will he disassociate himself from the Government's efforts to build a special relationship with a Government who include neo-fascists, and perhaps reflect on the fact that the Labour party, through the Socialist International, condoned the first occasion that the Freedom party got into government in Austria?

Mr. Touhig : Yes, we should all be careful about the words that we use, because it is possible to give offence in a racial way. I have made that point clear. That applies in Wales as much as in any other part of the United Kingdom.

Our great cultural heritage, which includes the Welsh language, should be used to unite the people of Wales, not to divide them. Wales is a bilingual country. As the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) said in last week's debate in the House on Wales in the world, we must remember that English is a Welsh language, too. Those who seek to use the Welsh language to emphasise their separateness from the rest of the peoples in these islands do no service to the Welsh language or to the Welsh people.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): The Minister will accept that I was born in Wales and lived there for

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33 years of my life. I am proud to be Welsh but proud to be British as well. Part of the problem between reality and perception is that, when politicians say things that are narrow, nasty and evidently abusive to our neighbours in England, it does enormous damage, even though they are only a small minority. The English will feel equally hurt when people who should know better have a go at the Welsh.

Mr. Touhig : I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall touch on it as I progress.

No artificial wall, whether it is a wall of rhetoric or one put there by the law, will protect Welsh-speaking communities from a lack of jobs and economic opportunity. Indeed, we will not help the Welsh language by shutting out non-Welsh speakers. We will help it only by ensuring that people can stay in their local communities in rural Wales: they will stay if there are jobs, affordable housing and good public services.

The future of the Welsh language will be secured through a strong economy. We have already made good progress by cutting unemployment in Wales to a 27-year low, but we know that there is much more to do. To secure economic prosperity, we must take tough decisions. That applies to all parties, both Government and Opposition parties. We must radically reform the current system of agricultural subsidies and tackle the culture of long-term reliance on benefits, which is a blight in many parts of Wales: we must help people to move from welfare to work. We must also tackle the problem of providing affordable housing in rural communities, an issue we should be cautious about. Some restrictive policies in relation to new houses have had the opposite effect from that intended. The market being what it is, house prices are often driven up in rural Wales as a consequence of the actions of some, and the problem remains.

I have referred to measures to reform agricultural subsidies and welfare to work, but vociferous members of the Welsh nationalist party, who are here in the Chamber this afternoon, have opposed them. They have been negative and backward looking when we have sought to raise those issues and to take that agenda forward.

Mr. Simon Thomas : Will the Minister give way?

Paul Flynn : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Touhig : They have that attitude because they have no serious policy issues.

Paul Flynn : On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. The subject of the debate is racism in Welsh politics. The Minister has not mentioned that in his speech. Is he trying to disassociate himself from the inflammatory and ill-informed speeches by his hon. Friends?

Mr. Win Griffiths (in the Chair): That is not a point of order, but it was a nice try.

Mr. Touhig : My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) must not have heard what I said at the beginning of the debate about race being used as a political weapon in Wales. He should bear that

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in mind. I am seeking to develop an argument that language is being used destructively as a racial political weapon in Wales.

Plaid Cymru has no serious policies on the issues that I have raised. It has no political leadership about which it is worth talking. In fact, it will not take responsibility for facing up to the problems in Wales. Political leadership must be based on a set of beliefs and a set of principles. On no issue is Plaid Cymru's lack of leadership more evident than on that of whether language extremists have introduced race into the political debate in Wales. Language extremists want to restrict the movement of English speakers, whether or not those English speakers are Welsh-born.

Mr. Simon Thomas : Does the Minister share my great disappointment that, in an Adjournment debate on racism in Wales, we have heard not one word about racially motivated crime in Gwent, which is higher than that in London, not one word about asylum seekers' problems in Wales and not one word about the difficulties faced by young Asian people, who are less likely to find jobs in Wales than people of other races? Does he agree that this debate is disgraceful? Nasim Babur of the Welsh Asian Council said:

I agree with the Welsh Asian Council. Does the Minister?

Mr. Touhig : The hon. Gentleman must recognise that it is our country as well as the nationalists' country. The subject of the debate to which I have been asked to respond is racism in Welsh politics, and I am seeking to develop my argument on that subject. Every intemperate attack on so-called outsiders and every word of hatred expressed can only worsen the prospects of Welsh-speaking communities getting the investment that they desperately need to secure their future. Recent headlines in the press such as


damage Wales, rural Wales and its economy, because tourism is important for that part of the country.

In a recent debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) made some good points, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent referred. She represents an area that depends strongly on tourism. She made it clear in the Welsh Grand Committee how damaging such headlines are to our efforts to encourage people to take their holidays in Wales. We had a debate in the House last week on Wales in the world. It is extremely harmful to Wales, its people and its economy when lunatics put up posters and splash walls with graffiti that says, "English go home".

In last week's debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) made those points and pointed out the lack of leadership in the Welsh nationalist party. When he made those points, hon. Members representing Plaid Cymru said, "This is our leader," and pointed to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). Perhaps there

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will be a challenge somewhere down the line. He would be a leader of some stature. A vacuum presently exists in Plaid Cymru.

We must remember that if we want to secure and improve use of the Welsh language, we must underpin that with a strong economy in rural areas. All we hear from the nationalists, apart from a constant demand for English taxpayers to stump up more money for their separatist nightmares, is a demand to tax English people who settle in Wales. Nowhere is that more clearly shown than in Plaid Cymru's hypocritical approach in dealing with Cymuned and Simon Brooks.

Cymuned is a deadly enemy of the Welsh language, and those involved in Cymuned are harming the Welsh language. Their tactics, which are simple—this goes to the heart of the debate about racism—are to intimidate English speakers, whether Welsh or English born, out of what they see as their communities. It is our community, whether we speak Welsh or not. They want a monoculture: a throwback to a Wales that I doubt ever existed. I know that some members of Plaid Cymru are as disgusted with that approach as Labour Members, but they dare not say so because at the core of Plaid Cymru is a right-wing, hard-core group of language extremists who drive forward their policies. They have been successfully excluded from positions of real power in Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, but it remains the case that everyone in the nationalist party who wants to succeed must bend a knee before those who preach language intolerance.

Simon Brooks is the grinder of the organ and Ieuan Wyn Jones plays his monkey. They do not offer leadership; they offer an opportunity for those who hold the extreme view that people who do not speak our language and come from outside Wales have no place in Wales. It is a sad reflection on Wales in the 21st century that people who hold the views expressed by leaders of the nationalist party 30 or 40 years ago—

Mr. Simon Thomas : On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. As we have been unable to debate the real causes of racism against black and ethnic minority people in Wales, will it be in order to apply for such a debate? The title for this debate was misleading.

Mr. Win Griffiths (in the Chair): That is a matter for Back Benchers, not for me.

Mr. Touhig : I regret that the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), for whom I have great respect, is again following his party's leadership and ducking the issue by not condemning the racist extremists in his own party. Why do people such as Mr. Brooks remain on its candidates' list for election to the Assembly? Strong leadership would have tackled that and said that such people have no place in the party or in politics in Wales. It is important that we all unite in saying that it is wrong.

I sensed a degree of unity when the matter was touched on during the debate on Wales in the world in the House last week, but there is no such unity in the Chamber this morning for partisan reasons. Interventions this morning have dodged the issue. Hon. Members have said that they will oppose such views, condemn people who hold them and remove them from their party. That is the true fact of the problem.

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We will not build a harmonious and strong Wales if we allow people who preach intolerance to be seen to be speaking for the people of Wales. They do not. The people of Wales treat such people with abhorrence. The language should not divide us; it should unite us. English is a Welsh language, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon said during the debate last week.

It is important to take opportunities such as this to flush out extremism in society. We have seen it grow in other parts of Europe and we have seen the resulting

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danger to a healthy, free, open and democratic society. Our challenge to everyone in politics in Wales should be to stand up and say we will not tolerate such division in our society, or racism. It is a pity that the so-called Opposition party in the Assembly—the so-called party of Wales—is so lacking in leadership that it is unwilling and unable to stand up to people who are divisive and destructive. It is for those on the Labour Benches to bring such matters into the open, and to make it clear that we shall fight them tooth and nail.

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