Examination of Witnesses (Questions 258-264)|
BARRETT AM, MRS
JENKINS AM, MR
8 JUNE 2009
Vice-Chairman: One of the interesting
things we are looking at is how you get more disabled people into
Parliament. When you are in a wheelchair and you travel by train
everything takes three times longer, and you cannot travel first-class
if you are coming from Cheltenham to Cardiff because there is
no wheelchair space or toilet in the first-class, so we had to
come second-classbut that is okay, except they paid for
first-class tickets I think! Thank you very much. My name is Anne
Begg; I am Vice-Chair of the Speaker's Conference. I have to start
with an apology. My Labour colleagues and I are keen to get back
for an important meeting. I am not quite sure why it should have
been called tonight, but it is an important meeting of the Parliamentary
Labour Party. We will leave Jo and the clerks behind. In the meantime,
we have about half an hour. I am really sorry about this because
we were very keen to come over to Wales to talk to everyone, and
we had hoped to do a complete formal session. However, as with
all things in politics, "Events, dear boy, events!"
It is part of the job that we do.
Ms Abbott: I would say,
though, that those of you who have not given written evidence
can still submit written evidence, and that will form part of
our report. You need not think that we will not be able to give
your ideas and thoughts full play. If you submit them in evidence
we will make sure that it is on the record.
Q258 Vice-Chairman: We are trying
to explore the barriers to women, people with disabilities, people
from ethnic minorities and people who may be lesbian or gay, standing
for Parliament. We know that the House of Commons in particular
is lacking in those groups. We all see that in Wales you have
managed to achieve a good gender balance in terms of your National
Assembly, but it is not quite so good in terms of disability and
ethnic minorities. We are here to learn from you the mechanisms
that you found useful in terms of improving engagement. We also
know that again in Walesthat is what everyone has told
us, and as a Scottish MP it has been interesting to hearyou
have been much more inclusive and much better at doing the outreach
work to get a wider range of people interested in the work you
do here in the National Assembly. Some of those insights will
hopefully be useful to us in the House of Commons. I do not know
whether anyone wants to start with any particular comment, rather
than us asking questions.
Ms Barrett: I am Assembly Member
for Cardiff South and Penarth. Welcome everyone to my constituency
(I cannot resist saying that!). We can feel quite proud in the
Assembly, since its inception in 1999, that we came here with
a mandate for promoting equality. I hope that we have gone from
strength to strength. You mentioned when you came in to me about
the wonderful building. It is still not perfect in many ways in
regard to some of the materials used, but we went a long, long
way to work with the disability groups before the building was
built. There are just a few things I would like to touch onand
obviously I do not want to hog the whole meetingbut you
talked about our inclusivity and reaching out in outreach. With
our committees we do that an awful lot. Some members here have
a saying, "Let's try and get out of Cardiff Bay." That
is all very well, because we have a job to do, as you do in Parliament;
and part of that job can only be done here, but we are taking
our committees out. We have now got something called the Magic
Bus. I do not know whether Claire Clancy, our Chief Executive,
would like it to be called thatI am not quite sure what
the correct title is, but we have a bus now that goes out to North
Wales and Mid Wales. It is used as a kind of outreach surgery.
We can hold vox pop sessions so that members of the public can
come in and talk to committee members about whatever the issue
is. We work very closely with our staff. I am also a Commissioner
for the Sustainable Assembly, which includes equalities, but we
work with our Commission staff as well as our own Assembly Members'
support staff. We work with them with regard to monitoring our
equality schemes. We have gone a long way to ensuring that all
the equality strands are covered and represented. Here in Cardiff
South and Penarth we have a high percentage of black minority
ethnic residents, and I set up a stand at a local high school
where they were having a jobs fair and talking about the kind
of work they might like to do. I managed to get the Welsh Assembly
Government to have a stand, and we had staff there telling them
what it is like to work in the Assembly, because we are here in
the middle of Butetown, but in the beginning there were hardly
any local people working here, because they felt, "It is
not for us; that is the Assembly". We have gone out and we
try to reach out to as many local groups as we can. We hold lots
of events in herethe building is great for that and was
built to take these events. We welcome many different groups.
We have 53 nationalities represented across the road there, so
we do quite a lot of work with that; and I can do a lot of work
as a local member as well. I just want to touch on one thing and
leave this thought with you. I know that Ann Jones, Chair of the
Equalities Committee, mentioned this to your colleagues in an
earlier session with regard to family-friendly working hours.
When the Assembly was first set up, family-friendly working hours
were used an awful lot. I am not sure whether it encouraged women
to stand particularly; I do not know how many women stood on a
political platform, thinking, "I would like to be an Assembly
Member because I know they are going to have family-friendly hours"!
If you are in North Wales, Mid Wales or West Wales and you are
working here, it makes no difference what hours you work because
you are still away from the family, children or elderly relatives
that you have caring responsibilities for. There is a lot of pressure
on us, as we are getting more and more powers, to work longer
hours. That is fine for us, but the staff behind that have to
work the longer hours as well. I think we have gone from the idea
of a Tuesday and a Wednesday finishing at five o'clock and maybe
a Thursday morning; we have gone now to committees meeting on
a Monday; legislative committees are meeting on Thursday afternoons.
It is putting more pressure on our staff and on members. I will
just leave it at that for now. I am obviously happy take any questions
or listen to other views.
Ms Richards: Thank you very much,
first of all, for allowing us to come here. My name is Lyn Richards,
and I am one of the women who are involved in a project called
Women Making a Difference (WMAD). For the last three years
that project has encouraged women from all backgrounds, no matter
where you come from, what your qualifications are, how old you
are, whether you have any disabilities, to become involved in
their community. The most important thing that the course has
done is set up childcare facilities, so for any young person or
a person with childcare needs that is sorted out. These young
ladies, women and older ladies are all involved in the course.
They are given training and guidance. What is absolutely remarkable
is that five women from this course have already gone on to take
up a political career, whether it has been at a town councillor
level, a county councillorand there are two girls hoping
to be AMs. This course has encouraged and brought the women out
of the community, out of their houses, and inspired them with
their own self-worth. It has been an absolutely superb project.
There are two of us hereEunice is hereand Anita
is over there. We are three of the women from the Women Making
a Difference project. It is based in Cardiff but it has now
gone to Swansea and it is also in North Wales. All I can say to
women and anybody who has it, "do it; grab it with both hands
and go for it; develop your potential". Thank you.
Ms Davies: I have a visual impairment
so obviously I have particular needs in relation to accessing
information and doing training. On the course we have done through
Women Making a Difference they have had the right attitude
towards people with particular needs, whether a disability or
from their culture. They look at those issues for you and help
you get over those barriers. I am now going forward to being a
county councillor. I wanted to be an AM, but decided I wanted
to work at the beginning, and they have helped me work out ways
to get over the barriers of accessing information I need in the
formats that I need it, whether it is to do with the computer
or actually physical written information on a piece of paper.
Like Lyn said, they have helped me with the childcare. It is not
just that; it is about the attitudes people have and the personalities
in that way, because I have come across situations where people's
attitudes towards people with a disability, or even culture issues,
are not good. In the training we have had the attitudes are good,
and personalities are wonderful; and that is what gives the women
that positive thing to be able to move forward as well.
Q259 Ms Abbott: I wanted to ask Euniceabout
your involvement in the project and also have you thought of becoming
a school governor or getting involved in the Assembly? Have you
thought about going forward in politics at all?
Ms Chipachni: Yes. The Women
Making a Difference project has helped me a lot because when
I first came to this country two and a half years ago I was a
very isolated person, an asylum-seeker, and got recognised refugee
status in this country to remain. I volunteered for WMAD, found
out what they do, and ended up getting a job. What I have realised
is that they gave me the confidence and communication skills which
I did not have before. I could not even sit up and look at you
or talk to you like I do today, which makes me proud of them.
I thought of so many things I could do, but I felt that being
a councillor would be something that would be very good for my
community and for my political career, because I really want to
get my voice heard, especially regarding the BME women and also
women with childcare needs like me. I am a single mother with
a two and a half year-old child. I managed to get involved in
my community. I do volunteering in my community, which is something
that I could not have done without the Women Making a Difference
project. They actually took me from a stage whereby they did not
check my characteristics but they looked at my abilities and what
I was able to do, and they really supported me through that stage.
You know how much childcare coststhe costs are really expensive.
For a project like them to manage to raise £700 or something
a month for you to run around, do volunteering and get involved
in your communityit is something that I feel, if we keep
on supporting this project and women like us, I think we will
go far. It will contribute a lot to the running of this country
because you really need our views, so you need to take them into
consideration. Thank you.
Ms Davies: I am Siân Davies;
I work for Mencap Cymru on a project called Partners in Politics,
along with my colleague Sara Pickard, who will speak a bit later.
The whole purpose of this project is to encourage young people
with learning disabilities to become more politically and more
politically aware. Sara delivers the training session in schools
and colleges. One of the main barriers generally for people with
a learning disabilitynot talking necessarily at this stage
about representation, but feeling they can contributeis
the aspirations of people within that community have for people
with a learning disability. The strength of this project is that
we provide positive role models for young people. I do not know
whether Sara would like to say a little about her experience as
a community councillor.
Ms Pickard: My name is Sara Pickard,
and my role within the Partners in Politics project is
that I am an example of one of those role models that Siân
was just saying about, who goes in a school or a college and inspires
young people to have that confidence to stand up for themselves.
I do think that one of the main highlights of our project is seeing
these young people living the lives they want to and being able
to say, by seeing people like me and my work colleagues, given
what we are doing, that they can achieve this as well. Like Siân
was just saying, I am a community councillor as well for my area.
Again, this goes to show that you can be represented at any level.
I now have my chance to shine and show what young people feel
in my village. I feel extremely fortunate and proud to be able
to take on other people's views and go on to a council, like a
community council, and say to them, "These are issues that
young people are facing in my village; please help them."
Q260 Vice-Chairman: From what you
have said in the different groups, it would appear that without
the mechanism of an organisation that is identifying fostering
people, then women and people with disabilities particularly and
people from ethnic minorities are always going to be on the periphery
and will not have the confidence to compete against the menwhite
men usuallywhen it comes to getting involved in politics.
Is that a general feeling? Are there any other mechanisms you
have used in Wales to help to do that?
Mrs Clancy: Last year we had a
scheme running with Operation Black Vote in which individuals
shadowed Assembly Members. Perhaps Bethan could say a bit more
about that. It was very successful and allowed people to get really
close insights into the work of an Assembly Member and to learn
more about democratic processes. This year, we will be extending
the scheme so that we attract in people from a range of under-represented
groups, so people with disabilities and people from ethnic minorities
and others too; so we are looking right across the piece. We are
doing that with the Welsh Local Government Association. Again,
it is within our organisation trying to find those mechanisms
that will help raise awareness and promote access. A similar example
is that our Presiding Officer has been doing a series of visits,
an outreach tour, as part of our tenth anniversary celebrations.
He has made a point of making sure that those visits are directed
at and focused on people from under-represented groups; so going
out and deliberately talking to groups of people with disabilities
in local communities. We have found that going out and talking
in the local areas in that way again is a good way of getting
across information about the work of the Assembly and hoping to
open our doors. The final thing I wanted to sayit is a
little bit of a plugyou have had an opportunity to talk
to Holly and our Equalities Teamone of the real things
that makes a difference in our organisationand it is evident
in other organisations toois the passion and commitment
of the staff, who give their all to make this happen. We have
staff that are completely committed to democratic processes in
Wales and completely committed to equalities and making that happen
and making a difference. They make us very proud, do they not?
Ms Jenkins: I wanted to speak
quickly; my name is Bethan Jenkins and I am one of the Plaid Cymru
Assembly Members in the National Assembly. I just wanted to talk
briefly about what Plaid Cymru does and then say a little bit
about the Assembly. Obviously, you mentioned at the beginning
how progressive we were in terms of the number of women that were
here, but I would like to add that that is only because of the
action that has been taken by a few political parties in Wales,
and my concern for the future is that with the changes in the
systems of our party, that that may change in the future. At the
moment we have seven out of 15 Assembly Members in our group who
are women, but we have changed our policy. It used to be women
at the top of the regional lists. My fear is that we will not
look so progressive in the future; so we need a mechanism that
would be from the institution and not from the political parties,
if they want to try and get more women and disabled people into
politics. The other point that I wanted to make was that Mencap
Cymru has participated in the Petitions Committee in the National
Assembly. The role of that Committee is to be that door for the
Assembly so that people can lobby the Assembly; it is not anything
like No.10 Downing Street when people do not interact with the
systemthey come and give evidence. We go out to different
schools, and it has been a way of getting people involved in politics,
especially young people who have not been involved before. I would
say, because I have spoken at the Hansard Society debate, that
that is something Westminster is already looking to emulate. It
has been a way of getting more people involved in politics. Operation
Black Vote was a very useful way for us to move forward in engaging
with people. I had a mentorLorrainewho came and
shadowed what we did, but if we expand that to more groups than
we currently do, it will show that we can move forward positively.
Q261 Jo Swinson: I have a question
to Claire about how the Operation Black Vote scheme was organised
because from the way you said it, it was almost as though it was
organised through the Assembly, whereas where that has been tried
in Westminster, they have gone individually to the whips of the
different parties, but the institution of Parliament itself has
not been involved. You mentioned the Equalities Unitis
that a Welsh Assembly unit, because to my knowledge we do not
have anything like that in Westminster? It seems that structurally,
institutionally, on both of those two things, that is part of
where the Welsh Assembly is streets ahead.
Mrs Clancy: Indeed. We worked
with Operation Black Vote, and it was a co-ordinated effort, which
we funded. We will be funding the wider scheme this year jointly
with the WLGA. It takes quite a lot of work, effort and commitment
to make it happen and make sure people get productive things from
it. It is the sort of scheme that if you leave it to happen by
itself, it probably will not be so successful, so I think you
need within the organisation to have that commitment to make it
happen. Our Equalities Team is small, but we are a small organisation
anyway. We have a handful of people working on equalities within
our corporate unit and promoting it through the organisation.
They do an excellent job as well of making sure that members of
staff have those issues uppermost in their minds. For example,
we have quite a big team working on education through schools
and we have a lot of young people coming in here. The Equalities
Team is indispensable.
Ms Abbott: Ann, Betty and I were able
to speak informally with the Equalities Team this morning, and
it was very interesting to find out what they did.
Mrs Cryer: I just want to say how we
really do appreciate you all being here. You have all given us
some good ideas and we are very impressed by all of you. I am
sorry that we have got to go back to London. Somebody can be left
Ms Abbott: You will be left with the
top team; we are just the B team!
Q262 Mrs Williams: Sara, how long
have you been a councillor?
Ms Pickard: For a good few years
now because I was actually uncontested when I was going to be
elected. Mencap wanted to campaign but sadly did not get round
to doing that because I went straight on to the council and have
not looked back since.
Q263 Mrs Williams: Congratulations.
Ms Pickard: Thank you.
Q264 Vice-Chairman: In Scotland the
twinning or zipping caused some controversy, though not a huge
amount, but it did in Wales quite a bit. Was it worth it? Are
other political parties using that?
Ms Barrett: It was very difficult.
My constituency was totally opposed to it. One of our members
says that at least twinning enabled 50 per cent of men to be elected!
It was difficult because it was new and ground-breaking stuff.
Real passions were aroused there. I have to say, as a woman in
the Labour Party since 1976, I was first elected to a town council
in 1977so Sara, my seat will be up for grabs the year after
next because I am retiring! Look out for Sara perhaps. I have
always worked mainstream within the party without wanting to be
part of the women's section particularly because I have wanted
to be seen as a Labour Party member rather than a woman needing
some special considerationbut, having said that, we needed
something to happen. I think the party took a really brave step,
and looking back it gave all those women the opportunity to be
those role models, to be the faces of the people you see on television.
I am always amazed when we take our committees out to England
particularly and sometimes Scotland; we get there and we are talking
to a room of men in suits, and we are mainly women from the committee.
You can see this stark contrast; that these women have all gone
off to give evidence to another committee where there was often
a majority of men. It has done something, but Bethan is right
that we all have to keep our eye on the ball because in our party
as well, some women may be replaced by men. We have reverted to
the old system: where the black ethnic minority candidate puts
him or herself forward, they will be shortlisted, and you will
have at least one woman on the shortlist. It is still down to
the vagaries of who happens to turn up to that meeting to vote.
Vice-Chairman: I was hoping to hear everyone,
but I am sorry I am going to have to dash as well. Jo will take
the chair. Thank you so far anyway!