During the Black History Month debate in Parliament I paid tribute to contribution of black people in UK including Aberavon’s Lennard Lawrence.
Education is critical to building a more inclusive society and Race Council Wales’ Black History Cymru 365, backed by the Welsh Government, is vital.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). He gave an excellent speech, particularly about the role of Scotland and Scotland’s history in the empire. Certainly, as a Welsh Member of Parliament, I agree that it was not a uniquely English enterprise at all.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) on securing this incredibly important debate and on reminding us of the fact that it is absolutely crucial that this House recognises Black History Month and the contribution that black people have made, and continue to make, to our country, both nationally and locally.
I also pay tribute to a gentleman called Leonard Lawrence, who was one of the Windrush generation who left Jamaica and settled in Port Talbot, the largest town in my Aberavon constituency. Lenny the Lion, as he was known, helped to build Port Talbot town centre and Tawe Bridge and even prevented Swansea from flooding after seawater began coming through a hole in one of the lock gates at the dock. He worked on building the steelworks in Newport and on numerous construction projects around Port Talbot. He also worked in the Port Talbot steelworks.
Britain has a strong tradition of welcoming people from all around the world who decide to make their homes here, but like so many of the Windrush generation, Lenny experienced hostility, racism and inequality. I pay tribute to the fact that he was one of the founding members of the Swansea Bay association that allowed members of the Windrush generation to make their voices heard and to tell their stories.
It hurts me to say it, but while Britain, Wales and Aberavon have become more tolerant and welcoming places, a level of hostility and inequality has clearly continued into the 21st century. I refer particularly to the shameful hostile environment culture at the heart of the UK Conservative Government. This caused many of the Windrush generation to have their right to remain questioned, to be prevented from working or accessing NHS care, and even to be threatened with deportation. What a disgrace. The Home Secretary apologised, rightly so, and has committed to implementing all 30 recommendations from the lessons learned review, but just last week, Wendy Williams, who chaired the review, criticised the Home Office for failing to make adequate progress in changing the culture at that Government Department. This is no way to treat people who were integral to rebuilding our country after the second world war. They deserve better from our Government.
Events this year have shone a light on structural racism and inequality. The shocking and appalling killing of George Floyd was one such incident, but it is also extremely concerning that covid-19 has disproportionately impacted on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. No community is immune from racism or inequality, and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death I received correspondence from constituents who told me of their experiences of racism and hostility.
Aberavon is a warm and welcoming place, so to hear about these stories was deeply saddening. Behaviour such as that should not go unchallenged, so it was heartening that, in a show of solidarity, around 500 of my constituents gathered for a peaceful sit-down demonstration on the seafront in Aberavon as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign. That really helped our community to raise awareness of the issues, to increase education about the damage that racism causes, and to stand firmly against injustice and inequality.
One of the most valuable tools that we have in tackling racial injustice is education. Learning more about the contribution black people have made to our society is absolutely crucial, but confining black history to one month alone is not enough. So I welcome that Wales’s First Minister and Race Council Cymru have launched Black History Cymru 365 to ensure that black history is celebrated all year round. The Welsh Government have also established a new working group to advise on how to improve the teaching of themes relating to ethnic minority communities across all parts of the curriculum.
I want to close with two quotes that mean a lot to me. One is from the Durham miners:
“The past we inherit, the future we build”.
That goes to the heart of what we are discussing today. We cannot change our past but we must learn from it and build a better future for our future generations.
The second quote is from Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of this country, who said,
“it’s the people not like us that make us grow.”
That is so important. We learn so much more about ourselves by learning about the experience of others. It is those deeper insights, that more nuanced understanding and that honest and robust debate about our past and about the lived experience of others that will build a better society, better communities and a stronger and more cohesive United Kingdom.