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Isherwood: Equality and diversity in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"As an elected regional Member who worked well in excess of 40 hours per week during the recess across north Wales and who is terrified of the implications for liberal democracy of one political party dictating to another how it should select its candidates, I move the amendments on the grounds that everyone should have the right to fulfil his or her potential regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion or belief.

This is especially important in a society that is as diverse as those of Wales and Great Britain. For these reasons, I welcome the streamlining of the equality and race organisations to create a single entity. However, this organisation must not become a bureaucratic black hole that is only about political correctness and unnecessary interference.

I fully endorse good manners, and my mother took a similar approach to yours. In using the term 'political correctness', I mean the use of language that is not understood by the people whom we seek to represent.

We increasingly talk in a language that only we understand, and I am frequently told—and I am sure that you live in the same world as I do—that people do not understand what we are talking about in their names.

We must avoid the exclusion that is created by the use of fashionable, politically correct gobbledegook, by instead using concise and inclusive plain Welsh and English that ensures access through understanding to all.

We need an organisation that will provide guidance and implement the rule of law for those who are subjected to discrimination.

It is the duty of every member of a civilised society to respect fellow citizens, regardless of their personal circumstances. Vaclav Havel said that democracy is hard and that it requires everyone to participate. This requires the removal of barriers to equal access for all.

This, in turn, requires enabling legislation and statutory support, providing for equal access and inclusion for all. Therefore, we share the concern expressed by the Disability Rights Commission that its calls for single equality legislation have not been heard.

We also share the significant concerns of the Equal Opportunities Commission about aspects of the proposals in the White Paper relating to resources, equality legislation and powers.

We support the criteria identified by the EOC for a new body to be successful, noting in particular its ability to deal effectively with each of the equality strands without creating a hierarchy.

We support the statement made by the Commission for Racial Equality, not by us, that 'The government's proposal should be treated with the utmost seriousness, and any policy that affects equality should be subjected to several tests…Is it right in principle? Will it work in practice? Is it better than what we have now?'

We note with concern that 'On all three grounds the CRE concludes that the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights…as set out in the White Paper, Fairness for All…fails the test.'

If, as the CRE concludes, the implementation of 'Fairness for All' would weaken the cause of equality overall and offer so little for the so-called new strands of age, sexuality and religion or belief, relevant groups would receive second-class protection. If, as the Commission for Racial Equality concludes, the proposals will reduce a successor body's impact on authority, its capacity to reduce conflict within organisations and its capacity to meet the challenging objectives set for it by Government, then this Assembly must urge the UK Government to review its quick-fix position.

It must subject the new commission for equality and human rights to proper planning, evidence and risk assessment in order to provide equal protection to all protected groups, old and new, to deliver that protection for the vulnerable more quickly and to allow the existing equality bodies to learn to work together more effectively so that the whole of the new commission may truly become greater than the sum of its component parts.

To achieve this, I commend the work on cross-cutting discrimination being undertaken by the University of Wales, Bangor, as a member of the sequel development partnership between higher education institutions in England, Scotland and Wales and commend the approach being undertaken by each sequel partner, working with local employers and community groups to understand the complexities of discrimination related to equal access.

Finally, to capitalise on this, we must act urgently on the findings of research published this month by the University of Wales Swansea, on sustainable development in Wales, which found that: 'evaluation and evidence-based policy making were poorly represented in the policy process and that inter-organisation relationships were deficient in several areas, particularly between the Welsh Assembly and local government and the Welsh Assembly and Assembly sponsored public bodies'."

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