THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has been called upon to take more positive steps to tackle hate crime in Wales.
The earnest and consensual tone of the debate was, however, undermined afterwards by a furious attack on a Plaid Cymru amendment by UKIP.
In a Senedd debate on Tuesday, October 17, members debated the impact of hate crime in Wales’ communities and progress being made to stem the tide of prejudice and violence.
The debate took place against the background of National Hate Crime Awareness Week.
‘UNNOTICED CRIMES’ TO BE TACKLED
Moving the substantive motion, Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant said: “All hate crimes are abhorrent. We have seen a number of awful incidents across the UK this year, and I would like again to extend my sympathies to the victims, their families, and everyone affected.”
The Communities Secretary continued to state that while large hate crimes took the headlines, the Welsh Government was also committed to tackling the sort of hate crimes which happen on a smaller scale ‘which often go unnoticed in the wider world’.
In the previous year, Mr Sargeant reported that the figures for hate crime show that 2,941 hate crimes were reported in Wales during 2016-17, which is a 22.3% increase on 2015-16. However, while he was disappointed by the increase, which he explained was attributable to ensuring that such offences were reported and catalogued correctly, he explained that more victims were encouraged to come forwards than hitherto.
Mr Sargeant sounded a warning note of ‘real concern at the rising number of hate crimes committed last year’, including racial abuse; people being shouted at simply for speaking a language other than English—in some cases where the language being used was Welsh; and even of disabled people suffering abuse on buses and trains.
79% RISE IN RACE HATE CRIMES
Responding for the Conservatives, Mark Isherwood revealed to members that overall, police-recorded hate crimes in England and Wales in 2015-16 increased a further 19%, with 79% being race hate crimes.
In July to September 2016, police-recorded hate crime increased 52 per cent in Dyfed Powys to 35 incidents, 22% in north Wales to 56 incidents, 22% in Gwent to 77 incidents and 10% in south Wales to 276 incidents.
Police-recorded hate crime figures in England and Wales published this weeks show a further 29% rise in 2016-17.
Mr Isherwood said: “Home Office statisticians say that this is thought to reflect both a genuine rise in hate crime and ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police.
“Last month, new research showed that the number of lesbian, gay and bi people in Wales experiencing hate crime had jumped from 11 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent this year.”
PLAID AMENDMENT ‘TENDENTIOUS’
Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Jenkins moved an amendment to the motion that called on the Welsh Government to tackle the ‘radicalisation of white men into far right groups’.
While that amendment did not cause a great deal of debate on the floor of the Senedd, although Neil Hamilton from UKIP suggested although he and his party broadly supported the Welsh Government’s efforts there was an ‘attempt to use the issue of hate crime in order to grind political axes’ and described Plaid’s amendment as ‘tendentious’.
After the debate had concluded and the motion passed – including the Plaid amendment – Mr Hamilton’s response and that of his party was a little less measured and far more direct.
SINGLING OUT WHITE MALE RACISTS UNFAIR
A statement from UKIP claimed that ‘Plaid Cymru are once again burying their heads in the sand of Islamic political extremism’.
The statement continues: ‘Plaid Cymru’s amendments are an attempt to divert attention from the main practical problem. By singling out white men, they are also targeting individuals on a racial and gender basis’.
Focusing on the headline events instead of the detail of the motion reporting hate crimes at the local and community level as in the debate, the statement says: ‘The facts show that Islamist terror poses the largest threat to our communities and that should receive the bulk of police and intelligence resources.
‘The activities of individuals and groups described by Plaid Cymru as “far right” cannot be ignored but they are peripheral to the main risk to our safety and liberty posed by ISIS and other so-called ‘Islamic’ groups’.
UKIP Group Leader Neil Hamilton commented: “Plaid Cymru needs to wake up and stop making excuses for politicised Islamic extremism. Political correctness blinds Plaid Cymru to the real threat to British liberal values and undermines the protection of our way of life from those most ready and willing to destroy it.”
The fact that the hate crime debate referenced the increasing number of small incidents of criminal behaviour that targeted people on the basis of their difference from others that took place in small communities, towns, and cities across Wales and was not about terrorism was not mentioned in the release. The fact that those incidents usually – but not always – consisted of racial abuse directed at minorities was also not mentioned.
Halfway to Paradise
PARLIAMENT had its first opportunity to discuss the unsurprising revelation that the seriously wealth retain their serious wealth by means of aggressive tax avoidance schemes on Monday (Nov 6).
With the Chancellor of the Exchequer engaged elsewhere, questions were fielded by Financial Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Mid Devon, Mel Stride.
It appeared that Mr Stride was unprepared to admit that anything was at all untoward with tax avoidance schemes that only the rich and shameless can afford.
Adopting a startling line – prefigured by briefings to the right wing national media – Mr Stride averred that there was no ethical difference between a retail investment available to all UK residents, namely the ISA, and Apple sending out a questionnaire to British Crown Dependences asking them whether or not they would be so kind as to allow Apple to use a brass plate in one of them to ensure it did not have to pay that pesky tax on hundreds of billions in profits.
Never mind brass plate: Mr Stride’s stance had the appearance of brass neck.
In fact, he made great play of the fact that Labour – last in government seven years ago – had done nothing to close the tax loopholes the party now complained of during thirteen years in power. And he was helped in repeatedly avoiding – or perhaps evading – the main issue by being given the opportunity to underline that point by a number of tame questions posed by Conservative backbench stooges.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, presented with the opportunity to make a decent and succinct point on the subject attempted to ask questions of Mel Stride, specifically with regard to investments made by the Duchy of Lancaster – whose current chancellor is Conservative MP Patrick Loughlin – on the Queen’s behalf in offshore tax vehicles.
He may as well have tried nailing jelly to the wall.
David Lammy invited the minister to explain the legitimate reasons for funnelling money offshore to avoid tax, when two-thirds of UK taxpayers are subject to PAYE and have no choice in the matter.
Mr Stride’s response was as remarkable for ducking the question as it was for its content.
“It may be that I want a trust for my children and I do not want it to be known publicly exactly how that trust will operate, for reasons of confidentiality,” Mr Stride suggested, indicating that all was preventing the average worker from availing themselves of the opportunity was a lack of ingenuity and the odd £10m knocking around to make such a vehicle worthwhile.
Jonathan Edwards’ question and its answer deserve full repetition to underline the extent to which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was prepared to be candid.
Jonathan Edwards asked: “After nearly a decade of austerity, and with living standards facing their biggest squeeze in nearly a century, the public will, quite rightly, be outraged by the most recent revelations. The Treasury cannot run with both the foxes and the hounds on this, so will it back either the ordinary working people or the super-rich? Which will it be?”
So, the question is whether the government back the wealthy over the poor and acknowledge the outrage of those with no choice but to hand over their money to the Treasury.
Mr Stride’s response suggests he heard an entirely different question.
“The hon. Member talks about our having to live within our means, and it is, of course, right that we do that. He talks about the amount of money we need to bring in. What has been most unhelpful is that the previous Labour Government were so ineffective at bringing in tax, the tax gap became so high they cost our country over £40b. If they had had the same average level of tax gap in their last seven years in office as we have had in our seven years, we would be about £45 billion better off.”
An answer to the question actually posed was absent.
It was that sort of performance. Brazen, shameless, partisan, and deliberately obstructive.
Mr Stride will go far on that sort of form.
New leader for Welsh Liberal Democrats
JANE DODDS has been elected by Welsh Liberal Democrat Members as the party’s new Leader, beating Ceredigion candidate Elizabeth Evans in a keenly-fought contest.
Jane Dodds, Montgomeryshire Candidate and child protection social worker, takes over the role from Acting Leader Kirsty Williams immediately.
The result was announced to an audience of members in Cardiff by returning officer Lord German.
Jane Dodds, the new Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, commented: “It is an honour to have been elected as the next leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats – to focus my energy on bringing like-minded people together to rebuild our party and to re-establish the Welsh Liberal Democrats as the radical, progressive force of Welsh politics.
“I’d like to thank Liz Evans for running an excellent campaign and giving members a vital opportunity to discuss our next steps as a party. I’d also like to pay tribute to Mark Williams and Kirsty Williams for their unwavering commitment to our party.
“Wales needs the Welsh Liberal Democrats now more than ever. Wales needs the progressive, pragmatic, and reforming voice of Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Assembly and in Westminster to give us an exit from Brexit, a fresh look on creating more and better paid jobs, protecting our environment, and delivering on Kirsty Williams’ education reforms.
“We have been down, but we aren’t out, and I’m confident of what lies ahead for my party.”
Kirsty Williams AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary for Education said: “The Welsh Liberal Democrat membership had two fantastic candidates to choose between. Two proud Welsh women with long records of standing up for their communities.
“What has become clear over the last few years is that nothing can be taken for granted. We must fight tooth and nail for the values that we liberals hold dear.
“I know that the Welsh Liberal Democrats will be safe in Jane’s hands. I know she has the skills, drive and energy as we look to rebuild this great party.”
Impact of Brexit on Wales discussed
PARLIAMENTARY questions last Thursday (Oct 26) were not easy for Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis.
Nailed to the spot about pronouncements he had made to a committee of MPs the previous day which had rapidly been contradicted by the Prime Minister, he managed to combine apparent certainty that there was no tension between his position and government policy (whatever that turns out to be) with an unwillingness to acknowledge that anyone could conceivably be concerned about Parliamentary sovereignty being bypassed by the refusal to give it a vote on Brexit’s terms.
For those who backed Brexit on the principle that parliamentary sovereignty and the ability of the House of Commons to make and scrutinise legislation was of paramount importance, it was uncomfortable listening.
Bluster and bloody-mindedness, it is rapidly turning out, are no substitute for the ability to master a brief, understand it, express it, and stick to it.
In fact, the position was rendered even worse by statements made by the Ministers of State in Mr Davis’ own department the previous day that they had not even bothered to read, let alone understand, briefing papers prepared for them by their own civil servants on the potential impact of leaving the EU. You might suppose that ignorance is bliss and, if it is, the Minister wished to share its blessings widely by refusing others the opportunity to examine that of which they remain willfully – and, no doubt ecstatically, ignorant.
After being offered sympathy by Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Sir Kier Starmer for the difficulties in which he found himself, Mr Davis was successively hit by a series of exasperated questions – some from his own colleagues – to which he offered increasingly snappy and impatient answers.
Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards, who has the misfortune of seeming to be more familiar with Mr Davis’ brief than Mr Davis does himself and doomed to try to educate pork as a result, attempted to get a straight answer on whether or not the UK Government would seek endorsements for the Brexit deal – if any – from devolved administrations.
Jonathan Edwards reminded MPs that national and regional Parliaments within EU member states will all be consulted on the final withdrawal deal and that six months have been allocated for that process.
Mr Edwards asked Brexit Secretary David Davis that ‘in order to ensure that the future relationship works for every part of the British state’ did he agree that ‘the formal endorsement of the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly should be sought before any final deal is reached—or is it going to be a case of “Westminster knows best”?’
In response, Mr Davis again failed to guarantee Wales a voice in the deal, stating ‘this is a treaty for the United Kingdom’.
Bearing in mind the continued absence of any commitment to discuss with ministers within the devolved administration on any substantive points, it seems that the UK Government is increasingly determined to go its own way and drag the other nations of the UK along behind it.
Speaking after Mr Davis’ shambolic and ill-tempered performance, Jonathan Edwards said: “As I and my Plaid Cymru colleagues have said before: the British Government is using the Brexit process as a means of re-centralising power in Westminster, rolling back the progress we have made towards self-government in order to reinstate Westminster-rule.
“In his answer to me this week the Brexit Secretary once again fails to guarantee our democratically elected representatives in the Welsh Parliament a formal role in influencing the deal with the European Union. This is particularly concerning when we consider the profound economic differences between Wales and England.
“The position of the British Government is even more insulting when we consider that devolved governments within the other EU member states will have an opportunity to influence and effectively veto the deal. The British government needs to say why it refuses to afford the same right to the devolved governments here.”
However, on Monday (Oct 30) the UK Government made an effort to – at least partly – assuage those concerns.
First Minister Carwyn Jones met with Theresa May in Downing Street in an attempt to at least break down the conflict between the Senedd and Westminster on how a way forward might be found in relation to what Mr Jones had previously described as ‘a constitutional crisis’.
Speaking to BBC Wales after the meeting, Mr Jones said: “Progress is now being made in making sure there is agreement as to the way forward, not imposition. But that progress needs to continue. We’re not in a position yet to support the bill.
“The bill needs to change so the warm words that we hear are reflected on the face of the bill, and that means making sure that powers meant to come to Wales do come to Wales.”
Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: “I’m optimistic that the Welsh government will be able to respond to the new powers that they’ll get, but also that we’ll have a common framework around the UK that will work for business and for stakeholders and for investors.”
A No 10 spokesperson said Mrs May and Mr Jones ‘spoke about constructive dialogue at the recent Joint Ministerial Committee and the progress made on working together to establish principles on common frameworks’.
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