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Disgrifiad

Trawsgrifiad:

I’m currently Chairman of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, and have been since January 2013. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party - since I joined in 1979. But for the purposes of the interview I suppose my main involvement was that I was an official with the Labour Party, with the Wales Labour Party, as an assistant regional organiser, as it was then termed, from 1985 to 1991. And I then became one of the founding members of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, having headed up the referendum campaign for the Labour Party in 1997. And I was a Welsh Government minister from 1999 until I stood down in 2009 and left the National Assembly in 2011.

I was very conscious during my teenage years under the Labour government of Harold Wilson of 1964 to 1970, particularly Roy Jenkins when he was Home Secretary, of a very progressive movement towards what I suppose we would now call a rights-respecting approach by government. Obviously although the David Steel 1967 Act was a Private Member’s Act it was clear that it would never have reached the statute book if it hadn’t had the support of Government, and in particular Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary. Of course at the time you also had the decriminalisation of homosexuality and obviously there was a big drive towards tackling discrimination against black people. So it was a very progressive period even though he was only Home Secretary for two years, and the legacy was very clear. So while I was aware of that, in the, as a teenager, I’d always, I suppose, been on the left politically, for both political and personal reasons, which I’ll touch on later, abortion rights was always something I felt very strongly about.

As I’ve said, I became Assistant Regional Organiser, as it was then called, I think it’s now called Deputy General Secretary or Assistant General Secretary, of the Labour Party, and my boss was the then Regional Organiser, or the now – it would then be termed – it would now be termed General Secretary – was Anita Gale, who is now Baroness Gale, I think of Treherbert, a member of the House of Lords. She had previously been Assistant Regional Organiser before her promotion, and had been Secretary of the Regional Women’s Committee, as it was called then, the Wales Labour Party Women’s Committee, and was deemed the Women’s Officer. I took over that role when she was promoted, so I was actually Secretary of the Women’s Committee, I preferred that rather than being called the Women’s Officer - for obvious reasons (laughs). The Regional – at the time – just to give you some background in the structure, there were – obviously there were 40 Constituency Labour Parties in Wales; most, if not all, had what were called Women’s Councils, and that was the women’s organisation at a constituency level. And within each constituency party, within each Women’s Council, you could then have smaller Women’s Sections, which would either be based on, would organise on the basis of a Labour Party branch, or a ward. And then there would be an annual Women’s Conference, nearly always held in South Wales because that was where the bulk of the membership were, was located, and normally it would alternate between Swansea and Cardiff, although occasionally it was held in other venues. And then delegates from the Women’s Councils and the Women’s Sections elected delegates for the conference, and it was at the conference itself that the Regional Women’s Committee of the, the all-Wales, Wales Labour Party Women’s Committee, was elected.

Of course in those days, this was pre-devolution, the Labour Party was quite strongly centralist. The Wales Labour Party, I always felt, was quite deferential really towards the party at a UK level. I always noticed that the Scottish colleagues were much more assertive – they tended to knock the door down rather than knock on the door, we tended to knock on the door. So the Wales Labour Party Executive Committee, which was the ultimate, at a Wales Labour Party level, was the ultimate deciding body, was again elected at the Wales Labour Party Conference, and it didn’t really have a great deal of power, for example at every annual conference there would be resolutions passed, and most of those resolutions would end up being sent to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. And there was, and I felt this was the big difference between Wales and Scotland, there was a lack of confidence within the Party in Wales, and maybe that’s why the referendum for devolution in 1979, one of the reasons it was lost so heavily.

So any decisions by the Regional Women’s Committee would be on the whole, usually, sent to the Executive of the Wales Labour Party for consideration, although occasionally there would be those items which would be decided on and then referred to the national party. I think the other thing to bear in mind is that in the 1980s the Wales Labour Party was quite a heavily male-dominated organisation and culture. At the time there was only woman MP, that was Ann Clwyd, who was elected for Cynon Valley in 1985, and before that she’d been the MEP for Mid and West Wales, and I got to know Ann very well, in my time, both when I was a Labour Party activist before I became an official, and afterwards. And I think that has to be borne in mind, when you think of the political culture, in the Labour Party, it was heavily dominated by men, and older men at that, and at the same time it was heavily dominated by the trade unions, particularly then the Transport and General Workers’ Union, and the Miners’ Union, and the Engineers’ Union. So I think that’s important to stress, in terms of the political culture.

So raising any issue which was either seen as controversial or could be seen as affecting women in particular was always maybe a bit of a, an uphill struggle. In terms of the, the Regional Women’s Committee and the Women’s Conference - at the time, the Labour Party was quite, I would say, loyalist, in its view in it, it’s always struck me that the Labour Party in Wales has never really ever been, it was never particularly Blairite, in the 1980s, and it was never particularly - sorry, Bennite – in the 1980s, and neither was it particularly Blairite, when Tony Blair became leader. And it has always struck me that left-wing groupings were always, tended to be, quite small. I in particular, I was in, for example, a member of what was then the Labour Co-ordinating Committee in the early 1980s, and that’s where I first met someone who was to become a fellow Assembly Member and minister, Sue Essex. But these groups tended to be quite small and restricted to Cardiff and Swansea, and to some extent Newport as well. So again I think that needs to be borne in mind in terms of the political culture at the time.

But nevertheless there was a sort of – after the 1983 election there were lots of people who had joined - like myself in 1979 and subsequently – and certainly the women’s organisation I think had a fresh input, input or influx, of more left-wing, younger more left-wing women. And this was reflected in both the annual conference of the, both in Wales and at the UK level, and the party at a UK level, I remember, I was the organiser, before becoming the, one of the Wales organisers I was the Labour Party agent in Swansea in 1984. And the national, i.e. the UK Women’s Conference was held, actually held in Swansea, purely fortuitously my home town, and I was involved in the organisation of it. And I remember there was huge nervousness in the UK Labour Party organisation about the conference to be held. I wasn’t aware initially what lay behind this, but there had been, the Par – the Women’s Conference hadn’t been held for at least a year, or maybe longer, because the previous occasion it had been held, I think in Bridlington, and there had been some quite divisive debates, quite a lot of protests, with the influx of new, more radical left-wing women, and it had been quite a difficult occasion. The Party hadn’t actually held the Women’s Conference for some time. So the first time it had been re-held was in Swansea and I, I was involved in the Party organisation. So I suppose the women’s organisation reflected the wider party and you had a, on the whole a younger, more radical left-wing women round the Women’s Action Committee, for example, some of them were, had come from left-wing groups, Marxist groups, like the IMG or, what that became, the International Marxist Group and the SWP which then merged, became Socialist Action. And then on the one hand, on the other hand you had the more traditional and possibly older women, some of whom were councillors, either district or county councillors because at that time we didn’t have the unitary authorities as we do now, and maybe more traditional, with a union background. So you had, I wouldn’t say it was split, but there was a clear difference, I think, in both Conference and the Regional Women’s Committee. However, on certain issues, like abortion rights, and the abortion campaign, you would often I think both sides would come together and have common cause. The older women could remember a time when abortion was illegal, I don’t know whether any of them, I don’t recall anybody actually talking about their own personal experience, but certainly they were talking about experience of friends and family and neighbours who had gone through an experience, often horrifying experience, pre the 1967 Act. So I think this is one area where, I think, the, both wings, if you could put it like that, or the broad range of opinion, came together to campaign. And obviously there'd been previous approaches to amend or water down the 1967 Act, but of course it was the David Alton amendment, the second time he tried this, obviously he’d tried in 1980, and he tried again in 1987. And I don’t remember the detail, but, and hopefully this may be available through either the Regional Women’s Committee minutes, or the resolutions that go to the annual Women’s Conference, in 1987, and I hope those records still exist and the detail can be recovered, but certainly from my memory is, there was a real determination to support, to support the campaign, the National Abortion Campaign, and the other local campaigns too, and stop the Bill, the Alton Bill. And that would – so local Women’s Councils, Constituency Women’s Councils, Women’s Sections, Constituency Labour Parties, were all encouraged to lobby their own Members of Parliament, speak to their Members of Parliament where obviously they had Labour MPs, and to use any avenue they could to build support against the Alton amendment and the Alton Bill.

What was interesting, was that I remember, and bearing in mind that obviously as an official I wasn’t allowed to be politically active, but nevertheless I was hugely supportive of this for reasons I’ll go into later. I remember sending a report or resolution from the Women’s Committee to the Executive of the Party, which you must remember at the time was largely male-dominated, and dominated by the interests I mentioned before, the trade unions and older, maybe more right-of-centre – the Wales Labour Party Executive was never a left-wing body, or particularly radical. But I remember sending a report, or taking a resolution, to the Executive. And the debate that happened there, I remember Jack Brooks, Lord Jack Brooks, the late Lord Jack Brooks, expressing reservations, and concerns about the tone of the resolution and the motion, and it was clearly a concern that this was going to upset Catholic interests, not least in his constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth. So that gave a flavour of some of the politics that was going on at the time. But certainly the Women’s Committee, and many Women’s Councils and Women’s Sections across Wales were very active in the campaign. But bearing in mind that most MPs in Wales at the time were men, there was only, as far as I can remember at the time there was only one woman MP, Labour MP, Ann Clwyd. And of course there were those Members of Parliament like Paul Murphy, the MP for Torfaen, who was first elected in 87, who was Catholic. I don’t know what Paul’s position was on the amendment, I know I always found him a very reasonable man to deal with, but of course that was part of the, part of the, some of the, I wouldn’t say the subtleties, but some of the factors that we were aware of when as a committee we were supporting the campaign and trying to get support against, against the Bill. So certainly that was my recollection of the, of that 1987 attempt, I don’t know if that’s helpful, or useful. OK?

I suppose I couldn’t, as I’ve said I was an official from 1985, well 84 actually, including my time in Swansea, till 1991 where I left working for the Labour Party and went to work for Ford Motor Company. And I returned to active politics when I was asked by Ron Davies, who was then Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, and Peter Hain, to head up the referendum campaign in 1997. And it was always, throughout the time, whether it was from the Corrie attempt to amend the Bill, through Alton’s in 1980 and then 1987 and all the others, it was always something I felt very strongly about, and I probably, the thing I felt most consistently strongly about, amongst a lot of other things, of course, the 1980s was a time with a deep polarisation in British politics, very similar to what’s happening today. And it was some time later that I realised what it was – I was the youngest of five children, by some way, and I was born in 1952. And my mother had been a nurse, she had worked in, it wasn’t then the NHS, it was pre the NHS, it formed in 1948, so she worked under the old system, and was always passionate in support of the NHS, based on her experience as a nurse when it was effectively a private, privately delivered. She never ever returned to working as a nurse, and I always felt it was a huge loss, she was, as it turned out subsequently, my both parents died in 1987, and in going through their papers after their death it was clear that she was a very skilled and committed nurse, and her testimonials were glowing, so it always struck me as a tragedy that she never returned to nursing. It was some years after they died, and ironically after the Alton amendment, when I was still working for the Labour Party, that I was talking to one of my aunts who lived in Cardiff, and then subsequently Dinas Powys, who was my, one of my father’s sisters, who told me of an occasion when she had gone to see – I was born in Hereford, and grew up in Hereford – and she had gone to see my parents and she was talking to my mother, this would have been in 1951 I think, and my mother burst into tears, and when my Aunty Nesta asked my mum why she was, why she was so upset, she – my mum - said that she was pregnant. And obviously, it turned out to be with me. And she was distraught, because my twin brother and sister, who were six years older than me, they were born in 1946, were going to school, and my mother had been planning on going back to work as a nurse to, as she described it, buy gabardine macs for my twin brother and sister. And of course, with me coming along, she didn’t return to work and never did return to work. Although my aunty apparently lent her money to buy the gabardine macs. And I suppose, my mother suffered very badly from depression, on and off, and I think a lot of that was frustration, at never returning to work, she was obviously a very skilled and committed nurse. And it always felt very much a real waste.

So I suppose my reflection is that I’ve always been in favour of abortion, not necessarily because it’s a woman’s right to choose, but because I believe passionately that every child should be wanted. So I suppose that’s really the drive, been the drive for me. No, I just hope now that it’s, that the Act is a settled matter. I think the world has changed – not least, we have, I’m glad to say, a lot more women in the, as Members of Parliament, in Wales, but across the UK, and I was particularly delighted, because having campaigned for twinning in the elections for the very first Assembly, as a result of that very brave decision I think that the Party took and one that I was active in supporting at the time, we had a, the first legislature in the world, I think, which was 50 per cent men and women. And I was also delighted to serve alongside Rhodri Morgan as a minister, and to have I believe the first Cabinet in the world, of nine members, five were women and four were men.

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