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Discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities has been ignored in parliament – we deserve protection too

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Thursday 09 January 2020 13:38 GMT
People shelter from rain during the Appleby Horse Fair, an annual gathering for Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities that dates back to 1685
People shelter from rain during the Appleby Horse Fair, an annual gathering for Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities that dates back to 1685 (Getty)

Lindsay Hoyle, firstly, may we congratulate you on your appointment to your new position of speaker of the House of Commons.

We write to you as race equality, human rights and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller organisations who are concerned about the increasingly hostile and inflammatory language used by parliamentarians to describe Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

We are raising our concerns that MPs are persistently using dehumanising language, demonising entire ethnic groups and contrasting Gypsies and Travellers with “hard-working taxpayers” and “law-abiding citizens”, insinuating that these ethnic groups are neither.

We consider that this is a clear breach of the guidance on parliamentary language as set out in the House of Commons “Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House” (2015), specifically points 20 and 22 as follows:

  • … good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language...
  • …The privilege of freedom of speech in debate … is a freedom which should be exercised responsibly, in the public interest, and take into account the interests of others outside this House. You should research carefully and take advice before exercising this freedom in sensitive … cases

Examples of such language include:

  • Referring to unauthorised encampments as “illegal encampments”. Unauthorised encampments are not “illegal”, they are just not authorised
  • Using warfare-related language, such as “incursions” or “invasions”, to describe unauthorised encampments
  • Accusations of causing “a huge amount of heartache to those law-abiding citizens in the settled community who have to deal with it”
  • Comments about burdens falling “on hard-working taxpayers”
  • “a big Traveller problem”
  • “an expensive menace”
  • “people in the UK who repeatedly suffer from being besieged by Gypsy and Traveller communities”
  • This year Surrey has been particularly plagued by groups who descend on open land...”

Invariably, derogatory comments about Gypsies and Travellers in parliament are made in the context of the existence of unauthorised encampments. Given that the Home Office has just released a further consultation, “Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments” (5 November 2019), as part of the government’s review of Unauthorised Encampments and Unauthorised Developments, we are concerned that there will be a further escalation of MPs using derogatory language.

Just 10 per cent of Gypsies and Travellers are living in caravans on the roadside because of the shortage of legal places to stop, yet parliamentarians’ language overwhelmingly heaps blame on Gypsies and Travellers for the systemic failures which make this tiny minority homeless.

Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Scottish and Welsh Gypsy Travellers are all defined ethnic groups and entitled to protection from discrimination under equality legislation. Given the scale of hostility and the impact of this on already marginalised groups and on community relations, we ask that in your role as speaker will ensure that MPs exercise their freedom responsibly on this sensitive matter and moderate hostile language discussing Gypsies and Travellers in parliament.

Abbie Kirkby, advice and policy manager, Friends, Families and Travellers
Ali Harris, chief executive of Equally Ours
Andy Gregg, chief executive, Race On The Agenda
Clare Collier, advocacy director, Liberty

Edie Friedman, executive director, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality
Fizza Qureshi, co-chief executive officer, Migrants’ Rights Network
Josephine O’Driscoll, chief executive officer, Gypsy and Traveller Empowerment Hertfordshire
Mike Ainsworth, chair, Cross Government Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime
Omar Khan, director, Runnymede Trust

Tebussum Rashid, deputy chief executive officer, Black Training Enterprise Group
Yvonne McNamara, director, Traveller Movement

The monarchy needs to change for good

The news about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle comes hot on the heels of the concerns created by the Prince Andrew issue. As a result, many will be reflecting on what the future of the British monarchy should look like, or indeed if there is much of a future for it at all.

For long enough we have heard that in Scandinavian countries there is a “slimmed-down” version of the institution. This could well be the time for us to look at that model.

The following changes would seem desirable:

  • Participation in the activities of the royal family should be purely voluntary
  • There should be no “hangers-on”
  • The role of the monarch should be seen to be what it really is – a somewhat decorative version of the role of president or head of state, as seen in most other countries

Perhaps there will be progress on bringing the monarchy into the 21st century in the near future.

Andrew McLuskey

The decision of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to quit the family business has taken most by surprise including the family itself. It’s not a matter of running away to join the circus but rather a matter of running away from the circus to join the real world.

They will spend their time in the United Kingdom and North America. Both countries may wonder what to do with a young family with no jobs or support, except probably numerous guards and staff and some money from the royal purse.

They want to work to become financially independent just like the rest of the world that isn’t born into wealth and power. They have both worked before, him in the military and her as an actor, although it is hard to imagine them continuing these roles.

The real tragedy will be for all of those magazines that make their money from scandalous suggestions of what is happening with the royal family.

Good luck, you will need it in the big harsh real world.

Dennis Fitzgerald

Right and Wrong

There are two things wrong in this world and two things right. The two things wrong are the human evolutionary survival trait of territorialism and the religious morality of “acceptable human behaviour”. America, Iran and Brexit are three very good examples of these two wrongs. The two things right are the European parliament with its core value of anti-nationalism and the secular principle of morality, “mitigation of cruelty”. To put things right in the UK and stop Putin laughing, all we need do is teach these common-sense facts to schoolchildren, break US sanctions against Iran, in return for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and revoke Article 50.

David Parsons

Billionaires in Mars

I was appalled to read of the three billionaire fantasists Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk planning to waste their billions on trips to rocks in the sky.

Their wealth could be used to better life on this planet. One project they could combine their efforts on would be to provide fresh, clean drinking water to all people who, at present, have to rely on polluted rivers, wells and water holes for their essential drinking water.

I am sure there are other projects that you and your readers can propose.

Michael Pate

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