HL Deb 03 October 2000 vol 616 cc212-3WA
Lord Lester of Herne Hill

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they intend to take to give effect to General Recommendation XXVII of August by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination against Roma and to improve the situation of Roma and their protection against discrimination. [HL3846]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I should emphasise that Roma within the United Kingdom already receive the protection that current legislation provides. The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful for anyone to discriminate against another on racial grounds. A Bill currently before Parliament will amend the 1976 Act by extending it to the functions of public authorities not currently covered by the Act, including the police service, and will put a statutory duty on public authorities to promote racial equality.

It is also an offence to incite racial hatred against the Roma community by virtue of Part III of the Public Order Act 1986. And racist violence and harassment towards members of the Roma community falls under the new racially aggravated offences in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

The Government are investing £14 million each year through the Standards Fund to promote the access, regular attendance and higher levels of achievement of Roma pupils. And legal requirements have been placed on schools with regard to the admission procedures for Roma children. There has also been investment in the production of books and learning materials which portray the Roma as a positive and rich culture that has a legitimate place in United Kingdom and European society. Intensive programmes of in-service training for teachers are provided by the Traveller Education Services, which most Local Education Authorities have had in place for a number of years.

The Government also announced that they would be making available over the next three years £17 million to help local authorities to improve and refurbish a limited number of existing Gypsy and Traveller sites. Details of the scheme will be published later this Autumn.

The United Nations and Council of Europe have become increasingly concerned at the problem of discrimination against the Roma community in Central and Eastern Europe. We are committed to ensuring that this issue is properly addressed at the World Conference on Racism in South Africa next year.

There is also a substantial programme of work run by the Council of Europe to address this problem, which the United Kingdom Government has actively supported. We have provided funding for projects in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Department for International Development is involved in a number of programmes aimed at encouraging central and local governments to address the needs of Roma communities, and the Home Office is in the process of arranging a major programme of race awareness training for police in the Czech Republic.