HC Deb 25 March 2003 vol 402 cc148-9
5. Bob Russell (Colchester)

What recent representations he has made to applicant nations to the European Union about equal rights and safety for their Roma citizens. [104463]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)

The problems of the Roma community are regularly raised by our embassies in the countries concerned and by the European Commission in its regular progress reports. The UK's EU action plans in the relevant countries include projects in the Roma communities, as do EU pre-accession programmes. Indeed, action plans for Slovakia and Romania were personally launched by the Foreign Secretary last year.

Bob Russell

I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging response. Does he agree that it is somewhat ironic that the Roma communities across central and eastern Europe were protected under almost 50 years of communism, but now that those countries have become democracies, those people have tended to become second-class citizens? Particularly in the Slovak and Czech Republics, there is almost an indication that the state is allowing that state of affairs to pertain. May I encourage the Minister to ensure, and ask him to give an assurance, that further representations will be made, particularly to the Slovak and Czech Republics?

Mr. Rammell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and, in doing so, recognise his long-standing interest in this issue, although, his recollection of the rights of Roma citizens under the former communist regimes does not bear any scrutiny or comparison with what actually happened. We will keep pressing the issue and we fund a number of human rights projects and will continue to do so. I also believe that the process of enlargement, adherence to the Copenhagen criteria and the increased economic opportunities that come with enlargement will address the factors that currently force Roma citizens to leave their countries.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Is not the Minister right to say that the enlargement process has had a very positive effect on the member designate countries, which have a better understanding of this country's concerns about the way in which Roma citizens are treated? In his discussions with my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain), will he ensure that when the Convention on the Future of Europe is concluded, sufficient protection will be given to the rights of minority groups throughout Europe and, in particular, in the member designate countries?

Mr. Rammell

I believe that the accession process has already led to a significant improvement. Indeed, last year's regular report from the Commission not only highlighted progress that has been made in candidate countries, but, genuinely and legitimately, highlighted areas for further improvement. It is that issue on which we now need to focus. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's comments about the Convention on the Future of Europe are passed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain).

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