HC Deb 27 January 2004 vol 417 cc160-1
16. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD)

What representations he has made in the past three months to applicant nations to the European Union on the human rights of their Roma citizens. [150702]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

As I have already informed the hon. Gentleman, we regularly raise the importance of equal rights for Roma and other minority groups with EU accession and candidate countries.

Bob Russell

I thank the Minister for that answer and his earlier answer about what I can describe only as the irresponsible, hysterical and misleading media reports about Roma, especially those from the Slovak and Czech Republics. Will he give an assurance that he is satisfied that the Governments of those two countries, either by deliberate act or omission, are encouraging Roma citizens to depart from the Slovak and Czech Republics?

Mr. MacShane

No. There is no doubt that the issue is sensitive, despite the rather unpleasant language used in some of our press. I had the pleasure of visiting a DFID-sponsored project in Bulgaria recently where Roma children were helped by a bilingual kindergarten—the project was dear to our embassy staff there. Our embassies in the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been active, and we have tried to support projects to defend the housing rights of Roma people and, for example, to train the Czech police to deal with minorities. That shows the experience that we can bring.

The problem is real, but I urge the House not to use language about Roma or any other minority such as that which shamed Britain in the 1930s when it was applied to Jews. There are Roma communities all over the existing European Union, and we must work with the applicant and candidate countries so that the Roma people may find their way inside the countries of which they are citizens.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

Will my hon. Friend specifically congratulate our friends in the Hungarian Government on the work that they have undertaken on poverty alleviation among their Roma communities?

Mr. MacShane

There has been an awakening of conscience about the issue which was frozen during the Communist era. The European Union maintains that respect for minority rights is an absolute condition of being a EU member state. We have helped in Budapest with a programme on Roma rights that was paid for by the Foreign Office called "Training the Trainers". There is also a Foreign Office-financed programme on Roma school desegregation, so we are not only talking about the matter, but actively trying to help. Again, I make an appeal that Roma minority rights must be respected. We must reject language such as that used in one tabloid paper when it referred to a "murderous mob" waiting to come here. Such unacceptable language is unworthy of British journalism and the House should have nothing to do with it.

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