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Charities call on House of Commons Speaker to tackle hostile language against Gypsies and Travellers

Today, Friends Families and Travellers and other race equality, human rights and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller organisations have written a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. The letter, which can be read below, raises concerns about the language used by parliamentarians to describe Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in Parliament, which has become increasingly hostile and inflammatory. Here is the letter in full:

“Dear Sir Lindsay,

Re: Concerns that Parliamentarians use of language exacerbates race hate

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 language used by parliamentarians to describe Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in Parliament which has become increasingly hostile and inflammatory.

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 not hard-working taxpayers and ‘law-abiding citizens.

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 language include:

  • Referring to unauthorised encampments as ‘illegal encampments’. Unauthorised encampments are not ‘illegal’, they are just not authorised.
  • Using warfare related language to describe unauthorised encampments, such as ‘incursions’ or ‘invasions’.
  • ‘..causes a huge amount of heartache to those law-abiding citizens in the settled community who have to deal with it..’
  • ‘..which falls on hard-working taxpayers..’
  • ‘..a big Traveller problem’
  • ‘ 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 and given that the Home Office have 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% 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 you will ensure that MPs exercise their freedom responsibly on this sensitive matter and moderate their hostile language discussing Gypsies and Travellers in Parliament.

Yours sincerely

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

Dr 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”


Notes for Editor

About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)

Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works on behalf of all Gypsies, Roma and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.

Media Contact

Sami McLaren, Communications Officer

Tel: 01273 234 038 Email: [email protected]


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