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International Roma Day

Volume 753: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2014

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

My Lords, why is there an International Roma Day on 8 April? It was declared in 1990 to acknowledge the first major international meeting of Romany representatives who had founded the International Romani Union in April 1971. The different groups who make up the Roma peoples were finally motivated to come together to form a united front against the prejudice, discrimination and violent persecution which had dogged them since they first arrived in Europe in the 14th to the 16th centuries. The IRU now has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Committee and institutional links with the Council of Europe, OSCE and other UN agencies. The excellent pack produced by the Library gives more information.

The motivation in the 1970s perhaps drew on the increasing capacity and political consciousness of a small number of educated Roma Europeans, but the declaration in 1990 had more to do with the persistent and indeed often growing hatred expressed by populist movements unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet hegemony, backed in many cases by the state itself. Let me briefly set the scene.

Because until recently there was no written history, the reasons why these people migrated west from northern India in the 11th century are not fully understood. However, the world was full of migration then, even more so than now, as readers of the fascinating Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies will know. Until Europe solidified into nation states, it was more or less normal to owe major allegiance to a much smaller group. Of course, many of them gained dominance through warring against others, but the Roma are distinctive in not going to war against their neighbours as well as travelling, and thus they did not found a state. They travelled via Persia, the Middle East—hence the British term “Gypsies”—and Turkey, adding words from those languages to their native Indian language as they went. It is only through linguistic analysis of the present-day European Romani languages that these steps can be traced. One theory for the discovery of their ancient roots has it that a Hungarian student at Leiden University in the 1760s recognised in the language of his fellow students from Malabar in India words used by Roma slaves on his father’s estate.

In contrast to ethnic groups who conquered and seized territories, the Roma have experienced only brief periods of acceptance. The story of the relegation of these peoples, who insisted on preserving their culture without fighting, to a demonised or sometimes exoticised limbo has many cruel twists and turns. In our time, the culmination was the genocide during the Nazi Holocaust, when perhaps a quarter of their number was annihilated.

However, even this did not give the nation states of Europe pause. It is important, I think, to recognise in the life-threatening persecution experienced by Roma in so many European countries an extreme tendency of a sadly common human trait. The treatment of the Roma is a European scandal, but racist persecution is hardly confined to Europe. I think we should admit that it is human and general, and work out more thoroughly why it is that worthwhile emotions of solidarity with one’s own can be transformed into murderous extinction of those who are different. We enjoy the more or less harmless rivalry of national and local football teams, but we have not learnt how to call a halt to extreme and violent separateness. In a time when the mysteries of the origin of the universe are increasingly within our grasp, could we not pay a bit more attention to the safety and security of its inhabitants? Could we mark International Roma Day in this way?

In the European domain, one forgotten area is the situation of the Roma in Kosovo. Tens of thousands of them fled the Balkan wars for refugee camps set up by the United Nations in 1999. These were, however, heavily contaminated by lead. Eventually, after several years of much pressure, the families were moved, although not to their original home, which the incoming Albanians appropriated. Their children suffered serious lead poisoning but were not afforded any treatment other than dietary supplements. Your Lordships will be aware of the brain damage and behavioural difficulties which follow a high level of lead poisoning. May I ask the Minister to find out what in the EU aid sent to address this problem was aimed at reversing the physical effects of the poison—to the extent that that could be done—and what more can be done?

Another issue for these unfortunate victims of a conflict for which they bore no responsibility is that they became effectively stateless, with therefore none of the rights to assistance which accrue to residents or to nationals. It is a long and complicated story, and I have only skimmed over what seem to me to be the essentials. Can the Minister tell noble Lords what knowledge she has now of the residence rights of the Roma in Kosovo and what pressure Her Majesty’s Government can bring to improve their position?

The American Secretary of State, Mr John Kerry, marked last year’s International Roma Day by reaffirming the determination of the United States to achieve, together with European Governments, equality, opportunity and inclusion for all Roma. I commend those British faith leaders who signed a letter a few weeks ago to the mayor of Cluj-Napoca in Romania, urging him to stop the deportation of his Roma citizens to substandard accommodation on polluted industrial land, and I am delighted that the right reverend prelate the Bishop of St Albans will speak today.

What will our Government do now to signal the repugnance I hope we feel for the treatment meted out to Roma all over Europe, and to enable remedies? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had a good record so far, through both diplomatic efforts and exchange of good practice, as the noble Baroness has had the task of informing me many times through Parliamentary Questions, for which I am grateful. So I hope for more good news on the diplomatic side.

How is International Roma Day to be marked in the UK? We still have widespread expression of prejudice and many attacks. We have made it hard for children of Romany descent, whether recent immigrants or citizens of many centuries’ standing, to attend school and thus gain the credentials which will lever them out of poverty. I declare an interest as chair of the Department for Education’s stakeholder group for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma education. Health outcomes are worse than for any other minority ethnic group. Despite that, we have responsible Roma citizens who have formed constructive neighbourhood groups and who are anxious that the positive values of their culture should be properly acknowledged, as well as their extraordinary history. It would be good to hear of their heroes of our two world wars, of our writers of Romany descent and even of Members of your Lordships’ House who are descended from the Gypsy kings—and there are some.

Surely it is good to have among us groups which value family solidarity, which care for their children throughout the extended family, which respect old people and which have the culture of enterprise and skill, albeit one that needs easier entry into modern circumstances. Surely nothing can be gained by marginalising people, other than the risk of marginalised behaviour on the part of a few and much hardship for many.

The previous Government funded Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. The present Government refuse to devise a strategy to comply with the European Union framework on Roma integration to which they signed up. The European Commission is holding a European Roma summit in two days’ time. Ministers from most member states will be going but so far none from the UK. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell me who will attend on our behalf.

Finally, the Decade of Roma Inclusion Secretariat Foundation has commissioned a prominent British charity, the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, to monitor the progress made in the UK on this framework. I hope it has a better story to tell when it reports in the summer than what we see now. I urge the noble Baroness to exert what pressure she can in her faith and communities role to target resources on the unfair plight of our oldest and most neglected minority ethnic group, and to mark International Roma Day by this commitment.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for securing this debate, and give my sincere apologies for arriving just after she had started her speech. I am sorry; I had been told that we were starting around 6 pm so I ran down the Corridors to get here.

I am very glad that we are thinking about how we mark International Roma Day next week. As the noble Baroness said, I was glad to be one of the signatories of the letter that was published on 17 February in the Telegraph, highlighting the forced eviction of Roma in Cluj-Napoca in Romania. I then tabled a Question to ask the Minister whether any representations had been made to the Government of Romania, and in particular if she would urge the Romanian Government to enforce the decision of the Cluj-Napoca county court that the evictions targeting the Roma community were illegal.

I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s reply and for the assurance that the British embassy there was monitoring these and other forced evictions of Roma, although I was concerned to learn that the decision of the Cluj-Napoca court was subject to appeal. Is the Minister able to give us any update on what has happened since then? Is she able to tell us about the response of the local government following the British embassy visit to Cluj on 11 February, when the issue of forced evictions was raised? Will she also tell us more about the progress being made by the partnership with the local NGO to develop projects aimed at preventing disadvantaged Roma children leaving school before the minimum age?

The situation in Romania is worrying but similar situations can be found in many other countries and they are equally worrying. The danger is that we spend quite a lot of time thinking about the problems elsewhere rather than focusing on some of the very evident problems that we have here. Britain is rightly proud of its long and honourable tradition of welcoming immigrants and fighting discrimination. If International Roma Day is to have any real significance, there needs to be some action behind it.

I know something of the background because in my own diocese we have a Roma congregation. When you meet people from that congregation, you will find that stories of discrimination are commonplace. The Roma church in Luton meets in a United Reformed Church building—it is one of those ecumenical initiatives that we are all involved in nowadays. The leadership is shared between one of my own clergy, the Reverend Martin Burrell, and some of the Roma men from the congregation. The church began meeting in May 2011; it has an average weekly congregation of around 70 people; and it has children’s programmes for different age groups. All the congregation are Romanian in their ethnic roots, although many did not come directly from Romania to the UK.

They are not a homogeneous group—they come from different parts of Romania and belong to different family groups—yet many share similar stories of rejection and racism. There is a certain unwillingness to talk about it, as they want to fit in and, not surprisingly, want to be viewed as normal—as just regular people in the community. There is no doubt that the Roma’s historic problems with integration have been compounded by some confusion, certainly in the popular mind, over Roma and Romania and some of the current issues around migration, especially at a time when the economy here has not been in such good health.

There have been a significant number of Roma economic migrants, especially since 2007. Interestingly enough, the majority would describe themselves as Christian. Therefore, the Church of England has a particular responsibility to engage with them, to minister to them, to provide them with a safe place to meet and worship, and to help and support them in all the practicalities of life towards integration into the wider community.

It is encouraging that some members of that congregation are making significant progress in integrating and building their lives here in the UK, although others are still struggling to break through. Local churches are seeking to provide holistic service to this community, in which multiple, complex needs are evident. Such needs include difficulties in accessing education, employment, social services and medical care. Part of the problem is a language barrier to being able to benefit from much needed help. For these, the provision of translation allows discussions with doctors, schoolteachers and so on that would otherwise be very difficult.

There is a great deal of work for those of us in the churches and the voluntary sector to do, and we are applying ourselves to it and engaging with it. However, there is a vital role to play for Her Majesty’s Government. Tackling the current paucity of employment opportunities for the Roma must be prioritised if long-term social cohesion is to be achieved. I believe that there is a large potential workforce of young, intelligent and willing people whose skills, if they can be linked to needs on the ground, could be a huge benefit to us all. Literacy and language barriers often form some of the difficulties, so we need to do more to make available to Roma people work opportunities that perhaps do not require the highest level of spoken English or literacy at the same time as focusing on education.

The report, They Go the Extra Mile, produced by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, pointed out that Roma pupils have the lowest attainment rate of any ethnic group at GCSE and that the highest rates of formal and legal exclusion were for children from Roma, Irish Traveller and Caribbean backgrounds. The level of fixed-term exclusion is worryingly high for these groups, compared with the 5% of children from the general population who have a fixed-term exclusion. The level for Roma Traveller children is 15%.

The first recommendation of the report, backed up by the Children’s Commissioner, concluded:

“We share Ministers’ conviction that a child’s background should not limit our shared expectations of their achievement. We believe that this holds as true for behaviour as for academic attainment. We therefore recommend that all parts of the education system that disproportionately and adversely affect the most vulnerable children remain priorities for action. This includes the large differences in rates of exclusion”.

I have no doubt that there are some complex cultural reasons why we are facing some of these difficulties. I am not naive; I know many teachers who are working with populations which come to this country. Therefore, the education, support and resourcing of heads and teachers is vital if we are to lower the level of exclusion and raise the level of academic achievement. Can the Minister tell us whether the Department for Education has any particular plans to help work and support in this specific area?

Of course, I am well aware that funding is, as always, tight but is there any opportunity for us to create posts for Roma community champions who can model good citizenship to their own people and help with integration? The creation of drop-in centres where there are significant Roma populations to provide advice and education could also have a dramatic impact in preventing current inefficient practices and reducing crime, thereby saving money.

I hope that we will have some assurance from Her Majesty’s Government about a more considered response on the European Roma integration strategy, which the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, mentioned a few moments ago. That is a really important way forward.

Finally, I was very heartened by what was news to me but will probably be familiar to all Members of your Lordships’ House: the foundation of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association. Through this new association, members of the police force—men and women of varying seniority—work together to encourage one another in their commitment to their own vocation as police officers and to help recruitment. This is an important aspect of how we can integrate Roma more into our communities. I know that the local branch has just been launched down in Kent. Can the Minister tell us if there are any other ways in which we could strengthen and encourage the formation of other branches of this police association throughout the country?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker on initiating this debate. What a shame it is that so few noble Lords have seen fit to contribute to it. It is perhaps sad testimony to the marginal nature of Roma in our society and in Europe more generally that that should be the case.

International Roma Day was set up for two purposes: to publicise the suffering and hardship that has marked the history of the Roma in Europe; and at the same time to celebrate Romany culture, the origins of which—as my noble friend said—seem to go back some 1,000 years. When one considers the enormous progress that has been made in overcoming persecution and discrimination against stigmatised groups in Europe, such as the Jews, the unhappy situation of the Roma almost everywhere is utterly scandalous.

There are 10 million to 12 million Roma living in Europe, plus several million more living in adjoining countries. For example, Turkey has a very substantial minority Roma population. According to most estimates, there are some 200,000 Roma living in the UK. Contrary to popular imagery, the majority of these are not recent immigrants but are long-standing citizens whose forebears have been resident here for several generations back or more. They have long been subject to the same scare stories as in other countries, but these have recently resurfaced, sometimes in virulent form here, as part of the climate of hostility to immigration fostered, if I may say so, in some sectors of the press.

A survey sponsored by the World Bank, UNDP and the European Commission carried out in 2011 gives statistical flesh to the reality of social exclusion affecting the Romany populations across Europe. It covered 11 EU member states and the findings are quite shocking. Levels of unemployment among the Romany people are on average three times those of the indigenous populations of the countries of which they are a part. Some 90% of the Roma across Europe live below national poverty lines. About a quarter of the Roma have no formal access to healthcare.

How can we stop International Roma Day being simply a nominal event, forgotten about the next day —Sunday’s speeches not followed up on Monday; or, in this case, Wednesday’s speeches not followed up on Thursday? I suggest three strategies, because we are dealing with deeply embedded problems and superficial policies will make no impact. I have three main points to make and I would be pleased if the noble Baroness would comment on whether she endorses them.

First, speaking as a sociologist, it seems important to have a comparative perspective. There is one very interesting comparison, although it is barely known in this country: the comparison that one could make between the Roma in Europe and the Burakumin in Japan. The Burakumin have faced ostracism and persecution, just like the Roma, lasting over many centuries. The Burakumin are physically indistinguishable from other Japanese. They are clustered in occupations which used to be considered impure or degrading. There have been many years of official denial of exploitation and exclusion within Japan, but that is now changing dramatically. There is a new generation of Buraku activists, such as the Buraku Liberation League. Interestingly, it has had close contacts recently with Roma activist groups in Europe.

The lesson, if you look sociologically at the Burakumin, is one that applies directly to the Roma in Europe and explains their long history. There is a causal spiral whereby forms of ostracism and prejudice help to create and reinforce the very traits which the wider public then condemn. The two cases are amazingly similar. For example, recklessness and criminality become real. They are produced by ostracism and then reinforce ostracism. That produces a deep historical cycle, which must be broken through.

Secondly, to see how we might do that in the case of the Roma in Europe and such other historical examples, we need more anthropological studies of how those mechanisms of exclusion work and how they are translated into those somewhat oppressive characteristics. In the case of the Roma, by and large, we simply do not have those studies. However, some are starting to appear. For example, there is a very interesting study sponsored by the World Bank, which has become involved in the Roma situation, which is concentrated on poverty, social exclusion and ethnicity in Serbia and Montenegro. That study is based on in-depth research, and it shows clearly how specific the cycle of exclusion is.

The implication which is correctly drawn by the World Bank is that we will never get anywhere in improving the situation of the Roma by concentrating on isolated policy interventions, no matter how attractive they might be on the surface. For example, there is a lot of material on trying to address the poverty of Roma children through education, but the research shows that that is subverted. We will not get very far simply by introducing well intentioned single-plank policies. We must address structural problems within the Roma communities.

Thirdly, in Europe, an investment-driven approach is the way forward, not one based simply on improved access to welfare. Modelling carried out by the World Bank indicates that full Roma integration in Europe, if set up as in its model, would produce a net economic gain of €0.5 billion a year to the EU economies. Breaking through the centuries of prejudice would therefore represent a major social investment, not just an additional cost to be foisted on an already overburdened system of welfare states. Interestingly, the World Bank has outlined how such an investment-driven strategy might be instituted. Its advantage is that it has electoral appeal as well as being directly relevant to the mechanisms of exclusion which have kept the Roma on the outside for so long. I hope the Minister will agree with these points and that she might build on them in her reply.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker on initiating this debate and my noble friend Lord Giddens for, as usual, describing pretty much exactly what should happen next. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate, whose newness we are aware of and who will learn that debates in your Lordships’ House are sometimes a moveable feast. I think we have all been there.

I will start with a short quote. I express my appreciation to the René Cassin charity for its campaign on the chronically excluded. Its short exposition of the issues surrounding the Roma starts with this quote from Ruth Barnett, the author and activist:

“I have no right to protest against anti-Semitism unless I also protest at other peoples being targeted through prejudice and hatred”.

Discrimination against Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers is often called the last bastion of acceptable racism in the UK and Europe. Although we all know, as this debate has shown, that such people go by a variety of names—Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers and Roma people—together they constitute Europe’s largest ethnic minority. They are also without doubt the most discriminated against. Whether that discrimination is direct, as in much of southern and eastern Europe, or indirect, which is more common in the UK, the results affect this group’s ability to find shelter and access social services, education and healthcare, and they ultimately result in severe consequences. For example, the average life expectancy of a Romany Gypsy or an Irish Traveller is 10 years less than the UK average.

The Roma share a history of persecution with the Jewish people. Both communities have experienced racist hostility for centuries and were targeted by the Nazis during World War II. Gypsies, Travellers and Roma continue to face racist stereotyping, discriminatory treatment and violence throughout Europe and we all need to be ashamed, in this day and age, that that is still the case. This manifests itself in: higher mortality rates and poorer health generally; higher rates of homelessness and poverty levels; lower employment rates; lower self-esteem; lower literacy rates; abusive media coverage; greater likelihood of experiencing hate crimes; greater likelihood of criminalisation at a young age and more rapid progress into custody; and, indeed, greater likelihood of exclusion from our democratic processes.

Although without doubt some progress has been made in the United Kingdom, does the Minister believe that the UK is fulfilling and complying fully with its international obligations to Roma? The European Court of Human Rights has held that the United Kingdom has a positive obligation by virtue of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to facilitate these groups’ traditional way of life. Is the Minister satisfied that this is indeed the case?

As my noble friend Lord Giddens said, there is no doubt that there is inadequate understanding of the Roma population in the UK. That cannot be right and his suggestions about how to progress that research are very welcome indeed. However, there are also practical considerations. There are no legal sites for the 25,000 who have to resort to unauthorised sites, either because the local authority will not build a site or because they will not give planning permission for a private one. Obviously, this affects Irish Travellers as well as Romany Gypsies. This constraint means that they are significantly prevented from educating their children and therefore suffer from prejudice and all the disadvantages that go with that.

Another question might be: what use will Her Majesty’s Government make of the new census category of Gypsy or Traveller, which has already yielded information on very low education attainment figures and subjective ill health? I am particularly concerned about the health outcomes for Romany people. What can the Government do to measure health outcomes? As far as I can see, this was last done in an ad hoc survey funded by the Department of Health in about 2004. That survey yielded information on very much higher rates of maternal and baby mortality as well as general ill health. Surely the time has come—I am seeking a commitment here—for a thorough survey of, and research into, health outcomes for Romany people, particularly their children. We know that there is a great deal to do on poor access to services generally, but I am particularly concerned with their access to our healthcare system.

I hope that, when we discuss the position of Romany people on this day next year, we will have a much more optimistic tale to tell. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for proposing this debate to mark International Roma Day, which will happen on 8 April. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her longstanding support for the rights of Roma, including her vice-chairmanship of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsy Roma Travellers and her commitment to the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers, which looks specifically at the education of children.

The Government share the deep concern of the noble Baroness and other noble Lords about the situation of Roma in many parts of Europe. We deplore the fact that in many European states Roma live in deep poverty and are routinely subject to discrimination and racism. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that there is a difference between what we see in some countries on mainland Europe and here in the UK. Despite our positive record, though, I agree that we could do more.

Sadly, there is a historical precedent of Roma persecution. The Roma people have been subject to centuries of exclusion and persecution, and the Roma genocide at the hands of the Nazis is not as widely understood or acknowledged as it could and should be. I agree with the noble Baroness that the Roma genocide needs to be acknowledged and commemorated throughout Europe. The destruction—or the “Porajmos”, as it is referred to—is remembered in the UK on Holocaust Memorial Day; it is part of the commemoration on that day.

The Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission is looking into whether the UK should have a new permanent memorial to the Holocaust so that future generations can learn about and remember all victims, including the thousands of Roma lives that were tragically lost at that time. The commission is asking for written evidence. It is actively encouraging members of the Roma and Gypsy community to submit evidence, and is working with members of the community to hold a consultation event. We need the voices of both history’s witnesses and today’s Roma community to participate and ensure that their suffering is never forgotten. However, the sad fact remains that prejudice and discrimination continue to follow Roma communities throughout Europe.

With a significant number of Roma living in the UK, the better treatment of the Roma people must therefore start on our own doorstep. This Government have made it easier and fairer for local communities to channel funding and support to where the most need is. We have removed targets that dictated which communities should receive help and meant that many others sometimes lost out. My department’s projects treat everyone, whether a Roma or any other minority group, as equal citizens with a shared need of education, employment and heath.

The specific issue of language was raised by a number of noble Lords. If Roma communities need to access language courses or specific help for under-18s, the Department for Communities and Local Government has a nationwide spread of funding which can be used to benefit the Roma community. In Sheffield, two projects have won funding to improve the provision of English language skills. One of the organisations running English courses is in Page Hall, an area with a significant Roma population, and has strong links with the community and is maintained by Roma members of staff.

Where a local authority has concerns about the Roma population, I would encourage it to work with local voluntary organisations—and, indeed, faith groups, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans—to find local solutions. Local areas no longer need to wait to be told by Whitehall what they should be doing. Towns and cities with Roma populations have started to demonstrate the progress that can be made by engaging with these projects. This approach is underpinned by our strong anti-discrimination and hate crime laws which protect all individuals from racial and other forms of discrimination and racially motivated attacks.

We are equally aware that sometimes local areas need more assistance. In January, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government met two Sheffield MPs to discuss in detail the impact of Roma migration in that city. The local authority-led national Roma network makes information and best practice sharing possible, and this is something my department is also involved in.

The Government’s approach to integration was set out in Creating the Conditions for Integration in February 2012. In response to the inequalities being experienced by Gypsies and Travellers, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government set up a ministerial working group in 2010 to examine this issue. The group produced a report in April 2012 which set out 28 commitments from across government in the areas of education, health, employment, accommodation and criminal justice, which are areas that have been mentioned today. These 28 commitments are consistent with the priorities we agreed with our EU partners in response to the EU Council conclusions on the EU framework for Roma integration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about health outcomes. The ministerial working group included a number of commitments from the Department of Health on improving health outcomes for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. We are currently reviewing that and will report on progress later this year. Acting on these commitments is part of our broader social inclusion and integration policy, because we believe that is the best approach in a diverse country. We are reviewing our progress on these commitments and will publish a report in due course.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Thornton, asked about the Government’s compliance with EU commitments to draw up a strategy. We are taking Roma integration forward within the broader social inclusion policies. This is fully in line with our European commitment. The measures set out in the Council recommendation are optional, but many of them are in line with what we are already doing in the UK to encourage equality and social mobility.

There were a number of questions about our international role. The UK plays an active and leading role in EU-wide schemes. British embassies are spreading our reputation for integration and tackling discrimination. British teachers of Roma students have shared their experience and knowledge with Czech practitioners. Dolj county near Bucharest is taking part in an exchange with students from Rotherham to encourage inclusion through education, and our embassy in Romania has managed to increase the number of Roma children attending nursery.

The UK is making a real difference to Roma communities across the EU. My department plays an active part in the EU’s network of Roma contact points and currently chairs the Council of Europe’s committee of experts on the Roma community. The Council of Europe working group has heard from a number of British participants, particularly on tackling anti-Roma hate crime in Hungary and promoting inclusive education for Roma in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We are keen to encourage countries with large and disadvantaged Roma populations to integrate their Roma citizens effectively.

Specific issues were raised in relation to Kosovo. I can inform the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, that the UK funded a study to establish the extent of lead poisoning in 2010 and found incredibly concerning levels of poisoning, which the EU instrument for pre-accession funding is addressing though relocating the affected families and providing supplements to reverse some of the effects of poisoning. The UK contributed to the European Union project, which cost around €6.5 million, to support the relocation and integration of Kosovo’s Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities from camps polluted by this lead. The House will be pleased to note that the last camp was closed down last year, and now the UK is focusing on education and economic development needs. This year, the embassy is planning to fund projects focusing on school support and increasing secondary school attendance. With just 14% of eligible Roma enrolling at secondary school, there is a long way to go to improving education.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans asked about specific support on education. Almost one in two children from Roma or Gypsy families, including those from EU accession countries, benefit from the pupil premium, since this community has a high proportion of families eligible for free school meals. Families may also be helped through the receipt of particular benefits. Children from Roma families will also have other needs including English as an additional language. Local authorities can allocate a proportion of their funding to schools on the basis of the number of pupils in each school who have English as an additional language. I have already mentioned the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers, on which the noble Baroness sits.

I shall take back the comments in relation to the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association and see whether we can learn from that best practice. Unfortunately, I cannot give the right reverend Prelate an update about the evictions in Cluj. I do not know whether the appeal has been heard or what the outcome has been, but I shall write to him if there has been any progress.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, also asked about the Roma summit. As with Roma summits in 2008 and 2010, the UK will be represented by government officials. The DCLG official who chairs the Council of Europe’s committee of experts on Roma and who represents the UK on the EU network of Roma contact points will attend this particular meeting on, I think, Friday.

Ultimately, this comes down to how we integrate all communities. There is no doubt, from what we have heard and from my own reading, of the level of discrimination that appears to follow the Roma community. I have referred to a number of interventions in individual areas. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, was suggesting that that is probably not the solution overall; there has to be a much broader approach to how we integrate communities into broader communities and make the case for the benefits that brings. A phrase which I coined in relation to the persecution of minorities in the Middle East was that, ultimately, “persecution is bad for business”—it is bad for progress overall. It is important first, to make the case that persecution per se is something that we must stand against, and to make the economic case for why integration is essential for everybody else’s development.

I hope that noble Lords will be left today with the clear impression that, at home and abroad, we are working to improve the lives of Roma. I reassure all noble Lords that the persecution of minority communities is not, and will not be, tolerated by this Government. That includes the continued marginalisation and exclusion of Roma people. We want to see Roma families enjoy the same education and healthcare opportunities that are afforded to all European citizens, particularly those within our own British communities.

As International Roma Day approaches, I reiterate our commitment to working closely with our partners in Europe and though our embassies to improve the situation of Roma. In this country, we shall continue with our policies to create the conditions for integration for all communities, including Roma, and we shall ensure that the suffering of the Roma community is never forgotten.