Despite the recent publication of the
Report which closely examined the circumstances and issues behind the
brutal murder of Stephen
Lawrence, Britain in the late 1990s is still a tolerant nation. It
is a civilised, democratic and free country. It is, when all is said and
done, a pluralistic nation which respects multiculturalism and embraces
difference and diversity. Equal treatment before the law is surely the
starting point for any democratic society. Does Britain meet this requirement?
I would argue that it does. Human rights matter to Britain; that is why
we recently passed a 1998 Human Rights Act. Britain believes that every
minority group should expect equality of opportunity, equal access to civic
life and a day-to-day existence which is free from stereotypes, oppression,
harassment and victimisation.
That is, every minority group except those known as Gypsies and Travellers.
They are the last minority groups in Britain that it is still acceptable
to openly hate and discriminate against. 'Their way of life', as
the debating question puts it, has traditionally - in Britain at least
- been a nomadic one. I am arguing in my few hundred words that this is
a way of life that should not just be retained, but one that should be
respected and even promoted as a valid and legal way of life. Of course,
it has also been a way of life that has brought Gypsies and Travellers
time and time again (from about the 15th Century onwards in fact) into
conflict with a society which is best suited to the needs and wants of
the settled majority population.
However, for many settled people (especially Conservative county councillors,
such as Dee-Dee Dobell, and readers of the Daily Mail it seems) such 'parasites',
'invaders' and 'scum' (some 120,000 people in Britain, in all) are so outwith
the 'normal' social and moral boundaries of a settled and civilised society
that they should not enjoy the democratic and human rights that are found
in such societies. They should, as Henry VIII and Hitler knew well, be
thrown in prison, deported and even murdered for being who and what they
are. After all, they are only 'dirty thieving gypos', aren't they?
Indeed, we live in a society which does just this. Our democratic and
tolerant Britain gives, through its various laws and legislation, pre-eminence
to a system of private land ownership and a settled (or sedentarist) way
of life which upholds these rights over and above any other lifestyle.
A nomadic way of life - sometimes romanticised, almost always demonised
- is a criminal offence in Britain (thanks mainly to various clauses in
the recent 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act). Gypsies and Travellers
who follow a nomadic way of life - usually because it suits their preferred
mode of economic activity - have very few legal options available to them
now. If they don't 'park-up' permanently and move into a house then they
risk facing heavy fines, prison sentences and even losing their caravans
(that is, their homes). Such draconian measures as this - forcing an ethnic
group (and, according to the 1976 Race Relations Act, Gypsies are an ethnic
group) to give up its long-standing and proud traditions and heritage -
is almost akin to a form of cultural genocide. I do not say this flippantly
or lightly; nomadism is that important to some of the Gypsies and Travellers
I know who still travel.
The nomadic, or 'Traveller' way of life, whether pursued by Irish Travellers
(Minceir), Scottish Travellers (Nachins), English Gypsies
(Romanichals), Welsh Gypsies (Kale), New Travellers or Showpeople
is under great threat in contemporary Britain and it has to be allowed
to continue and prosper. It cannot - and should not - just be swept under
the carpet and allowed to fester in Romany and Traveller heritage museums
just because middle-England doesn't like their property prices being occasionally
threatened when some Gypsies or New Travellers park-up at the bottom of
their garden. Nomadism as a way of life is a living and breathing thing.
It is not a static entity and people's basic civil rights should count
for something. Anyone who claims to believe in human rights should agree
with this; it is really not up for debate.
Despite my cynicism, I do still believe that Britain respects human
rights and accepts the need and importance of difference and diversity
for our society. I also believe, perhaps foolishly, that New Labour does
too. Last month a new book was published by the University of Hertfordshire
Press entitled Gaining Ground: Law Reform for Gypsies and Travellers.
It is hoped that it will soon be developed into a Private Members Bill
as it is, in a real sense, a manifesto for change in the many areas of
British law which either directly or indirectly discriminate against Gypsies
and Travellers. It is my hope that the likes of Tony Blair and Jack Straw
get to read this important document and hear the Bill being read, if only
to understand and appreciate why the Traveller way of life needs to be
allowed to continue and why Britain's anti-nomadic laws need to be scrapped.
For further information, e-mail Colin Clark at email@example.com
Or visit the website of the e-mail discussion list Traveller-Acad:
Colin Clark works as a lecturer in social policy at the University of
Newcastle upon Tyne. As well as teaching Romani / Traveller studies, he
has conducted research and writes about the contemporary situation of Gypsies
and other Travellers in the UK and Europe. He has a particular interest
in New Travellers and the Romanies in Central and Eastern Europe and has
published chapters and articles in a variety of academic books and journals.
He is the author, along with Donald Kenrick, of Moving On: the Gypsies
and Travellers of Britain (University of Hertfordshire Press, 1999).
He is also a member of the Gypsy Council [UK] and various other Gypsy civil
Some Useful Addresses
Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers
Moot House, The Stow, Harlow, Essex CM20 3AG.
Department of the Environment
Transport and the Regions, Gypsy Sites Branch
2/A1 Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.
East Anglia Gypsy Council
Plot 3, Travellers Site, Oxney Road, Peterborough, Cambs.
Enabler Publications / Alan Dearling (publishers and booksellers)
3 Russell House, Lym Close, Lyme Regis, Dorset DT7 3DE.
Friends and Families of Travellers (FFT)
Community Base, Queens Road,
Brighton, East Sussex.
Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, Welfare and Civil Rights
8 Hall Road, Aveley, Essex RM15 4HD.
Labour Campaign for Travellers' Rights
84 Bankside St. Leeds LS8 5AD.
National Asociation of Gypsy and Traveller Officers
c/o Hampshire County Council
The Castle, Winchester Hampshire SO23 9DS.
National Association of Health Workers with Travellers
Balsall Heath Health Centre, 43 Edward Road, Balsall Heath
Birmingham B12 9LB.
National Association of Teachers of Travellers
The Graisely Centre, Pool St, Wolverhampton WV2 4NE.
National Gypsy Council
Greenacres Caravan Park, Hapsford
Helsby, Warrington, Cheshire WA6 OJS.
National Romani Rights Association
8 Reid Way, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE30 2LL.
Romanestan Publications (publishers and booksellers)
22 Northend, Warley, Brentwood, Essex CM14 5LD.
Romani / Traveller Studies at Newcastle
Department of Social Policy, University of Newcastle
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU.
The Urban Farm, 50-52 Temple Mills Lane, London E15.
Traveller Law Research Unit
Cardiff Law School, PO Box 427, Cardiff, Wales CF1 1XD.
Traveller School Charity
PO Box 36,Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG31 6EW.
Web Sites: Gypsies and Travellers in Britain (a small
Romani Studies at Greenwich University
University of Liverpool Gypsy Collections Homepage
Alan Lodge's Homepage ('Tash' on New Travellers)
Scottish Traveller Education Project
The National Association of Health Workers with Travellers (UK)
Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions Homepage (UK)
Gypsy and Traveller Education (UK)
The Patrin Web Journal (section on Great Britain)
Web Homepage of Traveller-acad e-mail discussion list
University of Hertfordshire Press
Some Further Reading
ACTON, T. Gypsy Politics and Social Change. London:
Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1974.
ACTON, T. (Ed.) Gypsy Politics and Traveller Identity.
Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.
ACTON, T and MUNDY, G. (Ed.) Romani Culture and Gypsy
Identity. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.
ADAMS, B and others. Gypsies and Government Policy
in England. London: Heinemann, 1975.
CARDIFF UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF EDUCATION. Traveller children
and educational need in Wales. Cardiff, 1998.
CENTRE FOR GYPSY RESEARCH. The education of Gypsy and
Traveller Children: action research and co-ordination. Hatfield: University
of Hertfordshire Press, 1993.
DALEY, I and HEDERSON J. Static Life on the Site.
Yorkshire Art Circus, 1998.
EARLE, F. et al. A Time To Travel: An introduction
to Britain's Newer Travellers. Lyme Regis: Enabler Publications, 1994.
DEARLING, A. Almost everything you need to know about
the Travellers' School Charity. Lyme Regis: Enabler Publications, December
DEARLING, A. No Boundaries. Lyme Regis: Enabler
FORRESTER, B. The Travellers' Handbook. London:
Interchange Books, 1985.
FRASER, A. The Gypsies. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
FRIENDS, FAMILIES AND TRAVELLERS SUPPORT GROUP. Planning
Appeals and Gypsies and Travellers. (Results of a study of planning
appeal decision letters). Glastonbury: FFTSG, 1998.
HANCOCK, I. et al. The Roads of the Roma. A PEN anthology
of Gypsy writers. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1998.
HAWES, D. Gypsies, Travellers and the Health Service.
HAWES, D and PEREZ, B. The Gypsy and the State: the
ethnic cleansing of British society. Bristol: Policy Press, (2nd edn)1996.
KENRICK, D. Gypsies: From India to the Mediterranean.
The Interface Collection. Toulouse: CRDP, 1993.
KENRICK, D. Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies).
Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 1998.
KENRICK, D. and PUXON, G. Gypsies under the Swastika.
Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1995.
KENRICK, D. and CLARK, C. Moving On: The Gypsies and
Travellers of Britain. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press,
LEBLON, B. Gypsies and flamenco. The Interface
Collection. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1995.
LIEGEOIS, J-P. Gypsies. London: Al-Saaqi, 1986.
LIEGEOIS, J-P. Roma, Gypsies, Travellers. Council
of Europe, 1995.
LOWE, R. and SHAW, W. Travellers, Voices of the
New Age Nomads. London: Fourth Estate, 1993.
MCKAY, G. Senseless Acts of Beauty: cultures of resistance
since the Sixties. London: Verso.
MAYALL, D. Gypsies and the State: public power and
English Gypsies in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The
Interface Collection. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1995.
MORRIS, R. and CLEMENTS, L. (Eds.) Gaining Ground:
Law Reform for Gypsies and Travellers. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire
NEAT, T. The summer walkers: travelling people and
pearl-fishers in the Highlands of Scotland. Edinburgh: Canongate Books,
NINER, P. and others. Local Authority Powers for Managing
Unauthorised Camping. Research Report. London: Dept of the Environment,
OFFICE FOR STANDARDS IN EDUCATION. The Education of
Travelling Children. London, 1996.
OKELY, J. The Traveller-Gypsies. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1983.
REHFISCH, A and REHFISCH, F, 'Scottish Travellers or
Tinkers', in Rehfisch (Ed.) Gypsies, Tinkers and Other Travellers.
London: Academic Press, 1975.
REISS, C. Education of Gypsy Children. London:
SANDFORD, J. Gypsies. London: Sphere, 1973. New
SCOTTISH ASSOCIATION OF HEALTH COUNCILS. Health Care
and Travelling People: A Charter for Health and Travelling People,
SCOTTISH OFFICE CENTRAL RESEARCH UNIT. Counting Travellers
in Scotland: the 1992 Picture. Edinburgh, 1993.
STANGROOME, V. New Nomadic Groups: an information pack
on the New Age Traveller phenomenon. Self-published, 1993.
WILSON,M. A directory of planning policies for Gypsy
site provision in England. Bristol: Policy Press. 1998.
1/94 Gypsy Sites and Planning
18/94 Gypsy Sites Policy and Unauthorised Camping
DETR and Home Office. Managing Unauthorised Camping:
A Good Practice Guide. London: DETR, 1998.