Gypsies and Irish Travellers: Census Category

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 21st December 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 11:00 am, 21st December 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to include a new category for Gypsies and Irish Travellers in the next census.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, information on Gypsies and Irish Travellers in England and Wales could be collected in the census through the responses to an ethnicity question. The ethnicity question asked in the 2001 census allowed a write-in response to enable respondents to describe their identity or ethnic origin in whichever way they chose. The question will be reviewed as part of the general preparations for the 2011 census. The Office for National Statistics will begin its formal external user consultation on the 2011 census topics with the production of a consultation document, which will be published in spring next year.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, with apologies for my failing voice, I thank my noble friend for that moderately encouraging Answer. But does he agree that, bearing in mind that the Gypsies and Irish Travellers have perhaps one of the worst maternal mortality rates of any ethnic minority in the UK, and that the children of Irish Travellers, at least recently, had 10 times the mortality rate of the settled population, any census breakdown figures should also cover the health categories shown in the recent Department of Health report, The Health Status of Gypsies and Travellers in England?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, I am aware of the problem with the health of Gypsies and Irish Travellers to which the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, refers; a publication which is not from, but published by, the Department of Health shows that she is right on that point. However, the issue of whether a decennial census can be used, or should be used, to pursue issues of ill health is quite another point. I should have thought that the census was rather a blunt instrument for that purpose, even if it were possible to include the ethnicity of Gypsies and Irish Travellers on the census as a pre-coded item.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, is the Minister aware that although public authorities have a duty to promote equality between different ethnic groups, they tend to ignore groups that are not covered explicitly by the census? For example, 157 local authorities had homeless Gypsies in their areas as at the 2003 count by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, yet 70 per cent of them ignored Gypsies altogether in formulating their homelessness strategies. Will the Government remind all public authorities of the advice given by the Commission for Racial Equality that they should consciously look for ethnic minorities in their areas that are not explicitly identified in the census?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

Yes, my Lords, I think that that is good advice. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is certainly right to say that the existing question in the census is not good at identifying Gypsies or Irish Travellers. As I said in my original Answer, that is why we are looking to consult on this issue in good time for the next census.

The problem is that, unless there is a pre-code for the group that one wants to identify, people do not write in an answer. In 2001, a pre-code for "Irish" under the ethnic group question produced 691,000 responses, whereas in 1991 the answer had to be written in and only 11,000 people did so. So clearly the census must have an explicit pre-code if it is to serve the purpose that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I want.

Photo of The Earl of Selborne The Earl of Selborne Conservative

My Lords, the purpose may be to find out more about those whom we describe as "Gypsies", but does the Minister agree that Romanies and other travelling races sometimes find that term offensive? It is, after all, derived from the misconception that the races originally came from Egypt. If terms such as that are to be used, they must be acceptable to the very people whom one is trying to find out about.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, I entirely agree, and this is a very difficult issue. Those who wrote in their ethnic origin in the 2001 census were coded as Gypsy/Romany. A number of others called themselves Travellers; a number called themselves Irish Travellers; and I imagine that quite a number called themselves Roma. One issue that will have to be considered in the consultation is the name that should be used. I certainly agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, that great sensitivities are involved in this.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord spoke of a consultation. Will a trial be carried out, as, for example, was the case when I was in charge of the census in 1981 and we asked: where was your father born? It became absolutely clear that people would not answer that question and so it was dropped from the 1981 census. A trial is very important in order to find out exactly what people will and will not answer.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, I entirely agree, and certainly all the questions will be piloted, which is my term of trade for a trial, as they have been in the past—both in 1981, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, knows, and more recently in respect of the religious question, which was added in 2001.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, I express appreciation of the manner in which the Minister has, quite rightly, carefully stuck to the words in the Question. We are dealing with the subject of the census, but I take this opportunity to welcome what I sense to be a sympathetic approach by my noble friend's ministerial colleagues, as evinced during the passage of the recent Housing Bill. My noble friend and many others in this House will remember their experiences as local or county councillors. The question is: how do we deal with this problem which the census might solve? The problem has been going on for some time, and my noble friend would do a service to local authorities and the people concerned if he were able to look sympathetically at the possible outcome.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, I am sure that my ministerial colleagues will be grateful for what my noble friend Lord Graham said. Unfortunately, I have been pointing out the difficulty of obtaining from the census effective information which would help in housing policy or, indeed, in the work of local authorities in that area. We must recognise those difficulties and we must continue to try to resolve them.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, there have recently been a considerable number of reports about Travellers taking up positions on unauthorised sites. However, by definition, Gypsies and Travellers are people who roam and move from one place to another. Can the Minister explain how one can be sure that accurate information about Gypsies and Travellers is obtained in a census, where the census points will be, and how it will be established that the same person is not questioned three or four times because he has moved to different places?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, the whole principle on which the census is conducted is that there is a single moment in time—midnight on the day of the census—and a person is counted in the census at that time, wherever he may be. The census points are described geographically so that people cannot be left out because they are not in fixed abodes. That is the way in which the census has been conducted for 200 years and it is the only possible way in which to conduct a census. That deals with the point made by the noble Baroness.