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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
MP criticised in gypsy grant row
David Davies
David Davies made the comments on his own website
A row has broken out after a Conservative MP criticised a 48,000 lottery award for a project for schools on gypsy and travelling communities.

Monmouth MP David Davies has written to the Heritage Lottery Fund asking for the same amount to make a film about the "settled community".

The fund has given a grant to Hampshire Council for a project on the traditions of travelling communities.

A spokesman for the Gypsy Council said Mr Davies' comments were "distasteful".

'Raise awareness'

Mr Davies, who is Assembly Member as well as MP for Monmouth, said on his personal website that he made his comments after reading a national newspaper report about the award to Hampshire Council to fund a project on "gypsy travellers".

The Heritage Lottery Fund award of 48,800 was made to the project called "Living Album-Gypsy Heritage" which aims to produce a DVD, touring exhibition and website for schools and aims to "raise awareness...of the gypsy community and culture".

(He's) making a mockery of attempts to build bridges between gypsies and non-gypsies
Ann Bagehot, Gypsy Council

In his letter to the lottery fund, Mr Davies said: "Following the 48,000 you gave for the production of a video aimed at giving schoolchildren a greater understanding of the culture and traditions of 'gypsy travellers', I am very keen to commission an equally 'useful' and 'informative' piece of film that will serve to educate said 'gypsy travellers' on some of the ancient traditions and communal practices of another group of people, who we might called 'settled folk'.

"I use the term to describe that large group of people in Britain who opt to live their lives in houses or flats.

"I should like my film to focus on such issues as the importance which the 'settled community' place on property rights, their rigid adherence to an ancient code which they refer to as 'planning regulations', and the time honoured custom of clearing up one's rubbish.

"Should time allow we could also include a section about the cardboard circle which settled folk purchase annually from post offices and use to adorn their vehicles - known as a tax disc."

'Playing games'

A spokesman for the Gypsy Council described Mr Davies' comments as "distasteful", while the council's secretary, Ann Bagehot, said she considered them to be "just schoolboy thoughtlessness".

She added that Mr Davies was "making a mockery of attempts to build bridges between gypsies and non-gypsies".

Chris Myant, director for the Commission for Racial Equality Wales, added: "He's trying to play on people's prejudices. He's playing games which isn't really the way serious politicians should engage in public debate."

A Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) spokesperson said it was not prejudiced in its allocation of grants.

'Much to learn'

The spokesperson said: "Of more than 16,000 projects supported by the HLF in the last 11 years, so far we have funded some 11 which focus on the heritage and history of traveller communities - often working with local organisations to bring communities together.

Elected representatives have a responsibility to engage in rational, constructive debate that does not inflame feelings unnecessarily
Conservative party spokesman

"It's a nonsense to suggest that there is any kind of prejudice against settled communities in our grant giving - we simply reflect the vast range of heritage in the UK."

Responding to the criticisms of his website article, David Davies told the BBC Wales news website: "Gypsy travellers seem to have the view they are different.

"If that's the case, then surely they have as much to learn from the settled community.

"I haven't said anything unreasonable - this highlights the double standards."

A spokesman for the Welsh Conservative Party said they wanted "everyone to have the freedom to make their own lifestyle choices".

"Most travellers lead law-abiding lives, but a small minority abuse the system and give the whole travelling community a bad name," he said.

"That said, elected representatives have a responsibility to engage in rational, constructive debate that does not inflame feelings unnecessarily."

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