Conservatives reignite race row with 'fair play' travellers' ad in Sunday papers

LONDON - The Conservative Party has once again put race issues at the centre of the election battle by placing a full-page ad in Sunday newspapers saying that there is 'one rule for travellers and another for everyone else'.

The ad, which appeared in newspapers such as the Independent on Sunday, is an extension of the "I believe in fair play" statement from Tory leader Michael Howard's manifesto.

It says: "Too many people today seem to think they don't have to play by the rules -- and they're using so-called human rights to get away with doing the wrong thing."

The ad goes on to say that travellers can bend planning laws, thanks to the Human Rights Act, and that it is not fair that there is one law for travellers and another for everyone else.

"This is one of the reasons why the Conservative Party is reviewing the Human Rights Act. And if it can't be improved we will scrap it," it reads. The full ad can be viewed here.

The ad appeared ahead of a speech by Howard today, where he will say that while the "vast majority" of travellers accept that freedom must be exercised while observing responsibilities to the wider community, a "small minority" do not, and are wilfully abusing the planning system.

It  follows a campaign in the press over the past week led by The Sun and the Daily Mail, which have been attacking Labour and John Prescott in particular over Gypsy debate.

Today, the Sun newspaper is continuing its campaign to stamp out illegal Gypsy camps, claiming on its front page today that £30m in government money has been used to improve legal travellers' camps.

His comments have provoked anger from Gypsy and travellers' rights groups, accusing Howard of scoring cheap political points and tapping into hysteria.

Andrew Ryder, co-ordinator at the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition, told the BBC: "Are travellers not to have human rights or protection from human rights legislation?"

And the Labour Party's Keith Hill, the minister in charge of planning laws, told the Independent on Sunday: "This is Michael Howard tapping into what is probably the deepest vein of bigotry in our society -- the prejudice against Gypsies and travellers."

Howard has denied that he wants to put race issues at the centre of the election battle but already the Tory party has raised the issue of limits on immigration, which lead to accusations of racism.

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