Blunkett's Baseless Views Will Harm Race Relations.You Can Be Proud to Be British and NOT Speak English; ASIAN PEER HITS BACK

The Mirror (London, England), December 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

Blunkett's Baseless Views Will Harm Race Relations.You Can Be Proud to Be British and NOT Speak English; ASIAN PEER HITS BACK


Byline: JAMES HARDY, Political Editor

ASIAN leaders last night slammed the Home Secretary after he effectively called for a "British test" for new immigrants.

David Blunkett said foreigners who want to be citizens should have a grasp of English and ethnic communities should embrace British culture.

But Labour peer Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham said that was rubbish.

The 44-year-old said: "If you do not speak English, it doesn't mean you're not proud of being British.

"In fact many have contributed to this country's culture and history without being able to do so."

And Lord Ahmed, the first Muslim in the House of Lords, warned: "I totally reject Mr Blunkett's baseless views which will only cause more harm to race relations in this country.

"It is tragic that once again we're having to prove our Britishness."

Other Asian leaders said the Home Secretary's comments were "inflammatory" and played into the hands of National Front and BNP racists.

Mr Blunkett was speaking ahead of tomorrow's report into this summer's race riots in three northern towns.

It is expected to say trouble was rooted in the resentment whites felt at the money being poured into Asian areas. And it is likely to identify self-segregation of ethnic communities as a problem in several towns. Yesterday, Mr Blunkett said immigrants had a duty to develop a "sense of belonging".

But he rejected comparisons with Norman Tebbit's notorious "cricket test" and said there was no question of forcing foreigners to learn English.

Mr Blunkett said: "It isn't a question of having an English test before you come into the country - that wouldn't be practical or acceptable. We want to make becoming a British citizen more attractive and we want to ensure there are light-touch programmes to obtain naturalisation.

"One of those would be a modest grasp of the English tongue so they can feel and become English.

"People need to feel they identify with and belong to their community and to their nation and to contribute to it. You can't enforce that any more than you could enforce those who decide to put themselves on the Costa del Sol to be Spanish.

"But you can say that a healthy, cohesive community with one generation passing on their culture but also their commitment to their new home, their country, to another generation, will help us achieve those goals."

He also said practices such as forced marriages were "unacceptable" to British people.

Rhiad Ahmed, the deputy mayor of Oldham - scene of some of the worst rioting - said it was poverty, not a lack of English that caused the flashpoints.

He said: "We all want to get rid of segregation, but it is how you do it. People find themselves in extreme poverty and deprivation. They have no mechanism to fight out of that poverty and they end up in ghettos. Instead of offering them hope and aspiration, all we are offering them is English tests."

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said: "The problem about the Home Secretary's remarks is that they can be taken, given the language he used, in a way which is not at all helpful."

Downing Street backed Mr Blunkett and said it was vital to strike a balance between cultural differences and jointly facing up to community problems.

Voice of The Mirror: Page 8

j.hardy@mirror.co.uk

I'M PROUD

says freelance writer Nayab Chohan, 28, from Burnley

I am proud to call myself British because as a Muslim I'm free to practise my religion in whatever way I choose.

There are no restrictions placed on me, nor am I condemned for being who I am.

Britain has offered me opportunities that I feel that I would not ordinarily have had.

Whether I chose to take them was down to me. …

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