Language and Citizenship Education

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th February 2002.

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Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington 2:30 pm, 4th February 2002

If he will make a statement on his plans to offer language and citizenship education to those settling long term in the UK.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

In a few days, I will be publishing a comprehensive and holistic policy paper on nationality, managed migration and asylum. As part of the programme for integration with diversity and building social cohesion I shall expand on our proposals for English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic to be understood by those seeking citizenship, together with an understanding of society and its institutions.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is fairly self-evident that new citizens who are fluent in English will have a much greater chance of successfully integrating into the community and of getting jobs, and that an understanding of citizenship will lead to new citizens taking a fuller part in the democratic process? But does he further agree that not just new citizens need to have a greater understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship; everyone has a part to play in combating bigotry and prejudice?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. That is why I am proud to have piloted, as the then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the citizenship programme in our schools, which becomes mandatory from September this year, and to have instilled an understanding that, in post-16 and adult education, we need to produce throughout the country not simply an understanding of equality so that we reach out to those who come into our community—important though that is—but an understanding of our institutions so that people can use democracy to bring about peaceful change. If we can achieve that and ensure that that programme is available for those who seek our citizenship, Britain will have a more stable backcloth and foundation to ensure that we overcome racism and bigotry, which are unacceptable in any guise.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

Cultural and linguistic diversity are to be greatly valued, so I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on the Welsh language, but may I press him to ensure that opportunities to learn Welsh are available not only in the so-called Welsh-speaking areas, but throughout the country?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Assembly is keen to ensure that such opportunities are available in Wales, and I shall certainly talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about Welsh being available in England. That would ensure that people could gain access to jobs more readily if they moved to Wales, which, of course, underlines the reason why it is so important in education, training and employment to have a grasp of the language that is regularly used.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, before we move towards a stronger requirement for a knowledge of English to obtain citizenship, we must ensure that there is adequate teaching of English as a second language in every area where there is a large ethnic community? I visited an English class for mainly Asian women in Bradford a few weeks ago and sat in on interviews with those Asian women. They were all told that they would have to wait 12 months before they could join the class. That is not the case in Keighley, but it certainly is in Bradford.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Such teaching is part of the basic skills agenda. The Secretary of State has asked the Learning and Skills Council to map where facilities are available throughout the country. When I publish the White Paper, we shall make it clear that it is no longer acceptable to provide free facilities for the head of the family, but not for the spouse who has come into the country, and we will put that right.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

I in no way wish to challenge the Home Secretary's enthusiasm for the Welsh language, or even for Scottish Gaelic, but does he accept that it is of paramount importance that every British subject should be fluent in the English language and that, following on the question asked by Mrs. Cryer, everything should be done to expedite classes and ensure that he sets himself a target so that, by the end of this decade, all British subjects are fluent in the English language?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I should like to set myself a target, but I shall draw breath after the mapping of the facilities. It would be nice to ensure that the indigenous population, as well as those who come into the country, spoke fluent English before the end of the decade. I have been reprimanded, sotto voce, by one of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench for mispronouncing "Gaelic", for which I apologise.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

I am grateful to the Government for introducing better citizenship classes for people who are newly arrived in Britain, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of ethnic minority people in this country were born in Britain? What steps is his Department taking, working with the Commission for Racial Equality and the race equality unit, to ensure that younger ethnic minority people in particular can better participate in life in Britain?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I believe that that is part of the social cohesion agenda being taken forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs. That point should be integrated with my hon. Friend's wider point. He is right that most second and third generation migrants speak English as well as anyone else, but the difficulty is that their parents and grandparents often do not have that ability. There is therefore a tension between what happens at home and what happens at school or on the street. That point came out in the Cantle report, which said that people were torn between two different countries, cultures and societies. We need to address that point and not destroy the cultural heritage or diversity that are the ingredients of our country, but help people through those tensions.