Community Relations

Communities and Local Government written question – answered on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer of 3 March 2014, Official Report, column 694W, on polling stations, what assessment he has made of the effect of foreign language translation by local authorities on integration of non-English speakers into their communities.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

In March 2013, my Department published new guidance for local authorities outlining how councils should stop translating into foreign languages. As outlined in the written ministerial statement of 12 March 2013, Hansard, column 5WS, such translation weakens integration; discourages communities from learning English; undermines rather than strengthens equality goals; harms community relations; and is an expensive waste of taxpayers’ money at a time when councils need to be making sensible savings. It is disappointing that councils like Tower Hamlets have disregarded that guidance, and reflects broader issues with the dysfunctional governance and divisive practices of the council.

I would add that in light of previous instances of electoral fraud, including impersonation in polling stations, postal voting irregularities and allegations of improper influence, Ministers in this Department have concerns about the practice of allowing foreign language translators/interpreters inside polling stations. The privacy of the ballot must be protected and voters inside a polling station should not be subject to any pressure or influence to vote in a particular way. In that context, the integrity of the ballot box and of the local democratic process requires independent and transparent scrutiny in polling stations by polling agents, council staff, the police and, indeed, passing members of the public who are also voting. This is undermined by polling room administration being conducted in foreign languages.

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