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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Translation help 'should be cut'
Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly
The amount of official material being translated by bodies such as councils should be cut to encourage immigrants to learn English, Ruth Kelly has said.

The communities secretary said there were cases - such as in a casualty ward - where translation was necessary.

But, she told the BBC's Politics Show, translation had been "used too frequently and without thought".

Ms Kelly said that learning and using the English language was "key" to helping migrants to integrate.

I do think translation has been used too frequently and sometimes without thought added to the consequences
Ruth Kelly
Communities secretary

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion, set up in the wake of the London bombings in July 2005, is due to highlight the issue of the volume of material being translated in its report due later this week.

It was set up to look at practical and local ways of encouraging community cohesion.

No incentive

Ms Kelly said: "I do think translation has been used too frequently and sometimes without thought added to the consequences."

Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Sir Iqbal Sacranie says translated material is beneficial

She added: "So, for example, it's quite possible for someone to come here from Pakistan and elsewhere in the world and to find that materials are routinely translated into their mother tongue and therefore not have the incentive to learn English."

Ms Kelly said evidence suggested that if someone did not try to learn English in their first six months in the UK, they were unlikely ever to learn the language.

Former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, disagreed with Ms Kelly.

He said: "If you do not provide that material for them to be aware of what's happening in the society or issues of particular help, they will remain sort of isolated.

"They will not really get the benefit, nor will they be able to contribute in a positive way".

Refuse guidelines

More than 100m of public money was spent on translation services in the UK last year, a BBC study last December suggested.

Translation is a way of helping people in transition into integrating into our society
Trevor Phillips
Former Commission for Racial Equality chief

That figure was made up of local authorities spending 25m, NHS trusts 55m and the courts 31m on interpreting

Refuse collection guidelines - in one case into 15 languages - and one-to-one smoking sessions were among the services which have incurred costs because translation was provided.

At the time, Trevor Phillips, ex-head of the Commission for Racial Equality, said the cost of translation was simply a feature of globalisation.

He said: "Translation is not a disincentive. It allows them to get access to services while they learn English. Translation is a way of helping people in transition into integrating into our society."

Terrorist 'paradox'

During her Politics Show interview Ms Kelly also said she favoured local authority funding for community groups to be directed more at centres designed to be inclusive, rather than on providing different facilities for different faiths or nationalities.

Ms Kelly accepted there was a "real paradox" in the fact that many young Muslims involved in violence and terrorism were British-born English speakers who appeared to be well integrated.

She said the commission's report was not intended to directly tackle violent behaviour, but she said she hoped its recommendations would help to create a society in which violence and extremism were less tolerated.

For the Conservatives, shadow home secretary David Davis pointed out that they had proposed redirecting money from translation services into language lessons.

"This is an attempt, albeit overdue, to deal with a very real problem," he said.

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