Translation services provided by the NHS or local councils may do more harm than good, according to the Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly.
She called for public services to encourage people to use English, saying: "I do think translation has been used too frequently and sometimes without thought as to the consequences.
"So for example, it's quite possible for someone to come here from Pakistan or 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.
"And in fact if you arrive in the country and for the first six months you don't attempt to learn English, the evidence suggests that you're unlikely ever to."
She also suggested community groups which serve the whole community should be given government funding in preference to those for particular ethnic minorities.
She continued: "I think it's really important that local leaders think it may be in a specific case, there's a real reason why something needs to be funded on a single identity basis, but in most situations, I would imagine it's more fruitful to think about how community centres can be used to bring people from different backgrounds, races, faiths, together.
Darra Singh, the Chairman of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion which reports next Thursday, said today that young people should do some sot of mandatory community service to promote cohesion.
But while welcoming the principle of more community service, Ruth Kelly warned of the difficulties, saying: "I think when you're talking about making it compulsory, there are real practical issues about that.
"There's something the government has looked at before and not decided in favour of, but it's right that we have a debate about these issues because we do, as a society, need to think very hard about how we celebrate the contribution that people from different backgrounds make to the future of the country."
Ruth Kelly was challenged on whether government was softening its stance against building new council homes.
She said: "...we do want to see more, we're building more and the question is, how can they do that without putting a much greater burden on the public purse.
"Now there are ways in which they might do that and for instance, we're experimenting or working very closely with a handful of authorities across the country, about how they might be what we call, self financing.
"In effect, giving them new ways in which they can raise money to build homes for people to live in."
RUTH KELLY, MP, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMUNITIES & LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JON SOPEL: Well I'm joined now by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Ruth Kelly, welcome to the Politics Show. We saw, at the end of that report there from Max Cotton, a youngster wearing at T-shirt saying 'Soldier of Allah'. Born and bred in the UK, wearing that sort of T-shirt. It sort of underlines the scale of the task.
RUTH KELLY: Well I think that is a particularly worrying sign, but I don't think that that's the only issue that we're dealing with in the Report from the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. One of the things I understand that they do in their report is analyse very clearly, that each community, each town, each city in the country, faces very different challenges.
In some that may be, as in Halifax, that the issue might be about how Muslims integrate with non-Muslims, in others, such as Boston in Lincolnshire, a small rural towns suddenly facing really quite strong wave of migration from the A8 European countries, who've come here maybe on a very short time basis to work, the challenge and the nature of the challenge is altogether different.
So what we've got to do is find a way, at a very local level, of thinking what contribution are all our citizens making to the future of that place. What are the problems. How can we celebrate what brings people together, just as much as we recognise the contribution from diversity.
JON SOPEL: Well how do you make white teenagers, brown teenagers, black teenagers, all feel that they are part of the same society. I mean we saw the shop keeper in that report there, talking about how ultimately, he wanted to remain Pakistani.
RUTH KELLY: I don't think this is really an either or choice. I don't think this is to say that you can't be a part of Britain, without somehow alienating yourself or distancing yourself from your faith or your culture or even the country that you come from.
This is about saying that we've all got different identities. You can be a - you can come from Bolton, my constituency, and be British, but also be Muslim. You can support a football team or be talented at ballet or dance or sport.
I mean all of these things are part of our identity and what we've got to do is try and find a way in which you can have your own special and particular cultural identity, faith identity and yet feel part of Britain.
JON SOPEL: But what does government do about it. I mean in terms of funding decisions, you can support certain things, rather than others. Presumably, you think learning to speak the English language is key?
RUTH KELLY: I think most people think learning to speak the English language is key. If we're talking about celebrating what we hold in common, rather than specifically concentrating on what drives us apart and our differences, then I think nearly everybody recognises that English is key, speaking the language is absolutely key to that.
So something that the Commission have looked at very specifically, is whether we should be translating from English in to different languages as a matter of course, as a matter of routine, and they're going to put out guidance I think for local authorities, where local authorities can ask what are really hard questions about whether or not we're providing a crutch and supporting people in their difference or whether translation is being used in the appropriate circumstances, such as for instance, I don't think anyone would question that you should translate, accident and emergency, medical care, when people come and need translation.
JON SOPEL: Do you think that there has been too much translation used which has made it, there's been no incentive to learn the language.
RUTH KELLY: I do think translation has been used too frequently and sometimes without thought as to the consequences. So for example, it's quite possible for someone to come here from Pakistan or 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.
And in fact if you arrive in the country and for the first six months you don't attempt to learn English, the evidence suggests that you're unlikely ever to. And that's one of the real issues that I think the report is going to address.
JON SOPEL: What about compulsory community service, which is another idea that's being floated?
RUTH KELLY: Well I think the idea of community service and contributing to you local town, your local city, the area in which you live is an incredibly important concept and I know that lots of towns around the country actively celebrate and promote voluntary service, which brings people from different communities together.
It may be from different ethnic communities, it may indeed be mixing between the old with the young and one of the things that I'm keen, very keen on, is to see young people celebrate the contributions that have been made by the older generation and particularly veterans for example, in this country.
I think when you're talking about making it compulsory, there are real practical issues about that. There's something the government has looked at before and not decided in favour of, but it's right that we have a debate about these issues because we do, as a society, need to think very hard about how we celebrate the contribution that people from different backgrounds make to the future of the country.
JON SOPEL: Again, we talk about what government can do to encourage, so maybe it's not about using a sledge hammer but making funding choices you can effect these things. I've heard for example that you - maybe in Halifax, I don't know whether there - choose an example, but you know, if there was a Halifax Young Asian Boys Club, you would say, well actually, no we don't want to fund that but what we'll do is Halifax Young People's Boys Club. Is that right.
RUTH KELLY: Well first of all Whitehall, government, central government never makes these decisions, or very rarely makes these decisions, but the local authorities, and local councils who really understand and know their communities, do so regularly and think about what's necessary for their community and I think in the past there's been a tendency at that local level, in some areas, not all over the place, for people to think, well that group has arrived, they've got that specific cultural identity, therefore we need to fund them on the basis of that particular identity, rather than recognising the things that they hold in common with other citizens in the area and thinking about how community centres, for example, can be used to bring people together.
JON SOPEL: So you would like to see a change there?
RUTH KELLY: Well, I think it's really important, yes the answer is. I think it's really important that local leaders think it may be in a specific case, there's a real reason why something needs to be funded on a single identity basis, but in most situations, I would imagine it's more fruitful to think about how community centres can be used to bring people from different backgrounds, races, faiths, together.
JON SOPEL: But then you get the interesting situation that we saw in Max Cotton's report there, that the people who don't speak English tend to be the elders, the people who've been here for probably quite a long time and have never learned, yet the problem with radicalised people, who you would like to tackle, are young, they've been educated in British schools, they speak English perfectly. And yet they have chosen a rather different political path.
RUTH KELLY: I think there's a real paradox there and this report isn't attempting to deal with the causes of radicalisation and violent extremism, which I think are rather distinct. But one thing we do know is that people who do go on to exhibit radicalised behaviour and get involved in violent extremism and terrorism, are often apparently incredibly well integrated in to our society. They're often brought up and attend state schools.
They often speak the language and were born in this country. They're often - have gone to higher education and even - and hold down a job, so I don't think we can jump to sort of simplistic conclusions that cohesion and bringing communities together, is going to solve all of those issues. But what we can do is to think about how we build a society in which that sort of extremist and violent extremist behaviour is less tolerated and I think that's something that people in the Muslim community and non Muslim community recognise.
JON SOPEL: Let's talk about education because you touched on that. Do you think faith schools encourage cohesion and integration?
RUTH KELLY: I think they can do and I think there are some faith schools...
JON SOPEL: But do they?
RUTH KELLY: Not in every situation but I do think they can and can make an incredibly important contribution to that too. I think if you look at faith schools in this country, Church of England schools for example, they are among some of the most diverse, ethnically mixed schools in the entire country.
Not all of them, it doesn't work in every situation. Some school leaders are more thoughtful about cohesion than others, it's really important that we try and promote cohesion, through the school system entirely, and the Commission again thinks very hard about how we can twin schools and bring people together. But there's a real question...
JON SOPEL: What about the Muslim schools? You talked about the Christian and Catholic schools as having a great example. What about the Muslim schools?
RUTH KELLY: Well I think, as I started my conversation, there's a real issue here about people with multiple identities and whether you recognise them and try and bring people together through other routes, or whether you try to say to someone, look, sorry, we don't really want you in this country.
We don't want to celebrate that part of your identity, we only want to concentrate on what you hold in common with others, now I think we can try and do both. We can recognise the richness that diversity brings, we can celebrate the fact that there are people from different faiths and different backgrounds who want to make a contribution to the future of society and try and not only recognise people's identities, whether it's through faith schools or in other respects, but then try and create frameworks in which those people come together.
JON SOPEL: And in terms of what happens in certain areas, I mean think of the situation in Bradford, Blackburn where you've got a very mixed population, but in some schools you find that 90% of the children are Asian in one part of the town, in another part it's 90% white. Now what do you do about that situation?
RUTH KELLY: Incidentally, I think that's a very different situation to the one of faith schools. You're not talking about faith schools there you're talking about state...
JON SOPEL: No I'm talking about the state system where... (interjection) people have separated.
RUTH KELLY: Yeah absolutely, and it's very different if someone chooses to be a member of a faith community and brought up in that faith community, or finds themselves by default in a school which is practically all white or practically all Asian... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: And is bussing a solution to that?
RUTH KELLY: Well I think, and I think Local Authorities have a real opportunity through the building schools for the future programme, where all secondary schools over a period of ten years are going to be re-built or re-furbished, to think about where schools are situated and whether they can be used to bring people together.
But if there aren't solutions where it makes sense for different communities to come together at school because of residential segregation and where people live, then we have to think about twinning, cultural shared activities and so forth.
JON SOPEL: Just a final thought. We've talked a lot about Britishness and Gordon Brown talks about Britishness a lot, we've had lots of texts on this, this is just one of them, from Ken Walters in Lancashire. He said, 'I'm English, not British, only a politician would use such a term. Is this really all about Gordon Brown, a Scot?' I just wonder whether this debate is being skewed slightly at the moment?
RUTH KELLY: I think this is about celebrating people's identity and why not celebrate being Scottish or being Welsh or being English or being Northern Irish as part of the United Kingdom and as part of Britain, but recognising that you can feel all of those things and have a contribution to the future of our nation and that's what we're trying to do: bring people together, recognise and celebrate our common values, while not trying to undermine and say somehow, you can't be any of those other things.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Ruth Kelly do stay with us for a moment.
INTO FILM ON COUNCIL HOUSING
JON SOPEL: And Ruth Kelly is still with us, because amongst your other responsibilities, as luck would have it, is policy on council housing. Now for years you've been holding the line against there being an increased expenditure from government on council housing. Is that policy about to change?
RUTH KELLY: No, I don't think so, but what we are doing is recognising very clearly that we've got to build more homes, we've got to see more private sector homes built if young couples today in their 30s and in the future are going to be able to afford to buy a house, we need to see more affordable homes being built and we need to see more social and council homes being built too. Now over the last couple of years, the proportion of council homes being built, social homes in total, has gone up by about half, but there's further to go.
JON SOPEL: But when Gordon Brown says, 'we will give help to councils by new means, by which they can build houses themselves', that's council housing?
RUTH KELLY: It is council housing and in fact councils can build homes now. I mean the question is, where does government prioritise its money and over the past five or ten years or so, what we said very, very clearly is we've got a stock of council homes which we inherited that were of completely inadequate standards, they didn't have central heating, they didn't have decent bathrooms or kitchens, that we needed to renovate and bring up to standard and we've invested about twenty billion pounds in that.
JON SOPEL: But that does sound like a change in policy.
RUTH KELLY: But what we've got to do going forward is...
JON SOPEL: Would you agree there is a bit of a change of policy going on?
RUTH KELLY: Well, we have consistently over the last sort of year or so said, Councils, we're thinking very hard about how they too can afford to build more homes. We're not talking about somehow writing a blank cheque from government and saying, here you go...
JON SOPEL: Is policy changing on council housing.
RUTH KELLY: Well, I've been very clear in my job, that councils should have the right to build homes and in fact they do at the moment, only on a very, very small scale.
JON SOPEL: So yes.
RUTH KELLY: So we do want to see more, we're building more and the question is, how can they do that without putting a much greater burden on the public purse. Now there are ways in which they might do that and for instance, we're experimenting or working very closely with a handful of authorities across the country, about how they might be what we call, self financing. In effect, giving them new ways in which they can raise money to build homes for people to live in.
JON SOPEL: Very interesting. Ruth Kelly, thank you very much indeed for being with us.
RUTH KELLY: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW
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