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World at One Monday, 16 September, 2002, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Blunkett language row
David Blunkett wants Asian families to speak English at home

The Home Secretary finds himself under attack today for appearing to tell Asian families what language they should speak in the privacy of their own homes.

In an essay for a new book called 'Reclaiming Britishness', Mr Blunkett sets out the importance of speaking English in order "to participate in wider modern culture". There is an implicit disappointment in his comment that "In as many as 30% of Asian British households...English is not spoken at home."

The Home Secretary bases his remarks on a survey which found that 30% of Asian British households are not doing something which Mr Blunkett thinks is important for the good of society.

Hence the conclusion - he wants more of them to speak English at home.

These remarks are part of a much wider survey he calls 'Integration with Diversity' - which is the paradox at the heart of the present political debate on immigration, asylum and community relations. He reiterates the point - underlined by Peter Mandelson on this programme last week - that Labour needs to challenge the parties of the right on these issues or risk electoral disaster: hence his readiness to tackle sensitive issues in unambiguous language.

David Blunkett's choice for the man who is to devise the citizenship test - proposed in the 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill - is his former politics teacher, Sir Bernard Crick, now Emeritus Professor at Birkbeck College in London. He told The World at One that he was committed to bilinguility in terms of the citizenship test but that English could not be forced on people at home.

Not surprisingly, Mr Blunkett has irked many in the Asian community, among them the Labour MP Keith Vaz: so much so, that he has suggested that Asian residents in his Leicester East constituency might invite the Home Secretary to spend a night in their homes. Mr Vaz told The World at One that the Home Secretary's remarks were "silly" and had "no basis in reality".

David Blunkett declined to answer these criticisms on The World at One, but the Home Office told us that the article "makes clear that the Home Secretary said he would welcome English being spoken at home as well as the mother tongue. He did not prescribe what should happen in people's homes and in private...as anyone who has read the essay will know."

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