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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Blunkett defends race comments
Home Secretary David Blunkett has dismissed the row over his appeal for British Asians to speak more English in their own homes as a "silly controversy".

Mr Blunkett said his remarks should not give anyone offence, although upset could be caused when they were taken out of context.


The prime minister agrees it is an advantage to children to grow up in a home which is bilingual

Downing Street
He stressed that he had encouraged people to speak English as well as their "mother tongue" at home.

Mr Blunkett has faced a storm of criticism over the remarks, made in an essay for a new book on British identity in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks and last year's riots in some northern cities.

The home secretary stressed he did not think lack of fluency in English had caused the riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham.

'Two cultures'

Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I was making a very simple point, which is if as many as a third of those from Asian backgrounds speak no English at home that has an impact."

It affected both youngsters "and the terrible conflict that exists between one culture and another and, of course, on the matriarchs, the mother and grandmother who often do not speak English at all", he said.

Disturbances in Bradford last year
Lack of English fluency "did not cause" last year's riots
"I didn't say that we should dictate to anyone what they do in their own home.

"I actually said 'as well as the mother tongue', so that we have the English culture and English spoken but we have alongside it the mother tongue and the mother culture.

"Now that seems to be eminently reasonable."

'Dangerous territory'

The controversy comes as Mr Blunkett prepares to be questioned about his asylum and immigration plans by the influential Commons home affairs committee.

Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin accused Mr Blunkett of straying into "dangerous territory" by "thinking aloud" in this way.

Mr Letwin told BBC Radio 4's PM that, like Mr Blunkett, he thought people who wanted to become British citizens should be encouraged to learn English.

But he added: "I think government in general should not spend its time telling people how to behave in their own homes unless there is something going on which is illegal."

Downing Street stressed Mr Blunkett's remarks were just one part of a 3,000 word essay.

'Not dictating to people'

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "It is not dictating to people what they do.

"It is simply pointing out the advantages to children if English is spoken at home, as well as their mother tongue.

"The prime minister agrees it is an advantage to children to grow up in a home which is bilingual."

Earlier, former minister Keith Vaz branded Mr Blunkett's remarks as the "silliest" he had heard from a home secretary.

He urged the home secretary to spend a night with an Asian family.

The Labour MP said there was not a single household in his Leicester East constituency where English was not spoken.

But in a multi-cultural society people would also speak other languages.

"Just to make a blanket statement to say that he would like to see it being spoken based on a survey that I think is completely wrong, is not the best way of helping race relations," said Mr Vaz.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"His critics say there are other more pressing problems"
Labour MP Keith Vaz
"This is trying to regulate private relations"
Labour MP for Gloucester Paramjit Dhanda
"David Blunkett is talking sense"
See also:

06 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Dec 01 | UK
06 Sep 02 | Politics
05 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Dec 01 | Politics
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