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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 February 2008, 11:36 GMT
English is 'priority' says Blears
Hazel Blears
Some local authorities were translating annual reports - probably most English people don't read a local authority's annual report
Hazel Blears
Hazel Blears has said learning English must be "an absolute top priority" for migrants to the UK.

The secretary of state for communities also said local authorities should "think carefully" about whether documents needed to be translated.

She told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show the ability to speak English was "fundamental" for migrants to the UK.

Gordon Brown has previously said people who want British citizenship should be expected to learn the language.

Ms Blears said: "If you want to get on, if you want to get a job, if you want to look after your family, the ability to speak the language is fundamental.

"We're saying to local authorities in particular - don't go translating all the documents that you used to in the past.

"Think very carefully about how you can bring people together."

The government announced in January it was to give free English language classes to immigrants to England who have long-term needs.

Picture messages

The tuition will be free for those on benefits, and aimed at long-standing residents whose English is still poor - rather than those who may not stay.

The government introduced means-testing for English courses last September, following a surge in demand.

Ms Blears also said there may be an alternative method in which messages can be communicated to non-English speakers.

She said: "Some local authorities were translating annual reports - probably most English people don't read a local authority's annual report.

"If you've got emergency instructions for how to get to the accident and emergency department in the hospital, if you have a terrible accident, then you may well need to translate that.

"But the advice is 'think twice' and maybe you can do things in a pictorial way that has the English translation underneath.

"So actually, in the process of giving people information, you're helping them to learn English as well."

Multicultural concerns

Ms Blears also said the term multiculturalism means "all things to all people" but that for both her and the Labour party it meant that we "celebrate the diversity of this country".

On the whole we've been taking separate groups and treating them rather separately, and giving them special status and instead of saying that all of us have got to be part of the same single framework of law and habit
Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones

But she added: "That shouldn't mean people leading separate lives, and that's where I think the danger is."

The prime minister said in December that immigrants "should be able to speak the English language... should be able to understand and speak about British cultural traditions".

Meanwhile Conservative Shadow Security Minister, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, has agreed with a report by security experts, who claim the UK has become a "soft touch" for terrorists because of rising multiculturalism.

She said: "On the whole we've been taking separate groups and treating them rather separately, and giving them special status and instead of saying that all of us have got to be part of the same single framework of law and habit and getting at some of the separatism that's been going on."



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Hazel Blears on The Andrew Marr Show



SEE ALSO
Migrants language lessons rethink
04 Jan 08 |  Education
Migrants 'should learn English'
13 Dec 07 |  UK Politics
Cost in translation
12 Dec 06 |  UK

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