Blunkett's 'British test' for immigrants

Ethnic communities scarred by the summer riots should learn English and adopt 'British norms of acceptability'
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Indy Politics

David Blunkett today risks provoking fresh controversy in advance of reports on the summer riots in three northern towns by calling on Britain's ethnic communities to adopt British "norms of acceptability", including learning to speak English.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday, the Home Secretary says the reports on the disturbances in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham to be published on Tuesday will "face head on" the causes of the riots, but he says reviving the areas is a "two-way street".

Mr Blunkett denies he is echoing Norman Tebbit's infamous "cricket test", equating patriotism with support for the England team. But he says: "There is a big debate to be had ... about the test we apply to future generations to make sure they are part of that solution."

It is not the first time Mr Blunkett has risked the wrath of the "liberal" left by speaking bluntly about the need to avoid politically correct solutions. He says that the communities scarred by the riots will have to help themselves to break down community segregation by learning English and adopting British norms of acceptability.

"If we are going to have social cohesion we have got to develop a sense of identity and a sense of belonging," he adds.

Practices such as enforced marriages for Asian girls should be seen as unacceptable, he says. "We need to say we will not tolerate what we would not accept ourselves under the guise of accepting a different culture."

His remarks are certain to provoke a furious outcry from ethnic community leaders. One of his own ministerial colleagues dismissed his reliance on self-help for the communities as "convenient for David and the Treasury".

The reports will support initial findings that the racist British National Party may have been involved, but the causes of the riots, which led to business areas and car dealers being burned out, are more deep-rooted.

"We recognise that racial prejudice is deep-seated and we need to face it head on," he says. "But we also accept that we need sensitivity rather than political correctness."

The Home Office reports find damning evidence of weak local leadership among faith and cultural community chiefs, largely self-imposed segregation of ethnic groups possibly as a result of fear of racial attacks, and disaffected youth frustrated at their inability to have their grievances heard.

The reports by the Home Office minister John Denham, former council chief executive Ted Cantle and David Ritchie include between 60 and 70 recommendations for increasing social cohesion, including reinforcing the message that faith schools need to be inclusive.

To underline his message of self-help, Mr Blunkett will deliver a keynote speech on race relations in Balsall Heath, an area of Birmingham that rid itself of prostitutes and drug dealers by community action.

He will say the reports show there are a number of public policy issues that Britain cannot duck, including a need to make the funding rules more flexible to avoid jealousy between whites, blacks and Asians when money is allocated to a particular area of a town.

However, Mr Blunkett made it clear in his interview that the Government has no magic wand to provide a solution with more money. "Having built the safeguards and the security of the rule of law ... we expect people positively to contribute to social cohesion," he says.

Mr Blunkett will follow up the reports with a white paper on nationality and immigration in the New Year explicitly demanding a sufficient grasp of the English language for immigrants seeking to naturalise as British citizens. It will foreshadow the proposed citizenship "entitlement card" that provoked an earlier controversy.

Michael Meacher, the environment minister and MP for Oldham West and Royton, said Oldham needed a major urban regeneration programme like Manchester. He said the Oldham riots were not primarily Asians fighting whites, but Asians attacking the police after tensions caused by the British National Party.

"I don't think race relations between the two communities are bad. It is a very serious event that happened, and it has to be taken seriously," Mr Meacher said.

A Home Office spokesman said: "From our point of view, the key message is that the Government cannot do this on its own. We cannot just clean up these areas. Local people need to take ownership of the problem. In Balsall Heath, there is a clear civic identity. There has been a complete turn-around in the area. House prices are going up in the area."