Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, faced anger last night after he claimed members of ethnic minorities who could not speak English “like a native” could become a sub-class “stuck in a ghetto”.
He came under fire for his use of emotive language in an interview designed to underline moves to encourage integration, including a new £10m scheme to boost English teaching.
Mr Pickles told The House magazine: “In terms of wanting people, encouraging people, to be part of British society, they can’t do that unless they have more than an understanding of English.
“If we don’t get our resident population with an understanding of English, then they become a sub-class that is virtually unemployable or are stuck in a ghetto. We should not be turning people out of our schools who aren’t able to speak English like a native.”
In the interview he said his aim was an “integration policy, which essentially builds on what we have in common, rather than to seek differences”.
Last night Hilary Benn MP, the Shadow Communities Secretary, said: “Eric Pickles should be thinking of practical ways to ensure that anyone settling in this country is able to speak English rather than talking about sub-classes and ghettos.”
In the interview, Mr Pickles accused the last Labour government of a tendency to see minorities as victims.
He said: “Sometimes they called it a problem, sometimes they called it a challenge. I actually think that we need to be a little bit more upfront about it and say Britain is stronger, much stronger, because of British Hindus, British Sikhs, because of British Muslims, because of British Jews.”