Ruth Kelly has admitted that the Government has begun to question whether the long-standing policy of multiculturalism has encouraged some immigrant communities to shut themselves off from British life.
The Communities Secretary appealed for a "new and honest debate" on dealing with tensions between ethnic groups at theofficial launch of the new Commission on Integration and Cohesion yesterday. Her remarks are a sign that ministers feel the need to tread softly around race and immigration, when the news is dominated by the scale of economic migration from eastern Europe and an alleged plot by young Muslims to blow up aircraft.
The commission was set up in the wake of last year's July 7 bombings in London, and one of its principal tasks will be to examine extremism. Ms Kelly said: "There are white Britons who do not feel comfortable with change. They see the shops and restaurants in their town centres changing. They see their neighbourhoods becoming more diverse.
"Detached from the benefits of those changes, they begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment, and to develop a resentment, a sense of grievance.
"I believe this is why we have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness."Darra Singh, the chief executive of Ealing Council, will head the commission.
Ifath Nawaz, the chairwoman of the Association of Muslim Lawyers,questioned whether there was any point in a commission. "What's required is not another commission but funding to deal with the issues," she told BBC Radio 4's World At One.Reuse content