The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, was accused yesterday of launching a "dangerous" attack on Asian culture when he said arranged marriages should involve partners from Britain and not the Indian subcontinent.
Mr Blunkett announced an overhaul of Britain's immigration laws, including a requirement that immigrants undertake "citizenship pledges" to the Queen and British values and that they take tests on their English and knowledge of British law and institutions. The Home Secretary's package also included measures designed to expose "bogus or sham" marriages by requiring British citizens who marry foreigners to undergo a two-year probationary period.
The Government's White Paper suggested "discussion" on whether more arranged marriages "could be undertaken within the settled community here".
Speaking at the Home Office yesterday, Mr Blunkett said: "We need to be able to encourage people to respond particularly to young women who do actually want to be able to marry someone who speaks their language – namely English – who has been educated in the same way as they have, and has similar social attitudes."
The Home Secretary claimed that it would be a "kind of reverse racism that if you're white and middle-class you can't say or do anything at all that might upset someone who's black or Asian".
Mr Blunkett's comments caused immediate offence. Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council on the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "Everyone despises forced marriages but such an attack on the institution of arranged marriage is an attack on the whole communities of the Indian subcontinent."
Ahmed Versi, editor of Muslim News, described Mr Blunkett's stance as "a very dangerous move". Mr Versi, who himself has an arranged marriage, complained that similar comments were not made about English men who chose to marry women from south-east Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines.
Mr Blunkett also announced the closure next year of the Campsfield immigration detention centre in Oxfordshire, where a series of riots have taken place, and the replacement of the voucher system for asylum-seekers with a cash-based programme.
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