Kelly calls for 'honest debate' on multiculturalism
Mark Oliver and agencies
Thursday August 24, 2006
The communities secretary, Ruth Kelly, today called for a “new, honest debate” about rooting out extremism and argued it was “not racist” to discuss immigration and asylum.
She said Britain had moved away from a “near-uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism” and was facing challenges that threatened its record on uniting ethnic groups.
Ms Kelly called for the new debate as she launched the delayed Commission on Integration and Cohesion, which was first announced by Tony Blair in the wake of the July 7 London bombings.
The launch of the independent commission – which had been expected to have published its findings by now – comes two weeks after authorities revealed that an alleged terror plot to blow up airliners had been thwarted.
Ms Kelly insisted that the commission was not “and must not be, a talking shop”. She said: “It is a practical exercise which will look at what actually works for communities on the ground.”
The communities secretary said those working on the commission would travel around the country in an attempt to find out why some communities mix while others do not.
Ministers hope the new commission will encourage better community cohesion through schemes that could include mediation services and mentoring involving the private sector.
An earlier initiative by the government, a taskforce set up after the 7/7 bombings to study ways of tackling the radicalism of some young Muslims, was dismissed as a talking shop by critics.
Damian Green, the Conservative's home affairs spokesman, said after the previous taskforce returned its findings earlier this year the government only implemented three of the taskforce's 64 recommendations.
“This time, it must make a proper long-term commitment to solving the problems,” Mr Green said.
The Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg, said any “belated” attempt to improve community relations was welcome.
However, he added: “To be truly effective, any attempt to reach out to disaffected members of our Muslim communities must also incorporate an honest debate about this government's foreign policy and some of its counter-terrorism measures.”
Mr Blair and senior members of the government have consistently refused to accept that British foreign policy – including supporting the US in Iraq – is a factor in radicalising young British Muslims.
Speaking at a community centre in Borough, south London, Ms Kelly said diversity had been a “huge asset” to Britain but warned that, with new waves of immigrants arriving, international events increasingly had an impact on community relations.
“Global tensions are being reflected on the streets of local communities,” she said.
There was a danger of white Britons becoming alienated by the pace of social change, Ms Kelly said, and if they were detached from benefits linked to this, they could “begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment and to develop resentment”.
She went on: “We must not be censored by political correctness and we can't tiptoe around the issues. For example, it's clear that we need a controlled, well-managed system of immigration that has clear rules and integrity to counter exploitation from the far right.”
She said she agreed with the home secretary, John Reid, that it was “not racist” to debate immigration and asylum, adding that such discussions should be based on “fact and not myth”.
She said policies should not be based on “special treatment for minority ethnic faith communities” and that rights brought “responsibilities”. There must be “non-negotiable rules understood by all groups”.
Earlier, speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Ms Kelly said Britain as a whole must follow the example of some northern towns in building bridges between different groups.
She said integration in Oldham, Greater Manchester – where there were race riots five years ago – had significantly improved.
Ms Kelly said that faith schools could be encouraged to play sports matches against, or twin themselves to, schools of a different faith.
The commission will begin its work amid fears of divisions between some communities following the investigation into the alleged bomb plot.
On Monday, 11 people were charged in connection with the alleged plot, including eight men who face charges of conspiracy to murder and preparing acts of terrorism.
Some within the Muslim community have expressed mistrust of the police and scepticism about counter-terrorism measures. In June, a Muslim man was shot by police in a terror raid in Forest Gate, east London, in an operation that prompted widespread questions about intelligence.
Mr Blair and senior police officers have called for help from the Muslim community in fighting terrorism.
It is now expected the commission will make its recommendations in June 2007.
Darra Singh, the chairman of the new commission, said he hoped the commission would “foster debate” while also finding solutions which “are grounded in reality”.
He hoped it would involve “women, young people and establish communities who may not think that integration is an issue for them”.
The terms of reference of the commission's report are:
Examining the issues that raise tensions between different groups in different areas, and that lead to segregation and conflict
Suggesting how local community and political leadership can push further against perceived barriers to cohesion and integration
Looking at how local communities can be empowered to tackle extremist ideologies
Developing approaches that build local areas' own capacity to prevent problems, and ensure they have the structures in place to recover from periods of tension.
24.08.2006: Ruth Kelly's speech on integration and cohesion
Immigration, asylum and refugees
Race in the UK
Terrorism threat to UK
Reports into riots in British towns
The Cantle report in full (pdf)
Oldham independent review report in full (pdf)
Burnley task force report in full (pdf)
Bradford race review report in full (pdf)
Department for Communities and Local Government
Black Information Link