Britain: Immigrants told to learn English
A crackdown on councils and other public bodies routinely translating documents into foreign languages was indicated yesterday amid fears that they discourage immigrants from learning English.
Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, said translation had been used too frequently and could become "a crutch" which acted as a barrier to integration.
The practice allowed new arrivals to avoid learning English and meant that many never did, Miss Kelly said.
"I do think translation has been used too frequently and sometimes without thought to the consequences," she told BBC1's The Politics Show.
"So, for example, it's quite possible for someone to come here from Pakistan or elsewhere ... and find that materials are routinely translated into their mother tongue, and therefore not have the incentive to learn the language."
Some councils, Miss Kelly said, were guilty of handing out money to particular ethnic or cultural groups instead of using community centres to bring people together.
A report from the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, which was commissioned by Miss Kelly to look at ways to help immigrants to integrate better, will be published on Thursday.
The commission, which has focused on fears that segregated communities have acted as a spawning ground for extremism, is likely to suggest spending less on translation and more on English lessons.
Reports suggested yesterday that councils spend £500 million a year on translation.
Darra Singh, the chairman of the cohesion commission, said: "It is important that we encourage newcomers to learn English, rather than make it easier for them to get by without. Some basic translation is useful and necessary, but we have not always struck the right guidance."
Writing in The Observer, Mr Singh said: "Where savings are made by cutting translation services, they should be reinvested in English lessons - both for newcomers and settled communities."
Mr Singh also wants more young people involved in local projects and said "we need to consider a national community service and we should not be afraid of asking whether this should be compulsory".
Miss Kelly indicated that the Government would not back a compulsory scheme.
She insisted that translation of information on access to emergency services was necessary, but added: "I think speaking the language is absolutely key. Something the commission looked at is whether we should be translating from English into different languages as a matter of routine. They are going to put out guidance \u2026 where local authorities can ask really hard questions about whether or not we're providing a crutch and supporting people in their difference."
Reports yesterday suggested that employers would be asked to pay for language courses for workers with a poor grasp of English.
But David Davis, the Tory home affairs spokesman, told The Daily Telegraph: "This issue is a direct outcome of Government immigration policy. It should be for the Government to pick up the tab, not business."
Lord Bruce-Lockhart, of the Local Government Association, accused Labour of pushing councils into spending so much on translations as part of its failed 1990s policy on multiculturalism.
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