Steve Doughty, Daily Mail (London), June 14, 2007
Teenagers may be called on to attend citizenship ceremonies side by side with immigrants under plans to improve relations with the newcomers.
They would be asked to go to their local town hall to pledge allegiance to the Queen, just as immigrants must do to win British citizenship.
The idea is to establish a bond between those born here and those who choose to make Britain their home.
If adopted by the Government, it would mean 600,000 16-year-olds each year going through a ceremony that includes a pledge of allegiance to the monarch and loyalty to Britain, along with a vow to “respect its rights and freedoms, uphold its democratic values’ and ‘observe its laws faithfully”.
The Commission on Integration and Cohesion yesterday unveiled the idea in a raft of measures to improve the way immigrants settle into this country.
It calls for action to ease racial tensions in the small towns, rural areas and suburbs which are assimilating large numbers of immigrants for the first time.
This included the formation of ‘hit squads’ to go into areas struggling with racial change. Using “conflict resolution” skills, they would advise local leaders, schools and hospitals on how to calm trouble.
The commission’s report asks for councils to draw up maps of their areas to establish who lives in each ward, the ethnic breakdown of schools, and the importance of different religious groups.
There should be local “contracts” between councils and migrant and ethnic groups “to set out what is and what is not acceptable behaviour”.
The Daily Mail revealed last month how large-scale immigration has brought large new communities to small towns.
For example, one in ten people in Boston, Lincolnshire, is now Eastern European and the Cheshire town of Crewe is home to 6,000 new migrants, mainly Poles.
The admission that areas that have never experienced racial tension are now potential scenes of turmoil and violence is part of the commission’s push for a change in policy towards integration.
The importance of newcomers learning English was also highlighted in the report.
The commission wants lessons for those who speak only their homeland language to reduce isolation among some minority groups and encourage integration.
The commission, set up by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings two years ago, condemned many of the practices carried out for years in the name of anti-racism—which have cost millions in taxpayers’ and lottery money.
It says translation services that result in local authority documents published in scores of languages should be cut back and the money saved poured into English lessons.
Grants for single ethnic or cultural groups—routinely handed out by councils and lottery boards—should stop unless there is an exceptionally good reason for them. Such grants often provoke jealously and suspicion, the commission says.
It says social housing should no longer be provided for particular groups.
In recent years, flats and houses have been designed by councils and housing associations specificallyto cater for Muslim tenants, for example.
And housing policies should take into account the needs and fears of established populations, according to the commission.
Senior Labour politicians such as Margaret Hodge and Jon Cruddas have spoken of fears among whites that newly-arrived immigrants are preferred for council homes.
The commission warns that a poll shows more than half the population share such fears.
Its report, Our Shared Future, said: “This finding highlights that people are very sensitive about perceived freeloading by other groups, and about others getting a better deal than them when it comes to certain public services. The groups most often named spontaneously were asylum seekers, refugees or immigrants.”
The recommendation for “an expansion of citizenship ceremonies to include all young people” could affect the largest number of Britons.
Commission chairman Darra Singh said: “We have to recognise that there are communities who are experiencing migration in a way they haven’t before and that can be unsettling.
“Whilst there is no cause for alarm, there is a clear case for action.”
The findings attracted criticism both from opposition politicians and the race relations industry. Tory communities spokesman Caroline Spelman said: “Belonging to British society is about shared values, not children receiving a certificate when they leave school.
“We don’t resolve complex problems of integration and cohesion with simplistic solutions like these.”
The Government race watchdog, the Commission for Racial Equality, said: “This much-hyped report has been eagerly awaited, but sadly it hasn’t taken the debate much further.
“It must not be an excuse for central government to pass the buck to local authorities.”
Nearly half of all British Asians think that the country accepts too many immigrants, a government advisory body said yesterday.
Almost seven out of ten people surveyed said that there were too many migrants in the UK, while 47 per cent of Asians and 45 per cent of blacks also felt that there was too much immigration, according to the report by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion.
The advisory body, set up by Ruth Kelly, Communities Secretary, a year ago, has drawn up a map showing the parts of England where the influx of immigrants has created the greatest tension.
The map charts responses from people across the country to the question: “To what extent do you agree or disagree that this local area (within 15/20 minutes walking distance) is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together?”
Those who agreed or strongly agreed that people of different backgrounds got on well in their areas ranged from 38 per cent to 90 per cent. In ten out of 387 areas the figure was under 60 per cent.
The report also says that millions of pounds spent on attempts to help immigrants have unwittingly helped fuel community divisions. It claims that the widespread practice of translating official documents and signs into different minority languages has backfired by ensuring that immigrants never bother to learn English.
One way of improving relations could be for British-born teenagers to undergo citizenship ceremonies alongside new immigrants, the report says.
Both could learn “what it means to vote and to sit on a jury . . . alongside civic information.”
More than half of people questioned in the survey felt some groups—asylum seekers, refugees or immigrants—got unfair priority for housing, health and schools.
It calls for a shift in the way local authorities and Whitehall tackle mixed populations, moving away from supporting individual migrant groups in favour of those that are disposed to mixing between races.
Ms Kelly said: “This is a wake-up call to local government that I hope will provoke a real cultural change. The report is striking because it shows how some local authorities have managed the change in society very much better than others.”
Among key recommendations are curbs on the translation of government leaflets with the money saved spent on English teaching.
A national community week should be established, possibly with a new Bank Holiday that would celebrate “cross-cultural activities”, school twinning involving linking pupils in different regions or communities, and advice packs for migrants.
Immigrants would receive a “cultural briefing pack” that would advise them about British customs such as queueing, expected standards of behaviour and their rights. “The packs may say that we like to queue at the post office and we don’t really like spitting in the street,” a spokesman for the Commission said.
Research indicated an even split over whether migration was good for the economy, with 36 per cent agreeing and a similar percentage disagreeing.
The document added that funding from the public purse and other sources such as the Lottery should not normally go to organisations that are based solely on race or religion.