With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s ambitious proposals to build strong, integrated communities, where people—whatever their background—can live, work, learn and socialise together based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities. The “Integrated Communities Strategy” Green Paper, published today, sets out a bold programme to deliver that vision.
Britain is a great place to live. We are one of the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith societies, and we should take huge pride in that diversity. However, as we have seen just this week with the abhorrent “punish a Muslim” letters, there is a determination among some to try to divide. I express my support for all those who have received these hateful letters, including the hon. Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin). While there is a lot for us to be proud of, there is also more to do to ensure that a diverse society does not mean a divided society. In too many parts of our country, the truth is that the norm is mistrust, anxiety and prejudice—things that prevent people from taking full advantage of the opportunities that living in Britain offers. We can no longer duck the issue if we are to ensure that this is a country that works for everyone. To that end, we have identified five factors that drive segregation in our communities.
First, too many schools are segregated, even where the local population is very diverse, and unregulated settings outside school can also, on occasion, expose children to harmful views.
Secondly, there is residential segregation. In 2011, 41% of ethnic minorities lived in wards where white British people were a minority—an increase from 25% just 10 years ago. That reduces opportunities for people to mix and form meaningful relationships with those from different backgrounds.
Thirdly, disproportionately high levels of unemployment and economic inactivity reduce social mobility and can increase isolation. Sixty per cent. of women of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicity are inactive in the labour market compared with a quarter of their white peers.
Fourthly, at the last census, as many as 770,000 adults in England could not speak English well or at all. Without a good understanding of our language, it is difficult for anyone to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them, and I know from personal experience just how much of a difference it made for my mother when she learned to speak English more than a decade after moving here from Pakistan.
Fifthly, there is a lack of meaningful mixing between people from different backgrounds. Evidence suggests that black, white and Asian Britons take up only about half the opportunities open to them to mix socially with people of an ethnicity different from their own. All that adds up to a conflict between religious, personal and cultural attitudes, and British values, causing increased tensions within and between communities. Women and girls are often at the greatest disadvantage.
The Green Paper sets out a framework of national priority actions to address the drivers of poor integration and to put forward a localised approach. In doing so, it sets out how we will facilitate recent migrants’ integration into their communities and how we will improve communities’ ability to adapt to migration. Success will depend on strong leadership, at both the national and local level. To ensure that the Government are leading by example, I am asking all Whitehall Departments to review their policies and to identify areas where they could do more to support integration. For example, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will review the Life in the UK test to see whether it could be amended to strengthen its focus on the values and principles of the UK. by which we are all expected to live.
The Green Paper includes proposals to ensure that every child receives an education that prepares them for life in modern Britain. That means giving them the opportunity to mix and form lasting relationships with those from different backgrounds and making sure they receive a rounded education that promotes British values across the curriculum. To protect children and young people from being exposed to views that undermine our shared values, my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will publish proposals to strengthen the enforcement policy for independent schools that fail to meet the required standard. He will also review whether Ofsted’s powers can be strengthened in relation to unregistered schools. We will stand up against undue pressure or harassment of school leaders who, having consulted, set reasonable policies that promote integration.
On employment, the Green Paper outlines how Jobcentre Plus will trial new approaches to break down the barriers to employment and support people from isolated communities into work. However, the truth is that a person must be able to speak English not only to find a job and prosper, but to play a full role in society. That is why we are proposing to develop a new strategy for English language in England and launch a new community-based English language programme.
The Green Paper also takes a robust approach to hate crime—a vile attack not just on individuals but on the tolerant and generous values that underpin British society. The Green Paper proposes strengthening local partnerships, so that they can identify and adopt the most effective approaches to tackling hate crime and encourage more people to report it. But it is clearly not enough to stamp out hate. We need to build hope and stronger communities, which the Green Paper aims to do through initiatives such as the integration innovation fund. That fund will allow organisations to bid to test out approaches to bring people together around shared activities and community spaces.
None of these measures dilutes the Government’s commitment to protect people’s legitimate rights to free speech and to practise their religion within the law. Indeed, the Green Paper reaffirms that commitment. But we cannot and will not shy away from challenging cultural practices that are harmful, particularly for women and girls. Recent news about the abuses in Telford highlights just how important the issue is.
We will also expand our Strengthening Faith Institutions programme to help a wider range of faith institutions to tighten up their governance structures, including promoting the participation of women and young people. We will support training of faith leaders to practise in the British context by ensuring they understand the British legal system, British culture and our shared values. The recent independent review of sharia law also recommended amending marriage legislation to ensure that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the religious marriage ceremony. The Government share the concerns raised in the review and support that principle and recommendation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice will explore the legal and practical challenges of limited reform to the law to reflect that.
We recognise that issues play out differently in different places and for different people, so we are going to work with five very different parts of the country: Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, and Waltham Forest, to develop local integration strategies and to learn how we can best address the challenges on the ground. The overall aim is to develop a set of integration measures at a local and a national level, so that we can assess what really works.
It is a sign of a mature, confident society that we can discuss these issues without lazy stereotyping or over-sensitivity. I look forward to a constructive debate with all those in the House and beyond who want to focus on what unites rather than divides us. We should be guided by the evidence and an acknowledgement that we all have a role to play—both new arrivals in making a new life here, and existing communities in supporting them.
As the proud son of immigrants whose parents worked hard to get on and give something back, I want everyone in Britain to enjoy the same opportunities—to celebrate where they come from, while playing a full and proper role in British society; to see people from all backgrounds mixing freely and without fear; and to ensure that everyone, regardless of whether they are a new arrival or can trace their ancestry back to the Norman conquest, feels proud to call this country their home. The Green Paper proposes an ambitious programme of action across the Government to help achieve just that. I commend it to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his oral statement and for bringing to the House the Government’s long-awaited integration strategy. From the start, I want to echo his comments on the “punish a Muslim” letters. The individuals who sent those have no place in society. We must do much more in the House to speak for the power of diversity and the power of the contribution of people of all backgrounds to enrich all our lives.
In December 2016, we were told that the Secretary of State was studying the report’s findings very closely and that the Government’s strategy would appear in the new year. Fifteen months later, I hope the delay in publishing has given the Secretary of State sufficient time to reflect and produce a robust strategy. I welcome his decision to visit an adult learning centre in Waltham Forest this morning—a Labour council that, despite having seen its budgets slashed, is working hard for its community. The Government have much to learn from the work being done there. Imagine how much these vital services could achieve across the country if they were properly funded! The money that the Secretary of State has committed today to that authority will go far in supporting its English for speakers of other languages, or ESOL, programme.
Breaking down the barriers that exist between communities is the best tool we have to challenge hostility and mistrust. We welcome the Government’s re-focus on English language provision, but these actions do little to reverse the massive cuts that have been implemented by the Government. According to the House of Commons Library, between 2009-10 and 2015-16, funding for ESOL fell in real terms from £222 million to just £90 million. It is unclear what proportion of the £50 million will be used to reverse those cuts, but it is clear that it will not be enough to undo the damage. We recognise how important it is for people arriving in the UK to be able to speak English, but cuts to the sector have left it in a dangerous state of disrepair. Although the new funding is welcome, we need to go further. We have committed to re-establishing ESOL classes and making them free at the point of use for all those who need them.
In her report, Dame Louise Casey said:
“The problem has not been a lack of knowledge but a failure of collective, consistent and persistent will to do something about it or give it the priority it deserves at both a national and local level”.
It is disappointing, then, that today the Government have announced not a new policy, but rather another consultation for a potential policy—and one that is to be implemented not nationally, but among a small selection of target areas. It seems that that disappointment was shared by Dame Louise. On the “Today” programme this morning, she said:
“it will take more than £50 million over two years and is something the whole country will have to embrace. The differences in the country at the moment are too great and we need something that heals the nation.”
Dame Louise said in her report:
“The work that has been done has often been piecemeal and lacked a clear evidence base or programme of evaluation.”
Again, she was disappointed on that today. On the “Today” programme, she said she had hoped for
“big bold strategies that make seismic change”.
She also mentioned the rough sleeping unit that she headed up under the last Labour Government:
“We ended the need for people to sleep rough on the streets of this country, we drastically reduced antisocial behaviour... I would like to see coming out of their strategy something on that level.”
Also on this point, the Government need to ensure that the work they propose in this Green Paper is supported by evidence and involves a proper system of evaluation. I would welcome it if the Secretary of State provided details on that today.
The Casey review also refers to the rise in hate crime since the EU referendum—it soared by 41% after the vote. I know the Secretary of State will join me in condemning those who have stoked violence, but I am sure that he also agrees that there needs to be greater respect among Members of this House, because we should be leading by example on this.
On education, mixing with children from other backgrounds and religions throughout school life is indeed one of the best ways of preventing barriers from being erected in the first place. A former No. 10 aide said that instead of simply learning about British values of tolerance, children should be living them. How will the Secretary of State ensure that children mix with all cultures and religions, given that the new Education Secretary recently suggested he was in favour of ditching the 50% cap on religious admissions to new over-subscribed faith schools? Also, will the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary commit to subjecting independent schools to community impact assessments?
I hope that today’s announcement signals a new commitment from the whole Government, but an integration innovation fund to make better use of shared community spaces such as parks and libraries will do little for many communities in which those facilities have closed because of Government cuts. This strategy should be a blueprint for the type of society we wish our children to grow up in. It should be bold, ambitious and, as Dame Louise has said, “backed with serious funding”. We welcome the broad thrust of the strategy as a welcome, overdue, small first step. Despite our criticism that it lacks some of the ambition we would like—we want the strategy’s approach to be deeper and wider—there are some positive ideas in the statement. The true test will be whether there is rigorous evaluation, and if any successful strategy is given the backing and money to expand into all areas so that extremism—both Islamist and far right—can be consigned to history, and we can go forward with a diverse, not divided, Britain.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and for broadly welcoming the strategy. She started by mentioning the work that Dame Louise Casey has done for years on this subject, including through the report that she published. Let me take this opportunity to thank Dame Louise again for what she has done. That valuable report was an important input into the development of the strategy, as was evidence from other sources. From what I have seen from Dame Louise Casey today, she has welcomed the strategy. Of course, there are things that she might have done differently, but she has broadly welcomed it, and I thank her for that.
The hon. Lady went on to mention the English language. Once again, I welcome her support in understanding that this is a major issue. We must do much more to support people who have settled in our country but speak no or little English to learn that language, for all the obvious reasons. She mentioned my visit today to the Queens Road learning centre in Walthamstow. I was very impressed with how it is run and with the people I met who have, within just a year, learnt an incredible amount of English. They talked to me about how that had transformed their lives, and I am very supportive of such activity, which is why I am pleased that a part of our plan is to help more communities to provide that kind of teaching.
The hon. Lady also mentioned funding for English language teaching. Of course funding is important, but this is about more than just that. We have committed today, for the first time, to ensure that this is a national strategy across all Departments, so for example my Department, the Home Office and the Department for Education will work together with one goal of helping people to learn English. We are also making use of community groups, which can often get to those people who need to learn English in a much more practical and sensible way than perhaps under the traditional approach. That is why we are keen to use these five pilot areas that we have named. We recognise that there is not a one-size-fits-all policy. We will need different approaches to achieve the same objectives, and we should be led by the evidence. I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees that everything should be led by evidence.
The hon. Lady also rightly condemned hate crime of all types. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), stood at this Dispatch Box just a couple of days ago to outline the Government’s hate crime strategy and how we will build on that. The hon. Lady speaks for everyone in this House when she says that hate crime of any type is unacceptable. I agree with her that people in this House should set an example, and that applies to all types of hate crime—hate crime against Muslims and anti-Semitic hate crime.
Lastly, the hon. Lady mentioned faith schools and schooling more generally. She will recall that my statement referred to segregation in schools. This is not an issue just for some faith schools; it is equally an issue for non-faith schools and in many parts of the education sector. That is why I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has agreed not only to review what can be done, but to work with the pilot areas immediately to determine what strategies can be developed locally to try to reduce segregation. I believe that this is the first time a Government have committed to do that.
My last comment is to welcome the hon. Lady’s recognition that this is a strategy for the whole Government. This has not been done before under successive Governments. We recognise that almost every Department —some clearly more than others—has a role to play in building a more integrated and cohesive society.
May I join my right hon. Friend in utterly condemning the “punish a Muslim” letters? Having read the text, I am appalled, and I hope that our Government will ensure that the full force of the law is put behind finding the senders of these letters and ensuring that they are punished. I think that the whole House will join in condemning the appalling way in which certain Members have been specifically targeted.
I welcome the Green Paper and the funding, and my right hon. Friend’s determination to ensure that social integration can be advanced, particularly by enabling people to speak English. I find that it is often the older members of my local Muslim community in Chesham who have not managed to achieve any great fluency in English. Many of them are women, and they are often not aware of their rights and cannot play a full part in society. What does my right hon. Friend propose so that we are able to reach older members of our communities and enable them to get the fluency in English that they should have?
First, may I join my right hon. Friend in condemning the hate crime letters that we have all heard about this week? A live police investigation is under way and I reassure her that the full force of the law will be used to find the perpetrators and ensure that they are punished.
My right hon. Friend talked about English language learning, particularly among older members of communities. She is right that that can be harder for someone who has been here for perhaps 40 or 50 years and still does not speak English properly. In trying to encourage such people to take up English, we wish to expand the process of getting other members of their community—perhaps even those of the same age group—to encourage them into settings that might be familiar and to work with them. That might be a slower process than getting them into a place such as a college to learn English, but if it is a method that works, it is what we will support.
I start by condemning the letters that have been mentioned. The Scottish National party condemns hate crime and extremism of all kinds.
While the SNP welcomes all action to promote integration, this Government really have a cheek, because 15 months on from the Casey report, Refugee Action has dubbed this Green Paper
“all mouth and no trousers”
without new money for ESOL, as its funding has been cut by 60% in England over the past five years. What research have the Government done into austerity’s impact on integration? The Secretary of State mentioned Jobcentre Plus, and I can tell him Jobcentre Plus asked one of my constituents to stop her ESOL class and go into work. It is ludicrous that this is happening.
This Government have pandered to tabloids and stoked up anti-immigration rhetoric for years, so they should apologise for their part in this. After all, this is a Government of “Go Home” vans; of the hostile environment; of impoverishing and making destitute asylum seekers, preventing them from working, which we know would aid integration; of deeming highly skilled migrants a threat to national security under paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules; and of the Brexit shambles, which makes EU nationals feel so unwelcome that they are leaving the country they have made home.
We are working hard in Scotland to counter that narrative, because it really matters. Our New Scots refugee integration strategy seeks integration from day one. It is a two-way process. We would like immigration law to be devolved so that we can do more. We welcome those who have done us the honour of making Scotland their home, and I take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them, because we do not do that enough.
The Scottish Government’s strategy was drawn up in consultation with more than 700 refugees and asylum seekers. Does the Secretary of State intend to consult similarly? We allow asylum seekers in Scotland to learn English for free and encourage community-based learning, as happens in Nan McKay hall in my constituency, where some of those who came through the door for ESOL classes are now members of the board of that organisation. We have a community response through Refuweegee, and the people at Code Your Future want to teach coding skills to new migrants. The Scottish Refugee Council encourages people to take a cup of tea with a refugee. What consultation has the Secretary of State done with the Scottish Government, especially in respect of the life in the UK test? Will he look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation?
It is a shame that the hon. Lady took such an unconstructive attitude. This vital issue concerns everyone throughout the country. Of course, the policies that I have set out today primarily affect England, although some issues, such as the life in the UK test, are UK-wide. Despite the attitude taken by the hon. Lady, we stand ready to work with the Scottish Government to further our joint goal of a more integrated society.
I commend my right hon. Friend on his statement and the manner in which he has presented it. I join others in condemning the terrible atrocities that Members from across the House have suffered as a result of hate crimes committed against them.
Some 161 languages are spoken in my constituency in our schools alone. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee conducted a brief inquiry into the Casey review, and I suspect that we will return to this subject again.
One problem that my right hon. Friend has not mentioned is that children are often withheld from schooling. Children who are in schools learn English rapidly and become part and parcel of society; children who do not go to school and are withdrawn from education often do not pick up English very quickly, if at all. That means that they are not able to play their full part in society. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what he will do to make sure that young children who are withdrawn from education are properly educated and mix with other children, so that they get the opportunity to integrate into society?
I commend my hon. Friend on his remarks. I note that he represents what is probably one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, and it is all the richer and culturally stronger for that. He raised the particular issue of English and schooling. He is quite right—the evidence shows this—that some people abuse the freedoms that we give to schooling by taking their children out of the education system altogether and sending them to unregistered schools, which raises all sorts of issues, not least about the safeguarding of those children. We have committed in the Green Paper to a review by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education of the guidelines on home schooling and the requirements to have all schools registered, and he will also look at Ofsted’s powers.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s proposals, particularly in the context of Bradford, where we met previously. Bradford is doing some great work on integration, whether through the Science and Media Museum’s gaming festival, the literature festival or, indeed, Bradford’s curry festival. The truth is, though, that this Government’s cuts of more than £130 million to ESOL provision have decimated the local infrastructure available to deliver the plans that he is talking about. What assurances can he give that my city will not be left with a shoestring budget with which to deliver this vision of his?
I assure the hon. Lady that we share the same goals. I know that she cares deeply about this, as we have spoken about these kinds of issues before. As she knows, Bradford is one of our pilot areas, and we have already started work there. It does not have to wait; this has already started. Bradford will have access to new funding for that work, and we want to work with people there to innovate. We want to listen to their ideas, because they are the people on the ground who are dealing with these issues day in, day out. The hon. Lady is right to refer to resources, which are of course important, but practice and how things are done are equally important, and we want to learn from that, too.
On sharia councils, how do we protect people who are ignorant of their rights or subject to peer pressure in closed communities?
My right hon. Friend asks a good question. Once he gets a chance to read the Green Paper more closely, he will see that we have set out a programme of how we want to make sure that more people, including imams in mosques, make people aware of their rights. If we have to take direct action to prohibit something—I gave the example of a change in marriage law, and in that case we would need to make sure that women in particular were not being abused and taken advantage of—we will not hesitate to do so.
There is much in the direction of the proposals to support. The Secretary of State is right to refer to the central importance of women to the development of the strategy. I have seen some superb examples of best practice locally, including work with supplementary schools and with parents through Sure Start centres, as well as other forms of outreach, including the kind of peer-to-peer approach to which the Secretary of State referred. He is, however, completely wrong to say that all this is about more than money. Local authorities need the capacity to sort out such outreach work and to ensure that, whether it is done through community groups or the local councils themselves, it is able to happen. When will he make sure that councils have the resources that they need to turn what is a consensual vision on integration into practical reality?
To be clear to the hon. Lady, I am not saying that money is unimportant. Proper funding is of course essential but, equally, using that funding appropriately and in the most efficient way is just as important. She refers to examples from throughout the country. Where councils and community groups have done good work already, they should continue to do that work and we should all learn from that.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s statement. I also wish to highlight the importance of women, especially because they, too, educate their children. What work has my right hon. Friend done to look into how he can reach women in a healthcare setting so that, as he outlined in his statement, the messages cut across Departments?
I said earlier that this is a cross-Government strategy, and that includes work with the Department of Health and Social Care. In putting together the strategy, we have looked at ways—through local councils or community groups, for example—to make sure that people, particularly women, in some of these communities are aware of their health rights and what is available. One example is that as the Department for Work and Pensions rolls out universal credit, more and more people come into contact with the system and register for the first time, and we are able to look into ways to use that information to ensure that we can help more people, especially those to whom other services can perhaps be offered, to ensure that they get those offers.
Back in 2001, we had the race riots, followed by the council report, and we have heard all this before from different Governments, including the current one. How can we be guaranteed that the strategy will actually make a difference? When will the Government address the fact that, for legitimate and sensible reasons, people chose to live segregated lives? What are the Government going to do to try to make them integrate rather than choose segregation?
We should not be allowing people to choose to live segregated lives; that is not something that will help them, especially in the long term. It is not good for them and it is not good for the rest of society, and that is really at the heart of the strategy. We cannot force people to integrate—of course not—but the Government can do a lot, working with local government, community groups and others, to encourage people to integrate. The hon. Gentleman is right that Governments have tried this in the past, and they have had some success, but I believe that this is the boldest, most far-reaching strategy that has been presented by any Government.
I unreservedly condemn the hateful letters sent to Muslim MPs, including the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) in my county.
In South West Bedfordshire, we have some wonderful examples of the integration of the Traveller community, particularly where they live among settled residents, with the children attending school and the parents getting into work. I remind both my colleagues on the Front Bench—the Secretaries of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and for Education—that the race disparity audit showed that the Traveller community in this country has the worst outcomes. I say gently to them both that our planning policy does not help in that respect, providing as it does unnecessary separation. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that his welcome proposal will include the Traveller community to make sure that they are properly integrated for the benefit of everyone?
I can assure my hon. Friend that when we talk about integration it is about all communities, not one or two, and including, of course, the Traveller community. He is right to point to the race disparity audit, an important piece of work that showed these kind of disparities, especially in education standards for children from the Traveller community, which are not where anyone would want them to be. We are taking action through the race disparity audit work, and my hon. Friend may be aware that we will shortly publish a consultation on planning issues regarding the Traveller community.
I thank the Secretary of State for his condemnation of the literature that I, colleagues and other members of the Muslim community have received. I also welcome the tone of his statement: in the past, certain kinds of proposals were reflected in a way that stigmatised certain communities, particularly the British Muslim community. Does he agree that fundamental to promoting integration is providing security and protection to minority communities, so that they have the confidence to live together with others? In many parts of the country, especially where there are small numbers, and given the rising level of hate crime, people still do not have that confidence. I welcome the cross-Government strategy to make sure that protection against discrimination will get a high priority as part of the programme alongside the other measures.
I again condemn the hate crime letters that have been sent to so many people, including the hon. Lady and other hon. Members. As I have said, that is unacceptable in every way, and I assure her that the authorities are doing everything they can to find the perpetrators and punish them for what they have done.
The hon. Lady is correct in her point about giving people protection and confidence. I have seen examples of that throughout my life but especially in my research in preparing the Green Paper. In fact, the visit I made today to Waltham Forest showed me that, and it was great to hear the stories of the women I met about how they have built up confidence to meet others, to learn English and how that has transformed their lives.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Dame Louise Casey and Amanda Spielman, who have taken on difficult integration issues with real guts. My right hon. Friend will be aware of my political background in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and my serious concerns—shared by children’s services officers—about the integration and oversight of a portion of children who are home educated. While I appreciate the work and dedication of the genuine home-educating community and their right to make that choice, will he consider implementing a ban on the home education of children in households that contain a member who has been convicted of any terrorist-related or hate crime offence?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work that I know she did to promote integration and community cohesion as a councillor in Tower Hamlets. She raises the important issue of people abusing the valuable right to choose home education for their children, and that is why, under the strategy that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has set out, we will review the guidelines for home education and particularly look at those instances—there is evidence of them already—in which people claim to be home educating their children but are in fact sending them to unregistered, unregulated schools, which is clearly a bad outcome for those children.
I broadly welcome the strategy and the opportunities it provides to Bradford to become a more cohesive place for all. I urge the Government to make sure that their aims and ambitions are matched by sufficient funding to make them a reality. I also ask the Secretary of State to realise that the root cause of many of these problems is a lack of opportunity. There are too few good jobs, low levels of educational attainment and, ultimately, too many people living in poverty. If we truly want more integrated communities, we have to deal with those fundamental issues.
The hon. Lady is right to raise the importance of opportunities and how having a more integrated society will help with that, particularly learning English, but it is about a lot more than that and other skills are required as well. It is good that we have a strong economy with more people—including more women—employed than ever before. That is a prerequisite, but of course there is a lot more to do, and I hope she agrees that the strategy will help.
I join colleagues in condemning the letters that have been received by other hon. Members. An attack on one MP for doing their job is an attack on every single one of us and our democracy.
During my time in Coventry, I saw at first hand what faith communities could do to bring people together, and I spoke at temples about my faith. What role does my right hon. Friend see faith communities, especially groups such as the Church of England, playing in delivering this strategy?
My hon. Friend gives me an opportunity to thank and congratulate so many faith communities of every faith that do so much to bring people together. I have seen some excellent examples, whether in schools or through mosques, churches and temples. I hope that those faith communities that are already doing good work and have good practice will bid for some of the funds under the strategy, especially the innovation fund, and benefit themselves as well as allowing others to see what they can do.
I endorse all the comments that have been made about the appalling letters. I also welcome the publication of this strategy, not least because it incorporates many of the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary group on social integration of which my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) and for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) are members. I also welcome the fact that the Secretary of State acknowledges that integration is a two-way street and does not fall into the trap of conflating integration with counter-terror, which has been deeply unhelpful in the past.
It is so important that we emphasise that the three-quarters of a million people he refers to who are not fully proficient in English want to learn English. The fact that they do not know English well is not because they do not want to. Just like the Secretary of State’s mother, they want to learn English. Much of our discourse across the House today has looked at divisions along racial, immigration and religious lines, but the divisions go beyond that. We have major divisions between the different generations and, most importantly, we cannot forget the big divisions between socio-economic classes in our country. I hope that in the implementation of the strategy he will take that on board and look at integration holistically, bringing in all the characteristics that sometimes divide us from each other, but on the whole, I think this is a very positive move by the Government.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments and for the work that he has done as the chair of the APPG on integration. When the report he referred to was published I read it carefully, and it has helped me and my team to develop the strategy today, so I welcome the work that he has done and continues to do on this important issue. He is right to emphasise that it is a two-way street—I agree and it is in the strategy. This is all about community integration and building cohesion, not about extremism, and he is right to emphasise that.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about people wanting to learn English. Of course, a small minority will not see the advantage of doing so, but it is our job to make sure they realise how it can really help them, and so we have a role to play there. I saw a fantastic example in Waltham Forest this morning, where all the women I met were so eager to learn and to show off how well they could speak English after only a year or so. That was good to see.
The hon. Gentleman was also right on his final point about breaking down divisions and taking what he rightly described as a holistic approach, rather than a narrow one, and I very much agree with him on that.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, I remember the importance of voluntary societies’ work in helping to reach out across communities. During the Afghanistan war, many brave local people helped to support the British Army, acting as translators, and some needed to be evacuated as they were at risk themselves. Three families came to Chelmsford. The fathers spoke English, but the three women did not. The local women in Chelmsford reached out and started a project called English for Women, which now meets three mornings a week. Many dozens of families and women help, as do lots of retired teachers. It is a cross-communities and cross-faiths project and a fantastic example. Would my right hon. Friend consider visiting it and helping to twin such organisations with other volunteer organisations across the country?
I will absolutely consider visiting Chelmsford and learning for myself about English for Women. It sounds as if the project has done fantastic work, and those lessons can be learnt by others. I encourage the group to make an application to our new innovation fund, as it sounds as if it could very much do with that help.
Hon. Members would be forgiven for wondering what on earth the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross would have to say about this matter. Nevertheless, over the years a great number of Poles have come to live and work in my constituency and the Scottish highlands, making a very important contribution to our local economy. We are extremely grateful and they have integrated extremely well. The Department for Education has played a hugely important role in achieving this, particularly with teaching English, but I want to mention the police force. Police Scotland has worked extremely hard to build up the confidence of the Polish community, which is very important to highly effective policing. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is crucial that local police forces in other parts of the UK have the confidence of ethnic groups, that they build on that confidence and that action should be taken—encouraged by Her Majesty’s Government—when there could be improvement in building up that confidence?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of ensuring that the local police force, wherever that might be, is seen as very much a part of the local community. After all, we police by consent in this country. That is a valuable principle that means ensuring that all communities feel that the police are there for them. I have discussed this subject with the Home Secretary, who equally takes this to be an important matter. It is one of those issues that we should continue always to look at, to ensure that we are doing the best thing possible.
I echo the sentiments and statements made by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna). Will the Secretary of State tell me what equality impact assessment has been made on funding for the five pilot areas? One of those areas is my constituency of Peterborough. I note that the Secretary of State has said that he does not want further division, so I wish to ensure that funding is available.
It sounds like the hon. Lady welcomes the fact that Peterborough is one of the pilot areas, which is good to hear. We started work with Peterborough a while back and it is very keen to work with the Department. We have been working with Peterborough on ideas and it is clear that each initiative that it puts in place will have to be properly funded, and we look forward to working together on that basis.
I welcome the money being given to my borough, the Borough of Waltham Forest. Had the Secretary of State had the courtesy of giving me more than an hour’s notice this morning, I would have happily joined him on his visit to my constituency to meet the women and, indeed, men of Walthamstow, where we have a strong track record of community engagement. I am sure that our community would have told him that we reject the dog-whistle politics that sees integration as a one-way street and that, as a community that has received the “punish a Muslim” letters, we have stood together to say that this is not in our name. But we would also have told him that the challenge to integration in our borough is not just about being able to speak the same language; it is also about having the time to put down roots and get to know each other—something that spiralling rents and house prices put at risk. Will he commit to tracking what impact churn and housing tenure have on integration, and will he join us all in looking at how we can have longer and more secure tenancies to give people the opportunity to know that good neighbours can become good friends?
Yes, I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. First, let me apologise. It is completely unacceptable and wrong if she only got one hour’s notice of my visit this morning. I was hoping to see her there, but I now know why that was not possible. I assure her that I was very impressed by what I saw at the Queens Road learning centre, where I met the council leaders responsible for the programme. I would like to see more of that activity across the country, not just in Waltham Forest and the pilot areas. She is right about helping people to put down roots and learn from other members of their community. As an example, as well as the ESOL classes I saw at the Queens Road learning centre, there was a group called “community chat”, which is designed to help people not just to learn English, but to make friends and make them more comfortable in their local community.
As an MP for Bradford, I enthusiastically welcome this statement. I invite the Secretary of State to Keighley, which is the jewel in the crown of Bradford, to view progress at a later date. A day’s notice will be fine. Does he agree that it is particularly important that parents in Keighley and Bradford can speak English, so that they can guide their children at school and in their choice of friends, careers and so on? Does he also agree that is important that churches and mosques that quite rightly promote the value of family life get behind this promotion of English teaching?
I call Anna Soubry.
Oh, I am sorry. I meant to call the Secretary of State.
I thought you were calling me Anna Soubry there, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Laughter.]
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of mosques, churches, temples and other faith institutions, and the role that they can play not just in serving their faith communities, but in building cohesion. As I mentioned in response to an earlier question, I have seen many examples of that. They have an important role to play when it comes to learning English, particularly in encouraging those who might otherwise be reluctant.
I call Anna Soubry.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker; my apologies to the Secretary of State.
I have just heard that Round Hill Primary School has issued a letter to all its parents because some of its Muslim families have received these horrible and hateful letters. I know that the Secretary of State will join me in expressing his complete condemnation of that. Does he also agree that, although that is hate, a lot of this stems from the twin problems of ignorance and blind prejudice and that we should all—whatever community our lives touch—do everything that we can to get rid of that ignorance and prejudice that, in its extreme form, ends up with people sending horrible, hateful, very seriously criminal and offensive letters?
I join my right hon. Friend in condemning whoever may have sent those letters to the parents at the primary school in her constituency, and I extend my support to those parents. What she has outlined really goes to the heart of this strategy, which aims for everyone to recognise that, when we reduce segregation and build a better integrated society, we build more trust between people, help them to get on better and help them to put aside any prejudices that they might have had. That is why it is so important that we see this strategy through.
Restoring the ESOL funding that has been cut since 2010 would be a really big way of improving integration. I was really pleased to see the Secretary of State for Education on the Treasury Bench during the statement, because I have a question about home education. Will the Secretary of State say a little bit more about the approach that he thinks is likely to be adopted? The last time that Parliament discussed home education and regulation, his party took a very firm view that they did not want any regulation at all. It is interesting to note that Government Front Benchers may have moved from that position, and I would be interested to know a little bit more about that.
The first thing to recognise is that home education is a valuable and important right, and that will not change. There are many examples of excellent home education, and we welcome those. But we have also, sadly, seen examples—some have been reported recently—where home education has led to a bad outcome for those children and has not helped them or wider society. There will be work across the Government, led by the Education Secretary, who will review the guidelines on home education and ensure that all children being home educated are properly registered. At this point, there is no register of who is being educated at home. We want to ensure that the rights that are very valuable to home education are not abused and that they are protected.
I agree with the Secretary of State on the role of faith groups in the pursuit of integration. Will he join me in congratulating the Well Project in my constituency, which is underpinned by the Caritas organisation in helping refugees and asylum seekers to integrate through the provision of English as an additional language and through women’s and girls’ leadership? I have to say on a practical level, though, that since the Government privatised the refugee and asylum resettlement project, services have gone backwards. There is a lack of spatial planning, local authorities are being cut out of the equation, and there is no integration with the rest of civil society. We are going to have to work 10 times as hard to catch up with the model we used to have.
The hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of resettlement. He might be interested to know that one of the policies that we will be reviewing through the Green Paper is about providing the support that is given to people who rightly and legitimately settle in this country on a long-term basis, because we have tended to have an approach, under successive Governments, where once people have their leave to remain, they are left on their own. It is very important to have an approach where they are constantly provided with information and helped along with the process—perhaps a process that eventually leads to citizenship. I am pleased that the Home Secretary will be reviewing that.
I congratulate this House on its total cross-party condemnation of the vile messages that have gone to some of our colleagues. There is no place in this country for such prejudice and hate.
Broadly, I welcome this national strategy. I am extremely pleased that Blackburn with Darwen is going to be a pilot area. As I am sure the Secretary of State is aware, we have a number of fantastic examples of where the communities have integrated, and we are constantly working towards that. I have spent my whole political life working on cohesion and integration for Blackburn because that adds value to the town and to the people and makes it a better place in which to live and work. Will the Secretary of State clarify how the resources will be used, because in tackling integration we also need to tackle social and economic issues? I plead with him to come to Blackburn and share some of the experiences of our communities.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the hon. Lady for all the work she has been doing for Blackburn, and long before she became a Member of this House, as the former leader on community cohesion and integration. That work is well known to my Department and Ministers, but also among wider communities that have looked at the experience of Blackburn. She has set a real example and I thank her for that. This is one of the reasons Blackburn is a pilot area. We think that it has been especially innovative in this regard and can do more. We want to work with it but we also want others to learn from it.
The hon. Lady mentioned resources for social and economic issues. The Green Paper talks about resources specifically for integration. However, that will help to leverage in other funding that is available for skills, perhaps, through the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Education and others. That is an important way to look at the resources that will be available.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, I welcome the Government’s integration strategy, as we recommended one in our inquiry last year. I will send the Secretary of State a copy of the report of that inquiry, which looks at refugees who so desperately want to work and contribute to the economy of our country—the country that has granted them asylum. Will he consider meeting me to discuss how some of the more granular points in the inquiry’s findings relate to his strategy?
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady.
Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
A perfect ending.