My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to an Urgent Question on Dame Louise Casey’s review into opportunity and integration. The Statement is as follows.
“In July 2015, the Government asked Dame Louise Casey to conduct an independent review of opportunity and integration in the United Kingdom. Her report was published yesterday. And let me take this opportunity to once again thank Dame Louise for her thorough and diligent work over the past 18 months.
Many of her findings ring true to me personally. I have seen for myself the enormous contribution that immigrants and their families make to British life, all without giving up their unique cultural identities. But I have also seen, with my own eyes, the other side of the equation. For too long, too many people in this country have been living parallel lives, refusing to integrate and failing to embrace the shared values that make Britain great.
And for too long, too many politicians in this country have refused to deal with the problem. They have ducked the issue for fear of being called racist, failing the very people they were supposed to be helping. I will not allow that to continue. We in public life have a moral responsibility to deal with this situation, and Dame Louise’s report is a crucial step in that process. I am studying her findings very closely.
The report touches on the work of a number of departments, so I will be discussing it with colleagues across government and more widely. In the spring we will come back to this House with our plans for tackling these issues so that we can continue building a country that works for everyone”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Answer to the Question asked in the other place. I refer noble Lords to my declaration of interests: I am a locally elected councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I thank Dame Louise Casey for her report. It provides an important opportunity to address big social challenges facing our country in a realistic and mature way.
The report demonstrates that the Government cannot continue to hollow out the social infrastructure and local council and public services that do so much to encourage integration without paying a heavier price in the long term. The key recommendation in Dame Louise Casey’s report is the importance of being able to speak English. That way, isolation and subjugation are not able easily to take hold. Does the noble Lord regret the decision taken in July 2015 to withdraw the funding of English for speakers of other languages courses? Does he agree that decisions like that damage integration and increase economic exclusion, inequality and segregation in some of the most deprived communities in our country?
First, I thank the noble Lord for his general welcome for the report. Secondly, I will answer his question specifically in relation to the English language. He is right that the English language is key to many of the features of integration. Those who have English language skills are more likely to get jobs and feel integrated. Obviously, we will take our time to respond to this report, but I have seen the impact of English language classes, very recently in Bradford and in the East End, particularly for women from some of our religious communities who may be excluded or have difficulty getting a job because of poor language skills. So I join the noble Lord in saying how important it is—and no doubt it will be a focus of our response.
My Lords, I welcome very much the report that Dame Louise Casey has produced because it provides us with much that is challenging about critical issues on which we must think. However, does the Minister accept that there are dangers in generalisations and in the stereotyping of communities, particularly Muslim communities? Does he agree that stereotyping in this way—and sometimes stigmatising—can be counterproductive to the aim of integration? Does he accept that the majority of Muslims in our community do integrate and do play a full role in the life of our society?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right, and I have no doubt that Dame Louise Casey accepts that as well. It runs through her report that there are dangers of stereotyping. The noble Baroness was right to mention Muslim “communities”, because there are many different shades of Muslim belief and it would be wrong to treat them as homogeneous. There are dangers of stereotyping. Dame Louise Casey makes some very good points about the fact that the great majority of people do feel integrated into our society, specifically those of the Muslim religion—I have fallen into my own trap and categorised them together—who feel 91% integrated into Britain according to a recent poll. There are very good examples of them helping other communities; Dame Louise Casey cites, for example, Muslim youths from Bradford going to help in Carlisle when we had the floods late last year and early this year, and there are many examples like that. There are very broad lessons there about successful integration. The challenge is to ensure that the remaining few are fully integrated into our society.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Dame Louise Casey is to be congratulated on her forthright attack on the political correctness that inhibits us from discussing things that should be discussed, particularly religion, which itself is a complex mix of ethical imperatives, culture—often very dated and negative culture—ritual and superstition? We should be free to discuss those things; it would help greatly. At the same time, I regret that Dame Louise Casey has again pandered to the Abrahamic communities. Hate crime is discussed and commented on without any reference to the other non-Abrahamic communities that suffer, and in particular the Sikhs.
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the value of Dame Louise Casey’s report. Anybody who knows Dame Louise at all will know how robust she is, and she has said some very valuable things that the Government will go away and consider. As I indicated in repeating the Statement, the report has taken 18 months to put together. Dame Louise conducted more than 800 meetings and considered more than 200 pieces of written evidence. So it is right that we go away and take lessons from all that. The noble Lord referred to hate crime, which of course was touched upon on Friday in a very valuable debate about core British values initiated by the most reverend Primate, which also has great relevance to Dame Louise’s report. It is certainly true that hate crime is not limited to one particular community. As the noble Lord rightly said, it exists across the board. The only thing I would say is that any hate crime is a crime against all of us. That is the important lesson to take away.
My Lords, this review is very welcome for its frank and open-eyed survey of the social realities of our country. The Church of England is present and engaged in communities everywhere in the country. The importance of the work of schools, including faith schools, features largely in the review. I welcome the thrust of its approach and recommendations in relation to schools. We believe in British values, along the lines of the rich understanding of values explored in this Chamber last Friday. We will seek to respond to the review’s legitimate challenges to faith leaders.
The review does not attach great value to programmes and initiatives that have been undertaken so far. Does the Minister agree that Near Neighbours and similar programmes involving multifaith communities, which the Government have supported in practical ways, offer at least a starting point for developing more of that social mixing, and mutual understanding and acceptance, that the review tells us is vital?
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his general welcome of the report. He acknowledged the role of last week’s debate on core British and universal values in helping us respond to some of the challenges that exist. Through him, I also thank the Church of England for the part it plays in helping with the Syrian refugee programme and acknowledge the important place that faith schools have to play in relation to education. I visited a faith school last week—a Muslim faith school, as it happened. It was excellent. It had very high standards and was teaching British values. It is not exclusively Muslim, so there are other pupils at the school. It is the Al-Khoei school in west London. So there is a role for that, too. The right reverend Prelate is right about the importance of our existing programmes—both on the English language, which is acknowledged by Dame Louise, and the Near Neighbours programme, which I have seen at close hand and which contributes very effectively to the work of integration.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement and I welcome the report. I declare an interest as a past leader of Bradford Council and the current chairman of Near Neighbours, the charity mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. Does the Minister agree that one of the very important elements in our future well-being together is that people from minority communities and the indigenous community have the confidence to be together and discuss in safe spaces some of the issues that cause concerns? Can the charitable sector be complimented on the very safe space it provides through encouraging people to do community activity together?
I thank my noble friend for her warm welcome for the report. I acknowledge and underline what she said about the charitable third sector and the role it plays. It does an immense amount of great value in this area. She is right about the importance of existing projects and the integration we already see. I have seen many successful ones, including with my noble friend in Bradford at the football ground with the Bangla Bantams—people descended from the subcontinent, specifically of Bangladeshi descent, working very much alongside people who have been supporting the club for generations. It is a very successful project. I have seen many effective examples of integration. It is important that we highlight that that is the norm, not the exception—something that I have been very pleased to see wherever I go. But it is the exceptions we need to deal with. My noble friend is right not only to highlight that that is the challenge but to acknowledge the important role that many people play in that, not least charities.