Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report


5 Central and local Government

108. It is clear that both central and local Government must seek to bridge the divisions between communities set out in paragraphs 10-12. In this section we examine their efforts to do so.

109. The Home Office's written submission to our inquiry did not cover community cohesion, although it did touch on police engagement with minority communities. The Minister of State accepted that more needed to be done about dialogue with Muslim communities: she mentioned raising Muslim achievements in schools, encouraging Muslims to take more of a place in civil and public life and to make public services more sensitive.[108] The Minister also stressed the importance of talking to minority communities at local levels as well as nationally, perhaps through using regional offices. She cited the independent Community Panel of the Stop and Search Action Team, where, in a departure from normal practice, an effort had been made to get young people from the regions to sit on a national body, as a successful model to be followed.[109]

110. The Muslim Council of Britain were very positive about the Home Office's efforts at dialogue. The Chair of their Legal Affairs Committee told us:

"the relationship we have with the Home Office is infinitely better now than it ever has been and that dialogue is fostered by regular meetings with not just the Home Secretary but Fiona Mactaggart and other ministers in the Home Office."[110]

111. We welcome the positive comments about the role of the Home Office, but we fear that the absence of a direct reference to community cohesion in their evidence to this inquiry suggests that the Home Office does not yet appreciate that the implementation of its community cohesion strategy is central to its ability to deal with the community impact of international terrorism. We recommend that the Home Office review the links between its work on community cohesion and anti-terrorism.

Schools and young people

112. Witnesses from PeaceMaker,[111] themselves young people, were clear about the important role of schools, including primary schools, in combating prejudice.[112] They also emphasised the need to ensure that education was effective:

"They say "Do not be racist" and "Do not be prejudiced and discriminate against people", but they do not give them [young people] a reason not to be; they do not educate them enough at an early age for them to understand in secondary school why not to be it."[113]

113. Other witnesses stressed the dangers of de facto segregation in schools. In a number of cases, schools were effectively mono-ethnic: for example, in three of Luton's twelve secondary schools and eight of the 61 primary schools over 90% of the pupils were from ethnic minority backgrounds.[114] (Overall, 44% of pupils in Luton were from ethnic minority backgrounds.)[115] Furthermore, although 22.5% of the BME population were economically active, only 10.5% of teachers in Luton came from BME communities.[116] Dr Nazia Khanum, Chair of the Luton Multicultural Women's Coalition, also observed that in many of the rural schools just outside Luton both teachers and pupils were almost entirely white.[117]

114. PeaceMaker told us that in some schools teachers as well as pupils had little or no knowledge of terrorism:

"Mr Miah: […] What was really interesting was that in some of the schools we went in the teachers had no understanding of what was taking place, never mind the young people themselves, and we found that surprising.

Ms Gomm: Some people that we worked with, adults that we worked with, did not know the differences between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. It was at that level."[118]

They also commented that some schools were resistant even to discussing issues related to terrorism:

"What is really interesting from doing this piece of work for you was the difficulty we had in getting into a number of schools and the barriers that were put up by schools that were fearful of these discussions taking place within their schools. We spent longer trying to get into schools than actually doing the work."[119]

115. The Home Office's Community Cohesion Panel also expressed concern about the limited impact of citizenship education in schools and believed that it should be fundamentally reviewed so that it dealt with real priorities.[120]

116. The Minister of State accepted the need to develop expertise in the teaching of the citizenship curriculum, but admitted that there was no specific guidance on extremism and Islam, only on racism, bullying, tolerance and respect.[121]

117. We are impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of a number of young people we met, including those who worked with PeaceMaker. We agree with their view that schools have a vital role to play in the building of tolerant and cohesive communities.

118. But if Peacemaker's small consultation proves representative of young people across the country there is clearly a major problem of perception and understanding to be tackled. We are alarmed that some schools are reluctant to discuss these issues. We are also concerned by the absence of explicit central Government support that would enable and encourage schools to promote discussion about these sensitive issues. Both the Home Office and the DfES should share responsibility for developing a coherent cross-Government approach.

Local communities and local leadership

119. It is implicit in the phrase 'community cohesion' that much of the work must be done at local level. We received interesting evidence from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Burnley Borough Council and the Chief Superintendent of Lancashire Constabulary (Pennine Division) and Leicester City Council.[122] We also held an oral evidence session with a range of witnesses from Luton, a town with a population of nearly 185,000, according to the 2001 census, of whom nearly 30% were from ethnic minorities (18% Asian, mainly Pakistani and Bangladeshi) and nearly 15% Muslim.

120. Witnesses from Luton did not try to disguise the problems facing the town. Dr Khanum noted the serious socio-economic deprivation in neighbourhoods in which the Muslim population was largely concentrated and argued that all indicators, including health, education, income, housing, employment and longevity, suggested that Luton's minority ethnic communities were more deprived than the white communities. She also warned that that there were few teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds and that some schools were effectively segregated.[123] Mr Zafar Khan, the Chairman of the Luton Council of Faiths, believed that 9/11 had dealt "a body blow" to the spirit of cooperation in the town and created "a fresh and more sinister climate of fear, suspicion and defensiveness among many people".[124]

121. But our witnesses were also clear that existing contacts and patterns of co-operation between community leaders had enabled the town to get through these difficulties. The Chief Executive of the Borough Council, Mr Darra Singh, spoke of a sense of common purpose to improve community relations, while Mr Zafar Khan told us that community groups had lead the way and that this had only been because good practice had already been in existence. Chief Superintendent Ivor Twydell, Borough Police Commander, also mentioned dialogue and engagement between communities and the authorities, including the police, as a factor in what he saw as the "very effective and very pro-active response to events that actually are outside of our control within the town".[125]

122. As part of this response, in late 2001 the Council established a Community Cohesion Scrutiny Panel to consult on the issues arising from the Ouseley report on Bradford. The Panel's report, Sticking together, was published in January 2003; it identified a number of key issues and put forward recommendations for tackling them.[126] Among the problems highlighted in the report were widespread ignorance and misunderstanding of the cultures of others and the need for clear factual information about the services and resources to dispel suspicion and misinformation. The report stressed the importance of perceptions, particularly when there were significant disparities between them and reality. One strength of Luton was that although levels of cultural understanding between communities might be poor, Luton did not have the levels of segregation of some towns in the North of Englandperhaps because, as Dr Khanum pointed out, Luton is the third most densely populated place in England outside London.[127]

123. Witnesses from Luton told us about the ways in which external events affected developments in the town. Chief Superintendent Twydell noted that anti-terrorist operations were led by the Metropolitan Police, rather than Bedfordshire Police. (He was also quoted by a national newspaper as later saying "When the anti-terrorism squad leaves town, we have to deal with the aftermath.")[128] Mr Singh and Mr Zafar Khan recalled the attention from the national and international media when two young men from Luton had been killed in Afghanistan.[129] Dr Khanum pointed out that reports of rises in national figures for stops and searches led many to assume that they were mirrored in Luton.[130] Mr Tahir Khan, of the Bangladesh Youth League, and Dr Khanum spoke of difficulties in getting central government funding for youth projects or to redress inequalities in health provision.[131]

Other local councils in Britain and abroad

124. The themes highlighted in Luton of the need to break down barriers and for communities to work together were echoed in other submission from local councils. For example Blackburn with Darwen cited their "Belonging" campaign for community cohesion, involving a range of public private and voluntary organisations in promoting citizenship values, pride in the Borough, positive images of the main ethnic groups and disabled people and a sense of belonging and having a stake in the area.[132] Burnley Borough Council and the Pennine Division of Lancashire Police stressed the Police's systematic approach to relations with communities and the Local Strategic Partnership's Community Cohesion Group's work on building good community relations. An important part was also played by the local inter-faith network. The Police and Council had also worked to build up links with the press and radio which had contributed to helpful and positive reporting and comment on race, religion and community relations issues.[133] The Chief Executive of Leicester City Council believed that it was a key principle that any particular community that was facing criticism or hatred should be supported publicly by the other community leaders and not left to defend themselves. He also pointed to the difficulties faced by communities facing a sudden influx of new migrants without additional central Government fundingin Leicester's case the arrival from the Netherlands of some 10,000 Somalis since 2001.[134]

125. We saw similar activity in France and the Netherlands. For example, De Baarsjes had introduced a "Contract with Society", according to which the Council and local Mosques agreed to defend freedom of speech, to monitor extremist behaviour and to look for partners to extend cooperation. As a result of anti-Semitic demonstrations by Moroccan youth at a Remembrance Day ceremony in 2003, the following year Turkish, Jewish and Moroccan organisations held a joint service which included a commemoration of nineteen Moroccans killed in the liberation of the Netherlands at the end of the War. Other projects included a Moroccan-Jewish football tournament, youth clubs and Dutch language classes that included long-term residents. In Saint-Denis local churches were asked to lend church halls for emergency housing for the homeless. The Council also sought to encourage participatory democracy through an active programme of meetings and contacts with residents. A programme for tackling joblessness envisaged helping to create jobs in the private and voluntary sectors, including by covering 80% of the cost to the employer of the new job, reducing over five years.

Tackling difficult issues on the local level

126. It was clear from the evidence we received that it is important for communities to face up to discussion of difficult issues, such as terrorism. It is also important that central Government have a strategy for ensuring that their actions in this and other areas are understood in local communities. Without such a strategy, there is a danger that councils may seek to avoid challenging discussions. PeaceMaker, for example, told us that only two of the ten local authorities in the Greater Manchester area had replied to their telephone calls and e-mails about their consultation programme.[135] We were therefore disappointed when the Minister of State told us :

"In terms of engagement with the community, it is quite difficult to go and have a discussion about terrorism with somebody. […] I think it needs to be a broader conversation than simply about the terror threat because anybody just having a conversation about that is going to find that quite difficult."[136]

127. We were struck by the energy and imagination shown by some local councils in this country and in France and the Netherlands. Their readiness to confront difficult issues is to be applauded and we detected an optimism sometimes lacking at the national level. But such readiness should be reinforced by a concerted central Government strategy to explain national policy and to encourage local discussion, including discussion of challenging issues such as the response to terrorism. We did not see clear evidence of such a strategy. Indeed it appears some of the necessary actions of central authorities, such as raids by anti-terrorist police, are carried out without a proper appreciation of the effect on local communities and organisations, such as the local police.

128. One of the issues frequently raised in this inquiry, and stressed by the Cantle report, is the importance of local leadership. As the Chief Executive of Leicester City Council put it, "the role of community leadersformal, informal, civic, faith, the mediais critical".[137] We believe that this holds true on the national level as well. Community leaders should support each other and seek to build bridges with other communities: in some cases this will mean giving up defensive and reactive stances in order to create a climate of tolerance and mutual respect.

Community relations and inter-faith dialogue

129. The importance of inter-faith dialogue was stressed to us by several witnesses, many of whom were professionally involved in it; in particular, they emphasised the need for dialogue at the local level, rather than between national organisations. As the Defence Director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews told us:

"… the bottom up dialogue is probably more effective and continuing, less subject to strains as a consequence of international affairs. We do not control it and half the time we do not necessarily know what is going on. We receive reports continuously of synagogue/mosque longstanding relationships. There are half a dozen continuing initiatives at street level, one in Stamford Hill where you have a strictly orthodox community rubbing up against a growing north African community which has been working for some years, a very effective one in Manchester and any number of other local initiatives between Jews and Muslims which I think are probably more effective in the long run because they are creating real bonds of contact and friendship at that local level, rather than something imposed from the top down by people like ourselves."[138]

130. The Church of England's Interfaith Adviser, Canon Guy Wilkinson, believed, on the basis of a recent survey carried out by the Church, that there was "a remarkably high level [of] interaction".[139] However, only one of the sixty respondents to a survey conducted by the Forum against Islamophobia and Racism knew of an inter-faith dialogue group.[140] The Reverend Katei Kirby, General Manager for the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance described inter-faith dialogue as 'fragmented', although she argued that it was important where it did occur. Others agreed, saying it was 'patchy', and it was suggested that that there were particular difficulties in ensuring that both sexes and all denominations of, for example, Christians were represented.[141] But there was a consensus on the importance of inter-faith dialogue and the need for it to be supported.

131. Faith leaders have an important role to play in community relations. Although it is clear that in some places this responsibility has been accepted, whether through inter-faith work or by educating their own communities about other faiths, much more needs to be done both to bring such work to all areas and to ensure that larger numbers of people are involved. We encourage them to develop these activities and to challenge prejudice and encourage tolerance both locally and nationally.

Role models

132. An important part of integration is the provision of role models for young people. One aspect of this is adequate representation of Black and minority ethnic people in local authorities, the police and the media. This was not an issue on which we were able to consult widely, but the Society of Editors drew our attention to a report by their Training Committee on the employment of minority ethnic journalists in newspapers.[142] The introduction to the report notes that a survey in October 2002, covering a very broad workforce in a range of media, showed that 96% of journalists were white, and commented that the survey "did not give the detail for a true picture of employment in newspapers, which was probably worse, particularly in the regional press." Figures for the ten local papers covered in the report range from one minority ethnic staff out of 10 (Uxbridge Gazette) and seven out of 93 (7.5%, Birmingham Evening Mail) to two out of 65 (3%, Bradford Telegraph and Argus) and none out of 68 (Yorkshire Evening Post).[143] The report also noted that the broadcast media had a better record: for example, in January 2004 the BBC announced that it had hit its initial target of 10% of all staff and 4% of senior management from minority ethnic communities (the new target, for 2007, is 12.5% of all staff and 7% of senior management).[144]

133. In 1999 the then Home Secretary set targets for the recruitment, retention and progression of minority ethnic staff within the Home Office and its linked agencies and services. The target for the Police Service was that at least 7% of police officers and staff should be from a minority ethnic background by 2009. The latest figures on progress towards these targets were issued in January 2005. The Police Service has seen a rise in representation from 3% in 1999 to 4.3% in 2004.[145]

134. Chief Superintendent Twydell, Luton Borough Commander, told us that about 6% of his police officers were from minority communities and believed that Bedfordshire Police was in the top four forces in the United Kingdom in terms of the proportion of police officers and staff from ethnic minority communities. He accepted that the proportion of minority ethnic communities in Luton (approaching 30%) was much greater and that Luton's minority police officers were mainly African-Caribbean with a small number from Asian backgrounds.[146]

135. As we observe in our recent report on Police Reform, in which we consider the issue of diversity in the police in more depth, despite recent increases in recruitment from minority ethnic groups, many police forces remain unrepresentative of their wider communities.[147] The same is clearly true of some newspapers. It may also be the case in some local authorities. Diversity is important in police forces, local authorities and the media, not only for its own sake, but because it can provide clear evidence that ethnic and religious minorities are valued in this country. The presence of individuals from minority backgrounds at all levels in such organisationsand, indeed, in political partiesalso provides role models for young people and thus helps integration.

British Muslims: identity and diversity

136. Our inquiry brought the extent to which British Muslims are likely to have multiple identities of faith, cultural or national background, national and local identity. These vary for person to person and community to community, as does the extent to which individuals are likely to say that they are comfortable or uncomfortable with their identity.

137. This complex situation is too often over-looked in discussions of community cohesion or the much narrower issue of violent extremism. Indeed, while it is quite right to recognise the 'Muslim community' in the context of a unifying faith, in other situations the main factors shaping a particular part of that community may be the heritage of the original country of immigration, of social class, or of the town or city in which they live.

138. The importance of understanding these differences, as well as the common identity of Muslims, was reinforced by our visits to France and the Netherlands. In both, there were marked differences of experience amongst Muslims, shaped both by religion and the quite different experiences of communities which come from a range of countries (typically, Morocco, Algeria and Turkey).

139. In our inquiry we found that this diversity was much better recognisedor at least more openly acknowledgedat local level than by witnesses for national organizations. In many ways, the local level is most important, but this perspective needs to be supported nationally.

140. Public policy which recognises the common identity of British Muslims but which does not recognise or respond to their diverse backgrounds is unlikely to be successful in developing full community cohesion.


108   Q 474 Back

109   Q 475 Back

110   Q 160 Back

111   See paragraph 74 and Ev 117-118, HC 165-III for a description of this organisation. Back

112   Q 234 Back

113   Q 236 {Ms Bailey] Back

114   Sticking together, pages 17-18 Back

115   Q 446 Back

116   Q 447 Back

117   Ev 116, HC 165-III Back

118   Q 247 Back

119   Q 237 Back

120   Home Office, The End of Parallel Lives?: The Report of the Community Cohesion Panel, July 2004, p 13  Back

121   Qq 508-509 Back

122   Ev 4-5, 10-11, 54-55, HC 165-II Back

123   Ev 114-116, HC 165-III Back

124   Ev 113, HC 165-III Back

125   Q 407 Back

126   Luton Borough Council, Sticking together - Embracing diversity in Luton: Report of the Community Cohesion Scrutiny Panel, January 2003 Back

127   Sticking together, p 41 and Ev 114, HC 165-III Back

128   The Observer, 6 March 2005, p 11 Back

129   Qq 408-411  Back

130   Q 426 Back

131   Qq 434-435 Back

132   Ev 4-5, HC 165-II Back

133   Ev 10-11, HC 165-II Back

134   Ev 54-55, HC 165-II Back

135   Ev 119, HC 165-III Back

136   Q 474 Back

137   Ev 54, HC 165-II Back

138   Q 113 Back

139   Q 184 Back

140   Ev 331, HC 165-II Back

141   Q 185 [Father Sumner, Dr Horrocks] Back

142   Society of Editors, Diversity in the Newsroom, October 2004 Back

143   Ibid, pp 7 and 41 Back

144   Ibid, p 38 Back

145   HC Deb, 19 January 2005, col 40-41WS; see also Home Office, Race Equality-The Home Secretary's Employment Targets: Milestone Report 2004 (January 2005). Back

146   Qq 422-424 Back

147   Home Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2004-05, Police Reform, HC 370-I, para 146 Back


 
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