Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 61-79)


27 FEBRUARY 2008

  Q61 Chair: Welcome to our last two witnesses. I assume you have been sitting and listening.

  Mr Cantle: Yes.

  Q62  Chair: Excellent. Can we start off by asking whether you believe that there are any lessons to be learned from your findings, after the race disturbances in 2001, which could apply to the communities which now face a challenge of rapid and quite significant inward migration largely from the A8?

  Mr Cantle: I think there is a lot of similarity really. I think we have got to appreciate that community cohesion is a relatively new concept. It only emerged about six years ago. It is only in the last three or four years that programmes have really been devised to try and bring people together to promote interaction between people of different backgrounds, whether that is new migrants, whether it is existing communities or whether it is intergenerational or conflict between travellers and other groups. It is still a fairly new agenda and we are only, I think, beginning to come to terms with it. At present I think there is a lot of work that is being done. Over 200 local authorities now have dedicated staff for community cohesion—lots of voluntary organisations help with that—there are now dedicated action plans and performance frameworks in place, so it is a huge change, but this is still relatively recent. The work that is going on to promote interaction between new migrants and existing communities, I think, is pretty similar to the sorts of ways in which we need to break down barriers between the communities that fell out in the disturbances in 2001.

  Q63  Chair: One of the issues that you highlighted in that report was about the segregation of communities and parallel lives. The new migrant communities, on the whole, seem to be moving into areas of cheap housing and, therefore, you seem to be getting exactly the same problems of segregation. Do you have any suggestions as to how that can be avoided?

  Mr Cantle: I think there is a danger of focusing too much on residential segregation. That is obviously a very big part of the picture, but we have got to look at residential and social segregation together. The real problem is when physical segregation is compounded by segregation in education, in the workplace, in social, cultural and other spheres where you get a very distinct set of what I have called at times "parallel lives" and, therefore, the breakdown of trust and co-operation. I think there is a problem of migrants currently reinforcing some of those areas, although, of course, the new Eastern European migrants are tending to go to entirely new areas and that has injected quite an element of difference, but I think the main issue really is how we try and break down segregation in all spheres; in other words, in schools, in workplaces, in social, cultural areas as well as in housing areas. There are a number of authorities and local areas that are beginning to address those issues and are trying to develop proactive strategies for breaking down the segregation in all of those different areas, but there is clearly a concern that cannot be done by any enforced movement or bussing of people from one area to another, because that would be counter-productive. It has to be done by taking the community with you.

  Q64  Mr Betts: I raised this question last time we had a committee inquiry into these issues with the Minister, and I think the Minister was a little thrown when I asked him. I said: it is not about bussing. In my constituency, in the Damall area, you actually have a relatively mixed community, in terms of the total area, between the white population, some Somalis and quite a lot of the population are from Kashmiri backgrounds, so from Bangladesh. What you have is two schools in that community and, because of parental choice, parents choose to send their children to a school where predominantly children of the same background go, and they often walk farther than they need to in order to do that. Is there anything you can do with that sort of problem?

  Mr Cantle: Yes, there is and it is happening in some areas. Firstly, I think you have to start with some fairly soft schemes, like school twinning: twinning of those sorts of schools, twinning of the children, joint lessons across the two schools. Then you have to start by twinning the parental groups, building up their confidence that they can actually work together or work in a family of schools, and then you can start doing a lot more joint programmes between the different schools. Some areas, like Oldham, who started off with 50 schools twinned five years ago, have got to the point where they now feel able to propose multi-faith academies, using the Building Schools for the Future programme, to completely reconfigure their school provision. They could not have just come along and done that; they had to build the confidence of the students but, more particularly, the parental groups and to see that as a positive area. Most parents we talk to, and certainly most of the students we talk to, actually want a multi-cultural existence. They do not want to just have a mono-cultural schooling. They realise that they are growing up in a multi-cultural society and that they have to have some educational activity which prepares them for that multi-cultural society.

  Q65  Dr Pugh: You raised Oldham, and Mr Betts here and I went on the trip to Oldham in 2003 and spent some time there, but in a sense Oldham is very different from the problem we are confronted with now, because in Oldham you had an immigrant community that had been settled there for some time that were leading parallel lives alongside a white European community with different traditions, and so on. The situation we are confronted with, with economic migrants coming for a short period, possibly moving around, often not having children or intending to have children in this country, is very different. We cannot extrapolate from what you discovered in Oldham very much to what we have got now, can we?

  Mr Cantle: Every area is different. Every area should have a community cohesion programme which focuses on its problems. Obviously in other parts of the country, as you say, the situation will be different, but the general point which was made earlier was: is there a tendency to reinforce some of the settlement patterns, and the answer is, yes, there is. There are some exceptions to that. With school populations generally there has recently being done a fairly extensive piece of work which has looked at PLASC data across the country (Pupil Level Annual School Census) which has shown that schools are becoming more segregated and they are becoming more segregated than the residential areas. As a generalisation, that holds true, but clearly in some areas it will be a different situation.

  Q66  Dr Pugh: On the idea of cohesion, you could say that we are setting the bar rather high; in other words, a lot of economic migrants come, often with short-term intentions of earning money and sending it home, and so on, and they obviously need to know about British road law and about what their rights are and where to put their rubbish, and so on. Is there a real need to have them integrate any more than we wish to see the expats in Spain integrate into the Spanish society?

  Mr Cantle: It is something I often contrast actually, the expats vision in Spain, which is not part of immigration at all. I think if people are coming to this country and want to stand a chance of equal opportunities, if they want to get fair employment practices, and so on, then they have to be prepared to integrate, they have to be prepared to learn the English language.

  Q67  Dr Pugh: This is about mutual understanding, this is not about community cohesion, which is something more exalted in its ambition, is it not?

  Mr Cantle: I am not sure it is. There is, obviously, a close coincidence between the two. I think, if people are living in this country, then we want them to play a part in citizenship, we want them to play a part in democratic and other frameworks, we want them to play an equal part in employment and, in order to do that, they have to have a certain amount of skills which enable them to relate to other sections of the population. This is not a one-way street. A lot of our work done in communities at the moment is with the existing host population who are trying to come to terms with the change they see as a threat to their identity, they see some conflict over resources. This is about working with both the existing residents as well as the new residents and trying to establish some basis of co-operation and collaboration between them. In the past we focused very much on difference rather than on commonalities.

  Q68  Anne Main: One of the things that we noticed in Peterborough was that when we had various ethnic minority communities come to us representing their communities and where they lived, they were very happy about the business opportunities being presented as a result of having a rapid inward growth of migrants and the fact that you could buy a woman in a pub, prostitution seemed to be growing, and, indeed, cannabis factories and a whole list of other activities, not necessarily introduced by the migrants but being seen as exploitative. Other criminal activities were exploiting the migrants within the community, and this was creating a big issue in Peterborough, and it is something that is being touched on in other areas as well, but these are presenting established criminals with opportunities to create division within communities. I would like your views on that.

  Mr Cantle: I think there is clear evidence that migrants are exploited in many different ways. They are exploited through trafficking, through prostitution; they are more often the victims of crime than the perpetrators of crime. I think there is clear evidence that is the case. Again, I think it is part of having to focus on the different dimensions of migration policy. I think those issues have to be addressed, and certainly the police concerns about funding formulas, and so on, have drawn attention to exactly that point.

  Q69  Anne Main: On the topic of funding, because it was the police who were talking to us about many of these issues as well as the residents, what are your views in terms of funding for English language? If we do have a relatively transient migrant population not necessarily wishing to integrate, what are your views in terms of language courses and accessibility to language courses?

  Mr Johnson: I think our view is that language courses should be as available as much as possible. Clearly there is a funding issue there, but one of the things we raised in our submission and would raise also is this hint that businesses might be asked to contribute. We would feel very strongly that businesses should be asked to contribute. After all, many local businesses or national companies have achieved the benefits of having an influx of migrant labour and, therefore, some contribution from them towards English language classes for their employees should be advocated.

  Q70  Mr Hands: I am sorry to butt in, but is that not going to incentivise businesses to purely hire indigenous workers if they know that to hire a migrant worker they have got to pay for English language classes? Is that the right approach?

  Mr Cantle: No, I think it is part of the business cost. I know firms that go to Poland to carry out direct recruitment. That is a cost which they would not have if they were recruiting from an indigenous workforce. They see that as part of their business costs in order to attract people with particular skills. In this case I am thinking of bus drivers. It is absolutely essential that when those people are recruited they have English language skills so that they can understand their rights, they can understand road directions, they can speak to customers, they can receive instructions from their managers, and it seems a quite unacceptable situation where employers are prepared to take on workers who are not skilled to do the job for which they are employed; so we feel there should be a very strong onus on businesses to fund English language costs, just as the recruitment costs and other transitional costs.

  Q71  Mr Hands: I am going to take issue with that. I think that businesses can be in the best position to judge whether the person they are giving the job to, whether they can or cannot speak English, is going to be able to do that job properly, but by making it necessary for businesses to give English language classes to those who cannot currently speak English, I think you are going to find businesses will be incentivised massively not to hire migrant workers.

  Mr Cantle: How can an employer employ somebody when they are unable to read health and safety instructions?

  Q72  Mr Hands: I am not sure you understand what employers do.

  Mr Cantle: I have been an employer.

  Q73  Mr Hands: They employ someone on the basis of their ability to do the job. If they have got the wrong people, then their business would not last terribly long.

  Mr Cantle: Unfortunately, there are employers who cut corners, and I think that is one of the areas where they cut corners. They have to understand their responsibilities to their employees, not just the new ones that they are taking on, but towards their existing employees as well. It seems to me that English language classes are a relatively small business cost compared with some of the other costs that they are undertaking.

  Q74  Anne Main: Can I pick up on this, since I have raised funding? I still feel we are skirting round the subject somewhat. We have a large number of people who are coming in. If we look at the Spanish example, they do not intend to integrate. How do you envisage those people getting a language skill or do you not envisage them getting a language skill?

  Mr Cantle: I think there are two reasons why we think it is necessary for people have English language skills. One is so that they can participate in the labour market but, even if they are not wanting to participate in the labour market, then they should have English language skills so that they can take part in democratic debate, they can participate as a citizen and all the time that they have aspirations of citizenship or even denizenship, because they then take part—

  Q75  Anne Main: That is not what I mean. I mean people coming over here for a short space of time, maybe a managed space of time, six months, eight months, nine months, a year whatever. Do you envisage that they will be obliged to have, or ought to be offered, language skills or do you say that for those people we would not expect it?

  Mr Johnson: I think we would expect it. I think it is important not to generalise. Whatever people's intentions when they arrive here, their intentions may change once they are here. Many migrants will go to a country only intending to be there for a short period of time and then choose to settle, and I think, particularly with the A8 migrations, it is still too early to tell just what this pattern of migration will look like in the long-term.

  Q76  Anne Main: How would you frame that then? If someone is coming in and they are not sure for how long they are going to stay, at what point would you say they either must or ought to be enrolled on a language course, either ought by their employer or must through the local authority? What period of time?

  Mr Cantle: I am not sure it is about a period of time. If they are here as a visitor or a tourist, then I do not think there is any requirement for them to learn English. If they are here to participate in the labour market or to participate as a citizen, then I think there is a requirement. It is not about length of time, it is the purpose.

  Q77  Chair: Should they learn English before they come, at least to a moderate level?

  Mr Cantle: That depends on the job requirement. It goes back to the point there. I think there has to be a level of English understanding if they are going to participate in the labour market. I would not expect them to be fully conversant with all English language requirements, but they would have to reach a certain level to enable them to participate in the labour market, as I said earlier, to understand heath and safety instructions, to help understand management directions, and so on.

  Q78  Dr Pugh: Would it apply, conversely, to British people working elsewhere in the European community? Would the Auf Wiedersehen Pet lot have to learn German or Polish, or whatever? That is, logically, your argument, is it not?

  Mr Cantle: Yes.

  Q79  Dr Pugh: They should be obliged in Germany to learn the local language?

  Mr Cantle: If they are going in order to participate the labour market or to participate as citizens, then, of course. Absolutely. How else can they take part in the debate in that country? How else can they receive equal opportunities?

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