28 JAN 2016
English Language Classes for Women
On 28 January 2016 the House of Lords held a short debate on the following question asked by Baroness Uddin:
"To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the evidential basis of their policy of promoting English language classes for women to address isolation and extremism."
The full debate can be read at this link. Lord Sheikh spoke at 14:40 and his speech is reproduced below.
My Lords, at the outset I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, for initiating this debate. The Prime Minister’s announcement has proved controversial in some circles, but I agree that people who cannot speak adequate English will experience difficulties. They will find it difficult to integrate into communities and into British life more widely.
With particular regard to the British Muslim community, I agree that speaking English is crucial, particularly in the light of recent tensions. I have previously stated in your Lordships’ House that I would like to see mosques and Muslim centres become more than just places of worship. I would like to see more of them used as paths towards integration. Mosques and Muslim centres would like to play a greater role by hosting English language courses, but some of them may need financial assistance. I have personally supported mosques and centres in these activities.
I believe that the Muslim community should be more proactive in dispelling misapprehensions about Islamic values. If women cannot speak English, they cannot contribute to this. I think it is important to clear up some confusion. From my experience, a lot of second-generation Muslims in fact speak only English. This includes a number who actually have little knowledge of their mother tongue. Some youngsters are radicalised, but there are a number of factors other than lack of English knowledge by a parent which contribute towards radicalisation. I have referred to these factors previously in your Lordship’s House, but because of lack of time I am unable to repeat them today.
In my experience, Muslim girls perform better than boys in schools. Muslim women have done well in every walk of life, and we now have a record number of Muslim women in both Houses of Parliament. We should therefore be careful not to regard Muslim women in general as failing and in desperate need of outside help. Many of the problems that exist lie with women who have migrated to the United Kingdom or married men here, irrespective of their religion. However, this applies to all communities, not just Muslims. For example, it is suggested that a significant proportion of immigrants from Europe struggle with the English language. Data that are available suggest that only 6% of the overall Muslim population struggles with speaking English. I appreciate that this differs from what the Prime Minister said, and more research needs to be done.
In any case, it is important to note that the Muslim community is aware that some Muslims cannot speak good English and would like to remedy the problem. English should be taught to people of all faiths and cultures. It is a language that will unite them, and they should share in learning it. We must also remember that while a lack of English can act as a barrier to integration, so can many other factors—for example, labour market inequalities and, especially, deprivation. Unfortunately, almost half of all Muslims in Britain live in the 10% most deprived local authority districts. I have visited deprived areas with higher Muslim populations and am aware of the problem in those areas. Such deprivation can affect people’s aspirations, education, employment and health. Deprivation can also be a factor in influencing youngsters to be radicalised. We therefore need to look at the question of deprivation in certain areas.
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