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Loyalty oath urged for immigrants

Loyalty oath urged for immigrants

Author: Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Publication: The Telegraph, UK
Date: December 12, 2001

Newcomers to Britain should swear or affirm an oath of allegiance to show their "clear primary loyalty" to the nation, a report into the causes of last summer's inner city riots said yesterday.

It proposed a statement based on the Canadian citizenship oath requiring immigrants to promise to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen".

The recommendation was made by a team which studied the background to disturbances in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley. But ministers declined to commit themselves to the move.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, who said at the weekend that new arrivals should adopt British "norms", called for "an honest and open debate on citizenship".

Police and rioters clash in Bristol earlier this year

The team, led by Ted Cantle, the former chief executive of Nottingham city council, attributed the violence to the tensions caused by the extreme polarisation of ethnic groups.

Many lived "a series of parallel lives which did not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap". The intake of some schools was almost exclusively from single ethnic groups that also worshipped and relaxed in isolation from others.

Faith schools posed a "significant problem" in divided communities, the report said. But ministers rejected its recommendation that a quarter of their intake should be of children from other religions.

High levels of segregation were compounded by an absence of a shared notion of what constituted citizenship or nationhood. "There has been little attempt to develop clear values which focus on what it means to be a citizen of a modern multi-racial Britain," the report said.

"Many still look backwards to some supposedly halcyon days of a mono-cultural society, or alternatively look to their country of origin for some form of identity."

The report did not map out ideas of what constituted nationhood, but said: "We are never going to turn the clock back to what was perceived to be a dominant or mono-culturalist view of nationality."

Mr Cantle was not forthcoming about what the "statement of allegiance" should contain. Although the report recommended the Canadian model, it was not explicit about the oath mentioning the Queen. Nor did Mr Cantle necessarily envisage a formal ceremony at which the statement was read out or signed.

"It is something everybody should sign up to but not necessarily in a sense of a formal signing of the document," he said. "I think it would apply to people who come to this country subsequently."

John Denham, the Home Office minister who chaired a Whitehall group that examined the impact of the riots, said: "We have not made a commitment to a formal oath of allegiance, but we do want the debate to take place."

Habib Rahman, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said that an oath of allegiance would be "divisive". He added: "This debate will give credence to the racists and all the racial prejudice in this country."

While the report identified much that is wrong with the segregation of racial groups, it was unclear how this could be put right. It made 67 recommendations, but many of them called for reviews or further debate.

The inquiry found that racists had exploited the separation of the communities and the grievances felt among white residents to foment trouble. Some of the resentment stemmed from a belief that regeneration schemes appeared to give preferential help to ethnic minorities.

"Racist provocations were one trigger, but there are some deep-seated problems and we are not proposing any sort of quick fix."

Mr Blunkett, on a visit to Birmingham, said that the Cantle report and two others into the disturbances in Oldham and Burnley had raised "profound issues".

"Young people, in particular, are alienated and disengaged from much of the society around them, including the leadership of their communities."

Despite the report's warning that faith schools compounded the differences between communities, the Government has encouraged their development. One reason is that they tend to perform better and are popular with parents.

But Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield and chairman of the Commons education select committee, said that the successes of Church of England and Roman Catholic schools "can be exaggerated".

"Very few people in the Government have looked carefully at the implications of a society 10 or 20 years down the line in which there is a clearer divide between the religions and schooling."
 


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