The UK needs a dedicated minister for integration to promote British values and identity, according to a North MP.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman urged the Government to consider appointing a dedicated minister as he backed the Government’s plans to require schools to teach British values.
It follows claims that extremists or religious conservatives have attempted to take over schools in areas of Birmingham with large Muslim populations.
Independent schools, including state-run academies, are already required to encourage pupils to respect British values, which are defined as democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced this requirement is to be extended to include local authority maintained schools.
But the Muslim Council of Britain has expressed “deep concern” at the debate over British values, saying: “We have no objection to British values. On the contrary. We believe in a tolerant, more free and more equal society.
“We want a real debate that does not regard us as conditional Britons.”
Other critics have claimed it is wrong to suggest tolerance and rule of law are British values, as if the UK is more committed to them than other countries.
But speaking in a Commons debate, Mr Opperman said: “One would hope that those are universal values, but we know that the reality worldwide is that they are not universal values, but are particular values of this country.
“In that respect, these purportedly universal values are, in fact, very British and their promotion must be a very good thing.”
He said he wanted to ask “whether we need to consider introducing, as the Canadians have, a Minister for integration.”
Canadian Minister Jason Kenney had succeeded in “formulating and promoting integration of people of many different faiths,” Mr Opperman said.
“His portfolio includes citizenship, multiculturalism, immigration and integration. It is the unification of those strands of Government Departments and the difficulties faced that we genuinely need to address.”
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said he agreed with Mr Opperman that British values were not shared by everyone.
He said: “British values are not universal around the world, and we should be proud that they are very widely, if not universally, accepted here at home.
“Those universal values flower in Britain because of the protection of our strong democratic state, defended through liberty – with blood, in times gone by – by our forefathers and the forefathers of those from many different backgrounds.”
The Department for Education says that the new regulations will take effect in September 2014.
Schools will be expected to show how they are promoting fundamental British values and challenging pupils, staff or parents who express opinions contrary to those values.
Action will also be taken against schools where, for example, girls are disadvantaged on the grounds of their gender – or where prejudice against those of other faiths is encouraged or not adequately challenged.
Labour MP John Denham said teaching British values was “ill-judged and may be counter-productive”, adding: “All the attention has been focused deliberately on one community, the Muslim community.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 29 June 2014