Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Translation: what I would have said

At our Full Council meeting, I was down to make a statement as a portfolio holder on the subject of ‘translations’. Unfortunately, a previous meeting over-ran and so I did not get chance to regale the chamber with my prose. In case there is anyone feeling deprived as a result, here is what I would have said:

I stand now to make a statement which I can confidently predict will not receive unanimous support around this chamber. But, all the same, this administration feels it is necessary to mark out where we stand. On 10th June, the present Secretary of State for Communities had a Margaret Hodge moment. Ruth Kelly declared that the number of translations available from local authorities should be cut and, instead of providing translation, those needing them should be directed to English lessons.

We, on this side of the chamber, consider that not only hypocritical but also wrong in principle. Hypocritical because it is this government which has cut funding to ESOL service of English lessons. If Ms Kelly’s policy was to be followed, ESOL funding would need massively to be increased – a point recognised by the Commission on Integration – but there seems no appetite for practical support for English lessons from the government.

It is wrong in principle because, while we should be providing English lessons wherever possible, it should be obvious that that will not do away with the need for translation as well. I was recently talking to members of the committee of our excellent Asian Cultural Association and they pointed out a key issue: speaking a language, reading it and writing it are three different skills. There are first-generation immigrants who can speak English but that does not mean they are fluent in reading it. In that situation, translation still has its place. More widely, we should be facilitating not prescribing: we should be providing as many ways as possible to learn about our services, not telling people to learn English if they want to know about them.

This Council has a policy of translating on demand. The availability of translations is flagged up in our leaflets. We in this administration believe that is right. And as long as we are in administration it will remain the case, whatever Ms Kelly tries to dictate.

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