Councillors clash over Havering’s literacy strategy
18:00 16 July 2013
A discussion about the borough’s literacy strategy almost turned into a debate about immigration.
Cllr Andrew Curtin (Con, Romford) and Cllr David Durant (Independent Local Residents’ Group, Rainham) clashed over the report at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday July 10.
Cllr Curtin said: “He was almost saying ‘who are these foreigners coming into the country who can’t speak English?’
“I have got a range of friends from different backgrounds and cultures and they all speak perfect English.”
The report looked at ways to improve literacy in the borough and ways to extend the good work being done in the area to increase it.
It sated: “language is the means by which we can diffuse controversies, offer compromises, explain our point of view, in the hope of finding a common group”.
But after hearing a presentation, Cllr Durant argued that the reason the issue had come before the cabinet is because of the rise in immigration.
He said: “The report places emphasis on teaching English to people who have English as a second language, therefore I am thinking it must be a serious matter to be able to teach these people English.
“It is now becoming a priority because of the large number of immigrants who are being allowed to come into this country who do not speak English.”
This was met by anger by Cllr Curtin.
He added: “Has Cllr Durant actually read my report?
“Like I said earlier, the English language can be used to oppress us, it can be used to control and constrain and to instill hatred and fear and Cllr Durant is a fine example of that happening.”
Cllr Curtin then went on to say that he was fluent in Russian and he found that it had given him a better understanding of English.
Cllr Durant responded: “That’s just political nonsense that reflects badly on him rather than on me”.
“I am merely pointing out that the reason this has become an issue is because so many people being allowed into this country who do not speak English.”
Despite the heated exchange earlier, the debate ended with a light hearted tone, with leader of the council Michael White speaking in Italian.
Cllr Curtin said later that he was “surprised” and “disappointed” in the “exclusive approach that was being taken to seclude people”.
He added: “I know lots of people from other countries who are very keen to learn English.
“It is not just about this group, there are lots of other reasons why people have poor literacy”