PM: Muslim Women Must Learn English Or Leave

Muslim women who fail to improve their English face being refused permission to stay in the UK, David Cameron has announced.

The Prime Minister has launched a £20m initiative aimed at helping female members of the Muslim community with their language skills in an attempt to integrate them into the community and help tackle extremism.

However, he has been accused of taking a "clumsy and simplistic" approach to the issue by Labour, who say he has "unfairly stigmatised" a whole community.

Mr Cameron has urged an end to the "passive tolerance" of practices which he says leave many Muslim women facing discrimination and isolation.

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The measure would be backed by sanctions for those who did not make progress in improving their knowledge of the language.

He said the lack of integration within British society of some Muslim communities had helped to foster extremism and allowed "appalling practices" such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Writing in The Times newspaper, the PM said he would not avoid telling the "hard truths" required to confront the minority of Muslim men whose "backward attitudes" led them to exert "damaging control" over women in their families.

He has also announced a review of the role of Britain’s religious councils, including Sharia courts, which has been announced three times before.

Mr Cameron wrote: "All too often, because of what I would call 'passive tolerance', people subscribe to the flawed idea of separate development.

"It is time to change our approach. We will never truly build One Nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together and more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers.

"This is Britain. In this country, women and girls are free to choose how they live, how they dress and who they love. It’s our values that make this country what it is, and it’s only by standing up for them assertively that they will endure."

However, in July 2011 the coalition government withdrew funding for basic English classes for those who spoke it only as a second language.

It was limited to those claiming job seekers' allowance or employability skills allowance - excluding many of those women who Mr Cameron now says he is targeting.

Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: "In his desire to grab easy headlines, David Cameron risks doing more harm than good.

"His clumsy and simplistic approach to challenging extremism is unfairly stigmatising a whole community. There is a real danger that it could end up driving further radicalisation, rather than tackling it.

"The Prime Minister is right to talk about empowering women but his emphasis should be on women of all faiths and none. His commitment to English classes is welcome but people will ask why his Government has spent the last few years cutting funding from these vital courses."

The move has also drawn criticism from former foreign office minister Baroness Warsi, who questioned it being linked to tackling extremism.

She tweeted: "And why should it just be Muslim women who have the opportunity to learn English? Why not anyone who lives in the UK and can't speak English."

The Government estimates that there are 190,000 Muslim women in England who speak little or no English.

The new English language scheme will be aimed at reaching the most isolated women.

Officials said from October those coming to Britain on a spouse visa will be expected to become more capable in English and achieve A2 level standard after two and half years.

A failure to make improvement would be taken into account in any request to extend visas or apply for permanent residence.