COUNCILS should stop producing literature in foreign languages to encourage more immigrants to learn English, the county council’s leader has suggested.

Keith Mitchell said people moving to Britain who did not learn English risked leaving their children struggling academically.

At a county council cabinet meeting last week, he said: “I think there is a growing body of opinion that feels people accessing services in a country where the language is English, and if they are settling here and living here, have an obligation to learn English, particularly when their children are going to school.

“The current policy of this authority is to publish a variety of other languages, which does not encourage people to learn the language of the country. I may be right out on a limb here, but I get the sense other authorities are moving away from that direction.”

No change of policy is currently proposed, but Mr Mitchell added: “In the longer term, I do think it needs addressing.”

Pressure group Migrationwatch UK, which campaigns for less immigration, backed his stance.

But Ali Akkas, who founded the Oxfordshire Bangladeshi Association, warned people could be put at risk if information was unavailable in their language.

He said a 2005 Department of Health study into drug abuse within Oxfordshire’s Bangladeshi community found a lack of advice in Bengali and the Sylheti dialect had contributed to the problem.

Just 15 per cent of those interviewed said they felt comfortable reading English, and the report concluded better language support for minorities was needed.

Mr Akkas said: “The county council may save money, but there would be people who would lose access to services if they do not get the information they need in their own language.

“People do try to learn English, but a lot within the community always need a little bit extra.”

Oxfordshire Chinese Community and Advice Centre adviser and former Oxfordshire Racial Equality Council chairman Barbara Gatehouse warned people could be left without a home if they were unable to read council correspondence.

She added: “For someone in such an important position to be saying this is very serious.”

And Stanley Road Mosque chairman Riaz Ahmed said although translations could deter people from learning English, some people still needed support.

“It is certainly not everybody who needs letters in Urdu sent home from school,” he said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said local authorities needed to make their own decisions about what translation services to provide, based on needs.

Unlike race and religious belief, language is not a “protected characteristic”.

The county council’s website includes information in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu, and a “life guide” to settling in Oxfordshire is published in Chinese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese and Romanian.

The in-house Oxfordshire Language Service also translates information for councils.

County Hall was unable to say how much was spent last year on translations, but 2008 figures put the annual bill at £92,590.

In February, the Oxford Mail revealed the literacy and numeracy of Oxfordshire primary school pupils for whom English is a second language were significantly lower than for similar children elsewhere in the country.