Munich (Agencies): In a surprising remark, Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Britain's long-standing policy of multiculturalism as a failure on Saturday, calling for better integration of Muslims to combat home-grown extremism.

In a speech at the Munich Security Conference, Cameron signalled an important change in policy towards Britain's ethnic and religious minorities, saying the "hands-off tolerance" of those who reject Western values was not working.

He urged a "more active, muscular liberalism" where equal rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and democracy are actively encouraged to create a stronger national identity.

"If we are to defeat this threat, I believe it's time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past," he told the conference during a panel discussion attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But his remarks led to a chorus of condemnation, with the Muslim Council of Britain expressing anger that the Muslim community was still being treated "as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution."

Cameron's speech were a throwback to the controversial comments made by Merkel last year, when she also called multiculturalism a failure, saying Germany had not devoted enough attention to the integration of immigrants.

This was Cameron's first major speech on Islamist extremism, an issue of major concern for British governments since four home-grown suicide bombers attacked the London transport system in 2005, killing 52 people.

The Prime Minister, who took power in May 2010, argued that "under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live isolated lives, apart from each other and the mainstream".

He said this had resulted in a lack of national identity in Britain which had made some young Muslims turn to extremism.

Cameron made sure that he distinguished between Islam the religion and the political ideology of Islamist extremism, saying they "are not the same thing".

But Muslim groups in Britain reacted with a mixture of disappointment and outrage.

"It is disappointing," Faisal Hanjra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told BBC radio, saying that it did not appear to mark in shift in the approach to tackling terrorism.