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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 13:46 GMT
UK 'citizenship test' unveiled
The Queen at the State Opening of Parliament
Queen and country: New citizens will learn about institutions

Newly-arrived immigrants seeking British nationality should gain a knowledge of English, our legal and social systems and the roles of the Monarchy and other institutions under proposals unveiled by the Home Office.

The draft proposals for a national "citizenship test" include a raft of measures aimed at improving integration into society, many of them trailed by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Becoming a citizen should be no ordinary matter - it is a significant life event

Sir Bernard Crick
The recommendations were drawn up for the Home Office by a team headed by Professor Sir Bernard Crick, one of Mr Blunkett favourite advisers and his former university tutor.

The panel's final report is expected by Easter after consultations on the recommendations.

The interim report says becoming a British citizen should be considered a major life-changing event for those who undertake it.

Those gaining citizenship should be able to demonstrate that their learning of English has "progressed" rather than forcing all applicants to reach a common standard irrespective of their previous knowledge.

Classes for all

The report says immigrants taking citizenship should join classes where they can learn about:

  • Everyday Britain including the NHS, schools and how people get help or support
  • Employment in Britain, including their rights and the minimum wage
  • The basics of the English or Scottish legal system and the "rights and duties of a citizen"
  • The basic history of our institutions such as the role of the Monarch, Parliament and government
  • The face of Britain, particularly its modern history as a multicultural society and its principles of equality, fairness and justice.

    Sir Bernard's panel recommends Welsh or Scottish Gaelic should be taught if applicable and all new immigrants eligible to apply for nationality should receive a special "Living in Britain" pack to help them prepare for their new life.

    Naturalisation ceremonies

    Once the classes are completed, individuals would attend a formal citizenship ceremony where local dignitaries would present them with their certificates of naturalisation after they have taken an oath or pledge.

    Sir Bernard Crick
    Sir Bernard Crick: Expert on British citizenship
    Studies of similar ceremonies in other countries, such as the USA and Canada, suggest they act as a focal point of the naturalisation process, reinforcing the bond between the individual and their new home (see internet links for an example of the Canadian ceremony).

    Sir Bernard said: "Becoming a citizen should be no ordinary matter. It is a significant life event.

    "The group saw its task as helping to raise the status and significance of becoming a British citizen."

    Sir Bernard said the emphasis should be on gaining "practical knowledge" of how the country works, a move which would in itself would help to engender a sense of citizenship.

    "The two senses of 'citizenship' as legal naturalisation and as participation in public life should support each other," said Sir Bernard, emeritus professor at London's Birkbeck College.

    "In what has long been a multi-cultural society, new citizens should be equipped to be active citizens.

    "Use of English itself is a most, possibly the most, important means of diverse communities participating in a common culture with common values."

    The Home Office established the panel under Sir Bernard as part of last year's Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act. Citizenship has recently become a core subject of the national curriculum in secondary schools.

    Some of your comments:

    As a Scot who emigrated to Canada and took the citizenship test, I know more about Canada and its institutions than most Canadian-born Canadians. Go for it Britain - but extend it to all Brits as well.
    Gordon McFarlane, Canada

    This is an excellent idea. It makes coming to this country a big deal, which it should be. I would expect this if I wanted to become a citizen of another country.
    Johanna Brooks, UK

    An excellent idea. These new members of the community will have resources to integrate much more quickly than at present and will fell less isolated and perplexed about the society to which they have come.
    Quentin Parsons, England

    Citizenship confirms the link between individual and country. The pride and joy I see on the faces of new citizens when they take the oath is truly humbling.
    Kim Brown, USA

    Knowledge of our systems and political institutions is often lacking in young people, breeding apathy and disinterest. This could be a wonderful opportunity to reduce youth crime and political apathy.
    Sarah Bosworth, UK

    These naturalisation sessions will do little to help the cultural differences that will remain. Foreigners will always remain different and will undoubtedly change the nature of Britain.
    J Fanus, Wales

    This is the first sensible step on immigration and citizenship I have heard this government make. I quite agree that it is a significant moment in someone's life and should be recognised as such.
    Ian, UK

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    Sir Bernard Crick, govt advisor on citizenship
    "There should be a civil ceremony of celebration to welcome the new arrivals"
    See also:

    10 Sep 02 | Politics
    10 Sep 02 | Politics
    26 Oct 01 | Politics
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