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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Citizenship classes for new Britons
The plans include a new pledge to the UK
Proposals for an English language test to be taken by people applying for UK citizenship have been welcomed by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

He said it was important new citizens could communicate with their neighbours and be welcomed fully by other British people.

The special language and citizenship classes will begin next year under major proposals unveiled by the government on Wednesday.

Author of the proposals, Professor Sir Bernard Crick, answered your questions

Failing the exam would mean applicants cannot gain a British passport or vote, although their residency status would not be affected.

They would already be permanently resident in the country before qualifying for the course.

Plans to complete the citizenship process with celebratory local ceremonies at town halls are still being drafted.

Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I believe we need to build in youngsters at an early age a knowledge of their own society, their part in it and their citizenship.

We are not trying to define Britishness, we are trying to define what people need to settle in effectively
Professor Sir Bernard Crick

"This is not a passive citizenship, such as voting occasionally, but an active one, where people make the world around them a better place by what they do and how they do it."

The measures would "liberate" people trapped by their inability to communicate or interact with others and counter far-right propaganda, he said.

By being able to speak to their neighbours, new citizens could get the welcome which would "see off the racists", he added.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes warned the government not to exclude groups of immigrants such as older people, who may have no tradition of education.

able to speak English, Welsh or Gaelic
know how to acquire necessities like electricity
understand how democracy and Parliament works
knowledge of etiquette and sexual equality
understanding British institutions like the monarchy and elections
British history since 1945
applicants must have lived in the UK for five years or three years if married to a Briton

But Mr Blunkett said it was "patronising" to suggest immigrants may not be able to improve their English and added disabled people would be exempt.

He also denied the move would harm Britain's diversity.

Conservative home affairs spokesman Humfrey Malins said he backed the tests "in principle" but would study the proposals carefully.

Mr Blunkett put forward the citizenship proposals in 2002 as part of the Home Office's flagship nationality and immigration legislation.

The two key requirements of the scheme were that new citizens should have a "sufficient understanding of English, Welsh or Scots Gaelic" and a "sufficient understanding of UK society and civic structures".

'Everyday needs'

The home secretary said both elements should improve integration and a sense of belonging, rather than hinder the process of naturalisation.

The system was drawn up by a team of citizenship and nationality experts led by Professor Sir Bernard Crick, Mr Blunkett's former university tutor.

In its interim report published earlier in the year, Sir Bernard's team recommended new citizens should formally learn about key elements of British life and everyday needs.

Prof Crick and David Blunkett unveil the plans
Crick was a university tutor of Blunkett's
It also recommended practical studies to progressively improve language skills for daily life, with a target to improve rather than reach a certain standard.

Prof Crick said the exam at the end of the course would be on a similar level to a driving test.

"We are not trying to define Britishness, we are trying to define what people need to settle in effectively," he told Today.

"One of the big objects of this report... is integration in the sense of people feeling secure in their own identities, but also sharing a wider identity."

A handbook will include all the required knowledge for passing the test.

Proposals for special civic ceremonies welcoming those being naturalised have yet to be finalised.

A total of 120,000 immigrants a year win British citizenship, after living in the UK for five years.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The government believes new arrivals will value citizenship more if it's earned"

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