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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Six Forum: British Citizenship
Sir Bernard Crick answered your questions in the Six Forum.



Immigrants to the UK wishing to become British will have to take part in special language and citizenship classes from next year.

Under major proposals unveiled by the government, anyone wanting to become a UK citizen must show an understanding of the language and the law.

Applicants would sit an exam at the end of the course, likely to be on a similar level to a driving test. Failure would not affect their residency status but would prevent applicants from gaining a British passport and the right to vote.

The system has been drawn up by a team of citizenship and nationality experts led by Professor Sir Bernard Crick, Home Secretary David Blunkett's former university tutor.

Is a 'Britishness test' a good idea? What would the test achieve?

You put questions to Sir Bernard Crick in the Six Forum presented by Manisha Tank.


Transcript


Manisha Tank:

Hello and welcome to the Six Forum with me, Manisha Tank. What do you know about being British? Immigrants are about to be asked similar questions. From next year, those wishing to become British citizens will have to take part in special language and citizenship classes. The government-initiated system has been drawn up by a team of citizenship and nationality experts. They're being led by Professor Sir Bernard Crick and he joins me now to answer your questions.

Well not just classes but also tests, Sir Bernard. Caroline, England asks: How long will this process take, from the time of application to doing the test and getting yourself naturalised?


Sir Bernard Crick:

Well the law is unchanged in that people can't apply for naturalisation until they've been in the country for five years, except for spouses of citizens, then it is three years. But we want the classes to be available at the earliest possible opportunity to help people integrate - to help them with their English, to increase their employment prospects as at the moment there is in England - not in Scotland - there's a three year rule that people can't get a free entitlement to adult literacy classes unless they've been here three years. Well my committee thinks that's an absolute nonsense and I think the Home Secretary thinks that's a nonsense because people need that kind of help at the beginning.

But it won't take them five years to go through classes - they will travel at different speeds according to their ability, according to the way the further education college sorts them out. How long is a piece of string? Well it might take some people to move from one level to another - because we are recommending not an absolute standard but moving up through established language levels, which you move from one to another, you are eligible for naturalisation and that assessment will be done by the colleges - there won't be a test at all for people who need English. People who are assessed as having good enough English already won't have new language classes thrust on them but there will be a citizenship test for them.


Manisha Tank:

Well you've already starting bringing up the issue there of standards and who decides. Os, UK asks: Who will decide the standards and who will enforce them? Will immigrants be expected to discard their culture and beliefs?

I know you've been working on this committee - Life in the UK, the advisory group - so what sort of ideas have you come up with?


Sir Bernard Crick:

Well the standards are there already, in answer to his question - it's called English as a second language - teaching standards are established by the Department of Education - they've very well known to all teachers of language. So the standards are there, they're relatively modest and we're only asking the people move from one standard to another.


Manisha Tank:

We were wondering whether immigrants will be expected to discard their culture and their beliefs?


Sir Bernard Crick:

Certainly not - why? Scots, Irish, Welsh don't discard their Scots, Irish, Welsh views. I'm not a Christian, I'm a humanist, I'm a non-believer but within the Christian community there are different churches. The Home Secretary made a very strong speech today recognising diversity because we're a United Kingdom of different nations already even before the Windrush.


Manisha Tank:

Let me just pick up on that very quickly as we've just received an e-mail from Tam in Brighton who asks: Do you not think it would sound much better if more emphasis was placed on British citizens also trying to learn and understand the cultures of different people that have come to call this country their home?


Sir Bernard Crick:

Absolutely but a lot of people don't seem to realise that this September and October, citizenship became a compulsory subject in English schools and it's a strongly advised addition in Scottish schools. And part of that citizenship curriculum is the need to understand and respect different nations, ethnicities, religions and regional differences and of course this will be as true for long native Brits - I have to be careful how I put it because the ethnic half of my committee are all citizens and they were all born in this country so they're a bit sensitive at being called immigrants - quite rightly - they're already established British but let's be blunt, the old white British population, including a good many who are a little bit prejudiced, some who are very prejudiced alas. The school curriculum will be working against that - it will be demanding that children learn a great variety of ethnicities and national allegiances that already exist. But what binds us together is a common respect for the law and I argue and the Home Secretary is arguing for the actual practise of citizenship.


Manisha Tank:

You've raised a lot of issues there and you've raised the issue of definition and where you put the boundaries. So for the sake of argument, what we're going to suggest is that the average British citizen is someone who's been born in the UK. Suhaib Ahmed, UK asks: Will an average British citizen (born in the UK) be able to pass this test?

We ask you this question, having remembered the report that was featured in the Six O'clock News, where average people on the street were given these questions that you raised in the committee and they didn't know the answers.


Sir Bernard Crick:

Well at the moment some would and some wouldn't but I'm saying that this isn't just in isolation, this isn't something that just being done to immigrants. There is now a concerted move by government across the whole educational spectrum to try and get - I put it this way - the idea that we are a citizenship culture and not a subject culture.


Manisha Tank:

) K Wilkman, Sweden asks: How is the test to be formulated, so that no-one can accuse it of being racial, prejudiced or an outright attack on the applicant's religion?
It's very difficult to hone down these boundaries but you have to when you are creating these sorts of tests.


Sir Bernard Crick:

In the same way that any examination - school examination or university examination - is set. It's done by responsible people and it has to be checked by others. It is not done by one bigot or one lunatic, it's done by people who have established professional qualifications. But let me just disabuse the worry from Sweden. A written test will only be taken by those whose English is good enough that they don't need to go to language classes. In the language classes they will be assessed as having moved from one level to another in the way that language teachers already assess people - that is an assessment on progress in the class, there won't be a formal test. But it will be a real standard, it won't just be a nonsense because these teachers are inspected and the colleges are inspected.


Manisha Tank:

Graham Pywell, UK asks: If the applicant failed the exam would they be able to re-take the exam, if so how many attempts would be allowed?

With that T Pride, UK asks: In the case of a family would all adults in that family have to satisfy the authorities of their understanding? If so what happens if one member fails?


Sir Bernard Crick:

As to whether you will be allowed to re-take the test several times. Failing the test does not affect a person's indefinite leave to remain in the UK. However, they will not be issued a passport or be entitled to vote until the test is passed.

As to the second question, people will not be examined as families, they will be assessed as individuals. There's one very interesting thing in the Immigration and Naturalisation Act 2002 and that is that citizenship is not transferable any longer from spouse to spouse. The intention of this is quite obvious - is that women have a right to these classes in their own right and so the husband can no longer become a citizen and leave the woman English-less and education-less in the home. This is quite blunt and quite clear and quite deliberate. This is a culture that believes in individual rights rather than thinking of the family as a - well for some reason in some respects we think of the family as a unit but we don't think of it as a legal unit. There is such a thing as divorce in this country and that's a terrible thought to some imams but we can't help it - it's a terrible thought to some Roman Catholics after all but that happens.


Manisha Tank:

Sir Bernard we are almost out of time so we're going to end with a personal question that we received from Claudia Rosani, Mexican Citizen in the UK who asks: I have been a UK resident for over six years. If I wanted to take up British citizenship, would I have to take these classes, even though I already speak fluent English? I can understand taking a test but do I have to sit through classes??


Sir Bernard Crick:

No. She wouldn't have to take language classes - she would have to come up for an assessment and if what she says is true, which I'd be very surprised if it wasn't, the assessor would say no she doesn't need any language classes but she would have to take this test. But she would have the choice of taking the test by attending classes or by home study with the help of a mentor or by distance learning by disc or video, again with the help of a mentor. A mentor is meant to ensure that the person is not just learning something parrot-fashion but actually shows some understanding of the local community, perhaps to produce a profile that shows that they have visited the town hall, they're a member of a voluntary group - all that could count instead of formal testing.

We're going to fine-tune the detail - my report has been concerned with broad principle because of course the implementation of this, I think, will be over several years - not the resources - there aren't the teachers, there isn't the money at the moment for a big bang - it's going to be gradual.


Manisha Tank:

We're going to have to leave it there. Professor Sir Bernard Crick, thank you so much for joining us. That's it for this Six Forum, goodbye.




SEE ALSO:
Citizenship classes for new Britons
03 Sep 03  |  Politics
Tea and cakes for the new Britons
25 Jul 03  |  Politics
UK 'citizenship test' unveiled
31 Jan 03  |  UK News
Blunkett names 'Britishness' chief
10 Sep 02  |  Politics


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