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Sunday, 19 August, 2001, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Immigrants face new language rule
Adult writing in English
Better language skills could mean better jobs
Immigrants to the UK could have to learn English as a condition of applying for British nationality, under new rules being considered by the Home Secretary.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed that David Blunkett wanted "a debate" on the issue.

It was being looked at "as part of a broader initiative to include new citizens in the mainstream of British society", said the spokesman.

[Language] is not the major obstruction to entering the labour market. Race discrimination is

Habib Rahman
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Applicants for British citizenship must have "sufficient knowledge" of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic, but the rule is waived for those coming to the UK to marry a British citizen.

Part of the review will look at whether new rules on language learning could help alleviate the social and economic exclusion that non-English speakers in the UK might suffer.

"This debate will be conducted within the broad framework of developing citizenship as a key theme underpinning broader Home Office policies," the Home Office spokesman said.

Asian women walking along street
Some people's families do not encourage them to learn English
"And in particular the way the agenda of inclusion should incorporate those entering Britain or seeking British nationality."

Any change would be expected to form part of a package of reforms to the immigration and asylum system due to be presented by Mr Blunkett to the Labour Party conference in October.

The Home Office earlier indicated that it was not considering compulsory English lessons.

A spokesman was reported as saying that forcing anyone to learn a language would probably break the Human Rights Act anyway.

'Agreement to learn'

Labour MP Ann Cryer caused controversy last month by suggesting that compulsory English lessons could help immigrant brides and grooms.

On Saturday she said the lessons could help overcome the "massive under-achievement" in Britain's Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

Labour MP Ann Cryer
Ann Cryer: Mandatory lessons could help immigrant brides and grooms
Mrs Cryer, who represents Keighley in West Yorkshire, said many British Asians were undertaking arranged marriages with spouses from the Indian sub-continent who spoke no English.

She said: "When a person is sponsoring a husband or wife to come into this country, then they should sign up to an agreement with the government that this person, once entered, would go in for possibly full-time English lessons," she said.

The lessons would allow them to learn English to a standard high enough to "get a job or at least make their way round the system and know their rights".

But Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said mandatory English lessons were "linguistic colonialism".

And former JCWI director Claude Moraes, now a Labour MEP, said the idea was "insulting".

He said: "This is not the major obstruction to entering the labour market. Race discrimination is.

"It's misleading to emphasise language and it's a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s. Compulsion sends out the wrong message."

But on Friday immigration minister Lord Rooker appeared to back Mrs Rooker's calls for compulsory lessons.

He said immigrants without English language skills were being excluded from the labour market and denied their civil rights.

There were cases where women were denied a place in mainstream society because they were not encouraged by their families to learn English, he argued.

"The question arises: Do we require people to learn English as a consequence of applying for nationality, which you've got to do in English anyway? We're looking at this," he said.

See also:

17 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Immigrants may 'need English'
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