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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Blunkett names 'Britishness' chief
State opening of parliament
Immigrants may be taught about the British constitution
Home Secretary David Blunkett has handed the highly sensitive job of drawing up a "Britishness" test for immigrants to his favourite academic Professor Sir Bernard Crick.


My own view is that Britishness is really a series of legal and political agreements between different nations

Sir Bernard Crick
Sir Bernard, who has previously advised Mr Blunkett on citizenship lessons in schools, will head a committee to draw up a syllabus on "UK society and civic structures".

The test will become compulsory for new arrivals if they want to take full British citizenship.

Mr Blunkett's plans for citizenship tests - and his plain speaking approach on immigration and race - have led to accusations of borderline racism from some on the left.

'Losing the plot'

His description last week of Asians jailed for their part in last year's Bradford riots as "whining maniacs" prompted former chairman of the Commission For Racial Equality, Lord Ouseley, to say the home secretary had "lost the plot".

But Mr Blunkett insists his proposals will increase racial harmony and reduce tension in mixed race communities.

Sir Bernard Crick
Sir Bernard is an expert on British citizenship
He said: "The government intends to make gaining British citizenship meaningful and celebratory rather than simply a bureaucratic process."

Professor Crick has played down suggestions that the test was a hurdle designed to weed out applicants for citizenship.

He said it would focus more on practical issues about living in the UK.


David Blunkett is more in touch with the feelings of the average person in this country than his colleagues in the Labour Party

Lord Tebbit
"At the moment when immigrants come in they don't receive...any information on life in Britain.

"For example, simple things like hospitals are free, the police don't beat you up if you go to them for help, you don't go to hospital without going to your GP first."

Such things could "cause a great deal of confusion, problems for the immigrant and, of course, for some people in the host communities," he added.

He said the "main thrust" of his committee's work would be to create a syllabus for English language teachers that weave in "some of this content".

Blunkett 'mistake'

There would probably be a section on British society, but it would stress the "diversity of faith groups" and the way the UK was made up of four nations.

"My own view is that Britishness is a series of legal and political agreements between different nations," Professor Crick told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

"I think instruction in Britishness consists of living in Britain for a while," he added.

Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit described Professor Crick's appointment as "one of Mr Blunkett's rare mistakes".

Tebbit attack

He said he had "never seen Professor Crick as a British nationalist" and that he "would probably blame everything on the British class system."

David Blunkett
Blunkett wants citizenship to be 'meaningful'
Lord Tebbit agreed that the best way to learn about Britishness was to live in the culture and absorb it.

But he said learning English should be compulsory, so that "foreigners can be persuaded to adopt British customs".

He said he hoped Professor Crick would also look at introducing an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

'Debate to be had'

But he added: "There is a debate to be had, and regardless of whatever kind of fist Professor Crick makes of it, it is a good thing that David Blunkett is thinking about these things and talking about them."

He said he thought Mr Blunkett was "more in touch with the feelings of the average person in this country than his colleagues in the Labour Party."

He added: "I have told him before there is a good man inside him trying to get out and it does every now and then."

The Commission for Racial Equality welcomed Professor Crick's appointment as "a first step in defining precise arrangements for citizenship classes".

Panel members

Mr Blunkett's proposals are contained in Labour's Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, currently before the Lords.

Professor Crick, emeritus professor of politics at Birkbeck College, London, was knighted in the New Year's honours list for "services to citizenship in schools and to political studies".

Birmingham's chief education officer Professor Tim Brighouse, a teacher from Sheffield, an equality expert and former social worker from Glasgow and a lecturer in Caribbean Studies from London will also sit on the panel.

See also:

06 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Dec 01 | UK
06 Sep 02 | Politics
05 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Dec 01 | Politics
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