Blunkett wants new immigrants to give 'UK values' pledge

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New immigrants to Britain will be obliged to attend citizenship ceremonies complete with the Union Jack and "God Save the Queen" under Government proposals yesterday.

As well as the traditional swearing of allegiance to the Queen, they will also make a new pledge to uphold the rights, freedoms and democratic values of the United Kingdom. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, believes that such American-style ceremonies, to be launched next year, will help foster a sense of national identity.

A Home Office consultation document said yesterday: "National symbols and the national anthem are an important and integral feature of citizenship ceremonies in other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

"Many people in the United Kingdom and many of those becoming citizens would expect to see the same here. The Government believes it would be right to agree that these elements should feature."

The Government also wants the ceremonies to forge immigrants' links with their new communities, possibly by including a local dignitary, such as a Lord Mayor. Local authorities are also being urged to present immigrants with a commemorative gift or photograph with the dignitary in order to provide "a lasting memory of this key life event".

Schoolchildren may be invited to perform a traditional song or dance at the ceremony, which would take place at the register office or town hall.

The new citizen will be expected to swear a pledge to "give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen".

Aspiring British nationals now apply for citizenship by post and make an oath of allegiance before a solicitor or justice of the peace before they are sent their naturalisation certificate.

The low-key process assumes that the applicant speaks English and does not expect the immigrant to display any knowledge of the country.

Last year's Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act introduced a requirement that applicants for citizenship must have "sufficient knowledge of life in the UK". It also announced plans for them to attend citizenship ceremonies.

Beverley Hughes, the Immigration minister, said: "Becoming a British citizen should not be about obtaining a bit of paper and a passport. It is something to be celebrated, both by those who qualify and by the wider communities of which they are a part.

"Citizenship ceremonies will enable more focus to be placed on the fact that citizenship carries with it both rights and responsibilities."

The Government expects to introduce the new ceremonies by next April after pilot schemes are completed in eight areas. It will soon also publish detailed proposals for ensuring that applicants have a working knowledge of English and the national way of life.

The committee drawing up proposals for the "Britishness test" has suggested that it should not include culture and history, but instead should concentrate on practical information on benefits, housing and the National Health Service.