All immigrants could be asked to learn English as a condition of taking on UK citizenship, Lord Rooker, the Home Office minister has suggested.
The Home Office was considering imposing such a rule as a means of ensuring that the wives of new citizens had proper access to mainstream society and the labour market, he said yesterday.
In an interview with political website ePolitix.com, the asylum and immigration minister also confirmed reports that Home Secretary David Blunkett was considering scrapping the controversial asylum voucher system introduced by his predecessor Jack Straw.
However, he insisted that there was no question of ending the policy of dispersal of asylum-seekers around the country in the wake of the murder of Kurd Firsat Yildiz, who was stabbed to death in Glasgow a fortnight ago.
Moves to force immigrants to learn English would be highly controversial among some refugee groups.
New citizens currently have to prove they have a "grasp of English", but when their spouses join them later they often arrive with virtually no working knowledge of the language.
Making English mandatory for those seeking citizenship would be one way of ensuring that ethnic minority women were not denied their civil rights by their own menfolk, said Lord Rooker.
Lord Rooker, whose former constituency of Birmingham Perry Barr has a large Asian community, said: "People must maintain their culture, maintain their religion and live in peace and tranquillity, but they must not be denied their opportunity to participate properly, particularly in the employment market.
"There are situations... where, sometimes, people are not encouraged or persuaded to learn English by their family. The men say they don't need it. I don't accept that, because it's people being denied their civil rights."