Immigrants will have to pass test on Britishness

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Immigrants who want to become citizens of the United Kingdom will have to pass a "Britishness test" and learn English, David Blunkett said yesterday.

The Home Secretary also called on the English to be proud of their heritage and to stop being "apologetic" about their roots.

Mr Blunkett was speaking at the launch of a report which will act as a blueprint for compulsory citizenship tests, which will include questions on history, the law, employment, and practical tips, such as how to pay bills.

The details of the tests are yet to be decided, but they are likely to become law in 2004.

Mr Blunkett said that an understanding of the UK's history, law, way of life, and indigenous languages would help immigrants take part in British society and ensure they are accepted more readily by the existing population.

Failing the exam would mean applicants cannot gain a British passport or vote, although their residency status would not be affected. One requirement for the course would be that they already have indefinite leave to remain in Britain.

Mr Blunkett said history would be part of the exam only when it was relevant to daily life. "Knowing the six wives of Henry VIII doesn't constitute being a good citizen," he said.

"You would need to know about when Britain was last invaded if you were touching on what happened in terms of consequent 20th century wars."

He said greater national pride would also help integration. "I want to see a greater pride from British people about their own culture and identity - English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish - so that people can actually celebrate their own sense of identity much more clearly and have the confidence to celebrate and welcome other people.

"On the liberal left, celebrating Irish, Scottish and Welsh culture is seen as a good thing. But there's something almost apologetic about the English which I'm seeking to overcome."

Last year 120,000 people were granted British citizenship. There are about 2.3 million foreign-born UK passport holders - of whom 1.4 million are from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the European Union. About 2.6 million people who could apply for citizenship chose not to.

Anyone who has lived in the UK for more than six years and has not committed a serious crime, along with asylum-seekers who have been given refugee status or permanent leave to remain, can apply for British citizenship.

The report, The New and the Old was drawn up by the Life in the United Kingdom advisory group, chaired by Sir Bernard Crick, emeritus professor at the University of London. He said the exam would be on a similar level to a driving test and could include questions such as "Who is the Prime Minister?" and "How do you pay a telephone bill?"

According to the proposals, applicants should answer questions involving British national institutions such as "the rise of parliamentary democracy, the role of the monarch. The role of parties and their history since 1945".

The citizenship element of the course would include classes on the electoral system, the status of women in society and the role of the law courts. Immigrants would also be taught more practical things, such as how to get a job, pay bills and find the local library.

Would-be citizens would be assessed on their progress in the English language, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic. The report said teaching courses should be available free at the earliest opportunity. The minimum standard would be moving from no English to a level where the citizen could take up an unskilled job.

The Home Office has already announced that new citizens will have to give a pledge to uphold the UK's democratic values and laws. The advisory group recommends that high-profile "civil ceremonies" should be held at which citizens could swear allegiance to the Crown and give the pledge.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, welcomed the proposals, saying that acquiring citizenship would be an active concept.