London, Sept. 29: Immigrants should be allowed to take a new test on Britishness in their own language, such as Bengali or Hausa, instead of English, according to the home office.
Instruction in life in Britain should also avoid the “cultural context”, concentrating instead on practical issues such as finding a plumber on Christmas Day, an adviser to David Blunkett, the home secretary, has said.
Blunkett announced plans for the new examination for all immigrants eligible for naturalisation earlier this year. Successful candidates will then be made British citizens in a formal ceremony.
A new independent advisory group was set up this month to design the test.
The plan has already run into trouble, however, with a serious disagreement over whether would-be citizens’ knowledge of life in Britain should be taught and tested in English.
One member, Selina Ullah, confirmed ahead of the group’s second meeting this Wednesday that there was division over a number of issues.
Ullah, a National Health Service manager and the chairwoman of the Asian Women’s Centre, in Keighley, Yorkshire, said: “There is a very strong feeling that if we are testing people’s knowledge of their rights and responsibilities do we really need that to be in English'
“It’s about being fair. We need to be very clear about what we are testing and why we are testing and we need to keep in mind the range of skills these people have. Is it about teaching people parrot fashion something they will forget as soon as they leave the room or is it really about helping them maximise their opportunities'”
The group’s chairman, Sir Bernard Crick, has already made clear that he believes that immigrants’ knowledge of English should play a central role in the new test.
“Command of the majority language seems to me to basic for citizenship in any country whether people chose to remain bilingual or not,” he said recently. “When in Rome do as the Romans do' No, not necessarily but you did need Latin in public life.”
Sir Bernard admits that his group is set for “tense” discussions over what should be included in a proposed section of the test on “national and regional customs in a multicultural society”.
Some of the questions to be decided upon were whether to include St George’s Day along with Burns Night and St David’s Day in the citizenship test curriculum and how to inform immigrants about “the significance of Christmas”. Ullah gave a hint of the disagreements ahead when she said that the test would be “unmanageable” if it sought to instruct would-be citizens in the customs of every region.
“It has to be practical. It’s about telling people that if you want to get a plumber on Christmas Day you are going to find it hard. These are the things that we want taught rather than the broader cultural context.”
That view, however, will disappoint observers who had hoped that the new programme would include lessons on great moments in British history.
Blunkett, whose recent claim that Britons should speak English at home even if it is not their native tongue sparked outcry, supports Sir Bernard against the faction that wants both the lessons and the test to be multilingual.
Sir Bernard, who has described the job of devising a test for Britishness as a “poisoned chalice”, must deliver an interim report to the home office before Christmas.