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Citizenship Test

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have received representations about the new UK Citizenship test.

My Lords, the new Life in the UK Test, which is taken for settlement and citizenship purposes, will begin on Monday 25 March and will have British history and culture at its heart. We have not as yet received any direct representations, although public comment on the new handbook has been broadly positive.

I thank the Minister for his reply. However, does he not consider that the new handbook is impractical and irrelevant and does not deal with the problems that people need to tackle when they come to Britain? The book contains 3,000 hard facts to be mastered. For instance, does he think it appropriate that every person who sits this test should know when the Emperor Claudius invaded Britain?

I am sure that somebody will know. I can go back to Wales; other people can go back to other places. It was AD 43. However, given that there is some discontent regarding the questions asked, would the Minister be prepared to meet some of us who share that concern to discuss a more practical handbook on life in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I am always very happy to learn and would be delighted to meet my noble friend. However, I do not agree with his summary of the new handbook. I think that it contains relevant British history and culture, which is the whole purpose of the exercise: that is, to provide facts on which people can base a life of settlement and, indeed, citizenship in this country. Therefore, I disagree with the premise of my noble friend’s supplementary question but I am very happy to meet him.

My Lords, does the handbook contain any reference to the invasion of these islands by the Anglo-Saxons?

My Lords, we introduced the citizenship test in 2005 and remain committed to it, but clearly a significant amount of time, effort and money has gone into these changes and the questions mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. It has to be said that when the Prime Minister failed the test on live television in America, one has to doubt whether we have all the right questions. Given that 20% fewer foreign criminals have been deported and given the lengthy delays in the processing of visas, far exceeding what is reasonable or should be expected, as Her Majesty’s Inspector has pointed out, should the priority be changes to the citizenship test or should the key focus be on sorting out the problems connected with immigration and visas?

I do not think that it is necessary to tackle just one task at a time. Making this test relevant was an important task. Noble Lords will know that the current handbook has been in use for six years. It was time to have an update and to make it more relevant. The noble Baroness referred to serious issues on the part of UKBA, particularly its ability to cope with appeals. We are well aware of this and I am absolutely certain that the chairman of UKBA has this matter at the top of his agenda.

Is the noble Lord aware that those people who have been resident in this country for many years apparently cannot apply to take the new test if they are over 65? Is 65 really too old to become a citizen of the United Kingdom?

I was not aware of that fact and, being over 65 myself, I would like to think that I am still in command of all my facilities.

Perhaps I should rephrase that. More than 93,000 people have taken an online test, the sample test hosted by the Home Office, and the outcome was that the average score was 86%.

My Lords, I have been in this country for almost 60 years. I could not possibly pass that test, although I thought I had assimilated a bit of Britishness while I have been here. My accent remains unchanged, of course. I am concerned about more serious situations in immigration, raised by the Front Bench opposite. With the help of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, we have managed to obtain a right to be here for someone who has been here now for three years. She was here legally for five years, having come here as an au pair, then illegally for about 20 years. Now she has to wait, and after five years she can apply for citizenship. During that investigation, I discovered that the problem is that when you arrive, you are told that you have to have been here for six years. When you get to five and a half years, they change it to eight years. When you get to seven and a half years, they change it to add another two years. Is it not time that we looked at the prospect of relating the number of years you have to wait to what was in force at that time of your arrival?

My noble friend has illustrated that the rules on these matters are complex, but we do keep them under review. We really want to facilitate the opportunity for people who want to make a life in this country to settle and to achieve citizenship. That is the purpose of the test.