HL Deb 27 April 2004 vol 660 cc680-2

2.44 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

With respect to the Crick report of September 2003 entitled The New and the Old, on the naturalisation of new British citizens, when they will implement the recommendations that they have accepted in principle.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, I refer to the Written Ministerial Statement that I made on 2 February and to the related papers deposited in the Library which set out the steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to implement the recommendations of The New and the Old. Since then, effort has been concentrated on the spending review process and on exploring the practicalities of piloting language with citizenship programmes in some areas from within existing resources.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful update on her statement of 2 February, although I cannot help noting that it seems to be the recommendations that cost money that are most lagging in this process, including the provision of English. Does not the Minister agree that integration of our new citizens depends crucially on their speedy acquisition of fluent English, not least as a passport to suitable employment? Is it not the case that English teaching is especially important for women, notably the mothers in traditional families, who without it will unwittingly no doubt, but inevitably, hinder their children's progress as they enter primary education?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, about the contribution that an acquisition of English can play in assisting people to reach their goals in terms of employment, integration and self-support. However, it is not only the recommendations that cost money; it is important to get in place the right kind of support structure. I have said already that the spending review round is therefore very important. We are, of course, hoping for the most generous allocation we can get.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister about the civic ceremonies of naturalisation referred to in recommendations 19 to 21 of the second Crick report. As we know, these are being piloted and one has taken place with a fair degree of favourable publicity. Can she comment on how the Government are evaluating this pilot scheme and what plans there are for the future of such ceremonies?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can reassure the right reverend Prelate that we agree with him in terms of his assessment of the first pilot. Noble Lords will know that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales attended, and all who participated in the ceremony came away with very favourable recommendations. We are at the beginning of the process and I can assure noble Lords that we will continue to monitor piloted ceremonies to enable us to put in place the best possible system in the long term.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, the Minister will know that there has also been a ceremony held in Scotland which had due publicity in Glasgow. Can she tell the House what oath of loyalty to Her Majesty was taken at that ceremony? Was it the oath of loyalty printed in the Act, which the Government insisted should be the only one, or was it the oath which everyone else, including the judges, takes in Scotland?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be amazed to know that, for once, I cannot answer her question. I shall write to her.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, further to the question of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, can the Minister confirm whether people seeking British citizenship will have to demonstrate an understanding not only of the English language but also of the United Kingdom's customs, history and culture before citizenship is granted?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the House will know that there was a recommendation in relation to five areas. We have accepted the Crick recommendations in relation to language. Noble Lords will know about level one and the progression from level one to level two to level three. We believe that there are important issues in terms of history and culture and we will be taking forward those matters.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on implementing citizenship and on the Crick proposals we are discussing. Does the Minister accept that understanding is a two-way street and that the majority culture, if I may call it that, needs to understand a good deal more about incomers and their cultures? Does she further accept that the success so far of citizenship in schools is extremely patchy and that progress is, in many cases, very slow? Are the Government monitoring closely the development of citizenship in schools and have they any plans to help it on its way?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we are developing the progress of citizenship in schools. It is very important for those of us in this country properly to understand our history. Many people do not understand the contribution made by those who came from the Commonwealth countries—the Caribbean, India and Pakistan. They made a huge contribution to the wealth of this nation throughout the centuries and helped us to fight two world wars on a voluntary and not a conscript basis. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that that is an important part of building a proper understanding among us all as to what our true British history is.