CommentIsLinked@LDV… Chris Huhne: While we need to clarify the rules for obtaining British citizenship, curtailing people's freedom of expression is a big mistake

by Stephen Tall on August 5, 2009

Over at The Guardian, Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne argues that, while we need to clarify the rules for obtaining British citizenship, curtailing people’s freedom of expression is a big mistake. Here’s an excerpt:

There is the germ of a good idea in the government’s proposals for a points-based test for citizenship. It is reasonable to expect people who want to become British citizens to have worked, paid taxes, speak the language and not to have engaged in criminal acts. It is also reasonable to suggest that people who go the extra mile and volunteer in their local community might gain extra brownie points on their path to citizenship. As with so many proposals from this tired government, however, the good ideas become lost in declarations designed to court the more punitive sections of public opinion and the popular press.

In this case, the good ideas are obscured by the statement from Alan Johnson in the News of the World that points could be docked for bad behaviour. This is understandable if the government is referring to people committing criminal offences, but the notion seems to go further. The home secretary seems to want to be the chief constable of the thought police. In insisting that people demonstrate a commitment to Britain, they are suggesting that people could be barred from citizenship for engaging in “unpatriotic behaviour”. This strikes me as being distinctly un-British.

You can read the article in full HERE.

Incidentally, Lib Dem MP Evan Harris has a bitingly effective letter in today’s Guardian:

Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, complains that the government has let an “unprecedented number of people obtain citizenship”. In the interests of transparency, would the Conservative party publish a list of the categories of those of our fellow countrymen and women who they fear do not in fact deserve to have the vote?


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I agree entirely! I especially liked Dr Evan Harris’ letter. One thing that needs scrapping is the citizenship test on “Life in the United Kingdom”. Many of the questions are entirely superfluous, and even I (as a political junkie who also happens to be a British citizen by birth!) failed the test, getting 71% (pass is 75%). My father, a British citizen since his birth in 1938, got 67%.

Take it yourself and enjoy at

Personally I think it’s reasonable to have a language test but knowing how many days in a year schools are required to be open is really an optional extra (and something you can find out when you become a parent!).

by Niklas Smith on August 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm. Reply #

Thanks for that, Niklas. This test is ridiculous!

I failed badly (58%). Clearly I’m unfit to be a citizen of this country because I didn’t know…

– what were the largest immigrant groups in the 1980s [I don’t care]
– that people from Scotland apparently call the Church of England the “Episcopal Church”
– that many job applications don’t ask for your National Insurance number
– in which decade of the 19th century married women got the right to divorce their husbands
– that children have to pay for prescriptions
– that there are 15 million children and young people up to the age of 19 in the UK NOT 14 million (Idiot!)
– the number of months at which the unemployed are required to join New Deal in order to continue receiving benefit
– the percentage of people in the UK in 2001 who said they were Muslims is 2.7%, not 3.4% (Bigot!)
– that Commonwealth citizens can vote in all UK public elections
– that your employer cannot provide advice if you have a problem at work
– the maximum number of hours children aged 13-16 can work in any school week (the choice was 10 or 12. I guessed 10. It was 12. Foreigner! Outsider! Scum! Terrorist!)
– the governing body of the EU is not the Council of Europe (Scum! Terrorist! etc.) but of course the Council of the European Union

by Lonely Wonderer on August 5, 2009 at 11:58 pm. Reply #

“I failed badly (58%). Clearly I’m unfit to be a citizen of this country because I didn’t know…
– that your employer cannot provide advice if you have a problem at work”

Really – I strongly suspect there is nothing to stop them providing advice, though they might not be your first port of call!

by Hywel on August 6, 2009 at 12:14 am. Reply #

Well, I had a try, but there were so many questions I couldn’t answer that I gave up about halfway through.

On the other hand, it looked as though all the answers could be gleaned from the booklet that was being advertised on the site, so probably no harm done, albeit the whole thing is rather a pointless, meaningless waste of time.

by Herbert Brown on August 6, 2009 at 12:17 am. Reply #

Herbert – You’re probably right, no harm done. Perhaps it should be seen as an English language comprehension exercise rather than a test of knowledge about the UK.

Hywel – I don’t know… “From which two places can you obtain advice if you have a problem at work and need to take further action?
– Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB)
– Your local MP
– Your employer
– The national Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)”

Correct answers are CAB and ACAS. Perhaps I’ve lived an unusual life in being asked for National Insurance numbers on job application forms and thinking that it might be reasonable to contact my employer in the first instance if there’s a problem at work. I’d readily go to a CAB, but might consider the relevant union before that. MP in extremis. But I didn’t know ACAS helped individuals, so I’ve learned something new. Not a wasted 10 minutes after all.

by Lonely Wonderer on August 6, 2009 at 12:34 am. Reply #

Also I found it difficult to believe that the following question was written by someone whose native language was English (but that’s probably because I’m a repulsive pedant):
“In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband”

by Herbert Brown on August 6, 2009 at 12:39 am. Reply #

71%, so I fail too.

But why on earth should people need to know some of those things? For example, who cares about the exact number of people under 19 other than education planners, and who other than historians now cares exactly when the law on divorce changed in the 19th century? And some official answers are incorrect – e.g. some councils DO provide info about training (though I wouldn’t pick them as the first place to go). The question on the census is ambiguous too – while individual information is secret for 100 years, a lot of statistical information is released quite quickly. It should say “Information ABOUT INDIVIDUALS…”.

by David Wright on August 6, 2009 at 12:22 pm. Reply #

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