FROM today, every foreign national applying for British citizenship must pass a 24-question multiple-choice Life In The UK test and yesterday the Home Office, which is running this test, provided nine sample questions. If they are representative of the 24 that foreigners will face before getting their nationality, these questions do rather beg the question of how well they have been devised. For instance, sample question number five asks this: Do many children live in single parent families or step-families? But surely before anyone can answer that question they have to know what many means in this context and perhaps also what a step-family is? There are questions about the Queen's official role and her ceremonial duties and also about the Church of England but the Home Office has been at pains to emphasize that this is neither a history test nor, strictly speaking, a test of someone's Britishness. It is a test of their preparedness to become citizens, said Tony McNulty, the Immigration Minister, who added, It is about looking forward, rather than an assessment of their ability to understand history. We should wait for the full list of questions (why were not available yesterday?) before forming a judgement about the test. Obviously, it makes sense to ask whether it is correct that an employer can dismiss you for joining a trade union, or what are the two telephone numbers to use in an emergency, or whether a television licence covers all the sets in a home or just one. But whether it matters greatly in preparing to become a citizen to have to identify where Geordie, Cockney and Scouse are spoken, may be open to doubt. To obtain British citizenship those taking the test will have to get 75 per cent of the questions right and also show an ability to speak basic English. Many British people have been calling for some kind of test for a long time as a condition of immigrants remaining in Britain. How many of us, however, would pass a comparable test about Spanish living and language if we had to take it before settling here?
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